15 steps to starting a business from scratch with (almost) no money

Starting a business from scratch and launching a company can seem daunting and hard.
There are numerous factors to consider, ranging from coming up with a great concept to forming a company, to business planning, fundraising, and much more.

That is why we have put together this comprehensive guide to walk you through the process of starting a business.
It includes everything you may possibly need to know about starting a business, including:

1. Know yourself as an entrepreneur before you start

Starting a business is a process that requires an enormous amount of thought and careful examination. First, you need to take a good look at your strengths, weaknesses and skills. This will allow you to start thinking about what you can do and what you cannot do. It is important to start here even if you already have world’s best business idea, because you might not have the skills or personality traits to enable you to make it into a successful business. You want to come up with business ideas where you are naturally best suited to be successful, for example:

  • A person with a decent level of programming skill is well adapted to starting a web development agency.
  • A person that has a short attention span might not want to consider accountancy related businesses.
  • An person that doesn’t enjoy speaking to new people wouldn’t consider a heavily client facing business.

These are just three general examples, but it gives you an idea of the thought process. The crucial point is to understand yourself and your team, and if you are well suited to any business ideas, areas of business or specific types of business. It allows you to start coming up with ideas and narrowing down what businesses you could start.

Are you the right age to start a business?

Questions such as what is the average age of a startup founder, what is the optimal age to be a founder and is it possible to be too old/ too young to start a startup, are all often asked. The graph from HBR shows the distribution of ages of the founders of billion dollars, venture capital-backed private companies.

It’s an interesting distribution that undeniably favours those between the age of 20-35.  Of course, these $1bn companies are huge outliers and represent a very small dataset of total startups.  Having said that, it’s an interesting graph to note as after all, for those of us that start startups, isn’t this the ultimate dream that we’re all swinging for in the long run?  For those that fall into this age bracket, the signs are good. Even Fred Wilson, prolific New York based Venture Capitalist was quoted as saying that “tech is biased toward the younger generation” as the article notes.

In contrast to the graph above, the Kauffman Foundation conducted a study and released a report entitled “The Anatomy of an Entrepreneur“. They found the average age of a founder to be 40 years old. Of course, I can think of a number of benefits of waiting until this age to start a company; the most obvious being years of experience under your belt.

Ultimately, age should not be a limiting factor in success. There are pros and cons about certain ages, and some people might have biases one way or the other.  Regarding starting a startup often it is down to the circumstances and thought process of the individual. There will always be reasons to not take the plunge but in reality are these reasons even valid?

Your age should be way down the list of factors that you consider if you’re thinking of starting a startup.  With startups being the roller coaster that they are, the range of emotions from almighty highs to deep lows experienced by any founder on a day to day basis will dwarf the benefits or negatives caused by the founder’s age. There are many metrics that startup founders can pay attention to at any one point in time.  In my opinion, age should not be one of them.  What’s your opinion?

2. Coming up with great business ideas

Coming up with a business idea is relatively easy, coming up with a great business idea is hard. It is critical to your success that when starting out you explore as many ideas as possible before deciding on the final one you will take forward.

In this section, we will guide you through the process of finding a great business idea that you can turn into a successful, profitable and valuable business.

Start generating business ideas

It is now time to start coming up with ideas, this is often a long and time-consuming process but have some patience and you will bring to life some fantastic ones. Below you will find advice on how to get started in the ideation process and come up with great business ideas!

Solve a problem that prospective customers care about

Start by thinking about what significant problems you could solve and how. Many successful companies started out on a mission to solve real problems that affect millions of people and provide a solution through their products and services.

For example, Tesla started with the objective of making the world’s cars purely electric and they are well on the way having built a hugely successfully multi-billion-dollar business in the process.

Identify where you provide a better solution

Look for areas where solutions are already available but you can do better than existing companies either regarding efficiency, innovation or cost.

For example, Apple entered the mobile phone market more than a decade ago as an underdog with a new innovative product and are now a market leader. Despite the fact the technology had been available for years no one had brought the level of innovation the iPhone did to the market.

Be cheaper than other businesses

You should look for areas where you can provide significant savings to the customer vs competitors. These types of businesses grow incredibly fast, particularly during recessions.

For example, Poundland is a great example of this kind of business, since its inception its used price as the primary differentiator to its competitors. Through offering the lowest price possible on a big range of consumer products the business has grown to a highly successful high street chain.

Innovate in a traditional slow changing market

Is there a field of business or industry that hasn’t seen much innovation in the last 10-100 years? This is often the case in non-tech industries that are slow to push forward change while the status quo remains profitable.

These industries often have tremendous opportunities to disrupt them with new technologies, innovations, systems and methods. For example, only recently has the taxi industry rapidly changed with the introduction of Uber innovating how we find and hire taxis.

Build a business for a future need or market

Try to think into the future, what will the world look like in 5 or 10 years? Thinking about the future will allow you to think about new markets and niches that may open due to innovations and new technologies.

For example, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin in the last few years have grown to be significant markets by themselves with a whole eco-system of technology and infrastructure providers developing around it.

Copy other businesses and be better

It is unlikely, unless you are on the forefront of technology, that your business ideas are unique. Plenty of the world’s biggest companies were not revolutionary, yet they came into markets with developed players and just outperformed everyone else.

You do not have to have the most original idea to create a brilliant business, you just have to do it better than anyone else! For example, Microsoft came out of nowhere and beat every other competitor to become the dominant operating system provider in the early 1990’s.

Turn your hobby into a business

A logical jump is to take a hobby and turn it into a real business. Why? A hobby is something you already know a lot about, clearly have a passion for and you will know where to start. For example, it is logical to go from collecting models to selling models.

Think about a global business

The world is now a very global place, you can have a business in China and operate it from New Zealand if that is what you want. Globalization and technology offer immense possibilities to run businesses in new and emerging markets around the world.

If the conditions are not right for your business model in your home country market look for a country where they are. For example, Rocket Internet built their multi-billion-dollar business by copying innovative business models from developed markets and taking them to less developed markets where they were the only company.

Don’t limit yourself to one business idea

It is easy to settle on one idea but to give yourself the best chance of coming up with a great idea it’s best to pick a few to explore and compare.

If you’re stuck, stop thinking

You can overthink it when it comes to ideation, so if you are stuck stop thinking about it. Many times, when you stop actively thinking about something the solution or idea will come to you later.

3. Research your business ideas

This stage is all about researching your business idea as much as possible to decide if your idea or ideas could turn into a great business. To assess and compare each, you want to have a clear understanding of the points below.

Define & analyse your target market

Is there a market for the business, product or service and is it big enough to support your goals? You should also consider the competitive landscape and know who your main competitors are. Analyse what their and your weaknesses and strengths are, as well as market opportunities and threats. You want a clear idea of the overall market and how your business would fit into it.

See if there’s a demand for your product or service

Is there a direct demand for your goods or will you have to educate customers about the need for your product or service?

Understand your potential customers

You should have a clear idea of who your potential customers are, including demographic data and business details if you are selling B2B.

Have a marketing & sales plan that makes sense

Having a good understanding of how you would reach your potential clients and grow your market share is critical to success. Specifically, understanding what marketing and sales activities and channels will you need to pursue and how.

Make sure your business model will work

Can your business model work given the current market and potential customers? This is often an overlooked point, but many start-ups fail because their business model does not operate.

Find funding for your business

Is it going to cost a significant amount to set up your business? This is a key factor on whether your business could work as it depends on your resources and your ability to raise finance if needed, i.e. Small business grants, business angels, venture capital, invoice finance or bank business loans.

4. Test your business premise

Once you have a few thoroughly researched business ideas it’s time to test quickly and validate if the premise of your proposed business works in the real world. Many entrepreneurs who skip this stage, end up wasting much time chasing ventures that would never work. So now that we have established it is a good move to test your ideas and research, this section explores the different routes to market for testing different ideas.

Be precise when measuring performance

When testing a proposed business, you can assess the performance of any venture in different ways, so it is important to initially work out what you want to measure to gauge success or failure. Here are some suggested measures to get you started:

  • How much revenue could you generate/ How many products can you sell?
  • How much customer interest can you generate?
  • How much press/notoriety can you generate?

Different testing methods

As per the title of this section, you should find and deploy the fastest, cheapest, and most robust way possible of testing your business premises. How you choose to do this largely depends on your business idea, below are some of the most popular methods that fit the above criteria.

Create a landing page and carry out e-mail marketing

If you have services or a specific solution based business and your primary sales channel will be online, this is often the quickest way to test:

  • Set up a quick one-page website (for non-technical people Wix is a good solution).
  • Make it seem and feel professional (you can get a 5 dollar logo/brand off Fiverr).
  • List your services/solutions.
  • Add a contact email.
  • Find the e-mails of ideal potential buyers and contact them about your service.

Then manage communications and see if anyone is interested, if not ask why and be persistent.

Build an online store and buy adverts

If your idea involves selling products online:

  • Create a quick online store (WordPress, Shopify or BigCommerce are good options).
  • Add a brand and make everything look professional.
  • Add mocked up graphics of your products.
  • Add contact details and sort an email.
  • Spend £25 on Facebook ads and see how many clicks, sales and how much revenue you can drive.

Set up a market stall and sell

If you are starting a product based business and your primary sales method will be face-to-face, a cost-effective way to test your business is to build initial versions of your product and book a table at your local market or festival.

You can gauge via sales and customer feedback if the premise is a success and gain valuable feedback as to how you could pivot the premise to success if it fails. Innocent Smoothies started by testing their products at a festival before becoming a business (and later being acquired by Coke for hundreds of millions).

Sell over the phone (Telesales)

One of the best ways to get meaningful qualitative feedback is to find the ideal buyer of your product on LinkedIn for example, track down their phone number and call/pitch as much as possible to gather as much feedback and as many pre-orders as you can.

5. Create a business plan

At this point you have chosen the business idea you are going to turn into a business and tested it, now it is time to put together a business plan to outline in detail the objectives of your business and how you are planning to achieve them.

A business plan is a great exercise for sorting out your thoughts and it allows you to plan your business in a structured way, for yourself and so outside parties such as investors or partners can understand what you are trying to achieve and how.

Great planning from the start can be the difference between a business that is successful and well executed and a business that fails. In this section, you will find guidance on how to create a great business plan.

Key elements of a business plan

Your business plan should include many key elements and follow a simple and clear structure. Always aim to create a business plan that anyone could pick up and understand what your business is, what its objectives are and how you are planning to get there; this means breaking it up into clear sections.

Executive summary

An executive summary is an introduction to your plan, its content, and an overview of everything in your business plan. It should provide the reader with a short, concise and clear overview of what your business is and what you are trying to do in no more than two paragraphs.

Contents page

The readers of your plan will often want to skip to specific parts that interest them; a contents page allows them to navigate quickly to the appropriate section.

Business model and products/services

Here you need to outline your business model and what are the products, services and solutions you provide.

Customer, market and competition

In this section, you need to show a clear understanding of your ideal client, the market for your product, service or solution (also have your market clearly segmented) and an understanding of the competitive landscape, including who your competitors are and where you are in the market in comparison to them.

Marketing and sales

This section is about demonstrating a clear plan from a marketing and sales perspective as to how you intend to achieve your objectives, whether that is scale, revenue generation or some other tactic.

Finances and projections

You want to show your current finances and any projections you have for the business moving forward. Always make sure to be realistic with financial projections, you will have to back them up at some point!

Team

Include a short section about your current team, who they are and their qualifications/experiences. If you have expansion plans for human resources, you should also include them here.

Business plan summary

This section should should showcase the entirety of your business and your business plans, through key points in bullet point format and provide contact details so a reader can easily get in touch with you.

How to write a business plan

Writing a business plan when you are starting out is often a new, complicated and sometimes overwhelming task. There are however some golden rules you should take into consideration when writing that will make your life a lot easier!

Keep your writing short

Make sure to summarise and keep your writing as short as possible as this will help your plan be very clear. It helps you organise your ideas but most importantly, it makes it much easier for external parties to understand.

Make sure everything is relevant

It is very easy and tempting to include irrelevant information in your business plan. This extra information usually makes your communication less efficient and makes the idea harder to understand.

To get rid of any irrelevant material, once you have finished a section do a quick review and get rid of anything that doesn’t support or add to the main point you are trying to make in that section.

Check grammar and spelling thoroughly

If there’s even a chance external parties will at some point read your business plan, then make your spelling and grammar excellent. As with any document, you lose much credibility and sometimes meaning if there are spelling and grammar errors.

Create a simple mission statement

A mission statement should concisely explain what the overall purpose of your business is, for example, the mission could be: to reduce the impact of plastic waste on the environment.

Set clear objectives

Set SMART objectives by being very specific on what you are trying to achieve across the business and in individual areas.

State how you are going to get there

It sounds simple but many entrepreneurs are not very clear about how they are going to achieve their business objectives, make sure you thoroughly think and create a way for your business to get from point A to B.

Use a realistic timeline

Setting a realistic timeline alongside your activities and objectives is a critical factor when composing any business plan.

How to format and present your business plan

Making sure you have created your plan in the appropriate format can be very important to how it is perceived or used. Here are a few tips on how you can achieve the best format.

Business plan formats

Create your initial document in Word, Google docs or Open Office, these tools are easy to use and you’ll end up with an easily editable file. You can also use Excel to create and update a clear structure, this helps to give you a good overview of the plan. Make sure to use a theme that is consistent throughout the document regarding fonts, colours and design features.

If you must give a copy to an external party, always export the file to PDF, and make sure to have professional graphics in place if desired (if you want to design something graphically complex, Adobe InDesign is perfect for this).

How to present your plan

If you are going to make a presentation of your plan, you need to create a PowerPoint/Keynote version. The presentation format will differ from your business plan in that each page should make one key point with a maximum of other three supporting ones.

Make sure to use simple graphics and focus on what you are trying to communicate (remember you can always provide a full business plan at the end of a presentation to any parties).

Keep your business plan updated

Your business plan should be updated as circumstances and objectives change. If your business is now running, it’s impractical to continually update this document but it should be reviewed and kept up to date over time. Apart from anything else it is a good reflection on where you started and where you are now.

If you are looking for a way to track your progress against objectives, it is best to build a tracker/planner on Excel or use tools like Asana or Trello.

Tools for business planning

Usually, Excel, Word or even a whiteboard is sufficient, but if your business is a little more complex or you struggle with organisation, then using a business planning software makes sense. The best and most popular solutions out there are Asana, Trello and LivePlan.

6. Registering a business

The structure you select for your business depends on your specific needs. In this section, we will take you through the various business structures, their advantages, disadvantages and how you can set them up.

Different types of business structure

There are several types of legal structures you can choose from when setting up a business, we have detailed them further below.

Sole trader

A sole trader is a business-type where one person owns and runs the entire business. It is the simplest business structure you could adopt. It is very suitable for any one-person businesses; this includes independent accountants, web developers and gardeners among others.

Being a sole trader means the individual is entitled to all/any profits of the business but is also liable for any debt/damages incurred. In the UK, there are currently over 3 million registered sole traders, and the number is growing with a massive influx of skilled freelancers.

Limited company  

A limited company is a structure that means a business is a separate entity from its owners. This means the owners are only liable for any business debts to the extent of the amount of money they have put into the business, thus limiting any exposure for business owners beyond their total investment. There are two types of limited companies you can incorporate in the UK.

Private limited company (LTD or Ltd)

In a private limited company, the owners privately hold shares. This is the most common and preferred incorporation structure for most small businesses in the UK. Over 5.2 million limited companies are operating in the UK now.

Public limited company (PLC)

In a public limited company, shares are available to the public for ownership and purchase. A public limited company must have a value of at least 50,000 pounds before it can trade as a PLC.

PLC is commonly used as a structure for major companies after they make an initial public offering (selling a large portion of their shares in the capital markets).

Limited liability partnership (LLP)

An LLP is a partnership structure used by many businesses including vets, dentists, law firms or accountancy firms. An LLP is made up of at least one limited partner and one general partner (there can also be more than one of each), and these partners have different responsibilities and exposure regarding the business.

Limited partners
  • On formation provide property or money to a
  • Are liable for all debts up to the amount they have
  • They have no operation control and can’t actively manage the business.
  • They cannot remove the initial investment (property or money) they put into the partnership.
General partners
  • Are liable to pay any debts the partnership cannot pay off.
  • Actively manage and control the operation of the business.
  • Can make binding (irreversible) decisions on business matters and for the business.
  • General partners can apply for ACS; this is where assets and money are put together and managed on behalf of the partners. The partners end up co-owning the assets but only must pay tax on their share of any profits.

Selecting a structure for your business

There is no simple answer to which structure is best for your business, it depends on your business operation and needs. For example, if you:

  • Plan to grow your small business beyond yourself (one person) and then sell it, then a Private Limited Company would likely be the most suitable structure.
  • Plan to only operate as a one-person business for the near future, then a Sole Tradership would probably be the best structure.
  • Plan to start a business that has a significant amount of senior management, capital and that deals in services, then a Limited Liability partnership would be the best choice.

Setting up a structure for your business is not something you do every day, do some more in-depth research and decide what legal structure is best for your business.

Register a limited company

Forming a limited company can be a simple process, but it is also something that should be done very carefully (if you are unsure about something, seek legal advice).

7. Setting up finances, accounting and tax

Once you have set up the legal structure of your business, there are several important financial and tax responsibilities you need to figure out.

Opening a business bank account

Before you can start generating any revenue or making purchases, you are going to need to open a business bank account to send, receive and securely store your businesses capital (money).

It is essential to select a bank and business account carefully as it is very likely you will be with the chosen banking provider for the life of the business.

Choose a bank for your business

There’s no simple answer for this, it is best to gather some information on each bank and their offerings and compare to see who’s the best fit. You should look for details such as:

  • What’s their track-record in working with small businesses?
  • Do they have a range of products and information specifically for small businesses?
  • What do other small business customers think of the bank?
  • Is the bank respectable, have they engaged in any illegal activity recently?

Once you collect all this information, which you can find online; you should have a good idea of which bank is best for your business.

8. Protect your business

Once you have taken care of all financial matters, it is necessary to protect your business from the unpredictable by taking care of certain legal and insurance issues.

Find a solicitor or law firm

Most companies will not need to hire a legal advisor initially, except if they want advice on company set up or have some specific legal matters that need attending. However, at some point in your businesses life-cycle, you will need some form of legal support, whether that is drawing up contracts or protecting your business interests in court.

Make sure that if you hire a legal advisor at some point, you always agree on an hourly rate and on the amount of time required in advance for any work.

Getting intellectual property protection in place

Intellectual property (IP) is intangible property that is the result of creativity. Protecting your IP as a business can be critical to protecting your business, brand and products from damages that come from people using your intellectual property without your permission.

This section explores intellectual property rights and protections you can put in place to protect your business’ intellectual property.

Trademarking a name and brand

A trademark is a legally registered symbol, word or words representing a business that legally owns it, protecting the business from anyone else using this name or symbol.

For new ventures, you will want to trademark your company name and brand, this makes sure you legally own your brand and company name, and prevents anyone from misusing it.

Patenting an idea, technology or process

A patent is an exclusive right granted for a product, invention or process that provides a new way of doing something or provides a new technical solution to a problem. Applying for a patent is only relevant for new businesses that have invented innovative technology or product that could be copied by others. A patent grants your legal ownership of this invention and the exclusive right to it, thus providing your business with protection.

The relevance of copyright law

Copyrighted work means that other businesses cannot use your written or creative work without permission. Copyright is primarily employed by book publishers, theatre companies and other types of entertainment/information based companies who need to ensure works are not reproduced without authorisation.

9. Create a brand and identity for your business

Now that you have protected your business adequately, it is time to create a public facing identity. This is how you present your company to the world including branding, setting up a basic website and creating a business e-mail address.

Create a professional brand for your business

Having a professional brand is critical to any business that wants to stand out in today’s competitive environment. That does not mean the branding process needs to be costly or time-consuming, there are just a few key things you should consider for creating a professional brand:

  • Create a logo (Keep it simple and hire a designer on Fiverr, online logo maker, or a cost-effective design agency).
  • Create a colour scheme for your business that will be used across all promotional and company assets (you can use a colour selector to find a palette and it’s also a good idea to look into basic colour psychology before you choose).
  • Come up with a slogan for your company if you think it is useful.
  • You can also create a symbol that can be used as a recognising mark of your company when you do not want to put your full dress logo, such as on a product (it is typically included in your logo).

It is important to take your time though and explore a few different branding options before settling on an initial brand.

You need to create a website for your business

Whether you are a retail store, a chemicals company or a modelling company having at least a basic website is a requirement for business in the 21st century, customers expect you to have a website and expect to be able to find it easily. Your website should:

  • Include and show your company/business details including address, phone number, name, and logo (if you have a limited company number it is also a legal requirement to list it here).
  • Provide a clear description of what your business is/does.
  • Provide details of your products, services, and
  • Provide a business e-mail or contact form that enables prospective customers/outside parties to reach you easily.

You can add many more things to your website, this is just the basic information you need to include.

10. Buying the business essentials

Getting the basic essential setup for any new business is not glamorous, but it is very necessary. Whether that is sorting the internet, phone, utilities or purchasing technology among many other things, here’s a quick guide to getting the essentials right.

Setting up business broadband

Fast and reliable internet is a necessity. Whether you need to sell online or communicate with customers, the internet is a vital component for most new businesses. Here are some guidelines for choosing a secure, reliable and fast internet provider and package:

  • Make sure your connection will have a minimum of 20mbs download speed and 6mbs upload speed (Broadband or Fibreoptic).
  • Check reviews online of each company and the different tiers/types of internet packages they offer.
  • Make sure the contract length is no longer than 18 months (you usually negotiate heavily when your contract comes up for renewal, lowering the cost).
  • Verify that the company has a responsive customer service team rather than an automated machine or poor customer service. This can be a nightmare when internet problems occur and has a been a big problem over the last year, particularly in the UK.
  • If you live or work in an area where broadband or fiber is weak regarding internet connectivity or it doesn’t connect at all, consider a 4G internet contract and an antenna as an alternative solution to get fast and stable internet.

Most of the above is quite logical, but it is easy to miss things in the hubbub of starting a new business.

Getting a business phone line

Having a landline number for your business is still a necessity for having a legitimate business image from the start and for having a fix and reliable number where customers can reach you on.

If you own or rent a private office, it is easy to set up a business line with your phone package. However, if you do not, you can still purchase a business landline in London and many other cities that will route to your mobile phone, allowing you to take calls via that number and make calls online using that number.

Finding office space

Apart from working from home, there a few different options for entrepreneurs looking for space to start and run their businesses.

11. Find funding for your new business

Most businesses require some source of funding to start. This section covers the primary sources of financing available to small businesses with the relative advantages and disadvantages.

Your savings

Some of the world’s most successful companies have been initially self-funded. The upside of this option is you do not lose any control by involving any outside party. The downside is that depending on the business you are starting, you may need more capital than you have or it may run out very quickly.

Friends & family

Many entrepreneurs receive their initial funding from friends and relatives in the form of an investment or loan. This is because in many cases you will not have to pay this money back if something goes wrong or you can agree on preferable terms when dealing with friends and family, usually both!

The upside is that your family or friends are unlikely to try and bankrupt your business to retrieve their money if you cannot pay them back within the terms set. The downside is you can put relationships in jeopardy if things do not go to plan and you cannot pay the money back or if expectations are poorly managed.

Business grants

Business grants are free funding (money) awarded to qualifying businesses. A significant amount of public and private grants are available for new businesses; typically they are designed to support businesses starting up in impoverished areas, to boost the economy or to promote technological innovation and research.

12. Creating a sales and marketing strategy

Sales and marketing are the beating heart of any new business, for a business to be successful it needs to be innovative at marketing and effective at selling. When it comes to starting a business, this means thinking about preparing your product or service for sale, how you plan to go to the market and what channels and systems will be employed to reach and close customers.

Getting a product or service ready for sale

Once you have a product or service ready to be sold, you need to start packaging it for the market, this means considering differentiation, positioning and pricing.

Positioning your offering

Positioning is all about identifying your product’s/service’s key attributes and how you are going to communicate them to the customer. It is about defining who you are and what you are offering in a way that resonates with your prospective customer.

Understanding your USP (Unique selling point)

Differentiating your offering from your competitors is all about identifying and showing your USPs (Unique Selling Points). This means thinking about where you offer superior functionality and value over your competitors and how you can communicate this through your marketing message.

Setting price at the right level

Pricing a product or service is tricky, it is often unclear for new entries into a market what pricing strategies you should implement, so here are few ways that will help you to calculate a fair price:

  • Work out your costs per unit.
  • Work out the profit margin you will be making per unit/per hour.
  • Gather pricing information on your competitors’ products or services.
  • Find out what the customer is willing to pay. This will require market

Once you’ve done your research and pricing analysis, it comes down to what you think the market will bear combined with what you want to make per unit or per hour for any product or service respectively.

Choosing a route to market

Once you are ready to go to market, you need to figure how you will get there. This means choosing the best route to market; this could be online, through fixed retail, wholesale, even selling through a third party or a mix.

Selling online

Selling online could be in the form of an online shop or a subscription software platform (SAAS). The internet offers small businesses complete control over their route to market. Many new businesses will choose to sell directly to their customers through the web as it provides fantastically low overheads with little required investment compared to starting a physical business location.

Selling via a retail shop

A retail store is a public place where customers can go and purchase from your business directly. Retail stores give you a guaranteed audience of passing customers depending on the site. This type of sales route is perfect for high-volume product-based businesses, but it also works for services, i.e. travel agents, insurers…

Selling wholesale

Wholesaling offers businesses the chance to sell their products in bulk to suppliers or retailers who will then go and sell directly to the public through their own sales channels. The profit margin from this model is usually smaller given that there’s another party involved, but it does offer the potential for selling substantial orders and generating significant revenue.

Selling through an agent or affiliate

Hiring an agent or affiliate on your behalf means they will find and connect you with potential customers, thus doing most of the marketing and some of the sales work for you. You will however usually have to pay a hefty commission to the agent when a customer they refer converts or a fixed fee on a per lead basis.

Selecting marketing channels

Once you have chosen a route to market, selecting the correct marketing channels to generate interest and customers is critical. There are many different channels and you have to find the most cost-effective and high-return channels for your business. It can take some time and testing.

Email marketing

Email remains the core way people and businesses communicate online. Thus, email marketing (reaching potential customers via email) is one of the primary marketing channels for generating customers and sales. This type of marketing could be done through newsletters or cold sales emails, and it is one of the online marketing channels available with the highest return on investment.

Online advertising

Pay per click (PPC) advertising is one of the most popular forms of online marketing. It typically involves using paid display and search advertising via Google and other networks to reach potential buyers and drive them to your website or landing page.

If PPC campaigns are well targeted and managed, it can be a highly efficient and reliable method of generating business. It is important to note that social media and Facebook advertising also now accounts for a huge amount of marketing budgets for many businesses.

Social media marketing

Social media is one of the newest and best ways to reach potential customers. Whether it is Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, LinkedIn or others, there is a range of social media platforms that are useful for effectively targeting and reaching your ideal customers. It is time-consuming to build and maintain an account, but in the long term it has proven to generate a significant return on investment for many brands.

Content creation

Written content can be an excellent way to reach customers via online search. If you have access to a good writer and your business is primarily online, one of the best and cost-effective ways to reach your customers is through organic search. Out of all forms of online promotion, natural search traffic is the highest converting regarding sales, it is particularly useful for promoting your website to potential customers.

Create a customer service team

One of the most overlooked areas of sales is customer service, with many organisations seeing sales and customer service are separate functions. This leads to a lack of focus on proper customer service will dramatically increases the amount of customers lost and thus the long term profitabilltiy of any sale.

This means that from the start it is critical to building a strong customer service framework and team to minimise the loss of any clients and maximise the longevity of clients or repeat purchases. This all contributes to the sales bottom line.

13. Building a team for your new business

Most new businesses will start with a small team or begin to grow one very quickly. Thus, businesses and entrepreneurs need to learn early on how to effectively recruit and manage their team, while developing a great company culture and themselves as leaders.

This section is here to guide you through the initial setup of what will become your business’ human resources department, covering recruitment, management, company culture and self-management.

Brilliant recruitment practices are linked to business success

Don’t hire anyone until you absolutely need to. The work and responsibility that come with employing another person is tremendous. When you do get to a stage when you need to recruit, it is important to make sure you take the right approach to finding and employing the best person or people for the role and for your business.

Attracting great employees

The start of a recruitment process is about finding and getting the best potential candidates to apply for the position you have open. Companies who want to attract great candidates should:

  • Offer a competitive remuneration package (salary, benefits, share options).
  • Use their company’s vision to inspire a candidate to want to be part of the enterprise.
  • Show career progression possibilities for the candidate.
  • Demonstrate a progressive, diverse and exciting work culture to the candidate.

Beyond the basics of attracting great employees, it is often about highlighting how your offer is better than other organisations’ offerings, i.e. if you cannot compete on salary, compete on offering responsibility and progression.

Create a strong recruitment process

Once you have attracted a good pool of potential candidates having a strong recruitment process is key to making sure you end up hiring the best candidate. At a minimum, this means having a process with:

  • A clear timeline and stages for candidates.
  • Unambiguous criterion for what you are looking for and how you will be assessing candidates.
  • At least 3 interviews (ideally with different members of your team).
  • A step for checking previous work references and thoroughly vetting candidate claims.

A poor recruitment process may leave you with the worst candidate. A strong recruitment process will enable you to work down to the best candidate efficiently. Companies who choose to invest time and resources into the recruitment process will always outperform those who do not!

In-house recruitment vs outsourcing

Outsourcing recruitment to an agency and in-house recruitment both have advantages. When it comes to choosing there is no easy answer, the best method depends on your business situation. However, to help here are some the key advantages/disadvantages of each.

Outsourcing recruitment
  • A professional agency will find candidates that exactly fit your profile.
  • It eliminates the need for an extensive in-house recruitment team.
  • It can be very expensive (the agency will usually take a fee between 15% and 25% of the candidate’s total first year annual earnings).
In-house recruitment
  • It enables you to control and optimise all aspects of the recruitment
  • It’s usually cheaper than hiring an outside agency.
  • It will require the use of an internal team and resources.

When it comes to choosing, smaller companies who are profitable will often choose to initially outsource the first steps of the process to attract candidates and then do in-house recruitment and asses the candidates themselves.

Creating a management ethos and system

Excellent management is essential for the success of any business. From the very beginning your management team or even just you as an entrepreneur need to create a clear management structure, a positive work environment, and build a company culture that will support the business and its people as you grow.

Set management structures

Getting a management structure in place early on is critical to any small business that hopes to grow. This ensures that business’ policies and objectives initiated at the top will be carried out throughout the structure and that there will be accountability for their progress. In practice, this means having clear structures, roles, objectives, roadmaps and responsibilities, tracking employee performance, having team building exercises and feedback sessions, among other areas.

Create a positive work environment

Having a productive workforce is inextricably linked to creating a positive and supportive work environment. This means that from day one, managers and CEOs should make creating and maintaining a positive work environment a core company objective. This could mean holding office social events, providing large desk spaces, having clear HR policies and career progression, offering flexible holidays or any other initiatives that employees would value.

Build a great company culture

People are the primary resource of any business. Your founding team may work hard, be passionate and close-knit but how do you make sure that culture of excellence and responsibility scales with your business?

Very simply, by clearly outlining and documenting your company culture and making sure it is one of the main objectives of your business. Company culture should be considered in the hiring process and each new employee should be introduced to it. It should not be something unspoken but something at the core of the business.

Managing yourself

As an entrepreneur, one of the difficult things you will often face is managing stress, fatigue, and pressure while balancing work and life. This is common as there is an enormous level of responsibility upon you as an entrepreneur and leader. In this section, we cover how you can mitigate this by creating a support network, engaging in the community and finding mentors to guide you through the perils of entrepreneurship.

Build a support network

Whether it is friends, family or colleagues, having a strong support network around you is critical. This system will help to support you and keep you going through the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial path, make sure not to neglect this network!

14. Starting a business in your spare time

If like many reading this article you have a full-time job and can’t afford to quit your job to start straight away, have no fear. In this section, you can learn how to start a business and make it successful in your spare time without having to leave your job. One way of reducing the risk of starting up your own business is to hold onto your day job in the early days and work on your business in your spare time at evenings and weekends.

It’s an appealing idea because if your business venture fails then you still have your job, and if it succeeds then making the transition to being your own boss will be a lot less risky. In fact, there are now so many people running businesses from home in their spare time at evenings and weekends that there is even a name for them – the 5 to 9 ers.

Perfect businesses to start in your spare time

  • An internet-based business which does not require your constant physical presence for it to function
  • A business that can outsource many of its functions. Husband and wife Brent and Marilena Shaw run their online luggage business Swiss luggage.com in their spare time while both do full-time day jobs. They outsource the packing and posting of orders to a fulfilment company, which takes delivery of their stock and stores it in its warehouse. During the day a call centre handles their customer enquiries.
  • One that allows you to communicate with customers by email rather than by phone, so you are not limited to conventional office hours
  • Don’t start a business that will be in competition with the company you work for, and don’t start one that uses information or data provided by your employer, as you will quickly run into legal issues.

Hide your entrepreneurial intentions

Downplay your entrepreneurial intentions in front of your boss. No matter how well you get on, no-one likes to feel that their employee’s attention and focus is elsewhere. Provide information solely on a ‘need to know’ basis and never bring up your business venture in conversation unless you are specifically asked about it.

Only work on your business in your spare time

Don’t give your boss any reason to clamp down on your business venture. Be scrupulous about doing your day job competently. Only work on your business in your own time and never use your employer’s resources for your business – don’t take stationery, don’t use the office phone for your business phone calls.

Social life on hold

Put your social life on hold, and try to get the support and understanding of your family – you can’t do a full-time job and start a business AND see as much of friends and family as you used to.

Maximise the number of hours

Make the most of every hour you have available to you – When Chris Orrell was starting up his company Hotelstayuk.com offering cheap hotel rooms to employees of large firms, he would go down to the car park every lunch hour to make calls to potential clients on his mobile phone. His business now has a turnover of millions.

Work on your business every hour

Don’t underestimate how much time you still have available – there are 168 hours in the week, so even allowing for a 40 hour a week full-time job and eight hours sleep a night, that still gives you a potential 88 hours left in which to work on your business.

Make sure to get some rest

But don’t sacrifice sleep. Make sure you get enough sleep every night as over tiredness will make you feel ill, run-down, grumpy, short-tempered and lead to poor judgement and bad decisions.

Advice from owners of successful spare time entrepreneurs

Janan Leo, is a typical 5-9er. During the day she works as a product development manager for Virgin Trains. As soon as she is finished there, she switches to running Cocorose, which makes folding shoes for women to wear while commuting. She started the company, which she runs from the spare room of her home in north London, in 2008 with £3,000 of savings. She works every evening from 5 pm until at least 11 pm and every weekend and now sells hundreds of pairs of shoes a month in boutiques and through her website. She may never see her boyfriend and barely get any sleep but for Leo, starting a business this way and running it at home has one huge advantage – it has minimised the financial risk. She says: ‘I lie in bed at midnight watching the orders come through on my BlackBerry.’

Steve Emecz, runs his own book company, MX Publishing, in his spare time from home while holding down a demanding full-time job as the business development director for Venda.com, an e-commerce support company. Steve, whose business publishes around 50 titles, including books on Sherlock Holmes and neurolinguistics, says: ‘I process urgent orders in my lunch break and regular ones in the evening. I have an outsourced warehouse that picks the books and ships them — it is all technology-driven and web-based. The authors all have day jobs themselves and so want to talk to me in the evening anyway, and the distributors do everything online. I have my e-mails sent directly to my BlackBerry, and I use Skype a lot.’

15. A little bit of entrepreneurial inspiration

If at this stage you’re feeling a little overloaded you should be but don’t worry every one of the worlds most successful businesses started from the smallest of to-do lists. to remind you that’s its entirely possible to do here are 10 case studies of extremely successful businesses that came from very humble beginnings.

Johnny Cupcakes

This business started by selling t-shirts, sweaters, shorts and undergarments in a bakery-themed retail shop. The initial investment was $6,700. The firm is now worth $3.8 Million. The first store opened in 2005 and the founder, Johnny Earle, soon found himself on the list of ‘Best Entrepreneurs 25 and Under’ in 2008.

Adventure Life

Adventure Life offers group tours and vacation packages for its customers. In 2008, it had revenue of $11 Million; the start-up costs, however, were very low. These included $3,000 for brochures, $11,500 for ads in 1999 and £33,500 in 2000.

Paragon Space Development

Paragon Space, which is now worth £8 million in 2008, started with an initial investment which includes $30,000 for computers and lab equipment, £600 per month for office and lab premises, and $20,000 for yearly travel.

Chobani Yogurt

The #1 selling yoghurt in the United States was founded in 2005 by Hamdi Ulukaya. However, his ex-wife claims that he stole the recipe and paid $40,000 for it. The founder used a loan of under $1 million to buttress the initial start-up costs. The company is now worth $1.1 billion.

Sweet Leaf Tea

With its current value of $12 Million, Sweet Leaf Tea was founded in 1998 with a $100,000 initial investment. The company broke even in its third year and reported revenue of £300,000.

Tokyo Joe’s

Earning revenue of $22 Million per year, Tokyo Joe’s was started off in 1996 with an initial cost of $330,000. Tokyo Joe’s is famous for consistently bringing nutritious and delicious food to customers’ tables.

Tarte Cosmetics

Tarte Cosmetics offers a wide variety of make-up products including brushes and body products. It was established in 1999 by Maureen Kelly in New York. The start-up cost was $18,000 and now the company grosses $12 million (2008 figures).

Edible Arrangements

This company changed the way people send gifts. They specialise in fresh fruit arrangements and offer a wide variety of speciality fruit gift items and gift boxes. Tariq Farid founded this company in 1999 with an initial investment of $100,000 and the company is now worth $19.4 million.

Facebook

Now worth over $200 Billion, Mark Zuckerberg started the world’s biggest social network when he was still in university. According to various reports, the idea was allegedly stolen from twins Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss who eventually sued Mark.

ZARA

We have saved the best for last: ZARA. It was founded in 1975 by Amancio Ortega. The big retail giant opened up several stores across the globe. The founder’s estimated worth is reported to be $65 billion.

Now that you have made it to the end, hopefully, you’re well on your way to starting and beginning to build a successful business, good luck!

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