Getting started can be the hardest part
Things you need to know
Every business starts with an idea, it's how you develop it that will determine your success. Here are 10 tips to help your startup flourish
Research the market
Research your potential customer base thoroughly before launching your business. Is there a demand for your product or service? Look at your target customer and make sure you understand their needs. Email them, call them, carry out a survey in the street - whatever it takes.
Find a niche
As part of your research, investigate your competition and differentiate yourself from them by offering something they don't. Simply selling the product at a cheaper price won't guarantee customers. People will often pay more if they're happy with product or service.
Plan, plan and plan some more
Write a business plan that covers the following points:
- What you will sell
- Who will buy it
- How your product or service assists customers
- What you will charge
- How else you can make money from the business
- How you'll spread the word about your business
- How you'll encourage referrals
- How much you'll need to earn for it to be a success
- Any obstacles and possible solutions to overcome them
A guide to business planningYou can also read our comprehensive guide to writing a business plan.
Develop a strategy
Determine what your long-term goals are, then develop a strategy to ensure you achieve them.
Business coach Rob Da Costa explains: 'Imagine your goal as an island you want to reach. The strategy is how to get to the island - will you build a bridge or hire a helicopter for example? To make this decision you need to research all available methods, then decide which is best.
Tell the world
You can have the best idea in the world, but if you don't have a way to tell your target market it's a non-starter. For a marketing plan to work, you need to understand your customers' behaviours.
You will probably have to reach out to them a number of times; you need to convince them that they can't afford to ignore what you're offering.
Embrace social media - but be selective
Social media has made it much easier for small businesses to reach niche markets. It's also a cost effective way for start-up companies to reach their target audience. However, it's better to fully understand which channels will work best for you before embarking on a social media strategy.
Business coach Rob Da Costa warns: 'Make sure you think about the purpose of using different channels. If you're really smart you can use social media as your primary approach to marketing but you need to use it wisely.'
Hire an accountant
Get an accountant from day one. When you start a business, many of your decisions will determine the legal structure of your business, so it helps to have an expert on side. A chartered accountant can prepare your accounts but also help with your business strategy. An expert will also be able to offer you legal advice about your taxes.
You can also use FreeAgent, software that helps you manage your business accounts, create and send invoices, track time, log expenses and forecast your business tax bills.
Be a FreeAgentOnline accounting software to help you manage your business finances. Currently free for our NatWest customers.
Survive 6 months with no income
Many businesses fail because they haven't planned their finances adequately. Ensure you have enough money stashed away to keep you going for the first six months as your business may not take off immediately. It takes time to build a brand, create a reputation and to let people know what you're doing.
Create a peer group
Talk to other businesses that are doing a similar thing to you, or are in the same development stage. Build a peer group around you and talk to others who are starting out. Most people are willing to help, so ask them questions. Your Chamber of Commerce will be able to advise you and put you in touch with other business owners in your area.
Establish a work-life balance and stick to it
Finally, before you take the leap, discuss your expectations with your family and secure their support. Put boundaries in place - if you are working from home, ensure you secure time and space away from your work environment at the end of each day.
Handy hint'Don't allow your work to spill into other parts of your house. Try not to answer emails immediately if you're having down time - turn off your phone if you can.'Business coach Rob Da Costa