So you’ve got your idea. You’ve found the problem you want to solve. The niche you want to fill.
Now you’re thinking about how you’re going to make it happen. Where your HQ is going to be. Who you are going to get onboard. What your branding is going to look like. Everything.
But before you start making rash decisions regarding your expenditure at the outset on things like hardware and premises, take stock a moment.
Is it all going to be really necessary?
More and more, start-ups and small firms are making use of remote working possibilities afforded by WiFi, the Cloud and telecommuting.
Apart from being a way to cut your overheads pretty drastically, releasing some pressure on your cashflow, it also enables your employees to manage the demands on their lives more effectively - meaning that they are better placed to channel their full energies into your business, where they are needed.
By operating flexibly and remotely, you make your working processes more agile and can free up the cash that would be spent on things like heating, business rates and rent. On top of this, your employees save commuting costs and are more equipped to avoid any associated stress.
IT and software providers are wise to this shift within the start-up landscape and have created product suites for agile start-ups to manage the transferral and storage of data and communications more effectively and securely.
As the business-scape shifts and new markets open up, being more flexibly set up will put you in a good position to trade more effectively across borders. It might well be that your key market is not in the territory you originally thought. Were you to work inflexibly at the outset, you may not even ever come to that realisation and that market would go untapped.
Similarly, if you are in full-time employment and, as recent research suggests, are in the good number of employees who are dissatisfied with their current role, you might wish to be more like the sudden bloom of entrepreneurs springing up around the UK and start up your own project while still gainfully employed.
Remote working and Cloud technologies offer up ample possibilities to allow you to do just that and there is a multiplicity of advantages involved, your personal exposure to risk is lowered and you can adopt a trial and error approach until you have a more rounded and attractive proposition to your target market.
So, if you think your current career is not progressing in the way that you wanted or that you think you are ready to make your first entrepreneurial step, there has arguably never been a richer time to take your future into your own hands.
Matthew Pink works in digital publishing and covers topics including entrepreneurship and start-ups.
Some of us have always dreamt of having our own business, but not all of us go through with it. For those who do, it can be a real labour of love.
Bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) have been around for many years and they’re a great alternative to hotels and hostels. Not only can they be cheaper, but they are designed to be homely for all who sleep there. Running one takes a lot of time and patience, and many things must be considered for the small business owner.
First off, you need to be aware of your target market, because this can greatly affect your success. You need to be able to stand out from the crowd and be able to offer facilities and services best suited to the type of clientele you wish to attract.
Next there is the building itself and there are a few options open to you. You can buy an existing business and put your personal stamp on it; renovate a building for use as a B&B; or build entirely new premises. There are pros and cons to each and it all depends on what you want and need from it. If you have a smaller budget you may want to consider purchasing a pre-existing business, so you don’t have to worry about any initial renovation or building costs. Also, you would be able to open up for business sooner.
To make sure that everything is above board it would be wise to seek the advice of the local planning authority. There are also certificates to sort out, including a certified kitchen, a check from a health and safety inspector and a visit from the environmental health agency. If your business does not comply with their standards for whatever reason, you will not be able to run the business until it is sorted and checked again.
Research. Need I say more? It never hurts to look around at other B&Bs nearby to see how they are run and whether they are popular. You might just learn something valuable from the competition. You also need to do your research on things like running costs, rules and regulations, the local demographic and much more.
As an optician I had a well-respected and secure job that paid the bills and gave me a very comfortable lifestyle, but it never quite gave me the fulfilment I was looking for.
I always wanted to run my own business and considered starting my own practice, but I didn’t think it was something I was passionate enough about to make a success of it. I had always been interested in technology and so it seemed fairly logical to do something online.
Both my business partner (a medical doctor) and I realised that there was a bit of an untapped market in the comparison website niche, because there was nothing offering anything related to health. This, in effect, was where the idea for TreatmentSaver.com was born, a website that allows people to book appointments online for laser eye surgery, cosmetic surgery and dental clinics.
Coming up with the idea for our online business was the easiest bit; taking the plunge to leave my job was always going to be trickier. I’m married and have a young daughter and trying to explain to my wife that I wanted to leave my perfectly good job was met with raised eyebrows, to say the least! My parents just couldn’t understand why I would spend all that time at university only to ‘throw my career away'. I explained to them that I would always have my career to fall back on should things not go as planned.
For me, the financial aspect was always the most difficult mountain to climb, because it’s hard to justify working long hours when you aren’t even getting paid for it. Initially, I worked two days per week as an optician, which gave me enough money to survive and this compromise worked well.
When we started our online business, my business partner and I each invested £25,000, which seemed like a heck of a lot of money at the time. As is probably true with many start-ups, a lot of the money ended up being wasted, as we figured out the best way to do things. We outsourced our web development and this was the single biggest drain on our finances. The first two companies promised the world, but were unable to deliver what we wanted, so we had to pull the plug on their work. This resulted in both a loss of time and money. It was at times like this that I felt like packing it in and returning back to my nine-five job, but with every failed website, we learnt a number of lessons about how better to assess potential web developers and understanding the mechanics of building a site.
It took about eight months to finally launch our website, which is a long time. Looking back, we realise we over-complicated things. We wanted an endless supply of cool features, but in reality we could have launched far sooner with a much simpler site.
The past 14 months has been about growing our traffic and signing up clinics, and we have now got to the point where we can pay ourselves a decent salary. The early days are definitely the toughest and having a strong family behind you is extremely important. I could not have done this without the support of my wife, so in that sense it was very much a joint decision. Hopefully, I can repay her support one day.
We all have exactly the same number of hours in a day, so why do some people seem to have enough time to do everything they want to do and others never seem to have enough?
If you want to be more successful, you need to use your time in a way that brings you the success you want. To do this you need to understand how you use your time and what it is worth.
A few years ago I sat down and worked out what my time was worth and how I wanted to spend it, and for the past two years my annual income has doubled. Here are my tips:
Start by looking at how you spend your time - the balance between business activities and the rest of your life. I suggest you go through your diary and colour-code the time as follows:
Notice how many weekends and evenings you are using for business meetings and events. Ask yourself if you are happy with this and if it’s bringing you the benefit you want. If so – great. If not – don’t do it anymore.
Next, understand how your daily activities contribute to your overall business (and life) goals. For example, if you want to double your turnover, you need to work out what your time is worth in financial terms. Here is how:
As soon as I doubled my income generation hours (green) and reduced the other hours, my turnover doubled. Last year it doubled again.
Here are some tips to help you focus:
Time and money are our two greatest assets. If we use them well we can create the life, business and lifestyle that we choose. It is our personal experience of time that matters. Are you happy with how you spend your time? If not then I suggest you review how you currently use your time. Work out what your time is worth – do the maths. Think about what is the best use of your time if you are to meet your goals.
In just 20 months, Vicki Wusche made the transition from single mother on limited income to being financially independent and having a property portfolio worth £2m. She runs a successful business that sources property for other investors, teaches people how to invest in property and has written many popular books on the subject.
I’ve always been business-minded, looking for solutions to problems, finding ways to improve things and thinking of ways people could do things better.
I have several family members with their own businesses and that probably influenced me growing up, because I’ve always wanted to run my own business, too. Working for other companies and helping them grow made me realise that this was something I could do for myself, so I set about trying to make that happen.
I was introduced to Nadine, who had 15 years of experience in the travel industry, and we launched eShores in 2007. Nadine and I worked from her spare room for 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Within four months we had built the business up enough to move into a small serviced office and take on two staff. That’s when we knew eShores had really begun!
We saw a gap in the market for a travel company that provided the ease of booking online with the level of service and support offered by high street agencies. We knew that if we were to go down the luxury route and provide high quality service throughout the whole holiday experience, we could create a business that was unique in the market at that time.
Once we’d seen considerable success with eShores we decided to try branching out by launching another website that offered cheap holidays that could be booked online. Quickly we found that marketing the second website was very expensive and difficult, because it didn’t offer anything different from other cheap holiday sites.
Trying to expand the business was a costly endeavour, but it made us realise that it’s not always best to branch out into a different area. If you have something that works, it’s better to focus all your time and effort in to making it the best it can be.
We don’t regret trying out the second business. It had an effect on eShores and took our focus away from the main core of our business, but this simply taught us a valuable lesson in keeping 100% focused on the main product, because this is what works best for us.
My advice to anyone starting out in business would be: choose the market that you want to aim towards and build it around that; and make sure you offer something different – you must stand out if you are to succeed.
Business partners Gavin Lapidus and Nadine Brown run eShores, which is now in its sixth year of trading.
When two young mums with blossoming careers in law decided to take a furniture painting class, little did they know within a year their hobby would be a successful business called Lovely Things.
However, after friends and family expressed interest in their up-cycled pieces, Charlotte Dennison (pictured, a lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service) and Charlotte Smith (a legal assistant for Ryedale Council), both 32, decided to showcase their products at a local market, and the pieces were quickly snapped up by local stores. The Charlottes also now sell their goods on Ebay and Facebook.
Here the pair from North Yorkshire share their tips on how to run a sideline business.
Charlotte D: “When we started Lovely Things I was on maternity leave, looking after a three-year-old and a four-month-old. Charlotte Smith was back at uni as a mature student and looking after a 10-year-old.
“Luckily my husband is a policeman who works shifts and my in-laws live locally and Charlotte Smith’s parents help her out. There is no way we would be able to run our business without them, because we just couldn’t afford childcare.”
Charlotte D: “We split the big jobs in half. For example, if we’re decorating a table and chairs, Charlotte (S) will do the first bit and I will do the second bit. This way no job is too big, and we don’t get bored half way through!”
Charlotte S: “As we’re still in the very early days, we keep our own books and our overheads are low. We don’t have fixed prices for our items and encourage customers to make offers.
“We did consider getting our own website produced, but because we could use Facebook, Twitter and Ebay for free, it was hard to justify the additional cost.”
Charlotte S: “Being able to work in the evening and weekends allows us to fit Lovely Things around our family and work lives.”
Charlotte D: “If I could go back to last year, one thing I would change is I’d have more belief in our products earlier on. We were too nervous to go and rent a market stall to begin with because we were worried no one would be interested in our products.
“But it turned out to be the best thing we did, because it was at a market that we got talking to the owner of a local interior design business, who offered us space in her shop for our things. You just need to speak to everyone, because you never know who you are talking to and you really need to shout about your business. You have to believe in yourself, your business and its products.”
This guest post has been provided by Lima Curtis writing on behalf of ExpertMarket.
Have you been there, done that, got the T-Shirt – only to find it’s the wrong T-Shirt? Are you determined that 2013 will be different?
New Year’s resolutions are, in principle, a great idea. But if all you do is say you are going to do something and not have the whole process clear in your mind, it is very hard to follow through.
Not only do you need to know what you are going to do, but also how you are going to do it and how you are going to meet the challenges that automatically arise as you start creating change.
If you really want to make 2013 your best year, you need to be thinking differently and doing something different, too.
One way of thinking differently is to question the limiting beliefs you have about what is and isn’t possible. Change your thinking, question your beliefs and you are on the way to truly creating change.
In addition, your New Year’s resolution can only really work if you also change what you are doing.
It is like saying that you want to increase your circle of friends, but then only ever going to the same old places with the same old people and wondering why you are not meeting anyone different. You need to change the pattern you have been following for years.
Write your own rules; look at your world in a different way; allow yourself to think differently to those around you. That’s how you begin to live the life you want.
So this January, I suggest you take the time to really uncover what it is you want 2013 to look like.
Resolve to use this quiet darkness of winter to begin to grow the picture of what your “right T-Shirt” will look like. As the days begin to lengthen, build this picture of the life you want to be living, so that when spring comes you are ready to put it all into practice.
In that way, you will be far more likely to make it happen, to stick with it, to change your thinking and doing and meet the challenges along the way until suddenly there you are – wearing your Right T-Shirt.
Jessica McGregor Johnson is the author of a new book The Right T-Shirt
The Startacus platform – the “self-start society” – was launched in August 2012. Recently, the collaboration element of the site was unveiled, which will allow members to add projects and connect and collaborate to help bring their ideas to life.
The primary objective of Startacus is to inspire, support and motivate people across the UK and Ireland to fully realise their self-start potential. The site aims to make a long-term social impact. Many people have great creative ideas, but are baffled by the bureaucracy, obstacles and even terminology that exists and acts like a barrier, preventing them from going any further with their ideas.
In a nutshell, the ethos behind Startacus and the self-start society is to remove those barriers and to provide a place where those creative ideas can take root and grow.
We are aiming to bring together all people with ideas - be they exploring their creative potential for the first time, or an experienced self-starter or entrepreneur. Fundamentally, Startacus is a place where self-starters and great minds can come together, to collaborate on their big ideas and make them more of a reality.
The Startacus collaboration platform provides a unique dedicated space where projects and ideas can be worked on; where connections between self-starters can be made and where all the tips, resources and tools needed are signposted. Users can create public and private workspaces, request to help others, and seek collaborators to help make their own ideas a reality. If help is only needed with certain aspects of a project or business, bespoke workspaces can be created which are specific to an individual’s own needs.
There is a train of thought that society is broken, that the economy will continue to drag its feet and that employment will be hard to find. However, with the launch of Startacus, self-starters everywhere can get that little bit closer to doing their own thing and making their ideas a reality.
Alastair Cameron is the founder of Startacus, which is aimed at self-starters in the UK and Ireland. The platform aims to be the online place for self-starters to connect, create and collaborate.
Starting an online business is not an easy undertaking, there are many considerations to take into account before you even get your new business off the ground. Often new businesses fail because they don’t plan adequately or neglect to consider the magnitude of the task ahead of them. Here are my top 10 tips for starting a successful online business.
The economic downturn has been tough on most households, with the rising cost of living not being matched by a similar increase in earnings and many people facing redundancy as businesses look to cut costs.
For older workers, the situation can be extra-stressful. Quantitative easing has reduced the value of pension pots and annuity rates have fallen, while vacancies for experienced workers are at a premium. Yet many of those over the age of 50 affected by the downturn have sought to use being out of work as an opportunity.
Research from Nominet Trust has found that 32 per cent of workers over the age of 50 are self-employed, compared to just 13 per cent of those below this age. But just why are the over-50s more prepared to strike out on their own? Or is it just a case that older workers are better at running their own firm?
We’ve been looking at the issue of being an older entrepreneur and have found that older people are more likely to start their own firm than younger people, and even those beyond state pension age are giving it a go. In fact, around nine per cent of those over state pension age are still in work.
Our study also notes that "the desire to do something pleasurable" and "achieving a better work-life balance" are two of the main reasons older people strike out on their own, and that a lifetime of experience in the workplace is a valuable asset to the small-business owner. As report author Barrie Hobson notes, older workers tend to be "more mature, less stressed, usually [with] better interpersonal skills with customers [and] more reliable".
While older entrepreneurs may be more suited to starting their own business, everyone could do with a little assistance to get their start-up off the ground - especially financial help. The Community Development Finance Initiative is one possibility. It involves a non-profit organisation lending money to individuals, businesses, social enterprises and charities for the benefit of the local community. There are many such groups dotted around the UK, and you can find your nearest one here.
Supplied by over-50s home insurance specialists Castle Cover.
You might also want to read the following Start Up Donut case studies:
Research published by StartUp Britain, carried out during its recent tour of Britain’s universities and further education colleges, suggests 63% of students “are now looking to start a business”. More freedom (29%) and wanting to “be their own boss” (29%) are the key reasons.
The research, based on feedback from 400 students aged 15-24, also suggests that a fifth of respondents believe starting their own business will be a route to higher earnings, but only 4% believe self-employment is their best way to avoid certain unemployment. A quarter of respondents hope to start a business in the technology sector.
Tellingly, more than 70% of respondents cited the laptop as “the most essential piece of equipment for starting up”, followed by a mobile phone, but the preference for working remotely or from home really is popular, as only 0.3% believe that “having an office was important”.
The survey was conducted as part of the 2012 StartUp Britain bus tour, which “aimed to inspire and support young people who are interested in starting their own business”. The tour stopped off at 40-plus colleges and universities in Britain (“from Plymouth to Cardiff to Edinburgh and everywhere in between”).
Should we find any of these figures surprising? Not at all. As a recent piece on Start Up Donut pointed out, graduates are now four-times more likely to be unemployed shortly after leaving university than they would have been six years ago. At the end of 2011, 18.9% of those who graduated in the previous two years were unemployed. Not good, but not as bad as the beginning of 2010 when the figure peaked at 20.7% (source: The Guardian).
Arguably, the very idea of being a successful entrepreneur is more appealing and more achievable than ever to young graduates. They’re inspired by the success of other young people who’ve started and grown enormously successful ventures, such as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a host of other extremely rich young entrepreneurs. Business reality TV programmes such as The Apprentice have also played a part, of course. Business is certainly not as naff or nerdy as it might once have been on campus.
Thanks to technology, businesses can now be started very easily and quickly, at little cost and with relatively little effort required to run them (if you come up with the right idea, of course). This site features numerous case studies and profiles of many fantastic businesses started by young people, often by uni mates who go on to become successful business partners.
A few weeks ago we published another very interesting blog entitled “What is being done at British universities to inspire budding entrepreneurs?” that, based on a Viking commissioned survey of 1,000 students, suggested that 70% of students found “the prospect of starting a business appealing, given the difficulty of the job market”.
The piece also shed light on some interesting support programmes, namely BaseCamp at Bristol University, The Hatchery at Sheffield Hallam University and HeadStart at Nottingham Trent University. There are many other such programmes in other seats of learning in the UK – and long may they continue.
Since launch, the Donut sites have also been a highly popular source of information for students and lecturers on university campuses and in schools and colleges, too. The challenge for government, universities, colleges, StartUp Britain and our very own website is to make sure that graduates get the information and support they need to help them start and grow their own successful businesses.
Mark Williams is editor of the Start Up Donut
A new trend is emerging at universities across the UK: students are avoiding the struggle of trying to get a graduate job by embarking on a route to self-employment while studying. According to a recent survey of 1,000 students commissioned by Viking:
While it may appear naïve or daunting for 18-25 year olds to start their own businesses without any experience and alongside the pressures of studying, the latter three statistics reveal key entrepreneurial traits. Some of the most successful businesses are run on a blend of energy, fresh thinking, enthusiasm, perseverance and discipline – attributes many students have in large measures.
Young entrepreneurs face the same challenges as any start-up, such as obtaining finance and establishing a customer base, but the government is getting behind this tide of budding business owners. David Cameron recently declared: "The future of our economy depends on a new generation of entrepreneurs coming up with ideas, resolving to make them a reality and having the vision to create wealth and jobs."
Support programmes are sprouting up across several university campuses:
Successful products of these programmes include Sam Piranty, who benefitted from BaseCamp funding to set up film production company InHouse Media, and Adam Roberts, who runs his business Go Dine from a hot desk at HeadStart.
“The support we receive from the team is excellent and it's good to share your ideas with other entrepreneurs based here,” Adam comments. “I have monthly meetings with a mentor, which sharpens my focus and helps clarify my thoughts. We’re fortunate that the university was forward-thinking enough to establish HeadStart. There should be more schemes like this for entrepreneurs. If you’re inexperienced in business, it is almost too difficult to set up without this kind of backing."
Universities are hot beds for entrepreneurial ambition and students should be encouraged to cultivate their ideas into commercial ventures. Nurturing young talent will doubtless produce a host of unique products and services and give the economy a much-needed shake-up.
BCSG creates, distributes and supports value-adding products and services to small businesses through financial institutions. For more information visit www.bcsg.com.
During Global Entrepreneurship Week, at Pickwell Manor in North Devon, a group of students on the CMS Pioneer Leadership Course will learn how to apply models of social enterprise to ideas that seek to enhance the lives of people and communities. The five-day residential is hosted by the Church Mission Society and students are encouraged to come along with a business idea to work on during the week. They will attend sessions on formulating a mission statement, devising a business plan, accessing different sources of funding and evaluating success. In addition, they will hear stories of social enterprises that are already thriving and get the opportunity to quiz their owners to discover the secrets of their success.
One example of good practice to be shared is Global SeeSaw, a company that sells wholesale, online and through their shop goods made by women who have been exploited through global trafficking. Run as a social enterprise, all profits are reinvested into the business to create more jobs. This gives vulnerable women, who are disproportionately affected by poverty, greater freedom.
Mark Wakeling, the entrepreneur behind Global SeeSaw, explains: “We’re committed to finding quality products that not only impress with their contemporary design, but also use recycled materials in their manufacture. While many fair trade companies pay just wages and don’t use child labour, we go a step further and ensure that all our manufacturing partners also reinvest their profits. We measure success in human lives changed, rather than wealth generated.”
Course leader, Jonny Baker, says of this unique learning opportunity: “To be sustainable, we must embrace the practices of social enterprise and seek to make a difference, while generating finances where appropriate. For too long business principles have been seen as incompatible with social action, but if we are to be relevant and innovative in the longer term, creative ways of demonstrating our faith need to be self-supporting as well as transformative. We have created this module to begin to address this and we’re encouraging our students to pursue activities that will not need to be wholly dependent on charitable funding.”
For more information on this venture see the CMS website.
Research commissioned by the Association of Accounting Technicians suggests that women who leave their chosen profession to have a baby face a pay cut of up to £20,000 a year when they return to work.
The study of more than 2,000 women who have chosen or “been forced by time or financial constraints” to abandon their chosen career after giving birth found that 60% of respondents earn less now than they did before they went on maternity leave.
Some 70% are over-qualified for the jobs they now do and such positions would have been “below them” before giving birth. The average working mum earns £9,419 less a year when compared to previous income, while necessity has forced nearly a quarter of respondents to take any job to make ends meet.
A third said the difference in salary has “affected their life negatively” and one in seven admitted that it had affected their marriage. Four in ten do their current job because it “fits in with family commitments and brings in extra money”; with just 16% saying they are passionate about their profession; and 30% describing their current job as “menial”. While working hours were reduced to enable mums to balance parenting responsibilities, only 20% of respondents said their current job was less stressful.
Respondents’ average age for having their first child was 25 and 38% thought their employer wasn’t supportive enough throughout their pregnancy. Flexibility around school hours, job location and low stress levels were found to be the biggest priorities for working mums, with salary fourth on the list.
Many of us would like to believe that starting a business offers women a better alternative, yet it seems that many women are not planning to start their own business any time soon.
As reported by the FT in August, according to an Ernst & Young survey, just 16% of the 1,000 working women questioned wanted to start their own business, while the “Global Entrepreneurship Monitor UK Report 2011, which surveyed more than 10,000 people in the UK, noted ‘that men tend to have more positive entrepreneurial attitudes than women’ and even that women were more risk-adverse when it comes to entrepreneurship.
Whether that is true or not, are there any other reasons why more women – particularly young mums – don’t start their own business? Leaving aside all of the common reasons why both sexes don’t start their own business, lack of access to finance is often stated as a hurdle more likely to affect more women more men. Childcare is another huge issue, of course.
And however much we like to believe otherwise, balancing the demands of running a business with family commitments remains a massive challenge. The dream of being able to really have it all remains just that for many women – a dream.
As journalist, author and mumpreneur expert Antonia Chitty admits: “Almost all mumpreneurs are doing it so they can spend more time with their family, and it’s always a bit of a struggle to find the right balance. It’s hard to find enough time for your business, your family, your partner and yourself.”
Perhaps none of us should be surprised that many mums compromise by earning less and doing jobs they don’t want to do or hate, rather than start their own business.
Starting a business can be one of the most challenging, nerve-wracking – yet rewarding – decisions you can ever make. The good news is that there’s a lot of other people out there who’ve been there, done it, and have great advice they can share.
But the entrepreneurial community is spread thin, and, let’s face it, often pretty busy. So how do you go about tapping in to all the wisdom that’s out there?
This year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week is about helping you do just that. Running from 12-18 November, with some 2,500 events in the UK alone, this year’s theme is ‘Pass It On’ – asking anyone who’s been involved in starting a business to share the advice that’s been the most helpful to them in their entrepreneurial journey, with an eye to helping those just starting out.
Entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes will be sharing their thoughts on social media and in the media (follow us at @GEWUK and #GEWPassItOn for more updates). But there’s also a wealth of events happening all around the country, including:
Even if you’re too busy to get to such events, there’s plenty you can get involved with virtually. For example, The Global Brainstorm will broadcast live from a central London location, featuring a free live brainstorming session asking the question – What do you need to know to succeed?. And the Business & IP Centre at the British Library is hosting two webinars each day to give you the essential information you need to protect your business and improve profitability.
So, between 12 and 18 November, take some time out of your working day to get involved. Whether you’re looking for information or want to share it, you can be part of the world’s biggest annual celebration of entrepreneurship. And you never know – you might find the answer to that business puzzle that’s so far eluded you…
Andrew Devenport is the Chief Executive Officer of Youth Business International, which manages Global Entrepreneurship Week in the UK. For more information visit www.gew.org.uk
This is a question that would-be entrepreneurs need to ask themselves. It is not enough to have a good idea – or even a great idea – for a product or service. What you need to find out is whether you can provide that service or product to enough people who will pay enough so that you make enough profit.
So where do you start? The first thing is to research is what is out there already. If the market is saturated with competitors providing the same goods or services as you, then your business must have a pretty compelling USP (unique selling proposition) to make it stand out.
Check out the competition
How are your competitors doing? Companies must file their accounts at Companies House, and companies listed on the London Stock Exchange will have to provide detailed financial information to the public, which means that you can find out quite a lot about them after a few clicks on the internet.
The next thing to do is firm up the scale of your potential customer base and how much they would be prepared to pay. The best people to tell you about this are strangers (friends and family might fib to protect your feelings). If you need the results of the research for attracting funding, it can be worth paying professional market researchers who will present impartial findings in a clear way. If you end up doing the research yourself, strive for professional looking results. Common research methods include questionnaire and interviews with interested parties.
Conduct a realistic appraisal of costs
Think through every penny you need to spend to sell your goods or services, and make a note of them. Have you counted business premises, transport costs and tax implications? If you are making a product it is easy to focus on components and blank out these other issues which still have a bearing on whether your business can be profitable.
Think about business models
Finally, think about the structure of your business and whom you will be working with. If you lack certain skills, should you consider going into a partnership with someone who can make up that deficit? Or should you be considering setting up a limited company? Setting up a company can only take a couple of hours with a formation agent, and mitigates the risk in case your business turns out not to be viable.
Catering is one of those businesses that people idly dream of starting because the entry bar appears to be pretty low. If you’re a foodie whose dinner parties are a hit, it seems like an easy way to get into the food business – easier, at least, than becoming a chef and working at a high-end restaurant; easier than opening your own permanent restaurant; easier even than getting into the food truck arena. After all, all you need is a kitchen and a few waiters, right?
Well, no, actually. A lot goes into a catering business. It’s more than just your secret recipe for to-die-for canapés or cheese puffs.
Depending on your local authority, you probably can’t run your business out of your home kitchen. Health inspections are usually required for any sort of food service. Also, you will need to register as a business and get a tax ID or similar recognition. There are industrial kitchens that rent workspace by the hour or shift, which can be a very affordable way to cook up your delights if you’re not ready for a permanent space of your own.
Well, the food has to come from somewhere, and picking it all up from the local supermarket is not going to be cost-effective. While local shops or markets are fine for special ingredients or high-end touches, in general you’ll want to stick with wholesale grocers. Their costs will be much lower for the basics you need. Keep orders under control – a big mistake newbie caterers make is preparing too much food. Think hard about the number of people you’re cooking for before you place a grocery order.
A second supplier will be needed for the non-edibles a caterer is expected to supply. If you need tables, chairs, table cloths, utensils, serving trays, urns and cambros, you can either purchase them and drag them everywhere (and store them when not needed) or rent them from a supplier, getting exactly what’s needed for each occasion.
Once you cook everything and assemble your flotilla of place settings and serving trays, you’ve got to get everything to the destination (even if cooking on-site, you’ll need to transport staff and materials). You can rent a van, of course, but here it might be wiser to purchase and use rentals only to handle bigger jobs and to get over mechanical problems with your own vehicle. Keep in mind you’ll need something appropriate for food transport – always follow the golden rule of keeping hot dishes hot and cold dishes cold while in transit.
In the beginning, and for small jobs, you may be able to get by on your own, but it’s unlikely. Even small parties will usually require you to run the kitchen/staging area while at least one other person handles bringing out serving trays and monitoring the party itself. A friendly partner is a good start, and for those small beginning ‘gigs’ friends and family, or students looking for work, may be adequate. Going forward, though, you’ll need to hire at least one professional server. Look for someone who has worked for caterers before.
Don’t forget, a uniform looks more professional. It doesn’t have to be custom or something you’ve made. Simply specifying that all team members wear the same style and colour outfits is usually sufficient. You can have button badges made with your company logo to provide instant professionalism.
Catering is a business like any other and requires strong business fundamentals to be successful. Keep your eye on the receivables and payables and adjust your budgets as necessary, and never ever underbid your own costs just to get a job you think will be high profile. In the end, it will be complicated and more work than you expect – but also more rewarding, if you do it right!
Let’s be real right from the outset — going into business for yourself isn’t always easy. If it were an easy thing to do then everyone would be doing it. As business owners, we find ourselves, particularly in the early stages of a business, having to be a master juggler in that we are managing a whole host of different tasks at seemingly the same time.
Not only are you consumed with the “doing part” of providing your products and services, but you find that there is a myriad of other things you need to be concerned with such as marketing, managing staff, being on top of the numbers, staying updated on the ever-changing legislation landscape and ensuring that you are on top of any red-tape burden that is imposed on your business. The list doesn’t end there, but you get the idea.
Being passionate about what you do or good at what you do isn’t enough to build a successful and profitable business. Anyone can have a good idea but it takes someone very special to build a successful business. So to avoid becoming part of the nasty statistic that shows that over 80% of businesses ultimately fail in the UK, with a higher mortality rate for start-ups, it is really important that you embark on your journey with a solid foundation in place. The three key ingredients — or 3Ps — are:
Being passionate about what you do is so important because during the more challenging periods, which you will most certainly face when establishing your new business, it is this passion that will carry you and propel you to overcome whatever obstacles you face. Being passionate about what you do is not enough by itself but is a vital ingredient in any successful business.
Preparation is all about making sure you have a viable business model before you begin. It is about being clear on what your proposition is and who your target market is. A business plan is a vital document that must be prepared. In a nutshell a business plan is the road map of your business. It shows the destination you are seeking and details the path you will follow and the resources needed for you to get there. Financial projections form a major part of a business plan. You must know your numbers. Remember a business that fails to plan, plans to fail!
Provided you are passionate about what you do and have done the necessary preparation then you must have the drive, motivation and determination to see it through and not give up at the first hurdle.
But provided you have all of the three attributes, then there is absolutely nothing to fear about going into business for yourself. There will be obstacles and challenges but there is also no greater feeling and sense of achievement than being the master of your own destiny and building your own successful business. Good luck!
Britain's high streets could be pulled back from the brink of extinction by a new wave of entrepreneurs. Hope for our high street is provided by new research published by Sage, which suggests that one in five people planning on starting a business would open a retail shop on the high street. That number rockets to 47% for those planning on launching a service-based business.
The YouGov Entrepreneurial Britain study was conducted as part of Sage's Discover Your Business Potential campaign and surveyed 3,329 respondents. It aimed to shed light on how many people are planning on setting up a business in the UK, where these businesses will be and in what sectors. Its findings suggest that:
High street shop closures have impacted town and cities across the UK, with an average of 14 shops closing a day at worst. The north east of England is the area hardest hit, with 15 per cent of retailers closing. However, Sage's research suggests that things are looking up for the region. The North East has the highest number of people planning to start a business, with retail again being the most popular choice (22%).
The research suggests there is light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone has business potential and it’s encouraging to see so many people set to launch a new venture in the next couple of years. Whether it's the Mary Portas effect or not, without doubt, there is hope for the UK high street.
Setting up your own business can be tricky. The amount of questions flooding your mind can be overwhelming – Who are my target customers? How much stock do I need? Where should I set up? The list can go on and on. If you're starting to give up on your dream, fear not! Hopefully, the following 10 tips might help you…
1 Make sure there is demand
Proving a service that people want or stocking items that will sell might seem like an obvious point, but you'd be surprised how often small businesses fail because they are offering something that ticks neither of those boxes.
2 Lower your expectations
Opening a business, especially if it's your first, can be a head rush. In the excitement, lots of people get too carried away to see the bigger picture. Ask yourself simple questions: Do I really need that much money to start my business? Do I really need this much stock? That attitude will keep your feet on the ground and help you save money.
3 Location, location, location
Location is a more important consideration for some businesses than others. Make sure that you're not too hard to find, or you might lose out on customers. For example, a craft shop might benefit from being located away from the hustle and bustle, but it might not suit a cafe. Think of the lunchtime rush!
4 Stake out the opposition
A spot of espionage is crucial. Find your rivals; check them out; and see what works for them and what doesn't. Then think about what you would do better, and how you can not only emulate their success, but better it.
5 Create a quality website
If your website is shoddy, people will pass by your business quicker than the tinny click of their mouse. Even if you have to pay someone to design your site, it will be worth it.
6 Know what you’re talking about
Again, this might seem obvious. No matter what you're doing, make sure you install confidence in customers by being able to answer any questions that come your way. It's a crucial skill.
7 Check out online forums
The internet is likely to be full of people talking about your area of business. Spend some time looking through posts to see if you can pick up any useful hints.
8 Go to trade shows
Trade shows are a great way to show off to potential customers. They can also be useful ways to snoop on the opposition!
9 Don’t be afraid of big ideas
Taking risks is the lifeblood of a successful business. A quirky promotional campaign or an unusual service on offer can really help small businesses find their feet.
10 Spread the word
More often than not, word of mouth can be a great way to get people interested in what you’re selling. Keep reminding your friends, parents and partner to spread the word!
Entrepreneurial spirit in the UK is thriving, with one in four people wanting to start a business, according to new research published by business software and services provider Sage.
The study also suggests that the country’s current economic dependence on the South East will start to move northwards, with the North East set to become the recognised home of UK start-ups over the next two years, as people take greater control of their future.
Up to 500,000 new businesses are starting each year in the UK, with about seven in 10 owners starting up because they want to be their own boss. According to research by The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Index and Imperial College Business School, the UK scores fifth in the world for its level of start-up activity. This is largely because of its share of technology sector start-ups and the quality of resources in start-up firms.
While the British economy may have slowed down in recent years, British entrepreneurs refuse to let their ambitions slide. Manufacturers, internet-based start-ups and retailers are all well represented in the UK’s small business landscape. Prime Minister David Cameron recently said: “Small businesses and entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of the British economy and I am determined that we, working with the private sector, do everything we can to help them to start up and to grow in 2012.”
However, potential entrepreneurs should be aware of the numerous challenges involved in starting up and growing a profitable business before committing to launching a business idea. Pressures include:
With proper preparation, determination and a clear vision, entrepreneurs can successfully overcome these challenges. As Michael Hayman, co-founder of Start Up Britain, summarises: “All around the country people are proving that you can make it in Britain, be your own boss and create jobs that can help transform communities.”
Running a business is risky business, but how do you deal with risks that you don’t even know exist?
Former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld once summarised the problem of planning in the face of uncertainty in his famous phrase “unknown unknowns” – things that can have a big effect on us that we don’t even realise we don’t know about.
Once you’ve realised that the map to your future has gaping holes in it, what should you do?
One option is risk assessment. This can be as simple as just writing down a list of all the risks you can think of and then getting people you know or expert friends to suggest others.
Unknown unknowns will always be there, of course, but by listing your risks you reduce the number you haven’t thought about. And simply stating a risk can sometimes help alleviate it, too. For example, in the recent Facebook IPO, the company stated its lack of revenue from its mobile product as a huge risk to its business. Simply making that risk well known is likely to create the concern and attention among Facebook’s shareholders and staff that is needed to actually mitigate the chance of it being a big problem in the future.
Another great idea when tackling unknown risks is to employ the right people. After all, you cannot control what the future will bring, but you can certainly affect which people will be around in your business to deal with it. Having the right staff can mean employing people who can act autonomously, because one risk may be that something happens to you, the business owner.
It might mean getting people with the right skills – so that you’re not the only one in the firm who can perform a certain function. While youth and energy are often ideal qualities in a new hire, future problems might trouble a young traveller much more than a seasoned explorer.
One final tool that is often employed is to turn future unknown risks into something a bit more manageable is business insurance. After all, you may not be able to conceive of all the problems that may confront your business, but the chances are someone has had to deal with them before and that they will be covered by some of the more general terms within an insurance contract.
Whatever risks your business faces, don’t lose sight of the fact that the unexpected can bring good as well as bad. After all, who’s to say that alongside the future risks you face, you won’t also find rewards you weren’t expecting, too?
Barney Jones works for XLN Business Services
In these challenging times, those who stand out with innovative ideas and approach to business are much more likely to succeed.
Examples of business innovators include entrepreneur Sir Eric Peacock, founder of Babygro, who installed video camera booths in the office to encourage his employees to comment on business ideas.
When coming up with ideas, Walt Disney set up three distinct rooms. One to create the most fantastical ideas he could; the second to re-examine those ideas from a practical point of view; and the third to shoot holes in the ideas he came up with.
So, how can your business boost innovation and improve the bottom line?
To help firms get the most out of their ideas generation sessions and generate useful ideas, Professor Dominic Swords from Henley Business School has teamed up with Orange to develop a seven-step plan to creating great ideas. The plan reveals secrets used by the world’s most innovative businesses, including 3M, Diageo and Bupa.
The seven-step plan covers everything from how to conduct ideas generation sessions and get the best ideas out of your team to – most importantly – how to implement these ideas to benefit your business.
The Creating Great Ideas plan was put to the test when Orange invited three small businesses to take part in an ideas brainstorm on the London Eye. Watch the 7 Degrees of Innovation video here. You can download the seven-step guide here.
Could the reputation of banks sink any lower?
Outrageous bonuses and revelations of mis-conduct dominate headlines. At the same time, money is still being pumped into the banking sector — coming from us, the taxpayers, and printed by the Bank of England. It’s all part of the Government’s plan to get banks lending to businesses again.
But it just isn’t working. This week’s Trends in Lending figures show that loans to small businesses have fallen again and the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) continues to highlight the “computer says no” culture in banking as four in ten SMEs are refused credit.
Dave Fishwick is an entrepreneur from Burnley. And he has a dream — to open a bank that will give savers a 5% rate of return and which will lend money to local small firms that cannot get funding anywhere else.
At first glance, Dave is not the obvious candidate to shake up the banking system. Let’s just say he’s not your typical bank manager. But when you’re looking for a revolutionary, you need someone with passion, a straight-talker — above all, someone who never takes no for an answer.
Dave is your man. And by the time I finished watching the two-part Channel Four documentary, Bank of Dave, I was convinced Dave could single-handedly turn around the fortunes of the whole country.
1. He’s a successful businessman
A self-made millionaire with a minibus firm, Dave has two rules in business — rule one is “never lose money” and rule two is “never forget rule one”. He set up the Burnley Savings and Loans (shades of Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life) and — legally unable to call it a bank — he gives it the genius slogan “Bank on Dave”.
2. He’s straight-talking
Dave tells it like it is. There’s a fair amount of colourful language but he’s so charming — and anyway his message resonates with everyone he meets — so he doesn’t offend. Not surprisingly, the high street banks get regularly trashed by him — “all they’ve done is s**t on people”.
3. He never takes no for an answer
An entrepreneur, according to Dave, is someone who turns no’s into yeses. Trying to get a banking license from the FSA is a monumental challenge though. Banking guru Andrew Hilton tells him he’s got “no chance” and that he needs £50 million just to open. Hilton also suggests that Dave’s ambitions are “above his station”. Boo hiss. Dave looks crest-fallen for a few seconds but then he’s back up and running, telling his solicitor, “It’s going to be a bank and that’s that”.
4. He’s a nice guy
He buys his customers cups of tea and coffee as they queue, he offers his small business customers valuable advice as well as a loan, he sings in the car and he’s fond of a chip buttie.
5. He focuses on the things that matter
Dave’s main ambition is to lend money to small firms so they can grow. His branch in Burnley is basic but it does the job. What he loves to do is get out there and meet the people and lend them the money they need. There’s £185 for busker that needs a new amp, £1,000 for an internet firm and £75,000 for an outdoor pursuits company. A struggling café gets money to improve its kitchen and sees business soar. A tropical fish superstore wants £5000 for a shark tank and £500 for three black-tipped reef sharks. It sounds crazy but the idea is to create an attraction to draw in more customers — and it works.
6. He challenges the rules
Getting a bank licence proves impossible — the FSA refuses to meet him — but he finds a way around it. He gets a consumer credit licence so he can lend money. Then he finds a clever way to take deposits from savers by linking the savings to the loans. Finally, he takes out insurance so that if Burnley Savings and Loans were to go belly-up, there would be no need for taxpayers to bail him out.
The day of reckoning arrives, six months after he starts the venture. The figures from the accountant are in. They show that Burnley Savings and Loans has made a profit of £9,511. Dave is delighted. “Chip butties — come on, let’s go”.
Then he walks out of his tiny Burnley branch and straight into the nearest charity shop where he gives the astonished ladies at the till a cheque for £2,000. Continuing up the high street, he hands out the rest of his profit and a bit more to several other charity shops.
It’s banking, but not as we know it.