How to start your own online empire - plus the chance to win an office for a year

When someone mentions influential Manchester businesses does it make you think of old-timey cotton mills and grumpy industrialists? Well it's time to join the 21st century as the city's most booming current industry is tech, and in particular, companies taking advantage of social media. 

The faces of these companies aren't your average business types either. They are young, enthusiastic and just as likely to be concerned with the power of storytelling as they are with elevator pitches (though they like those too). They care about the bottom line but also their communities, with social impact a factor in how they do business.

Followers are not just a number but real people with real passions and real problems

One such face is Hannah Anderson, the co-founder of Social Chain, a media company with almost 700 staff and a £9m annual turnover as of last year. It was founded in Manchester and still has its head office here - though it also has offices in London, Berlin and New York. Via its stable of social media accounts, such as SporfLove Food and Student Problems, it reaches over 1.8bn people every month and tags itself as the 'most engaged social-first publisher in the world.'

Named as one of Vogue’s 25 most influential women in 2018, the magazine called her 'the greatest social-media influencer you’ve never heard of.' That could soon be about to change though. Hannah just won the Rising Star category at the Media Week Awards. 

Although Hannah's ascent has been rapid, it hasn't been without adversity. She broke her back in a trampoline accident last year; a setback which hasn't stopped her from doing a TED Talk, speaking at a NATO conference and earning the ultimate social media accolade, a Twitter checkmark.

19 10 18 Win Your Workspace
Bruntwood is offering 12 months of free office space to the winner of a new competition

After such an impressive rise, Hannah is well-placed to judge Bruntwood’s 'Win Your Dream Office’ competition. Bruntwood, another influential Manchester-based business, aims to give aspiring small business owners a headstart with the chance to win 12 months of free office space, worth up to £18,000, at city centre-based buildings across the North and Midlands. Social Chain is famous for its own out-there offices, which include a slide and a ball pit, although they started out with just a desk and a laptop each.

With this in mind, I caught up with Hannah on the origins of Social Chain, building a media empire and the surprising secret ingredient she thinks is essential to commercial success. Potential entrepreneurs, read on.

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Hannah receives her Media Week Award

Tell us how Social Chain started?

HA - Five years ago there were three of us with an idea. Steve and Dom had been working at Wallpark, which was like an online student message board. They noticed that they were making money by sending traffic from social media to their website to look at adverts, and over time wondered why they were sending people from social media to a website, when they could just put the adverts on social media and cut out the middle man. And that was the initial spark for Social Chain. 

At the time, I was training to be a primary school teacher, but in my spare time I was building Twitter accounts, just for fun. They accumulated several thousand followers in different niches. So Steve and Dom reached out to me and asked if I wanted to work with them and luckily I said yes. I did finish my degree though (Hannah got a first in Early Childhood Education). Our early focus was on blowing up apps and we’d work with film and television companies and drive people to go and watch films or programmes. And that developed Social Chain into what it is now. Our agency business works with a lot of the biggest brands in the world, on their social media strategy and their content creation. I am in the media part of the business and our focus is in building in emerging platforms, We recently hit 1 million followers in Tik Tok and are building our own podcasts. It’s even more exciting as we plan to go public soon.

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Slide at the Social Chain office

When you started the company, did it feel like you’d done something brave? 

HA - Looking back, it was braver than I thought at the time. As you can imagine, I was a 20-21 year old, at that time you are still in a bit of a risk-taking mind-set. But I can remember my mum and dad being like, wait, what are you doing? I went and started a company with two strange boys off the internet instead of going into teaching. But I had a genuine belief that it was valuable and it was going to become something. We just knew that it wasn’t normal to be able to grow millions of followers on Twitter and Facebook, and that it wasn’t normal for three kids to be able to get 2 million downloads on the App Store in a week. And that’s when I thought, if I don’t go for this I am going to miss out, and it completely changed my life forever.

What would say your special skill is?

HA - I think I just have an innate understanding of how humans operate. It’s almost like a hyper empathy. What I mean by that is, to understand how people act on social media you have to understand how people act in general. I think that is always what I’ve known, how to tailor content by putting myself in other people’s shoes. So, I always look at people. Followers are not just a number but real people with real passions and real problems, and that’s what you have to be able to tap into in order to grow.

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The Social Chain Office

What is your number one tip for people considering starting their own business?

HA - The definition of a business is a collection of people and that’s what you have to do in business, you focus on your people. If you stop then everything will fall out from underneath your feet, because that’s what drives the company. Sometimes I will go home at night and I won’t be able to stop thinking about people and their problems but I think that’s makes them want to prove themselves and do a good job, because I genuinely care.

What essential kit do you need when starting out? 

HA - Well I spent my student loan on a laptop.

That’s a good investment

HA – So I’m glad I had a laptop, I’m glad Twitter existed. I’m glad that I had two amazing co-founders who are two very, very different people, I think that is why we work so well together, because we all serve different purposes. I had a supportive family and a good group of friends as well. I still go home and see them all the time. I like to think I retained myself. If I ever stop being just a lass from Washington Village in the North East then I need I need to take a good hard look at myself. I think that is something I will always keep and never, ever want to become someone else. So I’d say a sense of self, that’s necessary too.

How you could win your dream office

The ‘Win Your Dream Office’ competition, organised by inspirational workspace provider Bruntwood Works, is inviting small businesses and entrepreneurs to enter by writing a short business pitch and submitting it via the website by 27th October 2019.

A shortlist of candidates will be invited to pitch their business plans in person to a panel of expert judges in November.

The panel will include; Ciara Keeling, CEO of Bruntwood Works; Hannah Anderson, Co-Founder of Social Chain; Polly Dhaliwal, Head of Member Partnerships at Enterprise Nation; and Herb Kim, Founder of Thinking Digital and the Curator of TEDxManchester & TEDxLiverpool.

The lucky winner will receive their own all-inclusive serviced office for up to four people for a year, complete with free WiFi and cleaning services, as well as access to facilities such as a communal lounge and kitchen with free tea and coffee, phone booths and bookable meeting rooms, with select buildings also offering a fitness studio, roof terrace, sleep pods, independent coffee shop and podcast studio.

To top it off, they will receive a free membership from Bruntwood Works’ business support partners, Enterprise Nation.