So, you’ve got a great idea and you think you’ve got what it takes to turn that into a successful business? If you’re about to take the plunge and launch your business, then good on you! The road ahead may be holding some pretty tough times and it’ll definitely need a lot of hard work and dedication, but if you research, plan well and take good advice wherever you can then you will maximise your chances of success.
Here are my top tips to help you along the way.
One: Write a Business Plan
It might seem like a daunting task if these are your first steps into the world of business, but in reality your first ever business plan may only ever be read by you, so it doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish! The key thing is the experience of writing it, and you can always rip it up and write another (much better) one from scratch afterwards. It’s vitally important, before you get bogged down in the day-to-day running of your business, to make a note of your short, medium and long-term goals. Try to write it as if it’s being sent to a scary investor; justify every assumption and make sure you back everything up with facts and research.
Even if you are the only one who ever reads it, the exercise will help you massively and may help you to realise mistakes – or even new possibilities – as you drill down further. Get help writing a business plan.
Two: Get your Friends & Family Involved
This is a great little tip which I’ve borrowed from Jonathan Ford’s blog. In the early days, you’re likely to have a very tight budget so it will be difficult to market your business and get that snowball effect going. What to do? Figure out which of your family and friends could be proactive in helping to get your message out there and find your potential first customers. Have a read of his blog and then draw up your own “Nifty 50” list!
Three: Use Technology to Take Shortcuts
We live in times where technology makes a lot of things a lot easier! Why not use it to your advantage in your new business? Used wisely, technology can increase your efficiency hugely and help you to get in front of more people for a fraction of the cost, as well as transform the image of your business that you portray to the world. Have you ever wondered how many businesses which look big and established are actually run from domestic kitchen tables whilst the baby’s asleep in the corner and the cat looks on disapprovingly?!
- Get a professional-looking business phone number to separate work and personal calls, and add features like professional welcome messages and on-hold music. You can point the number to your personal mobile phone and tell which are business calls by setting the Caller ID to present your business number when it rings. If you’re starting the business with a friend or colleague, you can even set up a menu option if you’re looking after different areas of the business. Press 1 for sales (Fred’s mobile), Press 2 for accounts (Susan’s home phone a 5-minute drive down the road from Fred’s house) etc. etc. Read more about 03 Business Phone Numbers, 0800 numbers and local (geographic) numbers.
- Get a domain name for your business website and email. Nothing looks worse than asking people to email your business on a Hotmail address, and a .co.uk domain name for a year costs less than a trip to a coffee shop, so there’s no excuse! Buy your domain from somewhere like 123-reg, build a website with something like WordPress, and consider G Suite to host your professional email address and other productivity tools.
- Are you a whizz with numbers and accountancy terminology? No, me neither – so that’s why should use tools like Xero and Receipt Bank to remove the hassle out of managing things like receipts, invoices to customers and from suppliers and calculating numbers. Speak to your accountant about these tools, or find more information at http://www.jonathanford.co.uk/xero/
Four: Your Idea Doesn’t (Necessarily) Have to be New
Trying to sell a product that is new can be an uphill struggle. Being first is not always best, as you have to educate a market and convince them of the need for your product. So don’t be put off if your idea has been done before – think about how you can do it differently, by including an additional feature or benefit.
Five: Don’t Assume that Because You’re Good at it, You’ll be Good at Doing it as a Business
There are many more elements to running a business which are in addition to simply providing the service. Being your own boss might sound great, but is it for you? You might not have anyone telling you what to do, but that also means there may be no-one to give you direction.
So, have a long hard think about whether it’s a good idea. Hopefully the answer will still be yes, and if it’s not a resounding “yes” then is there someone you can team up with who has the skills? You don’t want to live you life regretting never having given it a go, but you also don’t want to regret having given it a go!
Six: Keep Self-Assessing
It’s useful to look at your business with a critical eye now and again and see how you could be doing things better. Speak to your customers, too, and don’t be afraid to ask them for feedback on how they think you could do better. A friend or family member can be helpful for this too, although be sure to ask them for honest feedback and tell them you won’t be offended – there’s no use in someone just saying “well done, I’m so proud of you” if they can spot areas for potential improvement you haven’t spotted!
Seven: Think Like an Investor
If the time comes to seek investment in your business, don’t be stingy with your equity; it’s a false economy! It’s far more valuable to own 40% of a multi-million pound company than to own 99.5% of a company turning over £250 a year. Extreme example, but it still amazes me how many entrepreneurs turn down investment because they want to hold on to more of their company, thus devaluing the very thing they’re trying to increase the value of!
It’s also a good idea to try and think like an investor from day one – what would impress them, and what would put them off? Try and stick with the former and avoid the latter!
Eight: Understand Your Customers
You might think you understand your customers, and I suppose to be fair you might – especially if you yourself are part of your target demographic. A lot of new businesses, however, think they understand their customers but sadly don’t, or at least don’t understand them as fully as they thought.
Depending on your business and what is relevant to you, you may benefit from understanding things like age, gender, interests, background etc. to determine what your customers want/need, why they would buy it from you and not a competitor, and how much they’re prepared to spend. Also, ask yourself this vital question: is your aim to be the cheapest in town, or the best?
“Build it and they’ll come” doesn’t always work! Take a lean approach to constantly innovate, improve, change, etc. based on customer feedback and what they actually want. Have a read of The Lean Startup for some excellent advice on how to innovate and determine your customers’ needs in order to create a successful business.
Nine: Get out of Your Kitchen/Bedroom/Office
Get out and meet like-minded people, and go to events in your local area. You’ll go stir-crazy if you sit at home all day! Depending on where you’re at in your business journey, it might be a good idea to join a co-working space or other startup incubator and these often give you access to mentors and financial/funding advice. An example in Liverpool, England is Launch22.
Ten: Don’t Beat Yourself Up If you Make a Mistake!
Mistakes are fantastic opportunities to learn! Failure shouldn’t be seen as a dirty word – if we were all afraid of failure then some of our best advances would never have happened. Ever wondered why WD-40 is called what it is? It’s short for “Water Displacement, 40th formula” – so it sounds like it took 39 failures to get to the right mix, but just think about what a success that product is now.