This week our Small Business Star is Sheena Mackenzie, managing director of tech start-up LifeSize Touch. Combining technology with marketing to achieve clever digital solutions, LifeSize Touch was established in 2013 by digital tech entrepreneur, Sheena.

The company specialises in the design and manufacturing of interactive furniture – such as bespoke coffee tables and desks – embedded with glass touchscreens. With a background in digital marketing and web development projects, Sheena develops the new business for LifeSize Touch, as well as project management of customer orders.

1. We saw an opportunity to develop in an emerging industry

A few years ago I was involved in a project for IBM where we built custom made 142” touchscreens. This planted the seed for creating interactive experiences in a different style and function. Back then, Microsoft had successfully launched a 42” touchscreen table, but the design was generic and I saw the opportunity to create a range of furniture products where the customer could customise the finish to match their interior. This started a long R&D journey into researching technology, product design and creating our first prototypes. Now we have touch tables that allow customers to place drinks on them, with waterproof rating standards, which is important when touchscreens are used in this way on a flat surface.

2. Listen to your markets needs

Non interactive screens, such as the ones in boardrooms or on exhibition stands are in decline, as more businesses realise the benefit of being able to collaborate with content on interactive screens.  Although we primarily make custom design touch tables, we also sell many other touch technology solutions, such as large touchscreen kiosks for exhibition stands and wall mounted touchscreens for meeting rooms. Rather than pushing our key product which is the furniture, we assess our customers’ needs and propose the best touch technology and software for their situation and needs.  Our main USP though is that we’re able to make a range of interactive furniture in sizes and finishes that integrate beautifully with our customers’ existing or planned interiors.

3. Stay ahead of developments and be ready to evolve

It’s extremely important to keep up to date, because IT is constantly changing. I spend a lot of spare time researching on the internet. I recently attended a major exhibition in Amsterdam meeting with key suppliers, discovering new products and seeing, first-hand, new technology that’s emerging.

Although our website is responsive, we’ll be making changes in the next few weeks to make it more mobile friendly. Mobile is a huge growth area for internet consumption, so it’s important that our business website is the best it can be for mobile visitors and also in relation to our Google advertising campaigns.

4. Marketing is often about trial and error

When we first launched, we tried PR and found that, as a start-up, we didn’t have the traction and enough to say about who was using our products and the benefits. Having a background in digital marketing, it’s relatively easy for me to generate online leads for the business, but I do admit to neglecting social media effort. It’s hard to sustain all areas, but our focus for 2015 will be to develop our business personality and conversation using our blog and key social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.

It’s often easy to become engrossed in customer projects and to forget to tell potential customers what projects you’ve successfully completed, or new products you have available. As with all marketing efforts, the real difference for us in terms of converting sales is actually picking up the phone and speaking to people, getting to know whether we can help them, listening carefully to what they need and then following up quickly with a proposal and pricing for them to consider.  Inbound marketing from Google, etc. is a great tool, but it requires swift follow-up to achieve the best results.

5. We’ve been fortunate to work with a number of leading businesses

In the beginning, being a market leader and one of the first businesses to offer interactive furniture was a challenge. We had a lot of marketing awareness to do, which is expensive and potential customers didn’t have any other products to compare us with. That’s a challenge because having no competitors for comparison can stall or prevent buying decisions. But, thankfully, we’ve managed to diversify our product range in that time to generate income and now businesses are much more aware of touch technology in all forms, including furniture.

After a period of R&D, we approached Merseyside Special Investment Fund in Liverpool and successfully gained £50,000 loan investment to take the furniture range to market. We were also recognised as a top 100 UK start-up, by Startups.co.uk which was definitely a highlight. Notably for the recognition from experienced business experts judging the criteria.  Also, selling our products to leading companies such as IBM, Maplin and BUPA, has been great for our business case studies, however we’ve equally enjoyed working with smaller businesses to bring touchscreen technology into their worlds.

6. Be accountable for your actions

Try to keep your overheads low for as long as you can. You really need to question every expense you undertake, especially fixed costs, because in tougher times you can’t easily reduce those. To achieve this you can look to outsource aspects of your business model, but you need to be well organised, with great communication skills and not rely too heavily on any one person or business who supports you.

Find out more about LifeSize Touch by visiting: http://www.lifesizetouch.com/

For more advice and insight from business owners, visit our Small Business Stars hub.