Updated 09 January 2020
Nearly everybody’s got a great business idea – but only a few succeed in turning their reverie into revenue. What’s their secret? We bring you six tips for getting your venture off the drawing board and into the marketplace. Article by Nick Green.
So you’ve come up with a brilliant business proposition. What next? Many new ventures fail to get off the ground, not because they’re bad ideas but because the entrepreneur has misjudged the challenge or tried to tackle it in the wrong way. If you’ve got a start-up on the starting blocks, try focusing your mind with these neat tips.
Passion is the driving force of a business. Your business plan for an online cookery course might be ground-breaking, but it’s unlikely to succeed if you yourself don’t enjoy cooking. It’s not enough to have the expertise and vision: you need the love too. Think of what gives you a sense of satisfaction – even if it’s only cleaning the bathroom, plenty of cleaning companies have started out that way.
Some people are cut out for the entrepreneurial life. Others, not so much. Take a hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if you can live with the pressure (as well as the freedom) of being your own boss, the periods of uncertainty, the self-doubt and the potential fluctuations in your income. If it helps, do your best Alan Sugar impersonation and mercilessly savage your own business concept. If you still feel upbeat by the end, you might want to give yourself the job.
Probably the most overused start-up tip out there is ‘Write a business plan’. Yes, in most cases it’s strongly recommended. You’ll need a thorough grasp of every element of your business, from funding, costs and financial forecasts to your market and the product or service itself, and a business plan is the simplest way to bring these together and see how they interact. You’ll also need a rigorous business plan if you want to secure external funding. That said, some very successful entrepreneurs are not natural planners, and prefer to work from a loose set of objectives that they updated constantly in response to the market and circumstances. Planning is important – but don’t let it become your boss. Do it in the way that makes you feel most in control.
One of the most important parts of a business is the ‘front end’ – the bit that potential customers see. For some businesses their name, logo and visual branding may be worth more to the company than what they actually produce (John Stuart, onetime chairman of Quaker Oats, certainly thought so). Take time to pick the right name, ask for lots of people’s input, and consider the possibility that your idea may not be the best. Major brands have nearly got this badly wrong: Facebook was first called ‘The Facebook’, Google was originally called ‘BackRub’ (backrub it if you don’t believe us), and Amazon was going to be ‘Cadabra’ (until someone pointed out that it could be misheard as ‘cadaver’). Make sure you can secure the necessary URLs too.
You should take a similar level of care over your logos and visual branding. If you do it on the cheap you might appear to save money, but hiring a proper creative agency is a good long-term investment.
Whether you’re a natural planner or not, one thing you can’t escape from is the hard figures. You need to research all the costs you will incur within your chosen industry, from taxes and business rates to the costs of materials, suppliers, travel and whatever else your business will incur. This is the time to be ruthlessly honest with yourself – the time when many novices underestimate their outgoings or miss something vital. Once you know your costs, draw up a budget and feed this into your business plan. It’s likely that this will be a rolling, evolving process – you will make many discoveries by trial and error as you gradually find the most efficient ways to run your operations. Make sure you have enough of a financial cushion to navigate this bumpy early phase.
When it comes to seeking investment, it will help enormously to be able to show these hard figures in your business plan, as they will lend credibility to your financial projections.
Potential customers will look for you online, so make sure they can find you and that they like what they find. So have a blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and all the rest of it, but take care that they work for you and not the other way round. Social media can become a full time job and a distraction from the running of your business, and it can also do as much harm as good if you don’t keep a lid on it. The digital community is very wise to self-marketing and advertising, and will quickly switch you off if all you do is try to sell to them. Rather, use social media to cultivate your company’s personality, adding depth and interest so that people feel as if they know you. Identify the channels most relevant to your business, build up followings and networks slowly, and try to give back as much as you get. Encourage people to follow you for what they get out of it, and your online market presence should grow organically as a result.
For more tips on starting a business, check out the Unbiased Starting a Business Guide.
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