I’ve been here. I started my own small business over two decades ago. We’ve been very successful with it, and it’s given me the life I truly wanted – which wouldn’t have happened if I had carried on working for an employer.
So if you’re looking to start your own small business, what do you need to know? What do you need to do? And how can you take the first steps?
Your business will likely change
First off, it’s essential to realise that your new business will probably change and morph as you move forward. Even if you were creating a well defined business, like an accountancy, it may be that you find you niche down.
So, I would suggest that you don’t spend more than you really need to on anything that’s not completely essential.
You can waste a large amount of startup capital on elements which eventually fall by the wayside. Believe me – I’ve made this mistake multiple times!
What type of business?
What would you really love?
If you’re going to build a life you love, it’s important to consider what you will be happy doing for the next decade or two. Think about the type of day you’d like and how it would fit into your currently life.
Where would you be, exactly? What work would you be doing? How long would you do it for each day or week?
Find out how you can produce something that’s enjoyable and, as the saying goes, you’ll never work another day.
What do you know how to do?
Alongside what you love, you may also consider what you know how to do, or what transferrable skills you have that you could take into the new business, giving you an edge.
It’s not necessary to keep going in the same direction though. You can choose to move onto a completely different path, especially if you are currently hating what you do.
What will you not sabotage?
A few years before starting out as a small business coach, I decided to use my existing marketing and SEO skills to start an SEO and website agency. I hated every minute of it – especially in dealing with customers who were just rude and dismissive.
I found myself trying to get away from working in that business, and yet feeling like I had nowhere to go. I felt totally stuck. I had made a lot of mistakes, but it wasn’t the right business for me. I’m too much of a people pleaser to run a marketing agency.
Sometimes what you currently know is not the right business for you, and you should aim not to discount the opportunities available for a clean break.
What could you train to do?
As I mentioned above, I decided to become a business coach, and I retrained myself with an extremely effective course.
There were doubts though. I’d not been in any formal education for many years and I didn’t know if I could learn that way any more. However, I looked around and found the perfect course that suited my learning style.
So, don’t discount retraining. You may be able to work toward your new path over a longer term.
Funding your startup small business
Ahh this question! It’s so important.
You need to know how much you’ll make and how quickly, in order to have enough money to see you through the early days. Gaining insight into the market will be essential for you, as will having more put aside than you currently need.
It’s also important to consider your options.
For example, some small business owners choose to build their business by continuing working so they can pay the bills and hiring people to get it going. That’s a perfectly acceptable option – as long as it doesn’t break your contract. Others choose to freelance where they can control their work and income while growing. Yet others will do a crowdfund campaign, especially if it’s a product.
So, consider all of your options – not just the obvious bank loan or savings. There are many options today.
What name and branding?
How to decide on a name?
A name is something that’s hard to change later down the line. You also need to consider getting a relevant web domain, and social media handles. It can take some time to discover something.
There is a new way today though – AI! I discovered the name of my course – LifeUnlimited – using copy.ai (I’m not paid for this link). There are other dedicated tools too.
Whether and how to get a logo?
The first question is whether to get a professional logo. Some new businesses will be trying to portray a feeling that they’re been around for longer than they have, so a professional logo might be important.
However, I would say if there’s something to skimp on in the first few years, it’s a logo. You might try sites like 99designs, or even some of the sites that use AI to make a logo in order to keep costs down. This is something you can change later, if the business grows. Today, for most businesses, it’s unlikely to make enough of a difference on whether someone will choose you.
Rules and regulations
First off, it’s incredibly important to understand the rules and regulations in your country.
I am not an expert at all of these, so I would suggest contacting your local government business centre to discuss what you need to do. Typically, you may need to register the business and get a bank account and possibly an accountant. You might also need to decide on the type of business you’re registering, so be prepared to be somewhat clear.
Marketing and sales plans
Your small business will succeed or fail based on your ability to gain new customers.
What’s your plan for advertising, marketing and sales? Are you going to do it yourself, or are you going to outsource it? What messages will you deliver that potential customers will love and really attach to?
How you talk about yourself is essential in many businesses.
As a coach, I know that just saying I’m a business coach does nothing. However, if I speak about how to deal with a specific challenge like people pleasing, and attach to the specific problems you have and demonstrate how I can help, a customer is more likely to book me.
If you’re not skilled at copywriting, and especially sales copywriting, I would suggest it might be worth spending some money on this.
For some businesses, a website will be their shop window. For others, it’s an irrelevance. I would suggest that having some web presence would increase confidence in a customer, but do consider whether it would be beneficial having an expensive website right from day one.
If you were going to have one made, make sure it focuses on converting browsers to customers with effective sales copy.
Few businesses can thrive today without some kind of social presence. For many small businesses it can be their entire marketing strategy in the early days.
Consider all of the social platforms that are available today and find out whether your competitors and customers are there, and don’t forget the more modern and unique platforms like reddit, tiktok and youtube, who each have enormous audiences.
Online or offline adverts can help drive audiences, but they can also be incredibly expensive if you don’t have highly effective copy or websites for people to visit.
Be cautious spending too much money in this area without first having a business which is converting some visitors to customers.
Google can be an incredibly effective source of traffic, but similar to advertising, a large amount of money can be spent with little return. As an SEO professional of over two decades, it’s much more complicated than most people believe, unless maybe you’ve a very niched local business.
Finally, if you have a bricks and mortar business, the amount of customers who walk past can make the difference between success and failure. Always ensure that you understand this before choosing your location.
As your business grows, it’ll be important to understand how to run it effectively and efficiently, especially if you start to take on staff.
Some businesses will have very obvious processes, but others will benefit more from a specific structure, and changing your processes as you discover new learning about how your business functions effectively.
Processes can make an enormous positive different to running a business, because you don’t have to relearn lessons time and again, and they significantly improve staff training.
However, it doesn’t make sense to create processes until you have a known process that works. After you’ve produced the first version of a process, it can also be amended and iterated on.
At some point, your small business will need to move from just the original founder(s) to a business which employers other staff.
If you’re never hired before, the recruitment process you use is key. It should ensure that the people you employ:
- Fit into the company culture
- Are skilled enough to do the job
- Have some room for growth, if the role allows it
My favourite process is to do a quick telephone interview to check whether you like the person, then invite them in for half a day for a look through their CV plus to complete some questions.
If they succeed, invite them back for a full day (paid or not) to sit with the team and discuss the role with them, as well as to do some specific tasks they’ll be expected to do. If it’s a remote role, this process will need amending.
This may seem like a long process, but the cost of a bad hire is incredibly high, and can take someone out of another job where you might feel guilty letting them go if they’re not right for you.
Where to hire staff?
In the early days, it’s likely that you will have to make the most from your budget. These days there are a variety of places you can hire in order to keep costs down.
If you do need full time staff, you can reduce the recruitment costs by posting out on your network (maybe on Facebook) or asking around. If you exhaust those options, you can consider a site like Indeed to keep costs lower.
Offices and premises
Some businesses will need premises from day one. If you’re building or creating a product, you will need somewhere you can do that from. Consider all options, and particularly be cautious about signing any long term leases. Play several companies off against each other to see what the minimum notice period you can give is.
If you’re working online, you can obvious work from home, or a co-working space. A co-working space may allow you to feel less shut off from the world, even if its occasional. If that’s something that you need, it would be wise to budget for that to ensure you look after yourself.
Your small business should be a labour of love, not a daily grind, so be careful what you choose to work on. Also, for most people, keeping costs low is going to be important so spend money only on what will really help you to generate sales, and ensure that you test multiple people when considering recruitment of staff, which may be your largest cost and can easily be your largest failing.