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Public Resources from the GBA
The Pink Paper has published a series of articles from members of the Gay Business Association which gives a picture of how to start a business, how to find the help you need, some pitfalls to avoid and how to make the most of the gay market.
Selected Market and Business Insights
The Pink Paper has published a series of articles from members of the Gay Business Association which gives a picture of how to start a business, how to find the help you need, some pitfalls to avoid and how to make the most of the gay market.

So you want to start a gay business

Promoting your organisation - creating media interest

Why join the GBA?

Networks make the world go round, and gay networks are spinning faster than ever

What can we learn from the Americans?

Can gay-owned companies set an example in ending discrimination?

So you want to start a gay business

Before starting a 'gay' business it is essential to gauge actual demand for what you are offering. Your findings will need to be included in your business plan if you are seeking a bank loan or outside investment. The good news is that there are several inexpensive ways to 'test the market'.

You may have noticed that the compact nature of the gay community makes it attractive for mainstream companies to test demand for new drinks, grooming products, music and other products where the trend-setting gay consumer will, hopefully, want to be an 'early adopter'. So before you pay a sky-high rent for that premium location in Soho, why not check that people will want to pay for what you are offering by taking a stall at, say, Mardi Gras (for a stall call 020 7793 7933). This gives you the chance to talk to potential customers, find out whether they like the product or service, whether they think the price is right, and if they would actually choose to buy from you. You can get a good idea of demand by seeing what others have done before you.

There are over 200 members of the Gay Business Association covering a broad range of services. If you search their database at www.gba.org.uk you will notice that very few companies operate exclusively in the gay market. However if your marketing budget is small, it makes sense to focus on a particular market - like the gay market - so that your advertising and promotion can make more impact.

You should also think about other ways of testing, perhaps in partnership with an existing company. Talk to as many potential customers or clients as you can. Check what existing businesses are doing and see whether there is a gap you can fill. Explore what would be the best location. Market research is the first critical step in starting any business. There are more statistics and gay research at www.gaytoz.com which can help you prepare your business and marketing plan.

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Promoting your organisation - creating media interest

Sparking interest in your products and services so that the public flock to your door is critical for a successful organisation. Here are five easy things to remember that will help you get that all important third-party endorsement of a press story, and encourage your customers and potential clients to spread your news by word-of-mouth.

First
Target your stories to the publication or media you have in mind. Understand their style and the way they talk to their readers, then tailor your information appropriately.

Second
A picture still tells a thousand words, and a really good image with an interesting caption is often just what the editor needs. Photographs need to be good quality so best use a professional photographer. Be imaginative. Create a photo opportunity if necessary by using a celebrity, an unusual angle or location, or capture the mood of an event.

Third
Make your press release fascinating but remember the journalist's catchphrase: who, what, when, where, why. If you are just promoting your usual thing then you should probably be considering paying for regular advertising. In fact the two go hand in glove. Regular advertising makes sure your customers know where to find you, an occasional press story reminds them to get in touch.

Fourth
Be adventurous. Be controversial. Whatever it takes to catch the editor's - and the reader's - eye. Do you have new facts and figures? Is there an argument raging - or can you start one?

And fifth
Look around for different types of media. A gay story is usually of interest to the gay press, but these days even the national newspapers are looking for off-beat stories. And don't forget that radio and TV are catching up on the gay bandwagon with a plethora of gay-friendly programmes. They're also looking for competition prizes, and interesting people to talk to. If you need help and advice from gay marketing specialists, search the Gay Business Association's member database.

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Why join the GBA?

The Gay Business Association was established over 15 years ago, and has over 230 members. Over the years one question has continuously been asked by both entrepreneurs and the gay public: 'what makes a gay business?'. The GBA recommends start-up projects to put their emphasis on 'business'. Without a sound business and marketing plan, no enterprise is going to survive.

These days we come across fewer homophobic bank managers, but to get a loan you will need to have your business model right.

It is important to realise that the gay or lesbian market is quite small. Even in London a business aimed at gay people is going to appeal to maybe just 5 per cent of the whole population. So unless you are working in an exclusively gay area like gay saunas, or gay publishing, you are probably going to need to appeal to a broad range of customers.

The small size of the market does have some advantages, particularly when it comes to promotion and advertising. There are a clearly defined set of publications, like the Pink Paper, which offer cost-effective ways of reaching gay customers, and for new businesses with limited budgets this can > be a good place to test and develop advertising campaigns.

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Networks make the world go round, and gay networks are spinning faster than ever

Since before the invention of the wheel humans have found that working in teams gives that group more flexibility and more power. Today's networks still provide the extra strength that comes from having a broad range of skills and expertise to draw on.

Over the past thirty years or so the gay community has benefited from working together for our political ambitions, and our work on HIV is a benchmark in successful healthcare lobbying. During this time members of the Gay Business Association have created their own professional network. They have found that doing business with other gay and lesbian entrepreneurs has brought many benefits, not least the ability to talk freely about our personal lives if we want - just like our straight co-workers. It leads to a more relaxed working atmosphere.

The GBA's network now involves over 230 companies, and every year the Association invites members to set up a tabletop display at their AGM and EXPO 2002, to promote their products and services. Members can bring their staff, customers and friends along, and entry will be free for pre-registered members of the gay and lesbian public if they register at expo@gba.org.uk.

The event is designed to be a business-to-business opportunity, so even if you are working for a straight company you should meet gay and lesbian professionals who could be more comfortable do business with. Their expertise, and their range of products and services, is as good as any other trade association, and many are tailored especially for gay customers. While no-one in the GBA wants to create a 'gay ghetto', there is no doubt that working with people who have similar interests and lifestyle can make business life a lot more fun.

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What can we learn from the Americans?

America has always held a fascination for the gay community. The 'land of the free' has sometimes offered us both freedom and repression at the same time, but has always lead the way when it comes to commerce. Recently fifteen members of the UK's Gay Business Association exhibited at the L&G Business Expo in New York in order to see what trends might be coming our way in the next year or so.

Among the most obvious trends was the lack of any major gay web sites at the show, when the year before we had seen several large and expensive stands from the likes of GayWired, and Planet Out. The gay part of the 'internet boom' has followed the mainstream sector, with some of the more well endowed dotcoms buying up traditional gay print media while they still had investment capital left to spend. Maybe their promotional strategy has changed, and they are now concentrating their efforts in online promotion to grab visitors while they are actually surfing. The successful web sites are the ones based on dating or information.

The sheer size of the US means that the gay newspapers are regional, with only a few national glossy magazine titles, none of which come close to providing the sort of nationwide community coverage that, say Gay Times, does. However the growth of the web, gay digital TV channels, and the popularity of large 'circuit parties' means that the gay world seems to be shrinking all the time.

The gay tourist sector is well organised, and it is most notable that many gay-owned businesses have got together to promote their towns as resorts. Look at the international publicity generated for the likes of Key West, Provincetown, and Palm Springs, and you can see the advantages if there was more co-operation between gay businesses in Brighton, Blackpool and Manchester in attracting more international visitors.

The British Tourist Authority, who were also exhibiting, are well aware that a higher percentage of gay and lesbians in the US have a passport, so they are key prospects. Will they be encouraged to use gay-owned businesses, including travel agents and hotels, when they come to Europe?

The other major trend noticeable at the exhibition was the growing diversity of community groups available. Groups for gay parents, policemen and firemen, neighbourhood associations, seniors, and sports groups - all portents of what is happening here in the UK.

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Can gay-owned companies set an example in ending discrimination?

Few people realise that it is still perfectly legal in this country to sack a lesbian or gay men just because of their sexual orientation. By 2003 this country has committed itself to providing specific legislation to outlaw discrimination and harassment on the grounds of sexual orientation.

At the current time the "new law" is at the consultation stage and members of the Gay Business Association have the opportunity to give their views. In the meantime, are businesses working with gay and lesbian staff good at dealing with discrimination?

GBA members must sign up to a code of practice which includes an equal opportunities policy. This aims to create and sustain a positive operating environment where the individual rights and dignity of lesbians and gay men are respected. It also ensures that: all employee related benefits recognise same sex partners; there is a safe working environment and any homophobic harassment is dealt with; the workplace social and hospitality culture is inclusive; and that all discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or HIV status is challenged and opposed.

GBA members have helped to create examples of 'best practice' based on our day to day experience of employing gay staff and serving lesbian and gay customers. By setting an example, we hope more mainstream companies will recognise how destructive homophobia can be to their business, and more positively, they will recognise the advantages gay people can bring to their employers. For examples of good equal opportunities practice, contact hello@gba.org.uk Lesbian and Gay Employment Rights LAGER, Lesbians 020 7704 8066, Gay men: 020 7704 6066.

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