Starting a business is an adventure; the chance to build something that’s yours, that reflects your passion and hard work and enables you to do the things you love most. However, it can also be fraught with challenges, particularly in the early months so, as with all things, it’s best to be ultra-prepared before you kick off.
1. Write a plan
I get it. Writing a business plan is not much fun. It involves lots of research, lots of time and a large dose of getting real. It’s often the time when you find that your great idea is turning out not to be such a great idea after all, and that it needs tweaking or even binning altogether and starting again. But that’s the point. You wouldn’t start out on a long journey to somewhere new without checking a map first, so why would you risk your financial security, and short term peace of mind, without doing the same in terms of your company? Writing a business plan is an essential part of starting a business, and shouldn’t be ignored or short-cut. A investment in planning is always a wise investment.
2. Find a mentor
It can be incredibly lonely when you work for yourself, particularly if you work from home. And hard-going if you don’t have anyone to refer to in terms of challenges or problems that you come across. Some can be fixed by your professional support network – accountant, lawyer etc – but all cost money and, as I’m sure you already know, there’s precious little of that around at the start. Finding a mentor, someone that you can bounce ideas off, talk through a problem with or just get some motivation from - and who is highly experienced in running businesses to boot – is crucial.
3. Get networking
It’s tempting, when in the first year of your business and busy building a client base and revenue streams, to forget that there is a world outside of your computer or office. There are networks right on your doorstep (and online) that shouldn’t be ignored. Building a base of local contacts is really useful. Not only do you have a range of people with whom you can share your start-up journey but you could share purchases, office or selling space, and other costs. And one of the most lucrative benefits for building your own network is that they will become your unofficial, roving ambassadors; introducing you to their contacts who could then become new clients or customers. Ensure that you diarise regular time to get out there and meet other business owners, and see for yourself.
4. Protect your intellectual property
Protecting intellectual property is a vital part of starting a business – and should, ideally, be investigated before you even contemplate opening the doors for the first time. From your logo, to your name, through to any bespoke product parts or designs, your business has something special about it that can be used by others to their advantage, and to your detriment. Only yesterday, I heard of a seafood restaurant that had advertised their name whilst getting the venue ready for opening – only to find one week before opening, after they’d bought the signs and had a bells and whistles website designed, that a seafood restaurant had opened in the neighbouring village using, yes you’ve guessed it, their proposed name. Don’t let this happen to you; consult with a specialist for advice.
5. Know who you are
I’ve lost count of how many companies I’ve worked with who can’t tell me – in one snappy sentence – what their business does. They go round the houses, describing their product/service and why they’re so great, using more words than I can shake a stick at, resulting in a confused message. Thing is, if you don’t know who you are then how can a customer or client know if you have what they need? And if they don’t know whether you have what they need, and don’t really ‘get’ what you’re trying to say, they won’t buy from you. And that’s the end of your business dreams.
You must ensure that your message is short, sweet, and to the point. No more than ten words. No long words that people need a dictionary to figure out, or terminology that only those in the industry understand. It takes time to hone down, and won’t be achieved overnight but keep at it and once you have those magic words, ensure that you use them on all of your marketing; from your website to your client pitch (if appropriate). Consistency is key.