Harri Lloyd Davies, Partner at Bevan Buckland LLP
As the full impact of the COVID-19 crisis hits us there will sadly be many people left out of work and looking for new opportunities. Whilst the security of employment will be attractive to many it could prove the perfect time to start your own business and be your own boss. In this blog, we will look at some of the ways you can start up a business.
Some initial thoughts
So you’ve got a business idea, and you think it might be a runner. Before you start to spend money make sure you do some research to check you know the answers to these basic questions:
What will it cost to get up and running? How big is the market and how sure are you of demand? How will you market your produce/service? What are your alternatives?
You want to press ahead with your plan, but you also don’t want to be reckless, or take a fall and lose what you’ve already built up – so where do you go from here?
Of course, the answers to these questions will depend on what kind of business you’re hoping to start and where you are, both geographically and financially. But there are a few things you could do that might make it easier than you think.
Whether you’re starting from scratch or adding a new string to your bow, it’s not always necessary to jump into a new venture feet first, risking all your capital, your reputation or your sanity.
There are things you can do to get your new venture up and running while cutting out some of the risks and stress.
Test the water
There’s no need to commit to a five-year plan straight away. Can you trade temporarily, over a season, or on a short-term deal?
With a glut of shopfronts on the market, it’s easier than ever to rent a premises on a pop-up basis, for a week or a season.
Some owners of business and retail premises may even be looking to fill space at a peppercorn rent as this will save them costs on insurance and business rates.
Talk to your local council – they may have a staff member whose task it is to help revitalise high streets – or to the manager of a local shopping centre or arcade.
The premises may not be your dream spot, but six months of delivering great service in a temporary place could stand you in great stead for word of mouth, brand recognition, and maybe some great reviews.
These will all come with you if you do decide, later on, to invest in that dream premises and a longer-term business plan.
If you’re not looking at retail, think of other places you could test your business idea. Events, fairs and festivals can offer a large number of potential customers over a short period of time, and provide lots of feedback on how your product is received.
Can you usefully work with another business to minimise risk?
Aside from sharing premises, could you think about working as a separate brand alongside theirs?
Could you hire a stand in their shop, or have your product promoted (and served) on their menu?
Can you pay someone else to produce your product, in a small run on their production line?
Does an existing business have unused office space that they would be happy to sublet?
On top of cutting costs, this can give you access to valuable business partners and customers.
As long as you’re not competing with your new business contacts, there are plenty of ways you can work together without treading on each other’s toes.
It’s no use going to all the hard work of setting up a business without telling people about it.
You don’t need to hire expensive PR or designers – it’s easy and free to use social media, and lots of customers like the authenticity of talking to the actual business owner.
Don’t feel you have to sell all the time on your social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Most customers will be much more interested if you chat about your business, yourself, or your local news.
They’re much more likely to give you their business if you seem friendly and willing to engage.
Lots of website providers offer cheap and cheerful options for business websites, whether you’re planning on selling online or just letting people know what you do.
And don’t forget traditional media – there are still lots of local newspapers and community publications going in most areas of the country, and many will often give you a write-up for free in exchange for a quote and a bit of your time.
Trading online isn’t an either/or thing. How many of you have seen something you like, decided it’s too much of an extravagance, only to wish, a few days later, that you had treated yourself after all?
If those customers who like your product haven’t got the means or the motivation to buy there and then, it’s really important that they can come back and find you.
On the other hand, if you’re selling something that might be a large-ticket item, it’s possible that a customer who likes an item they spotted online might want to pop round to check it does match that particular shade of orange in their carpets.
The more places you’re visible online, the more people will see what you have to offer. Don’t worry if it’s an image of your workshop, not a showroom – it all adds to the authenticity.
It’s also worth looking at what large generic platforms can offer a new or small business in terms of e-trading. As well as eBay and Amazon, there are also more niche platforms that cater to crafts, books, and records.
All these online platforms offer the tools to set up selling on a very flexible scale – from the occasional hobby product to much larger operations.
The digital world has changed the way we all do business and how we communicate with potential customers. Suddenly you can connect with a global audience and target your content and messaging to specific groups in relevant sectors.
The digital space is an essential part of your marketing strategy and it’s not as daunting as you might think with lots of online videos and courses at your disposal. The key is to start researching and find out what’s best for your business.
A website and social media are a good place to begin, but don’t commit to big expenditure without identifying the business objective and then research what will work best for you. There’s tons of information available, but here are a few of the key channels and platforms you should consider:
- Paid social – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn are some of the main social media platforms and all will allow you to target specific campaigns directly to a designated audience.
- Organic social – as above but not paid. Use creative messaging to connect with your followers and potential new audience.
- PPC – Pay per click advertising on networks such as google. You only get charged when someone clicks on your advert and that click could convert to a direct enquiry via your website or phone.
- Display placement – videos and adverts containing images and words that you can place across the digital networks to promote your brand.
- Blogs – Using good content you can target specific audiences with content and information about your sector and become recognised as an expert in your area. This gives you credibility and allows you to build an audience that could buy future products and services.
- Newsletter – Capture data and target your customers and contacts with the latest offers or updates about your business, brand or services.
- Ecommerce website – typical examples are Amazon and eBay, but you too can sell online either through these platforms or indeed through your own website.
There’s lots more to think about, but these are the key starting points and an essential part of your business marketing plan. Think creatively, think digital and open a world of opportunity.
People often think that finding a venue, shop or office is the first step to take when it comes to trading, but there are other ways to do without this upfront cost.
If you’re offering services you may be able to work from home, but you will need the time and space to do so.
If you need to have client meetings but can also work flexibly from home, you may want to look at renting hotdesking space.
Lots of these schemes come with meeting space, or as an extra to a basic package. Fees are often flexible and will be less if you only sign up to one or two days a week, rather than full-time.
This can give you flexibility as your business expands, and a professional look and access to services that you might not find working directly from home.
Don’t forget to think flexibly – there are other options, too.
Lots of businesses operate out of a vehicle, whether it’s selling coffee from a VW camper van or doing dog-grooming out of a Ford Transit. You could even load up your services on a bicycle.
For some clients, the fact you can come to them can be a selling point gives you an edge over your competitors.
Whatever your plans and outlays, it’s really important that you’ve thought it all through beforehand.
Do your sums – your startup costs and running costs, and work out how many hours or items you’re going to need to sell to cover your costs.
Don’t plan on running on empty. Work out your cashflow, identify any pinch points, and how you might deal with them. The support of things like bounce back loans means it has never been easier to get the finance in place to get your business going.
Don’t forget your own time
Your time is a cost, too, especially if you’ve already got one venture up and running.
It’s no good devoting all your time to new plans only to see your established business falter because you neglected it. Think about how much time you want to spend on your new plans.
Every new business will take a little while to pay off – but be clear about when this should happen, and what’s reasonable for your other commitments, family and finances to sustain.
For more information on how to start a business. Please contact us on 01792 410100 alternatively email email@example.com