VSTEAM Education Startup Journey
I launched my startup (VSTEAM Education) one and a half years ago with an initial investment of just £50. We have now delivered dozens of engagements to schools and went on to make it to the finals of Falling Walls Engage science engagement of the year (2020) competition. Our startup has come a long way and was showing promising signs of success before the pandemic, but it still has some way to go. In this blog post, I will cover the journey of my startup, and share my best tips for anyone launching their own company. Click here or scroll down to the bottom, if you just want to read our top 12 tips.
I got the idea to launch a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) workshops and school assembly service after working in several part-time jobs in education. I incorporated street-dancing into our engagements to make them unique.
I decided from the beginning that I would run my company debt-free. This meant that I would have to fund it out of my pocket while I worked in other jobs. I then had to decide whether to trade as a sole trader or a private limited company. After doing some research, I concluded that I would run my startup as a sole trader until the business was making over £25,000 in profits. This would make filing taxes and managing finances easier.
Next, I started developing the workshop content. The process for developing a workshop included doing research, buying parts and material, testing the experiments or items students will build in classrooms, developing a classroom presentation and writing the student guides. Each workshop took around one to two months to fully develop. At the same, I put together several presentations for schools assemblies and science events. Additionally, I developed different versions of both my workshops and presentations so that they were suitable for both primary and secondary school students.
Once I had developed my content, the next step was to market my services to schools. To market the services I needed to build a website. Initially, I used Wix to build a website. I then built this website from scratch so that I can have full control over Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). To do this, I spent a considerable amount of time on Youtube learning about SEO and website building. It was worth the effort as this website is faster and more optimised for search engines. It is now essentially my shopping window for teachers looking for my services.
I tried many marketing methods to get through to teachers once I published my website. These included email marketing campaigns, leaflet distributions, mail marketing campaigns and attending events. Today, I mainly focus on doing search engine AdWord campaigns, advertising on school directories and email marketing campaigns. I use both Mailchimp and an external company for the email marketing campaigns. I have spent entire weeks on these marketing campaigns and marketing itself can be a full-time job.
I first offered some of my services completely free of charge to schools. It was costly, but it did help to get my business off the ground. Moreover, it helped refine my workshops and presentations and develop more valuable content for schools. It was a great feeling once we started receiving the first paid bookings.
In addition to all of the above, I do all of the admin tasks associated with the business. These include tasks such as writing and managing contracts, managing files and marketing databases, dealing with bookings, preparing the workshops, updating the website and the business blog, managing the social media accounts, filing taxes and managing finances.
You can see from above that running my startup has been no easy task. However, I must say that the reward of our engagements makes up for the enormous amount of effort I have put into my startup. I'm also lucky to have the support of some incredibly talented street-dancers that I can hire to support the school engagements. Together we have created some amazing memories at schools. It was a great feeling to receive international recognition for our work this year by the Berlin Falling Walls Engage science foundation. Additionally, we have received enquiries to visit several European countries next year. We hope to continue growing our startup, and someday be at the forefront of social change in society through science, engineering and technology.
Below are our top 12 tips for a startup based on lessons we learned.
Sole Trader or a Limited Company
Decide whether you would like to trade as a sole trader or a limited company. Here is a good link to read more about the differences between the two.
Plan Out Your Finances
It's a good idea to figure out how you will fund your business (whether that's through savings, loans or other income). Make a budget and set yourself some limits.
Develop a Good Service
Focus on developing and delivering a high-quality product or a service.
Build a Good Website
You can start by building a website using an online platform like WordPress or Wix. Consider reaching out to a professional web developer to build a custom website if you have the funds.
Learn How to Do Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
There is no point having a good website if you cannot drive relevant traffic to your site. This is why it's important you learn how to do SEO or hire someone to do it for you. Here is guide for doing SEO. Additionally, learn how to track visitors to your website using Google Analytics. This will help track your leads and better invest your time and money.
Try Many Different Marketing Methods
Marketing methods you can use include word of mouth, email and mail marketing campaigns, leaflet distribution, selling at conferences and events, social media marketing, publishing on directories and carrying out search engine ad campaigns. It will take some time for you to figure out which marketing methods work best for your business. Use multiples sources to generate leads and don't rely on one method.
Learn How to Utilise Advanced Options on Search Engine Campaigns
I highly recommend that you don't use default settings with search engine ad campaigns. The default settings on ad campaigns with Google and Bing may waste your money by driving in traffic with customers who aren't searching for your services. Instead, learn to use advanced features such as adding negative keywords, excluding irrelevant locations from showing your adverts and scheduling campaigns to run at certain times. This will help to drive in relevant traffic to your business. Here is a good tutorial to watch on how to set up an advanced AdWord campaign with Google Adwords.
Become a Speaker
Attend some speaking clubs to develop your public speaking skills, if you have spare time. You can then apply to speak at events and conferences, which in turn will help you promote your services.
Improve Your Services
Keep on improving your services based on customer feedback. You will find that many things will change with time. Work with your employees and listen to their ideas. Be open to change.
Use Social Media
Learn to use Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter business accounts. Focus on the ones that work best.
Keep on Top of the Admin Tasks
Don't ignore the boring tasks. Keep all your files, databases and documents organised. This will help you deliver an efficient service, avoid mistakes and save you time.
Take Part in Events
Enter Competitions for recognition and exposure. Even if you don't win, it will be a good experience and an opportunity to meet like-minded people. It could also give you new ideas.
You can check out our startup educational service here.