When you start a business, you need to be a raging optimist. That’s because, frankly, it’s hard and many people don’t succeed. So to stand a chance, you really need to have a sunny view of the future.
However, you also need to be a realist. A friend of mine was working in a new start up. He asked me if I was interested in investing, so I took home a sample of his product. In the meantime, he had managed to place it with a couple of major high street chains. I tried it with my wife and daughter who were in the target market. Neither of them liked it, so I declined to invest.
The business in the meantime continued. A while later they were back to the drawing board, because the product hadn’t sold through the retail channel at all and had been dropped by the retailers. Fortunately they have now completely changed the offering and are doing okay, albeit on a much smaller scale. My friend is no longer involved.
Another business planned to sell a website monitoring service to small companies. After a few months of selling, it was clear there wasn’t much of a market. The management team changed direction and started selling to big corporate sites instead. This was a raging success and several years later they still have a razor focus on the same market. I was happy and this time invested in the company when they changed direction.
What are the lessons from these stories? It’s about realism and facing the facts. The lesson isn’t to chop and change, as the second company had to stay their new course for several years. However, the quicker you face difficult facts the better, particularly when it comes to customers.
The most important thing any start-up can do is to get some happy, paying customers. If the prospects won’t buy or don’t like the product after they do, don’t try to tell them how they’re wrong. Instead, change direction and provide something that they want. Then press on. A dose of realism is worth a ton of investment. In fact, having the money to continue backing a losing strategy can be the biggest disaster.
This week has been very ‘up and down’ for me and my jewellery business, Mama Jewels, but it ended positively, which has made me better appreciate the flexibility self-employment offers.
At its low point this week, my young son was admitted to hospital with an infection in his foot after treading on a metal pin. Fortunately, my husband is on holiday so that made life a whole lot easier. Being self-employed also meant I was able drop everything and look after our baby and be at the hospital.
The upside of being self-employed is that you can just take that time off whenever you need to without anyone questioning what or how much time off you take. This is a huge plus for any parent with two small children.
The down side is nobody is paying you while you do this; nobody is standing in for the appointments missed and orders still need to be processed. I had quite a busy schedule set up for the past two days and I had to cancel or postpone most appointments, which only adds to my workload in the weeks to come.
This is something you need to be prepared for when you start your own business. It can be a world away from receiving a regular monthly income, paid holidays and sick pay, as well as having other people to step in and pick up your work in times of crisis.
Before I became self-employed I attended a six-week course run by Business Link. During the first session I realised the course was not going to tell me how to become self-employed or what I needed to do, instead it explored whether I was in the right situation or state of mind – was I really ready for such unpredictability. It was incredibly helpful and confirmed my readiness to start my business.
I was semi-prepared for the rollercoaster world of self-employment, because my parents ran their own business. As a child, I remember the early days when money was very tight, but later I also remember the fabulous foreign holidays and nice family cars.
I remember our financial advisor warning my husband and I, when I told him of my plans to start a business that we needed to be prepared to live on one salary, which is what we’re now doing. Don’t let this put you off, necessarily: I’m just sharing my thoughts, but it’s just worth thinking and planning for this when considering starting your own business.
Our online sales are up slightly on last week and I’ve secured another online stockist, who also has a retail shop, so it isn’t all bad news this week.
Amanda Waring, Mama Jewels
You can find out more about Amanda on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
Are you prepared to work hard? And not just hard, harder than you have ever worked before in your life?
Are you prepared to experience and savour the intense highs of business success?
If yes, then read on...
Your first 18 months of business life will be a roller coaster ride. Being your own boss brings you true freedom to do what YOU want with YOUR business and take it to where YOU want to take it. Being your own boss is addictive and compelling, and after six months you will know for certain whether you ever want to go back to corporate life.
As your own boss you are not just plotting a course and steering the ship, but deciding what ship to steer and the reason why you need to steer it in this destination. Sometimes luck plays a part in business success, but more often than not any luck is underpinned by a lot of hard work and dedication. Your role as boss is to provide the drive, vision and motivation to take your business through the storm into the next port.
However, when it is just you in your business, with potentially a mortgage to pay, you need to be very focused and disciplined. This means motivating yourself to get up each morning and get to work – even if this is your kitchen table or study. It also means being able to finish what you have started, and focus on the strategy and plans which will build your business. Only your energy will take your business forward, no-one else will.
Discipline is more than focusing on a strategy or plan until you get the required results, it’s also about making sure the tasks that you don’t enjoy get done, and they get done on time. To survive the first two years in business, which 70% of businesses don’t, you need to keep an iron fist on your finances, and regularly monitor your incomings, outgoings and your cash flow.
Your time does now really equate to money. If you are focusing on something that is not directly linked to running or building the business, this is costing you money. Discipline is needed from you to work to your business plan, and make sure that you give yourself re-charge, reflection and planning time. This time is just as important as time working ‘in the business’.
Does the thought of building something from scratch for yourself appeal? Or are you scared at the thought of having to put in your own processes, systems, plans in place and constantly use your own initiative? If you are not ‘turned on’ by the thought of building it all from scratch you may benefit from buying a franchise – i.e. getting a ready-made business in a box.
Rejection is part and parcel of life as a business owner. To succeed as a business owner you have to connect with your inner tigger. I can guarantee that as your own boss, you will ‘suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’. Your inner tigger will help you bounce back and re-motivate the troops when your business has hit a setback. Because, if you don’t inspire people to get back up and going again, no-one else will.
So to summarise, you will need drive, passion, enthusiasm, vision and bucket loads of discipline and focus.
Are you up for the challenge?
Heather Townsend, The Efficiency Coach
I am sure we have all heard the expression “rule of thumb”. I am also sure we can all relate to decision-making based on these rules. In a past role as an IT director, the rule “never be biggest and never be first” proved true on numerous occasions, some of which were when I didn’t follow it.
Rules of thumb based on our own experiences can be useful, but can equally be dangerous. Of course we can conjure up a rule to justify virtually anything. The choice between “too many cooks spoil the broth” and “many hands make light work” springs to mind in this context.
So with that caveat, I present my four rules of thumb for starting a business:
It amazes me how many people plan a start up, especially selling online, where they intend to undercut everyone else. The only way this can work is if you have something that makes your costs lower than all of the competition, for instance, by having a special relationship with a supplier that ensures you receive the best prices. If you don’t and stick with that strategy, you will go out of business, overwhelmed by all the new entrants pursuing the same strategy as you, and by those that have a cost structure that enables them to succeed.
If you are good at something, you tend to enjoy it. If you enjoy it, you tend to be good at it. Starting a business is bad enough without being involved in something you know nothing about or worse still – hate.
Until you have some happy customers, you only have a theory. Once you have some happy customers, you have a business. Some people who deep down in their heart are unsure about their idea postpone the day when the customer meets the product. In contrast, you should make that day happen as soon as possible. If it’s not going to work, the sooner you know, the better.
Money is the most precious resource when starting a business. You need to focus this resource on finding customers and giving them what they want. Everything else should be kept to a minimum.
These are my top rules of thumb for starting a business – what are yours?
9 June 2009 will always be a memorable date for me. It was the day I decided to leave behind a 13-year career as a human resources manager, not to mention a good salary, to ‘go it alone’. Scary.
When you look in the mirror every morning and dread the day at work that lies ahead it really is time to consider other options. I’d procrastinated for far too long about starting my own business – I could kick myself for not doing it before I reached 40.
A friend and I spent considerable time researching what sold and what didn’t on eBay. We carried out so much research we became more confused than when we had started. I felt as if I was wasting time, while my savings were dwindling. There wasn’t an additional household income, so I needed to get my backside into gear quickly. My friend and I were moving at different speeds and in different directions, so I had to have that conversation, but it was important to retain our friendship.
I decided to concentrate on maternity clothes, accessories and gifts. In the planning stages I decided I would still use eBay to sell my products and I hadn’t even considered having my own dedicated website. It became apparent very early on that operating my business on eBay was not viable. The cost, in my opinion, is too high. More importantly, the suppliers I wanted to work with wouldn’t sell wholesale to me if was using eBay as a sales platform. The concept of Global Maternity was born.
Why maternity clothes? Firstly, I love how pregnant women look. I’ve been there before (albeit 13 years ago) and the clothes available for pregnant women now are great quality and look beautiful, too. Secondly, the initial financial outlay to launch my business was going to be significantly less than if I opened a general women’s fashion store.
My website (www.globalmaternity.com) went live on 1 February 2010. Selecting and buying the stock was enjoyable, but tough. I wanted one of everything, but knew I didn’t have the budget. It would be so easy to get carried away, but I had to stop myself a couple of times. Delivering exceptional customer service is my absolute passion, no matter what I am doing. It’s what I did as a human resources manager and it’s what I do with my business.
It’s been a huge learning curve and still is. Global Maternity isn’t where I want it to be and I have so many plans, but I’m realistic enough to know it will take time. Above all else, I’m enjoying myself and will never give up.
Louise Boyes, Global Maternity
I was delighted to be invited to speak at the forthcoming Sage World event on 8-9 September.
For my part, I will be chatting about a question that has fascinated me ever since my first ‘proper job’ as an investment controller at the venture capital company 3i: What simple principles and tactics make business success easier? Or, put another way, what things allow you to survive the tricky first stage of business growth, so you can then have the time to build a truly successful business?
I’ve been discussing this topic with audiences for over ten years. It is a subject that never loses its excitement, because starting a business is never anything less than exciting for the people doing it. I come out of these sessions buzzing with enthusiasm and wanting to spend a couple of hours with each of the people who come and talk to me about their businesses straight after the session. I think it helps enormously that I started my own business as a one-man-band and I’ve continued to grow the company with no outside investment — in other words I am like 99% of the people in the audience.
Sage is one of a handful of mega-success stories in British business over the last 25 years and I’m pleased to see that Sage World is trying to do something different from the usual business event, by using their ‘interactive delegate technology’.
So there will be lots of demonstrations of the software tools you can use to get your business idea off the ground. If you’ve already established your business, then you’ll find plenty of ideas to help you build on that foundation and meet the technical challenges that small firms face in the modern business climate: finance, HR, sales, marketing, and so on.
Sage World also offers a tremendous opportunity for you to build useful contacts. Networking is about meeting the right people, making the right connections and tracking them during and after an event. So I’m dying to try out Sage’s Spotme electronic networking device - I’m sure this will really help me find and talk to the people that matter to me.
I’m sure it’ll help you, too. So please do track me on Spotme, come and say hello and make the time to hear the presentation.
Sage World is a free two-day event in September for anyone starting or growing a business.
Rory MccGwire, BHP Information Solutions
Got an idea for a business? Great! What are you going to achieve with it? Let’s fast forward to 2020. Now tell me what you see....
The vision of where you will be is all part of strategic planning. It’s something you must seriously consider before you take your business idea any further let alone launch it into the marketplace. BUT, what if you’re having trouble gazing into the future and planning your way? Where do you start?
Look at what you’ve done already. You should have carried out a little research, found a niche and run your idea by friends or family. Their enthusiastic reaction, combined with you ambition, will have turned it over and over in your mind, giving it an identity and inspiring you to create it.
So let’s now look at something that will give your wonderful idea a tangible form.
STOP! I forgot to mention, be economical, it’s not a novel you’re writing but your vision statement and it must be wrapped up in no more than 50 words. It may only be one paragraph but it is so important and you must get it right. Within it you must encompass the essence of your business success, what you want to achieve and where you want to be in, let’s say, the year 2020. It should be exciting enough to motivate you and fire up others you want to involve in the venture.
I maintain that this single exercise – whether looking ahead for a year, five years or a decade – begins the planning you need to achieve success. This is something I believed when I set up Diva Cosmetics (as a new mother) back in 2000. I had a wealth of experience and expertise in the industry, I was focused on what I wanted, and knew exactly how I was going to get it. It was, in essence, written down in 45 words!
Running a business is challenging, decisions have to be taken and if you’re not absolutely certain where you’re heading it’s possible to stumble, lose your way and ultimately miss out on the success that should have been yours. I often referred back to Diva Cosmetics’ Vision Statement when confronted by difficult decision making. If opportunities led me away from my original strategy, I refused to be sidetracked. Establishing my goals was a priority at Diva Cosmetics. I knew from day one where I wanted the business to be and achieving £1m in the first 12 months was, of course, all part of the plan.
I made use of a planning system I call my Seven Business Disciplines to ensure I don’t deviate from the path towards success. Having sold the company, I now use this proven system to guide start-ups. Of course, there are many facets to my first discipline, strategic planning, but having a clear and considered vision statement is a very positive start.
Once finished, put it aside for a week or two. When you go back to it, review it, edit it and leave it again. Repeat this process until those 50 words mean what they say. Now you have your vision for success. Success doesn’t just happen it takes enormous effort and hard work. It also takes thorough planning, specifically strategic planning as a foundation to build everything else on, so now you see just how vital it is.
A lack of research and planning is often blames for business failure, so do make sure your business planning is watertight. If you’re daunted by that then consider getting advice from someone who’s already got what it is you want. Planning is crucial to your success, so take advice.
At this early stage in your business planning, make sure you set out your vision statement and be true to it. Focus on where you want to be with the clearest of 20:20 vision and then set off but never lose sight of it. Who knows where you’ll be in 2020? You do...because you’ll have planned it!
A recent feature in The Guardian ran with the headline: ‘Graduates warned of record 70 applicants for every job’ The next line went: ‘Class of 2010 told to consider flipping burgers or shelf stacking to build skills’ Was I the only one thinking flipping burgers and shelf stacking is a flippin’ great way to earn part time income whilst building a business? For all graduates considering self-employment, here are five tips along with stories of those who’ve been there and done it.
If you’re an undergraduate and looking at the job market with dread, start taking small steps now to earning an income. Is your degree in languages? Become a private tutor via sites like First Tutors or sell your skills to business through the likes of Lingo 24 and Language123.com. Are you good at making things? Make a few more and upload to sites such as Folksy.com and MyEhive.com so you can sell to a wider audience. Kane Towning started on the path to self-employment whilst at Leeds University and as soon as he graduated, became full time director of AIM Clubbing; an events company set up with two fellow students and friends.
There is plenty of help on offer whilst you’re studying – and still when you leave. Whilst studying, check to see if your College or Uni hosts an enterprise society; NACUE is a good source for this. Make the most of events, competitions and Awards hosted by National Council for Graduate Entrepreneurship and Shell LiveWIRE and why not take on work experience with entrepreneurial upstarts so you can learn on the job via sites including Enternships and Gumtree.
Does starting a business seem a bit too daunting when you haven’t even left learning? Then pool your talent, join with friends and start that way. This is what the three amigos Oliver Sidwell, Ali Lindsay and Chris Wickson did when they came up with the idea for RateMyPlacement whilst studying at Loughborough University. After graduating, they all secured jobs and worked collectively on the business at nights and weekends. That was three years ago and the company is now a startling success.
To be sure of a wide market for your products and services, go global from the start. Technology enables you to do this with sites such as Odesk and elance.com allowing you to be found by customers around the world if you’re selling time and knowledge and having your own website (with good search engine optimisation) increases your chances of picking up overseas trade. In business, the world truly is your oyster and think of all the places you’ll get to travel to meet clients, and taste local culture!
I hear from many students who are running a business and getting much-needed help from parents whether it be rent-free accommodation or having a bookkeeper/mentor/telephone receptionist on tap who won’t expect a salary in return! Arthur Guy started a star solutions when he was 17, after working at an electronics store. He’s now completing a PhD at Sussex University so his Mum takes care of the day to day running of the business. Thanks, Mum!
Even if you don’t turn your business into a full time venture, the experience of being your own boss and showing you have the attitude and skills to make a living will look good on your CV and set you apart from those other 69 applicants.
I don’t often write about the challenges of running a business and being a busy mum to four children. And whilst I do attend some of the women’s networking clubs, I do like to think that our business can stand on its own two feet - mum or not.
To be honest I think that most of us mums have a massive advantage over the men and child-free ladies who are competing in the business world.
Well firstly women are naturally blessed with amazing multi-tasking and time management skills. Show me a working mum and I will show you a lady who has set the alarm for one hour before the the kids are up to complete a project and who has successfully managed to feed a baby whilst drafting an email on her blackberry.
The second and most influential success factor for working mums is determination. I was a young teenage mum. Before the birth of my (now nearly 19 year old) daughter, I was studious but really lacked any kind of focus on what I wanted to be. Having had a baby before my first job (does a paper round count!?) prompted me to question what I needed out of life. And the answer to that 16 year old mum was money. I chose A-Levels and a Degree that would open doors (Maths, Physics, Business Studies and a Degree in Computing). In fact my whole adult life has been goal driven.
Now in my mid thirties and with baby number five on the way I am so happy to have been able to carve myself a career whilst managing the work-life balance. Just in the last few weeks our home has been struck with a sickness bug, terrible three week long colds and on Wednesday my three year old son woke up covered head to toe in a horrendous rash which later turned out to be an allergy. Had I still been in the corporate world I dread to think what my boss might have said each day as I requested more and more leave to care for my children!
What’s my greatest challenge as an aspiring mumpreneur? Not enough time or money. Oh and not forgetting the lack of sleep (milk in the washing machine, dirty socks in the fridge – you get the picture).
The fact that I’ve had the word ‘aspiring’ in front of my job title for about eighteen months now gives you some idea of how long the research phase takes when you have babies.
But we mumpreneurs face even more challenges than a mere lack of time, money and sleep. If you’re short of cash from being on maternity leave or working part -time, then you need to start a business on a shoestring, which means you might have a lot of competition. And that means your marketing needs to be good if you’re to stand out from the crowd. That’s a tall order if this is your first journey into the world of business.
Most businesses have one main aim - to make money. Most mumpreneurs run businesses with two aims - to make money and to work around their family. This is a tough juggling act, especially if you’re grabbing an hour here and an hour there when the children are napping or at pre-school.
So why on earth are so many of us doing it?
Having children shifts your priorities in ways you cannot imagine until you do it. Of course your children become the centre of your world, but with this can come a huge burst in motivation and creativity. Your time becomes more precious – any working time is time away from your babies – so you want to make the absolute best of it.
The urge to provide for your family is not just for the guys. Mums have it too.
It’s this potent mix of instinct, motivation, determination and (let’s face it) necessity that drives us to start our own businesses at one of the toughest times of our lives.
Watch out, here we come.
Helen Lindop, www.businessplusbaby.com
Working for yourself is certainly one way in which to take control of your working hours, be more flexible with childcare arrangements and, more importantly, spend more time with your children when they need you. However, nothing in life is for free: everything has a cost attached. So what is the cost for work at home mums?
The house, the husband/partner/significant other and the children all continue to need you, and make demands on your time, but there is also a ‘New Kid on The Block’ – your business. For that to survive and be successful it also needs as much care and attention as a new-born baby. So when all these demands has been squeezed into a day… well there aren’t many minutes left.
On a personal level, being able to do the school run is a very important and key reason for choosing to work for myself. However, the pay off for that is a shortened working day, which results in working evenings and weekends. This in turn impacts on my relaxation time and time with my husband. So how do you counteract this?
Time management is one of the hottest topics around as we seem to be under pressure to cram more and more into each day. Mums generally are very adept at both multi-tasking and fitting 48 hours worth of tasks and activities into a day. Where the problem may lie is in delegation and prioritising, especially when it comes to ensuring we still have time for ourselves and our partners.
If you start with 24 hours and all the things that have to be fitted in, you will quickly come to the conclusion that cutbacks need to be made. The trick is to ensure that every ‘department’ should take a part in these cutbacks. So rather than the ‘me time’ and ‘us time’ sections being all but eroded, why not look to all areas. Highest on my own list for a cutback is housework, and it doesn’t take me a lot of encouragement to miss the dusting for a week or leave the ironing pile for another day. Likewise, much as I love cooking, there are times when the usual home-cooked-from-scratch meal is replaced by a take away or convenience food, and – surprise surprise - the world doesn’t end!
The majority of mums take the decision to work for themselves because of their children. However if this enables you take and collect your children from school and be with them in the holidays, then you shouldn’t feel guilty if Daddy does bedtime or you spend three hours working at the weekend; they will benefit more from the key times you are there compared to paid employment. Equally it is good to have your partner onside who can help understand that your attention and energy is being drawn in a new direction, but will support you and understands that in the long term this is a solution which will benefit you all.
Most important of all is ‘you’ time. This in my experience is the first to go when working for yourself and takes real strength of character to maintain; you have never ending to-do list, the housework is falling behind and the family are missing your undivided attention. How do you justify time for you, let alone actually find it? Firstly you need to re-train yourself; not an easy job if delegation is not one of your strengths or you are used to being 'mistress' of the home. Secondly you need to gradually retrain the rest of the family that Mummy doesn’t do everything, and accept that their way isn’t the wrong way.
And finally, convincing yourself that you deserve that time; you work hard all seven days of the week for the benefit of the family… so even if you only manage a half hour’s peace with a G & T in the bath, you truly need and deserve it. Without you, neither the business nor the family would be so successful. Cheers!
Sam Pearce & Helen Woodham, Mum's The Boss
A version of this post originally appeared on Mum's The Blog
My Count On It® labels enable busy households like mine to keep track of when food has been opened and make an informed decision of whether it should be thrown away. As a busy mother to two young boys, I was always throwing food away because I couldn’t remember when I’d opened it.
Such is the success of my business, a while ago I was invited to an event at Downing Street to celebrate the achievements of Britain’s small and medium-sized businesses – something I never thought would happen. It’s amazing – if somebody had told me two years ago that one of my ideas would be retailing through a national high street store and that I’d be invited to Downing Street because of it, I wouldn’t have believed them.
Getting the business off the ground took a combination of a tried and tested route with a helping of TV quiz show luck. Having come up with the concept I contacted Business Link for help. I then won £15,500 on Channel 4’s Deal or No Deal, which enabled me to move things forward quickly. Following research and trials of product samples, the first batch was manufactured in April 2008 and soon we were trading online (www.count-on-it.co.uk).
Lakeland and Betterware now stock my products and their popularity is growing through word of mouth, online via Twitter (@mummypreneur) and my website. I am also in talks with a distribution partner in America and have sold as far afield as Korea and Australia. Count On It® labels have received glowing endorsements from celebrity mums such as Amanda Holden and Angela Griffin, as well as green/eco advocate Janey Lee Grace.
Becoming a mumpreneur has changed my life and as an advocate for taking an idea to market should the opportunity arise, I’d encourage any mum who wants to fulfill her entrepreneurial dream to take that leap of faith. As Goethe succinctly puts it: “Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.”
Lyndsey Young, Count On It
I’d often dreamed of becoming my own boss but I lacked the start up capital to take such a huge financial risk so it stayed a dream. It wasn’t until I was on maternity leave that I realised I didn’t want to leave my son with someone else while I went out to work but I resigned myself to the fact that this was how it was going to be.
Then a week before I was due back to work I was made redundant. I was devastated. I was relying on the income after months of unpaid leave and I needed to start earning money again. The recession was in full swing, there was a lack of local jobs and I still wanted to stay at home with my son.
After a while I started thinking this was my opportunity to finally start a business. By this point I’d had some success sewing toys and shoes for my baby and had managed to get a few custom orders. At first I thought this was great but I soon realised the baby shoes were too time consuming to make which meant I wouldn’t make a profit. For years I had been fully immersed in the online handmade community and while I was researching other business possibilities I realised there was a gap in the market to help others in this area. I was seeing so many creative people trying to sell their handmade goods but not having much luck purely due to the fact that they didn’t know the best way to market themselves. With my past experience working in advertising, marketing and promotions and my first class degree in Design and Management I knew I could help.
But I had no money. I knew my target market was international and because my niche was crafters I knew where to find them. I joined Etsy, a handmade marketplace for small businesses. On Etsy you list items for sale under a shop front which you can design yourself. Etsy allows you to sell non-handmade items as long as you are providing a finished item which in my case is marketing and PR plans.
Start up costs
I set up my shop on Etsy for free. I designed a banner, logo and illustrations to list my products under. Listing was 20 cents an item and I listed 4 items to start with. I actually didn’t have to pay anything upfront as the bill for these listings would be due a month later.
Marketing on a budget
Despite not having much money I was able to utilise the internet to market myself for free. I use Twitter and Facebook to interact with other entrepreneurs and forums to chat with potential customers.
I set up a free blog with marketing tips and I decided early on to feature inspirational businesses in a series called Creativity Speaks! This helped to gain readers whilst becoming a resource for creative businesses.
Within a few weeks I had my first clients. One in Canada and the other in Singapore. Due to my low overheads, almost overnight I had a profitable international business.
I now spend my days playing with Lego, finger painting, exploring in parks and collecting things for our nature table. When my son naps I catch up on emails, when he goes to bed for the night I complete marketing plans. Being made redundant was the best thing that ever happened to me. Just don’t tell my old employers that!
My top tips when starting up on a budget:
Isa Maria Seminega, Noisette Marketing
In last Monday's blog post we introduced you to www.inafishbowl.com which follows the trials and tribulations of three startups. We're featuring the story of Marcela of Rico Mexican Kitchen, who produces home-cooked Mexican food products. Follow her story each week as she deals with buyers and distributors at department stores and discusses the reality of running a home-based business.
Crystal ball, where are you?
We normally start doing something new because we think we have a chance to succeed. Well, at least, that’s what I keep on saying to myself: “Look, you’ve put in your all, people like Mexican food, and your Mexican food has soul, YOUR soul in it.” Well, yes, and? Surely, giving your all and having a good product should be enough to make your business work, shouldn’t it?
I gave up my job to dedicate my full energy to getting Rico Mexican Kitchen off to a good start. My idea was simple: to make fantastic authentic Mexican food so everyone in the UK could try something healthier, tastier and ethically sourced. But this game is sooooo difficult! Will I make it work? How? Any advice welcome!
Everyone told me that it was a brave thing to give up my job to start a business. But deep down I was thinking, “I really want to try my best to make it work- it’ll be simple- I’ll make these amazing, delicious and authentic and people will buy them.” At the moment, however, some shops think that it’s not the right time for Mexican food... what are they thinking? What do they think Mexican people do when it’s winter... not eat? What do you think?
Anyway, luckily Selfridges doesn’t think this and I am off to do a tasting session. I don’t know if I’m more excited or more nervous - I’m a bit of both, I suppose!
The week ahead of me looks like an incredible juggling act of cooking, training course, kids off school, delivering, entertaining 10 girls for my daughter’s birthday party. The added complexity is that we are having new labels designed especially for the Selfridges launch and the printers don’t want to say that the labels will definitely be ready- just keeping me on my toes! I am really really nervous about this- will the labels arrive on time?
You can find out more about Marcela on the new interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
Why do people who should know better continue to give credence to the myth that it’s difficult to start a business?
A recent high-profile example of this came a few weeks ago on Sunday morning on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show and it was uttered by no less a figure than would-be Prime Minister David Cameron.
Detailing measures he would take to aid small firms (and so the economy) if the Tories win the General Election, he said: “It takes something like 13 to 14 days to start a new [sic] business in this country. In America, it’s half as long. We have the ambition to make this [the UK] one of the fastest places in the world to start up a new business.” Later, this was reported on the BBC News website and others, but remained totally unchallenged.
It must be the party line. A few days later, shadow business minister Martin Prisk MP, in his ‘New year, new start, new business’ Blue Blog on the Conservative Party website, further fuelled the myth, saying: “We would cut the time it takes to start a new [sic] business in the UK. Currently, it takes twice as long as in the USA, Denmark or Hong Kong. Conservatives want to change that, so we would reduce the number of forms needed to register a new company and move towards a ‘one-click’ registration model.”
What type of business are they talking about? Have I missed something?
Setting up as a sole trader (AKA becoming ‘self-employed’) is likely to take 10 minutes tops. All you need do is call the HMRC Newly Self-employed Helpline on 0845 915 4515 to provide some key details (eg your name, DOB, NI number, address, telephone number, start date and type of business). You could even have been trading for up to three months previously (if you leave registration any later than three months, you’ll be fined £100). Should you prefer, you can register online. Where’s the problem?
And while forming a limited company (“incorporation”) takes slightly more effort (you need to fill out an IN01 form and complete a Memorandum of Association and Articles of Association), it can be done within a day if you pay £50 for the Companies House same-day service. Otherwise you’ll have to pay the standard registration fee of £20, which, granted, could take between eight and 10 days to process. Pay a professional to do it all for you and opt for the same-day service and your new company could become a legal entity in four hours or so.
So why spread the myth? Is it because our politicians are so out of touch with the reality of starting a business? Probably, yes. Few politicians of whatever persuasion have or will ever start or run their own small business. And that’s part of the problem, but one for another day.
And while it’s understandable that any party trying to gain power should seek to appeal to small firms and the wider electorate with the promise of a better new world, using untrue ‘facts’ (if you’ll forgive the deliberate oxymoron) merely increases the risk of putting people off, at a time when the economy needs them to start a business. We should encourage people to go into business – not discourage them.
Truth is, registering a business isn’t difficult and it doesn’t take a long time, the myth needs to be challenged (same as the ‘excessive red tape’ red herring). The real difficulty lies in surviving that all-important first 12-18 months and then moving the business onto the next stage. Any small-business owner would tell you that, Dave.
Mark Williams, Start Up Donut editor