The business funding show is coming to London in February. Here, Deborah Imber, founder of Tots Crops, a business that offers children’s haircuts, talks us through her start-up strategy
"I founded Tots Crops in 2007 after working in the City as a barber. The hours weren’t fitting in with my daughter’s nursery hours and the other parents at the nursery would often ask me to cut their children’s hair. This made me think about cutting the kids’ hair while they were in nursery to save parents time. The nursery agreed, parents paid me, the business grew at a rapid rate and I tried to cover more nurseries across London. In April 2014, we won The Times Power in Partnerships competition and I received mentorship from entrepreneur Simon Woodroffe.
After winning the competition I changed the business model from being a franchise to a club where hairdressers could join the business but run their own group of nurseries under the Tots Crops umbrella. This is when I realised I needed to find investment to help the business grow further and to produce a range of hair care products for my team to use.
I went to my bank who said that I was too old to get any financing. As Lloyds only offers a customer relations manager for those with more than a million-pound turnover, I ended up speaking to somebody in a call centre. HSBC said no – it didn't fit its business model, as the company wasn't turning over enough and our spreadsheets weren't comprehensive enough.
I attended a women's investment evening in Canary Wharf and this taught me how and what you could get for your money if you gave away equity in your business. I almost felt like giving up after speaking to the banks, but my bookkeeper/accountant decided to invest in Tots Crops. She had worked with me since 2009, so knew all about the company and what it could be and understood the new business model being a members’ club, not a franchise.
I would recommend my approach if possible, as the person who invests in you knows you and what you're doing, meaning they have a vested interest in your business. Not so much a family member perhaps, but someone who has a passion for your business and who can advise and help you without things being awkward. Don't expect too much from them, but do be thankful for what they’ve put in."