UKBF history: The story of its foundation

  1. man typing
    Dan Martin

    Dan Martin UKBF Newcomer Free Member

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    As UK Business Forums relaunches with content added into the mix, we revisit our 2007 interview with its founder Richard Osborne, to look at how the forums were started and why.

    Entrepreneur Richard Osborne took UK Business Forums (UKBF) from a small website generating the odd conversation between company owners to one which receives 2,000 posts a week.

    But after almost four years running the site, Osborne sold UKBF to Sift Media. Nearly a decade ago, he spoke to former BusinessZone editor Dan Martin about how he achieved success with UKBF and his other business ventures.

    Osborne admitted that since first getting a job, he has dedicated his life to work – putting in long hours in order to successfully progress his career. Like many successful entrepreneurs, Osborne didn't go straight into running a business - he worked for someone else. But it was during his job as an account manager looking after contracts with the likes of Bass Taverns, Whitbread and Raymond Blanc that he believes he learnt many of the skills which have contributed to the success he enjoys today.

    "At the time I didn't realise what I'd actually learnt until I put it into practice later on," he says. "I had a very good boss. He looked after his staff and invested in their training."

    After a long period of success, Osborne decided it was time to move on. "I was promoted quite high up in the company very quickly but ended up getting out of my depth," he said. "My boss described me as gracefully floating like a duck above water but pedalling frantically underwater to keep things going."

    It was at this point that Richard Osborne the entrepreneur was born.

    Going it alone

    It was 1999 and the internet was on everyone's mind. It was into this arena that Osborne decided to jump despite having no previous experience. "I had absolutely no background in the sector and had never designed a website in my life. To learn the subject, I read lots of books. I was completely self-taught."

    Osborne then expanded his business to domain name registration.

    "I designed an online automated process called Nice Names which allowed people to register domain names in bulk and control them all online. It was like printing money," he said.

    His success was recognised when Osborne was approached by a larger internet firm which expressed interest in the business and his own personal expertise. His company was purchased and Osborne was kept on as operations director. But with the spark now lit, Osborne's entrepreneurial fire was still burning.

    Quick step

    In September 2002, Osborne created Quick Formations. Borrowing around £40,000 he planned on applying the same methodology to company formations that he had used for internet domain names a few years earlier. By June 2003, the business was overtrading and it was close to going under. But perversely, Quick Formations had also received five acquisition offers so Osborne was convinced he was onto a winner.

    Enter UKBF

    It was during the setting up process for Quick Formations that UK Business Forums entered Richard Osborne's life. In his younger days, he was a regular participant in the web gaming world. Something he noticed was that all the games had dedicated online forums for gamers to post tips and cheats. Osborne had also taken part in specialist forums focusing on SEO and digital marketing.

    A quick Google search revealed that someone was already doing it. UK Business Forums was being run by internet firm Managed Web. The site had only been live for a few weeks but Osborne joined immediately and with just a handful of members, he soon became one of the most active posters, something which the forums owners soon recognised.

    "I started recommending people who formed businesses through Quick Formations to go to UKBF as a place for support, something which carried on throughout 2003," Osborne comments. "Then in January 2004 Gary from Managed Web said because I was promoting UKBF a lot more than he was, would I be interested in taking it over." Osborne jumped at the chance.

    Previous redesign

    So Osborne finally had the forums he wanted but as he admits the site's design was "pretty naff" and only around 30 members were signed up. He set about changing both factors.

    With Quick Formations now financially stable, Osborne had the cash to spend on redesigning UKBF. "I put money into establishing a brand including designing a new logo and creating a new layout. I also had leaflets and postcards made up, all of which reflected the website's new corporate identity."

    Osborne then set about driving up membership. Any entrepreneur looking to promote their business would do well to follow his techniques as his promotional activities cost no or little money.

    "I specifically targeted organisations with high membership rates such as the Federation of Small Businesses and Chambers of Commerce," he reveals. "I also attended networking events, placed ads in FSB publications and had stalls at various business exhibitions. In addition, every time someone formed a company via Quick Formations I sent them a postcard promoting UKBF as a place to go for free business support."

    Osborne also got involved with rival business forums and providing useful answers to fellow entrepreneurs' questions while at the same time including subtle links back to UKBF in his website signature.

    He admits that while the initial promotion work cost little in terms of money, it was very time-consuming. But his efforts paid off as soon word got round and the site gained a momentum of its own. Before long members were promoting it for him. In January 2004, UKBF had 30 members, but today it has over 200,000.

    So why has UKBF succeeded where other forums have failed? "It's down to the initial promotion and the way the forums are run," Osborne says. "On the one hand, UKBF is a lot more relaxed than others forums in terms of what members can do and say but at the same time, it's strict at curbing anything that can get out of hand.

    "A lot of the success is also because me as the forum owner has been actively involved. Seeing me, and now Sift Media, taking part makes people feel part of the community and because it is specifically targeted at small businesses entrepreneurs also feel more at home. I think the community has become very welcoming through careful management."

    Osborne is also keen to pay tribute to UKBF's team of loyal moderators who have contributed massively to the success of the website.

    Where does Osborne see UKBF going in the future? A long way. "It is not unrealistic to say UKBF can become something along the same lines as the FSB as a voice for small business," he says. "The members can be utilised to make an impact on the business community and on government."

    Tips for success

    As a successful entrepreneur, Osborne is well placed to offer advice to others looking to copy his achievements.

    His top tip for success is branding. "Never underestimate the importance of brand," Osborne advises. "Business owners should establish a corporate identity and stand by it in everything they do.

    "Entrepreneurs should also look to establish processes," he continues. "If something can be automated, invest time early on in automating it rather than fire fighting later on."

    For his third piece of advice, Osborne advises entrepreneurs to be truthful at all times. "Be honest in what you do," he says. "If you're talking to customers and you lash up, tell them you lashed up and put it right."

    Finally, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Osborne believes small businesses owners should definitely not ignore the power of networking. Liaising with your peers both online with the likes of UKBF and offline at business events and exhibitions can, as Osborne has demonstrated, bring massive business benefits.

    This article was originally published in October 2007.

    What do you think of UK Business Forums' history?


  2. beasty

    beasty , Full Member - Verified Business

    2,104 521
    Its nice to read the (Probably famliar struggle behind the later success, as you gain experience you can do things faster and better, its a process not an event that is for sure.

    Interesting that he basically got the site for free and developed it, i have done this with sites, none to this level (Yet) but its not a bad way to go, being first to set up is a HUGE advantage, doing the same now would be a lot tougher.

    Did i mention i am totally loving these articles I never previously caught?
    Posted: Jan 28, 2016 By: beasty Member since: Feb 4, 2013