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Richard Davies runs his online beef jerky business from the Outer Hebrides

Without the internet, many people would not have had the opportunity to run a business at all. Take Richard Davies, a fishing guide living and working in the Outer Hebrides. He simply could not run his Wild West Foods store without the web. We found out how he brought his idea to fruition and swapped fish for beef.

The freedom of clicks

Richard Davies and some beef jerkyLocation can make or break a business. If you live in the middle of nowhere, you'd be hard-pushed to find many customers. But Richard Davies is a one-man testament to the power of e-commerce making location redundant.

"Without the internet I wouldn't have a business," says Richard. He spotted a gap in the market to sell beef jerky in the UK and Europe and despite having no experience of trading online, WildWestJerky.co.uk brings in upwards of �5000 per month and has received a number of awards.

Richard runs the site from his home in the Outer Hebrides - hardly a central location from which to run a business. What's more, as Visit Hebrides points out, "The Hebrides is an oasis of calm in a chaotic world." What a glorious place to run an internet business from. As Richard says: "I go to the beach for the weekend, to return to �2000 worth of orders. You really can run a 24-hour shop from anywhere with a web connection."

So how did he make the transition from fishing guide to internet entrepreneur? And what can other webmasters learn from Richard's journey?

The idea

Seven years ago, Richard's American fishing friend brought over some beef jerky. Richard was hooked, but he couldn't find or buy beef jerky anywhere. It set him thinking. He knew that many other UK residents would love the taste, so he set to work.

The research

Richard's Local Enterprise Council (LEC) was based 30 miles away, but they had a free internet service, so Richard went there to research his idea. There he met the Marketing Adviser, Gillian, who later became his business (and life) partner. Their combined belief, plus advice from The Prince's Trust and LEC encouraged Richard to keep trying, even though his only previous experience in the food trade was the prior ownership of a salmon smoking business.

The local abattoir was closing, so Richard had to look elsewhere to source the beef. He flew to the US in a bid to learn some recipes and pick the brains of some beef jerky experts. Unforunately, companies in the US weren't too keen on sharing their recipes, and a disheartened Richard returned home.

Ironically, the first search that Richard did on the internet on his return gave him the details of a beef jerky supplier. "That first search gave me exactly what I needed, so I rang them and they said I was in luck; they were already exporting to a German company," Richard explains.

That was a bonus as Richard got in touch with the company in Germany and they were able to split the costs of shipping between them.

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Networking pays

Quote�There are now thousands of people who are wild for Wild West Foods.�End Quote

A kayaking friend of Richard's in Fife designed the packaging and the website, and the local paper agreed to print the labels. What's more, as the referee for the Hebrides Rugby team is an online Trading Standards expert, Richard has used his advice to get the terms and conditions right on his site.

Through networking online and building up good relationships with his customers and locals, Richard now supplies Yankee Doodle, a company requiring meat that doesn't need to be stored in a fridge, and online store Cyber Candy. Richard has also uncovered a new market: "Beef jerky has a high protein content so the body building market and protein-diet market has opened up". Evidently there are now thousands of people who are wild for Wild West Foods.

With orders coming in via email, Richard has never actually spoken to his biggest client - who orders 600 bags of beef jerky at a time. "We communicate by email, quickly and effectively."

Grants pay too

Living in a remote location has had some additional benefits. Richard received 30% of his website build costs back from the Government, who are encouraging businesses into decentralised areas "to stop rural de-population".

However, as well as the grant contribution, one lesson Richard has learned is not to fear borrowing. "That slowed me down and I'd be further ahead of the competition if I'd borrowed. I'd have been able to pay the loan off relatively quickly. But I've learnt from that and won't make that mistake again."

Service is a winner

Quote�Everything takes a lot longer and costs more than you think it will.�End Quote
Richard Davies

Richard says his secret to success online is to provide a good product quickly along with excellent customer service.

"The more websites that have that ethic of the corner shop that we have from our childhood memories, the better." Richard delivers on time, puts extra bags in for big orders and handwrites thank yous on his invoices.

"The best advice I ever received was that everything takes a lot longer and costs more than you think it will," says Richard, whose preparedness helps him live a stress-free life. Well, that and the location: beaches, dolphins, adventure...

What next?

You might need help from a professional to set up a shop online. Read our advice about working with a developer or design agency.

Read about setting up an online payment service for your business.

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