The TableCloth Test

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18th February, 2017

The tablecloth test – when is it time to seek advice for your business?

Setting up a business

I’m a partner in a new business, Elia. We work with small producers in Greece to bring high-quality Greek foods to the UK. The business idea belongs to my friend and business partner Angeliki Karagounis, who is Greek British. It’s all about sharing the flavours of Greece, and products you can’t easily find in the UK, whilst supporting other small businesses.

We started setting up the business in Spring 2016. We registered as a Limited Liability Partnership in June and received our first delivery of stock, a pallet-load of extra virgin olive oil, on 24th June, the day the Brexit decision was announced. Since then we’ve been selling at markets and food fairs, building up our online presence, and getting our products into shops and delis.

There are three partners in the business. We all have experience of being self-employed and two of us have been directors of limited companies.

What stops you from seeking advice?

When you start a new business there’s so much to think about: managing your finances; sales; marketing and legal matters. You are bound to have to do some things which are completely new to you. What are the barriers to seeking advice? Here are some of the reasons for not seeking advice – all of which we’ve used ourselves:

·         Not being sure what you need to know, or who to ask

·         Worrying that finding advice will take up time that could be better spent on other tasks

·         Not wanting to pay for advice

·         Thinking you should be able to work most things out yourselves

The tablecloth test

Having decided to sell our products at markets we set about getting all the equipment we needed for our stall. When it came to finding the right tablecloth we got rather stuck. All three of us ended up looking on the internet and I’m pretty sure we spent more than 30 minutes talking through the options at different times. It probably added up to 3 hours of our time. What was going on? We were getting distracted by a detail. An unimportant but tangible detail, and therefore one that it was easy for each of us to have an opinion on. What difference would tablecloths make to our sales? Almost none!

So, the tablecloth test is:

If you’ve spent more than an hour of your time on a detail, ask yourself:

What difference will this make to the success of my business?

If the answer is “almost none” then it’s failed the test and you need to get someone else to help you.

Where can you go for help?

These are my tips based on our experience so far:

1.       Use your networks to answer questions and test ideas

This was especially helpful to us at the very beginning. We wanted feedback on our company name, our logo, our strapline. We asked friends and family; and I was able to use the Aspiring Business Women Facebook group to get feedback.

2.       Do you know people with expertise who can help you?

When we needed to find out about markets, I put a question on the ABW Facebook group page and another ABW member, Alison Jarvis from Fudge Glorious Fudge, kindly agreed to talk to me. Alison gave me a wealth of tips and advice. That phone call was invaluable: it answered many of our questions and saved us a lot of time.

3.       Identify and engage your target customers and ask them to help you

When we were setting up the business we spent some time creating profiles of the types of people who were our target clients. We then asked people we knew who fitted these profiles to comment on our website text. They were honest in telling us what they liked and what they didn’t. We used this balanced feedback to improve our marketing messages.

4.       Make use of free sources of advice

Free sources of advice, such as the HMRC helpline, can be more helpful than you expect. It’s always worth trying them.

5.       For the things that really make a difference to your success, consider paying for advice

For more complex questions or problems, paying for advice could save you time and money, as well as reducing your stress levels. Get recommendations from your networks as to the best people to help you. Before you start talking to people who might be able to help you, take some time to think about, and write down, the questions that you’re trying to answer. We’re about to pay for advice to help with setting up our accounts.


Are you stuck on a problem in your business? Does it pass the tablecloth test?

Perhaps you can find a quick solution simply by asking someone else to help you.


(P.S. We now have our second set of tablecloths and the second set took a lot less time to find than the first.)

Katie Holmes


Handpicked Greek Flavours

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