By Holly Barry (@HJBarry)
The recent news that entrepreneurs are getting younger, offers inspiration to many. Perhaps you are thinking about setting up your own business as the idea of being your own boss is attractive – or you have had an idea which you are really excited about!
Unfortunately that excitement and passion will only get you so far – you need a watertight business plan and to make sure that you have thought of everything. Take a look at our top tips for getting started:
Research, brainstorm, research
Start with research and more research. Then brainstorm. Then research some more. It sounds so obvious, but many entrepreneurs don’t bother as they are too excited by their idea and skip this crucial step. That’s why you find high street shops closing down after failing to gain customers when they haven’t researched who is living in the local community and what they need.
Create focus groups where you meet up with groups of people who you think would be your target customers and ask them their thoughts on your ideas. Don’t be disheartened by negative comments – you need to hear these now and find solutions for them. As a result, you may need to adjust your business model.
You can start by asking groups of friends to come over to chat about your plans and offer them pizza and wine as an incentive! Make sure these friends will be wholly honest with you – you need them to be critical as well as supportive.
Find yourself a mentor
Research supports using a mentor when setting up your own business. A survey conducted by UPS found that 70% of businesses, that they monitored, went on to survive 5 years or more – double the rate of those who didn’t receive mentoring.
Businesses that have used a mentor are far more likely to succeed than those that haven’t. Steve Jobs was a mentor to Mark Zuckerberg – a clear success story!
This is still your business – a good mentor will not step on your toes – you do the hard work and they provide advice.
So how does a mentor bring this success to your start-up?
- A mentor will find weaknesses in your business model
- A mentor can introduce you to their connections and expand your network
- Mentors can impart real-life experience and tips not found in books
- A mentor gives you reassurance – self-confidence is important to your success
- A mentor from an older generation could help you to consider the market from a different perspective
There are so many ways now to gain a mentor to help you start out. The government supports mentoring as they know it works – and successful start-ups are vital for the UK economy.
Network, network, network
Networking needs to become second nature to you. After meeting someone who might be a useful connection, take their number and message them that it was nice to meet them so that they remember your name. Find them on LinkedIn and link up, perhaps creating a post and tagging them in it. Do this as soon as possible so they don’t forget you – this will reinforce the relationship.
There are also networking groups available in your local area and are worth investing, such as the Athena Network for women in business.
Networking locally can really pay off. When mother and baby’s skincare company, Bloom and Blossom moved their office from London to Buckinghamshire they became local to the Roald Dahl museum and so joined forces by networking with them. Their products now feature well-loved Roald Dahl characters:
‘The idea came to us while we were driving by the Roald Dahl Museum in Great Missenden which is very close to our offices in Amersham. It was a total light bulb moment.’
Be financially savvy
Startups can fail for a variety of reasons, but one of them is simply running out of money. Cash flow management is key. You need to manage your finances with a fine-tooth comb from the initial concept.
Get an experienced accountant on board from the start to set up your accounts for you.
Limit your fixed expenses at the start – you don’t need a trendy but costly office – operate thinly so that you can put all your capital into growth.
Remain optimistic but prepare for the worst – don’t give up your day job until you know that your business is financially viable. It also helps to:
- Write yourself two versions of your business plan – a worst case and a best case
- Research the many forms of government support available for start-ups
- If you have friends and family who can contribute money look at the SEIS scheme
- Track and analyse all spending – be honest!
Listen and take advice
Many successful entrepreneurs will cite some key advice they were given in the early stages of setting up. It is important that you remain humble and don’t forget to listen.
Even someone as powerful as Richard Branson still remembers and uses advice given to him by his mother: ‘Never look back in regret. Move on to the next thing’.
Learn by mistakes
When you are making all the decisions it can be intimidating and many people beat themselves up when they make a decision that fails.
Starting your own business is not likely to be plain sailing. Those who have succeeded have met many obstacles on the way and have made some bad decisions, but instead of giving up they have learnt from them – and used those mistakes to gain the knowledge to make their business stronger and smarter.
If you make a mistake, forgive yourself and move on immediately. It is vital that you are resilient.
People with a fixed mindset believe failure is reflective of their inability. However, those with a growth mindset know that failure is simply a roadmap to the next step and tells them what not to do next time. Bill Gates and Paul Allen were failed traffic software designers, but they simply learnt from his mistakes and set up ‘Micro-Soft’.
In 2011, Paul Allen told Newsweek:
‘Since then, I have made my share of business mistakes, but Traf-O-Data remains my favorite mistake because it confirmed to me that every failure contains the seeds of your next success. It bolstered my conviction that micro-processors would soon run the same programs as larger computers, but at a much lower cost.’
Celebrate small wins
There is no doubt that setting up your own business is not for the faint hearted. You will have to put a huge amount of effort into the business. You might not be making any money for a long time. You are going to have to work through holidays and miss out on social events. However, as a result of hard graft there will be successes along the way and you must celebrate these however small they may seem.
You need to enjoy what you are doing in the beginning stages – not just the end goal. Feel proud as you gain social media followers, gain a positive review or receive some praise from someone as a result of your business. Have a little glass of bubbly to celebrate the achievement or treat yourself to a cinema trip. These mini milestones will keep you going!
Be determined and persist
Determination and persistence are two key qualities. You may well find you have to work more than you receive payback for in the first few years and this needs a strong mindset.
Think of Olympic athletes – they don’t just have physical ability – they need mental determination and persistence too.
These qualities will get you back into the boxing ring after a knockback when another business might quit at the first hurdle.
Be social media smart
Immediately set up accounts on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest if appropriate and make sure you are as active as possible on them to build up a web presence and network. Followers are currency – an incredibly powerful source for a start-up business.
Start the ground work straight away by posting articles and photos that relate to your business. This is something you can do on the move – on the train, in the car or before you go to bed. Research the optimum times to post on each social network to get the most benefit from your effort.
Find ‘your people’
It is vital that you employ the right people for your business. Trust your instinct. Many start-ups have failed due to arguments, deceit or unreliability. You need to make sure that you have a strong recruitment system in place.
This also is the same to employing third party suppliers – you need to make sure they will go the extra mile for you, that they offer a quality service and that you trust them.
Starting a business will never be easy, but if you start out on the right foot you will never look back after gaining success. Those who dare win!