How to survive beyond the start-up stage

By: John Sollars

Date: 10 May 2012

John Sollars of StinkyInkIn the past 30 years I've set up three businesses. I started my current business, Stinkyink.com, on 22 April 2012 (yes, we were ten years old last month!), knowing nothing about ecommerce. To make matters much worse, within months of starting the business I was almost bankrupted by a national ring of scamsters who defrauded me out of £32,000 using stolen credit cards.

The police could do nothing and I was at a very low ebb. But I'm not a quitter. I discussed it with my dog and decided to carry on! That really coloured the first four years of the business because it made it hard to get credit from suppliers as our balance sheet was so weak. It taught me the importance of having cash in the bank and watching my P&L like a hawk.

However, the gamble paid off and within two years my company was in profit and today Stinkyink.com employs 14 staff and turned over more than £3m last year. I'm really proud of what we've achieved together over the years in a highly competitive market. We all work hard to look after our customers and that has paid off with them staying loyal and recommending us.

I'm often asked for my tips for new businesses. It's different for everyone, of course, but these tactics have worked for me:

1 Stay single

If you start a business with a friend, you will fall out eventually. That's my experience, anyway. When my first business failed the bank chased me for the total amount of the guarantees when my partner couldn't pay his share. This was £40,000 and took 10 years to clear.

2 Plan ahead

Putting time and thought into a business plan and revisiting it regularly is worthwhile. Unless you have a target to aim for you won't know when or if you're succeeding.

3 Minimise your liabilities

Never take a charge on your house and try to avoid providing more information than a lender requires.

4 Stay on top of your books

Do your accounts, get invoices out promptly and don't accept being messed around over payment. Pay your suppliers on time, too – it gives you their goodwill and possibly more credit.

5 Monitor metrics

One of the many bonuses of online selling is you can find out where your customer has come from; how they searched for you; how quickly they left and whether they actually bought anything from you. Using this information will enable you to improve your website and also your customers' satisfaction, which can only be a good thing.

6 Hire the right staff

It's impossible to place a value on a hardworking employee that cares about your business and where it's heading. Spending the extra on wages for key skill sets or talents that are suited to your business can be the difference between a 5% and 20% growth in a start-up's early years.

John Sollars is MD of printer ink retailer Stinkyink.com

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