BE the consumer, like Mr and Mrs Smith

When looking for new business ideas, it can
help to BE the consumer, rather than trying to understand the consumer. This
approach worked well for James Lohan and Tamara Heber-Percy, who are celebrating
the 10th anniversary of their online hotel guide, Mr & Mrs Smith.

From humble beginnings as a single hotel
guidebook, the business now attracts 700,000 visitors a month to its website
and makes £30million of bookings a year. Here are some things to learn from
their success.

1. BE the consumer

Like many successful entrepreneurs, James
and Tamara got the idea for their business from personal experience. They got
frustrated at not being able to find a nice boutique hotel to stay in, finding
that the places they did use rarely lived up to expectations. They used this
personal "pain point" as the inspiration to create their own guide. Mr
& Mrs Smith comes from the name sometimes used by couples hiding their real
identity when checking in for a "dirty weekend"! 

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2. Have the balls to back yourself

Many people sit around dreaming of starting
a business. But a minority actually have the balls to do it. James and Tamara
re-mortgaged their house to raise £30,000 and got a further £150,000 from
friends and family.  When they couldn't
get a publisher, the couple went ahead and published the first guidebook
themselves. The distributor said they would sell 5,000 copies in three years,
but again they backed themselves and printed 10,000. They actually sold 100,000
in the first year alone.

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3. Expand your channels

Two years into the business James and
Tamara made another bold move by taking the business online. This is back in
2005, so the couple had real vision about the way the travel industry would be
evolve. The online version of the brand meant they could handle booking for
hotel, and then charge commission to hotels people booked. 

4. Extend the core

The guide started out focusing on the UK.
But over time the brand has expanded to also include international
destinations. More recently the brand has also extended beyond boutique hotels
for couples to also cater for families. This is smart, as the brand is in
effect growing up with its customers who, like me, now have kids but still want
to enjoy a boutique hotel experience.

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In conclusion, if you dream of having your
own business, be the consumer to identify an opportunity to solve a pain point
then, the hard bit, have the balls to back yourself and make it happen.