small business uk

Small Business Spotlight Interview: Cambridge Puppy Training

In the Small Business Spotlight:

Gail Stafford, professional dog and puppy trainer based in Cambridge UK, walks us through her new business venture - Cambridge Puppy Training.

Tell us a bit about yourself

My name is Gail and I live in Cambridge, UK. I've always had a love of animals and in my early 20s started my 'dog journey' as a dog walker, then progressed to complete an Advanced Diploma in Canine Behaviour Management. From there I went on to complete a BSc (Hons) in Animal Behaviour and Welfare.

I am a puppy class instructor at CCEG (Cambridge Canine Education Group) dog training, and the great loves of my life are my dogs. My life does, as I am sure many dog owners will relate to, revolve around dogs! I spend my time working with puppies, training my own dog, and writing articles for my blog relating to dog and puppy behaviour .

Describe your business

Cambridge Puppy Training offers 1-2-1 puppy home visits, and I've just started puppy training classes locally. I usually visit puppies when they just arrive in their new homes, before they are allowed out on walks. It gives new puppy owners the opportunity to learn the basics of puppy behaviour, tackle any potential issues within the home early on with my advice, and get training started early. I also offer an email advice service, puppy sitting/training (so fun!) and offer a Puppy Guide manual which I have written myself. I use positive methods of training, and follow as closely as I can the science behind canine behaviour to help with training.


What inspires you?

Dogs! Specifically my own dog. She inspires me every single day. I may be a dog trainer but I am not immune to being 'trained' by my dog! She knows how to get around me, and I love her for it. I work with different puppies every single week and I learn from all of them, they make me think and make me try different techniques and see what works with them. I love that they keep me on my toes!

Other dog trainers inspire me too, I have been lucky enough to work alongside some incredible dog trainers who are truly experts in their field. I have learned so much from the fellow instructors I work with. 'High profile' dog trainers inspire me daily, from Ian Dunbar to Lewis Nicholls to Suzanne Clothier to Nando Brown, all inspire me and keep me motivated to keep learning, keep researching and keep polishing my skills as a trainer and puppy instructor.

Why did you decide to start a business?

I've been dog training and teaching puppy classes for over 6 years, whilst doing various other 'normal' jobs alongside. However it felt the right time to create my own puppy business, and I was lucky enough to be in a position where I could fully concentrate and dedicate my time to it.

I truly thought setting up my own business would be too difficult for little ol' me! But I was determined to have a go and see where it took me. It was daunting at first, having the confidence to put yourself out there and sell what you do was a bit scary! But I'm more relaxed with the process now.

Has the direction of your business changed over time?

A little, yes. When I first set up my business I was very focused on setting up puppy training classes on varying days of the week, whilst doing 1-2-1s 'as well'. However, the interest has largely been in my 1-2-1s and this was a surprise to me - a very welcome surprise as I love working one to one with owners! Now I offer classes once a week as a four week course.

I also didn't realise how much my blog articles would not only give me so much pleasure, but other people too. I thoroughly enjoy writing them - I never planned to write articles but it has been a natural progression and I love researching, writing and posting the articles every day.

What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?


The technicalities! Going self-employed is something I have no experience of, so it was a tad daunting to face the dreaded tax system and figure it all out. I have friends who are more experienced than me in the working of business, which has been invaluable. Social media was a bit of a challenge too. I have never been hugely active on social media privately, so using social media as a platform for my work took a bit of getting used to. Also, self-doubt. I'm sure all small business owners fret periodically about the popularity or success of what you have created, maybe it's part and parcel of running your own empire!

What's the most rewarding aspect to running your own business?

Seeing puppy owners happy! Happy puppies, and happy owners. I can't ask for more than that. When you're working with a client, you have moments where things suddenly click; they get it, they get the training and they get their puppy, and that moment is fantastic. I see it regularly and it's brilliant, seeing an owner improve with their technique through the advice I have given, consequently seeing a puppy improve is just wonderful. I get so much joy from owners telling me that the advice I gave has been helpful, that is what I get a real kick out of.

What advice would you give to new businesses that are just starting out?

Don't panic! It takes time to gain interest, so have realistic goals. Don't try to do millions of things at once, think of your priorities for that day and work your way through. Accept 'hiccups' in your planning, not everything always runs smoothly in the beginning but don't panic, it's a lesson learned which you can improve on.

Don't get so bogged down with the 'other stuff', the websites, social media or business cards etc, that you forget why you're doing what you're doing. If you have a passion, keep it and don't let it get lost in amongst all the other bits and pieces of business. Forget competition! It doesn't matter what others are doing, focus on what you do and making it the best you can.

What's next for your business?

To keep working hard. To continue delivering a valuable service to my clients, stay up-to-date with the science behind canine behaviour and training so I'm always improving, carry on with writing, and continue to run my puppy training classes. I have LOTS of ideas and things I want to achieve with my business, and a range of new things to offer clients. I aim to be original in my approach as the only purely puppy-based company in this area, and I aim to be the first in other areas too. I can't give all my secrets away though, can I?

Gail regularly posts puppy training videos on Facebook, so follow her page if you'd like to learn some simple tips for training your pup!

Learn more about Gail and connect with her online using these links:

Small Business Spotlight Interview: Of Alp and Ash

In the Small Business Spotlight: Debs Slater - designer/adventurer based near Blackburn, invites a behind-the-scenes peek into her brand of laser cut wood and acrylic gifts inspired by the great outdoors!

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hey! I’m Debs, and I live in a little village just outside Blackburn with my husband, in a chaotic mess of a home that we’ve been renovating for far too long.

I’ve loved making things for as long as I can remember, took a degree in Graphic Design, a Masters in Children’s Book Illustration and get excited for the outdoors (mainly hiking & camping), documenting life in photographs, beautiful coffee-table books, mid-century modern decor, plant-based cooking and strategy-based board games.

Debs Slater from homeware brand Of Alp and Ash, in Digibloom's Small Business Spotlight

Describe your business

I create under the name ‘of Alp & Ash’ and make laser-cut products in a workshop at the bottom of my mum’s garden (which is conveniently located only two streets away from where I live!)

My Contoured Coasters are aimed at those that love adventuring in the UK as they depict the most popular hiking spots, and I’ve recently introduced map art to allow customers to select their choice of location (in the UK) to be recreated in wood and acrylic.

Topographical contour map art - laser cut wooden gifts by Of Alp and Ash

What inspires you?

I’m mostly inspired by my adventures outdoors. The idea for my Contoured Coasters came about whilst I was undertaking a personal challenge: to hike all 214 Wainwrights in the Lake District to mark the tenth anniversary of my dad’s passing.

All that time spent studying maps during my challenge gave me the idea to recreate popular hiking areas in coaster form, with blue-tinted acrylic to represent the lakes and tarns.

Why did you decide to start a business?

Bad bosses! Not all my bosses have been horrendous, but the majority have. The last terrible encounter I had, working for a startup in Toronto, was the last straw for me. I came home to England vowing I’d never work for anybody again, used my savings to buy a laser cutter, and then had to think up something to make with it!

Has the direction of your business changed over time?

My products have definitely changed since I launched. The first products I designed were wedding frames, Christmas decorations and matchbox-style greetings cards that weren’t at all related to my business name. Some of them can still be found in my Etsy shop, but since developing my coasters I’m trying to be more conscious of my brand, so all the products on my website are now related to the outdoors.

What challenges have you faced as a small business owner?

I think the hardest thing about being a small business owner is having to wear all the hats, at least until you can afford to outsource some jobs. I particularly struggle with marketing as I’m not confident enough to shout about my work, and I’m also much more excited about the design stage of the process; when it comes to repeatedly manufacturing the same products I struggle to stay motivated.

I’ve faced many challenges during production too. My coasters took quite some time to prototype and even now the focus of the laser or the thickness of the acrylic can throw some things out. It’s a constant learning curve, and I’m always trying to think of ways to improve the process, but I’ve come a long way since I first started.

What's the most rewarding aspect to running your own business?

Not having a boss, a tiny commute to work, being able to time my lunch to align with Neighbours ;) Top of the list though is the fact that people are parting with their money to purchase something I’ve made. Regardless of how many meltdowns I may have had in the production stages, popping a set of coasters in a box and packaging them up for someone is an amazing feeling.

Feedback is also wonderful to receive, especially when a customer tells me that their dad loves their coasters, as I’m pretty sure my dad would have loved them too :)

What advice would you give to new businesses that are just starting out?

If you can afford to outsource a job in an area you’re not skilled in, do it! Also, use social media as a tool to inspire you and to connect with other business owners, rather than to compare yourself to other sellers.

You will always find people that are more successful than you are on the internet, but it’s important not to let this put you off your own journey. You’ll never truly know the backstory to these businesses... they could have been working on their craft for years longer than you have, have had more money to invest than you, got lucky with a marketing opportunity, etc.

Focus on your own work and one day you’ll be that super successful business that somebody just starting out is in awe of! (This is definitely something I have to remind myself of.)

What's next for your business?

This is a question I wish I knew the answer to! I know I definitely need to get the word out as I’m still not where I’d like to be in terms of sales. I’m also hoping to add more products where I can outsource the manufacture.

Debs Slater from giftware brand Of Alp and Ash, laser cutting contoured map coasters in wood

My coasters are extremely labour-intensive to make, which means I can’t sell them in shops and that makes it harder to scale the business up to where I’d like it. I’d love to get drawing again, and come up with some products featuring my illustrations.

I also have some other business ideas that aren’t related to ‘of Alp & Ash’ at all, and will be exploring those this year too. I’m excited to see where my journey takes me, the opportunities are truly endless when you’re creating your own career path, and that’s one of the most incredible things about it!

Debs Slater of Alp and Ash with one of her topographic coasters

Shop for 'of Alp and Ash' products - click through images to see more:

Learn more about Debs and connect with her online using these links:

Etsy Shop: alpandash
Instagram: @alpandash
Pinterest: alpandash

7 Days Of Christmas Giveaway - Day 4: Win A 'Kisse's', handmade, eco-friendly dummy clip by Bluebrontide!


This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the lucky winner Diane C! If you didn't win, Bluebrontide has kindly offered entrants 10% off all orders until 15th January 2017 with code: YAY10. 

7 Days of Christmas giveaway on Digibloom blog!


Win a stylish 'Kisse's' dummy clip in alabaster for a special little loved one, from Bluebrontide! 
The dummy clip is handmade in the UK from organic, sustainable fabrics - they even use GOTS certified thread! The carefully selected materials not only create an eco-friendly product but make sure they are safe against your baby's soft, delicate skin.

Kisses dummy clip in alabaster - eco friendly and organic baby product by Bluebrontide. Win one in Digibloom's giveaway!
Bluebrontide kisses dummy clip in alabaster - eco-friendly, organic baby product! Win one in Digibloom's giveaway!

This giveaway is open to UK entries only.
To be in with a chance of winning, please enter using the widget below:

Enter to win a pacifier clip from Bluebrontide

Visit Bluebrontide's online shop to shop small this Christmas and support an independent designer!

Terms and conditions

Promotion description. Win Bluebrontide's organic 'Kisse's' dummy clip! Starts 12 am (UK) on December 4th 2016 and ends 11.59pm (UK) on December 11th 2016. No purchase necessary. Odds of winning will depend on the total number of eligible entries received. Void where prohibited or restricted by law. 

Eligibility. The giveaway is open to individuals who are 18 years of age or older and is open to worldwide entries. All Entries by Entrants under 18 years of age must be submitted by a parent or legal guardian on behalf of such Entrants. 

Winner selection. The winner will be announced by December 12th 2016 and contacted via email. The prize will be posted from the UK within 7 business days. Please allow for delays due to seasonal post. Official prizes. One (1) prize is available to be won (the “Prize”). The Prize consists of: 1 organic 'kisse's' dummy clip as pictured.

Winner’s list. The “Winner” of the Sweepstake will be determined via a random drawing.

10 Top Tips for Small Businesses to Stay Safe Online

10 top tips for staying safe online. Small business tips guest post by Broadband Genie

Guest post: Matt Powell, editor for the broadband comparison site Broadband Genie, offers ten top tips to help you improve online security and protect your business.

Whether you’re a sole trader or a larger organisation, having the fastest or cheapest broadband isn’t the only thing to worry about, it’s also vital to take steps to stay safe online. Virus or hacking attacks could result in real financial loss and exposing private information could have devastating consequences on your reputation. 

Top tips for keeping your business safe online: guest post by Broadband Genie

1. Secure your Wi-Fi network

If you have a Wi-Fi network, it should always be password protected. This will prevent others nearby from using your connection or accessing network shares. You may wish to change the password regularly, and you can also choose to hide the SSID (network name) to make it harder to find.

Also remember - when setting up a password make sure you use the ‘WPA’ standard and not the older and very insecure ‘WEP’.

2. Keep up to date with patches

All software and hardware should be kept bang up to date with patches to help protect against the latest threats and bugs. This is particularly important when it comes to operating system patches, web plugins such as Java and Flash and broadband router firmware.

Many applications and hardware devices will offer automatic updating, or at least notify you when a new version is available. If this is not an option, you will need to check manually on a regular basis.

3. Remotely control hardware

Misplacing a laptop, smartphone or tablet could expose confidential data or give someone access to your private files or services. To protect against this, use remote control and tracking software. As well as offering the possibility of retrieving lost devices, it will let you remotely wipe the storage to prevent data falling into the wrong hands.

This functionality is now built into both Apple iOS and Android. For desktop and laptop computers install Prey.

10 top tips for small businesses to stay safe online: guest post by Broadband Genie

4. Install anti-virus software

Anti-virus is absolutely essential to combat malware which may damage or steal data. This may not need to cost anything as there are free packages such as Microsoft Defender, Avirus and Avast! which are as good as premium options (though check the licensing terms as it may not permit commercial use without a fee).

5. Improve web browser security

Web browsers can be a major security risk as web sites and browser plugins are often used to spread viruses. Ensure your anti-virus software extends protection to the web browser, and also make use of ad and script blocking browser add-ons which provide additional safety. You may also wish to use web filtering software to prevent employees accessing sites that are both higher risk and unsuitable for work.

6. Buy a better router

An entry level SOHO (Small Office Home Office) router to replace the cheap ISP-issued hardware is a worthwhile (and relatively modest) investment for any business. A good quality router can offer a noticeable improvement in wired and wireless performance, provide greater security and have a much wider range of features and settings to allow you to get more from your network and broadband connection.

7. Back up essential data

Data you don’t have backed up is data you don’t want. When backing up follow the ‘3-2-1’ rule: have three copies of everything on two different storage mediums, with at least one kept in a different location.

10 top tips for small businesses to stay safe online

8. Use multi factor authentication

Wherever possible make use of multi-factor authentication. This works by requiring an additional security token, such as a text message or smart phone app, in addition to a password. It means that even if someone gets hold of a password, your essential files and services are safe unless they can also obtain your secondary security method. It is now offered as a standard feature on many services, including Google apps, Twitter, Microsoft and Apple accounts.

9. Keep logins safe with a password manager

Password management software stores logins in a securely encrypted software safe and automatically enters them into sites and applications when required. This means you don’t need to remember every password so they can each be complex and unique.

For employers the enterprise features offered by some password managers can also be valuable protection for vital services. You can grant access to logins without providing the actual details, and withdraw access when an employee leaves the company.

10. Encrypt files and devices

By encrypting devices or files you can stop unauthorised users from viewing important data. This could be a real lifesaver in the event a piece of hardware is lost or stolen or a hacker gains access to your systems.

Encryption is now widely available and very easy to use. It’s available as a built in feature on smartphones, tablets and computers and there are numerous free and paid software packages which make it effortless to secure individual files, folders or entire hard drives.

Check out the Broadband Genie blog for more super useful tips, advice, and competitions. Visit their website and follow their Twitter for news and updates too!