One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother reading to me, “They’re changing guards at Buckingham Palace, Christopher Robin went down with Alice.” My passion for London started long ago and it has never subsided. Like many Anglophiles, I became smitten with all things British from reading books, long before I ever made a visit.

Now, as an entrepreneur, I’m equally fascinated by the businesses that cater to local and visiting booklovers. If a London visit is on your horizon, here are a few places worth exploring.

Daunt Books Marylebone High Street, London

Browse in a bookstore. If you were to spend a month in London, you’d have to visit twenty-five stores a day just to take them all in. Assuming that your time is more limited, head straight to Charing Cross Road and stroll along this booklover’s paradise. Coming out of the Leister Square Tube Station, turn right and you’ll come upon Quinto, a dusty used bookseller and Zwemmer, specializing in design and art. In 2001 rents were raised sharply in the area so many of the smaller specialty shops are no longer there. In the next block is the famous Foyle’s, not an especially easy store to navigate. Check out the side streets, too, for more antiquarian and specialist shops.

Travel with guides, fiction and non-fiction organized by country.

The smaller shops scattered around London are where you’re most apt to meet a bookselling entrepreneur. In the charming The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, there’s this observation about booksellers which is as true today as it was in post-World War II times when the book is set: “”No one in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and no one in his right mind would want to own one—the margin of profit is too small. So, it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it—along with first dibs on the new books.”

You might be tempted to skip the chains, but don’t miss Waterstone’s in Piccadilly which claims to be the largest bookstore in Europe with seven floors of books. Each floor features books by category and has lots of lounging space. You can also have a bite to eat in the fifth floor cafe which has a spectacular view overlooking the Millennium Wheel.

Hear an author talk. Writers are the original homebased business owners. Author appearances are as popular in London as they are in the U.S. And, for the most part, you can listen to a contemporary author read from their latest book or discuss their writing career for free. Some bookstores charge a small admission fee, but allow you to redeem your ticket against the purchase of a book.

Most dependable for locating events and signings is Time Out, the weekly entertainment magazine. Locate the “Books & Poetry” section of the magazine for a current listing of events. Besides author appearances, they also publicize writer’s workshops and poetry readings which are open to the public. Even if you aren’t up on contemporary English literature, this could be an interesting way to spend an evening.

Take a guided tour.  Of all the small companies conducting walking tours, London Walks has the broadest selection of offerings. You can join London Walks and explore London’s Literary Golden Mile or follow in the footsteps of Eliza Doolittle. There’s Oscar Wilde’s London, along with that of Shakespeare and Dickens. Or you might choose a pub crawl that includes a few haunts of famous writers.


London Walks not only offers a wide range of walking explorations, they also have a diverse and entertaining group of tour guides. Many of the guides are actors, while others are art historians, authors or former museum employees. Still others have special qualifications. Alan, for instance, is the chief researcher and archivist of the Oscar Wilde Society and conducts his Wilde Walk attired as Mr. Wilde himself.

These two hour walks, which take place rain or shine, cost a mere £7.00 and are a wonderful way to pick up fascinating details about your favorite authors. Telephone: 020 7624 3978

Margaret, Barbara and Bill in London
Bill Bryson with
Barbara and Margaret Winter

Be a Bohemian for a day.  Bloomsbury, the area surrounding the British Museum, has long had a reputation as a scholarly oasis located in West Central London. Long before Virginia Woolf & Company made this area the height of literary fashion, writers had discovered this peaceful place. Thackeray writes about the area in Vanity Fair; earlier residents included Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw and Gertrude Stein.

However, Bloomsbury became most famous as a literary mecca when the Bloomsbury Group was formed. Although this group is remembered as a literary band, they’re also remembered for their ferocious insistence on personal and sexual liberty and freedom of expression. That should give you plenty of ideas about how you might behave on your Bloomsbury visit.
Begin your Bohemian adventure (dressed in black, of course) by taking the Tube to Holburn. This commercial area is unimpressive and somewhat frenetic. Follow the signs towards the British Museum and you’ll begin to move into a quieter and gentler neighborhood. This area has several lovely public areas, the largest of which is Russell Square. Although the ambiance has changed, you’ll find many vestiges of Bloomsbury’s literary connections by simply strolling along Bedford Place and Woburn Street. Blue plaques adorn the houses of Nos. 46, 50 and 51 Gordon Square where Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf and others of the Bloomsbury Group once lived; at No. 5 Woburn Walk you’ll find the former residence of William Butler Yeats.

Enjoy the perfect place to spend a rainy day. The new British Library is a feast for any booklover. Long housed in the British Museum, the new Library was opened amidst controversy on November 24, 1997. I can’t imagine a more enjoyable place to escape on a cold and rainy day.  Take the Tube to King’s Cross Station, turn right on St. Pancreas and walk about a block and a half.

All sorts of author talks and book-related events take place at the Library, most of them open to the public. There are three (well, four with the gift shop) main attractions. The priceless personal library of King George III is a spectacular display housed behind glass walls that are six stories high. The King’s Library contains some 65,000 volumes, 20,000 pamphlets and 400 manuscripts. While the contents are only available to serious scholars, visitors can enjoy the display while visiting the Cafe or Restaurant.

The manuscript room is the main attraction, however. It always takes my breath away to see an original notebook of Jane Austen’s, a first folio of Shakespeare, and the lyrics to a Beatle’s tune scribbled on a scrap of paper.  Besides historical books, you’ll also find original music compositions such as Handel’s Messiah with annotations.

Skip the hotel. Maggie Dobson is the entrepreneur behind At Home in London which matches up visitors with locals offering homey bed and breakfast accommodations. I have given up pricey hotel stays since discovering this great little business. Because Dobson selects carefully, her hosts are superb.

Explore on your own. When Napoleon called England a nation of shopkeepers, he didn’t mean it as a compliment, but you’ll be happy to learn that many small enterprises have survived throughout London. Even with the infusion of chain stores, London neighborhoods still house plenty of fascinating shops offering a wide range of goods, old and new.

You’d think that every entrepreneur would consider it essential to welcome potential buyers and clients to their business, but experience shows that’s not always the case. Browse at any flea market or craft fair and you’ll see numerous vendors who are reading a book or chatting with other vendors while ignoring the crowd. And it’s not just exhibiters that do this: many business owners seem to wear a “Do Not Disturb” sign — defying anyone to ask them questions or offer them money.

Smart entrepreneurs make it their mission to let others know that they are in business to serve. Whether it’s home based, virtual or bricks and mortar, truly welcoming entrepreneurs are constantly looking for ways to draw others to their business and to make every encounter as pleasant as possible.

Here are a few welcoming ideas to include in your own repertoire.

Be ready to talk about your business with anyone at anytime, anyplace. Opportunity doesn’t always show up at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday over the telephone. It might come via a stranger sitting across from you at Starbucks. Be sure that you are prepared to provide information at all times.

At the very least, always carry a good supply of clean, unbent business cards. It amazes me how many people say, “Oh, I don’t have my cards with me.” What good is a card in your desk drawer? If you have a brochure or printed materials that are portable, carry them, too.

Get the word out in different ways. When you’re new in business, you probably will spend time monitoring the response you get to various forms of advertising. However, that often only gives a short-term picture of what is working for you. If you have a service business, for instance, an ongoing ad in your local paper and another in the Yellow Pages may only bring in customers after a lengthy period of time.

“The best advice I got about having a web site,” says Michael Kelley, who specializes in historic restoration, “was not to depend on search engines to bring traffic to my site. Part of my advertising effort is directed at telling people I have a site.” Keep experimenting. You’ll reach different prospects with each new thing you try.

Be gracious in all encounters. One day when I was at my bank, the teller asked me for some information on London hotels. I gave her a couple of ideas and then said, “If you give me a call tonight, I’ll give you a telephone number for a large hotel chain.”

When Terry called later on, I answered the phone as I always do. “Why you’re as cheerful on the phone as you are when you come into the bank,” Terry responded. Since I am not psychic, I don’t know when my phone rings if it’s a telemarketer or a big opportunity. So my policy is to always answer as if I’m thrilled to get the call. I’m amazed at the number of home based business owners who don’t seem to have such a policy.

Your telephone is probably an important part of your business. Whether you answer it yourself or your voice messaging system takes the call, be conscious of how inviting you sound. Too many answering messages sound lethargic — depressed, even. Give some thought to creating a message that is warm and welcoming. (Frankly, I am mystified why people choose a message that says, “You have reached 555-4527.” This is about
people, not numbers.) If you use the same telephone for personal and business calls, find a way to answer that is appropriate whether it’s your next big client or your daughter’s school friend on the other end.

In face-to-face encounters with your customers, be scrupulous about your manners and your personal hygiene. It’s easy to offend without realizing it. My own garlic-loving dental hygienist used to make my regular cleanings a horror. Heavy perfume (and men’s cologne) can also be offenders. Whether you have physical contact with your clients or not, be sensitive to odors and other unpleasantries. Stories are still being told about Bill Gates working around the clock in the early days of Microsoft without taking time to shower. You may not want those kinds of stories in your biography.

Slick and glossy isn’t always better. The personal touch can add charm to a small business, so don’t be too eager to look like a corporate spendthrift. Angela Adair-Hoy is a successful author and marketer of e-books. In Make Money Self-Publishing, she tells this story:

We built a new high tech and beautiful web site and put it up in the fall of 1999. Sales plummeted. We left the new site up for about three days and then ripped that sucker down. It wasn’t because of broken links or anything like that because we checked all the technical aspects of it. It was the design. We uploaded the old version and sales shot back up. The amateur part of my site gives people a feeling that they know me. They feel like they’re dealing with a nice individual rather than a corporation. That’s been a huge key to my success.

So think of yourself as a host and focus on others whenever you have the opportunity. After all, no business can exist without the support of customers. Make yours glad that they did business with you.

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Like thousands of people, Tim and Nina Zagat loved dining out. Unlike thousands of people, the Zagats found a way to turn that passion into a multimillion-dollar business.

As is often the case, the Zagats hit upon their great idea because they couldn’t find something they wanted themselves — a reliable guidebook to restaurants. Because they found selecting a new place to eat was often a hit-or-miss proposition, they got the idea to enlist some of their friends in helping them rate places they had eaten. The Zagats printed up the information and passed it among their friends. Their little restaurant guidebooks were so well-received that they decided to turn their hobby into a business.

Today, the Zagat dining guidebooks are the most popular in the field, covering several cities in the U.S. plus London and Paris. The food-loving couple now enlist the aid of thousands of people to evaluate a wide range of restaurants and give their opinion on everything from ambience to service. They added another profit center by issuing special editions, which corporations use as gifts for their customers and business associates.

Food has always, of course, been a popular basis for building a business. No other commodity is as universal in its market and fortunes have been made at every link of the food chain. One of the most prevalent business fantasies is to open a perfect little restaurant, despite the expense and failure rate of such undertakings.

But if food is your passion, there are numerous ways to turn that pleasure into profit, other than opening a trendy eatery. Let’s consider a few of the ways you could create a tasty business.

Catering. If cooking for a crowd is your forte, catering could be a natural for you. Both businesses and individuals use the services of pros to feed parties, conference-goers and other large gatherings. I recently met a woman who has spent the past 30 years creating luscious wedding feasts. Then there are the youthful caterers here in Minneapolis who specialize in feeding touring rock bands and their crews. Even more challenging are the catering businesses who specialize in cooking for film crews — often in out-of-the-way locations.

A new trend that’s catching on with busy professionals is hiring a personal chef who prepares a week’s worth of meals in advance and freezes them for the time-pressured singles and families who can afford such a service.

And catering is a business that seems to thrive almost everywhere. In small towns, private caterers now assume the role that was once played by the ladies’ aid organizations in churches. One of the advantages to catering, of course, is that it’s easier to control your time as a caterer than is possible with a restaurant where you’re expected to show up every day. Catering also allows you to be as creative as you like. You can specialize in something unique, such as wedding cakes or vegetarian cuisine.

Share cooking information. There are several formats that can be adapted if you love food and have good communication skills. When I visited my sister Margaret in Los Angeles, our drive time on the freeway was often enhanced by listening to the amazing Melinda Lee, a resident food expert who shares her tips and techniques on the radio.

Food is also a popular subject for writers, with an endless stream of cookbooks appearing all the time. This is one market that never seems to get saturated. A friend of mine compiled a cookbook of family recipes that was so treasured by everyone who received a copy, that she saw a new opportunity for starting a business to design and edit family cookbooks for others. And even self-published regional cookbooks find an eager market.

Examples of self-publishing success abound, so if you have an idea that might be conducive to publishing it yourself, by all means consider doing so. You’ll be in good company.

As our interest in fine dining and healthful eating has grown, the number of food magazines has also grown, with all sorts of opportunities for freelance food writers, critics and stylists to share their passion for good eating.

In addition, experienced cooks often teach adult education classes to share their expertise. A woman in Florida devised a class just for single men — and improved her social life at the same time. Classes in everything from low-fat cooking to haute cuisine continue to draw curious students wishing to expand their cooking repertoires.

Market a food product. Actor Paul Newman garnered enormous publicity when he decided to market his homemade salad dressing. Several million dollars in profit later, his company, Newman’s Own, has added other products, including popcorn and spaghetti sauce.

If you have a great recipe that’s deserving of its own place in the market, consider small-scale manufacturing. While this requires a considerable financial investment and, in most places, a rigid conformity to state regulations, the growing specialty food and gift shop market can provide a perfect vehicle for getting your product launched.

Many successful entrepreneurs sell food at special events or out-of-doors. You’d probably be surprised to learn that the annual income of some street vendors in New York surpasses the six-figure mark.

Another idea that has proved successful is specialty sandwich delivery to workers in large office complexes. Many entrepreneurs have carved out a nice little profit center this way.

Sell food via the mail. Thanks to speedy delivery services such as Federal Express, specialty food items are being shipped all over the country. I was flabbergasted when I saw a classified ad in Los Angeles magazine offering burritos for sale via the mail. Who’d ever buy a burrito that way, I wondered. Well, plenty of people, apparently. A few days after the ad caught my eye, I saw a story on television about the success of Burrito Express, which ships its specialty from coast to coast.

Then there’s Coriscana, Texas, home of the biggest purveyor of fruitcakes in the country, a product that is sold primarily through the mail. Gift baskets of local foodstuffs are also popular mail-order items. You can order all the fixings for a pancake breakfast from a company in Vermont, for instance. If you live in an area that’s famous for a food not easily found elsewhere, opportunity could be knocking.

While specializing seems to be the key to a successful food business, it’s equally important to have a desire to share your passion for glorious food. If you’ve got those basic ingredients, there could be a goldmine in your kitchen just waiting for you to discover it.

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