Starting and running a small business is tough. It is quite different from working for someone else and you will need to deal with a measure of uncertainty that you may never have experienced before. To a greater degree you have to be responsible completely, all risk and all reward! But if you are suited to running a business, you may find that it is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding choices you make in your life.
Don’t underestimate what you need to know!
There are many stories of business owners learning by experience and some of those lessons were hard and sometimes finished a business off before it became established. Only this weekend I have been reading about the unexpected pitfalls of lack of knowledge or lack of resources that await some small business owners.
There is plenty of information out there and that in itself becomes a problem: who do you ask, who can you trust? What do you NEED to know?
So here is a brief guide to some key steps to consider when starting your own business:
Step 1 – Do you have a viable business idea?
This means have you a product or service to sell that you know through research, has a market place where customers/clients will buy from you (not just hopeful expectation). This also means researching a pricing structure based on real information and not just chosen because it undercuts your competition.
Step 2 – Does your business idea or product have a real point of difference, either real or perceived?
Are you able to clearly set your business apart from your competitors or any service or product that would divert prospects from coming to you as supplier of choice?
Step 3 – Self reflection
Do you have what it takes? Consider the personal attributes and qualities that will help you through the challenging times as well as the good times? What skills do you have and what skills will you need to be successful in business? Do you think that when under pressure you will be resilient? Be able to take criticism or rejection?
Step 4 – Do you have a written plan?
The one key activity in the early stages is planning – the process of planning helps you identify all areas of your business that will need to be considered. Starting a business is often done on a shoestring, so important choices have to be made in allocating resources, the key here is to KNOW that you are spending your limited pot of funds on activity that will promote sales, build your brand and profile and protect the business from unexpected events that could derail you early on. Your planning should consider your idea and define that day to day activity and practicalities in running a business.
Step 5 – Develop your identity/brand
Consider how you want to present your business, its image and its culture. This also means ensuring a consistency of message that you and your team (if you have one) are proud to be associated with and can confidently market and promote.
Step 6 – Know your marketplace
Research who you will be aiming at, so consider who will buy and why they will buy from you. If you do this you will start out understanding more about your potential customers and be able to research your competitors too.
Step 7 – Plan the most appropriate marketing strategy
There are many ways of marketing and social media has become a very popular part of many small business marketing strategies. However, it has already become apparent that some businesses suit a social media strategy and have grown almost exclusively using social media whilst others have used more traditional methods successfully. As a start- up it is critical that a full appraisal is made of marketing activity and a strategy developed using the most appropriate and effective elements, so that you ensure the best return on any investment you make.
Step 8 -Networking
I am separating out networking from marketing to reinforce its value in business. Networking in this case is nothing to do with meeting people to sell to – it’s all about relationship building and maintenance and it’s a long term activity. The people that you connect with at some point, may well become customers but networking offers so much more than a quick sale. A support system, people that you can talk to about issues you are having, suppliers, people who once they have got to know you and your work might refer you to prospects. They may be people that you can help out with referrals and support too.
Step 9 -Practicalities
Where will you work from? There are many ways of starting out and NO rules. These days more than ever the use of technology means that more people are working in a flexible way. The choices made now are really determined by the sort of business you have. Many individuals start from home and then when necessary use small business incubator hubs, where you can rent desk space or meeting rooms as you need them. Or you may be starting a business that requires, shop space or storage/manufacturing space. Again this is an area for research, talk to contacts, build that network of people who can provide you with help and assistance and at sometime in the future you may well be able to reciprocate. This as part of your planning process means looking at the ‘HOW’ – How you will deliver your services? – What do you need to have in place to ensure your business will deliver consistent and great value products and services? What do you need in terms of financial help?
- Finances – Start up costs, cash flow management processes and planning, together with management information for future planning and funding growth plans. Also consider tax and NI compliance.
- Intellectual property protection (your brand, logo and proprietary information)
- Legal guidance (business structure, business registration, terms and conditions, shareholders agreements and contracts, trademarks and copyrights for intellectual property etc) – other compliance areas like Health and Safety.
- HR (contracts of employment for staff and terms and conditions of employment and compliance policies
- Insurance (personal and business)
- Contingency plans? What would happen if after just starting the business something happened to you and you couldn’t work for a while
Step 10 – ENJOY IT
Self employment is not an easy choice and it is very likely that you may become overwhelmed with the small business way of life – if you can incorporate some balance between work and home early on you will benefit from it. It’s a good idea to establish some boundaries and start some good habits. You will need to recharge your batteries from time to time, so that you can stay on the top of your game.