JOURNAL

JOURNAL

Start your own business in 10 steps

Written by Mark Williams

Photo by ismagilov/iStock / Getty Images
 

Starting your own business has never been more widespread, with 657,790 new businesses started in 2016 (source: Centre for Entrepreneurs).

Many people start their own business to generate a full-time wage, while others start part-time enterprises to supplement their full-time earnings or to earn some income while looking after family commitments.

Some people sell only online, some strictly offline, while others use both channels. Customers can be other businesses, consumers or both, whether in the UK or overseas. Often it’s wisest to seek to become the number one supplier to part of the market (ie a niche), rather than all things to everyone.

So, if you’re thinking about starting your own business, here are the key steps you’ll need to take.

1 Come up with a great business idea…

Inspiration can come from various places, possibly something you read, watch, see or hear. Your own life experiences might reveal a gap in the market for a new product or service. Your business idea might simply be to offer a superior product or service than existing options. That’s fine, because few business ideas are genuinely unique, but find ways to set yourself apart.

2 Speak to potential customers…

Just because you think your business idea is the best thing since sliced bread, doesn’t mean others will. Asking friends and family is a natural thing to do, but you must speak to potential customers, because if they don’t like your products, services or prices, your business won’t succeed. Their feedback can enable you to make improvements, big or small. It can also prevent you from making expensive mistakes.

3 Carry out some market research…

Identify your “target market”, that is those who are most likely to buy from you. Know who they are, what they buy, when and how. Also find out who your competitors are (all businesses have them), what they sell, how and how much they charge. Learn what trends are evident in your market – they can help you to spot opportunities and threats.

4 Decide how you’ll sell…

Once you know how your potential customers buy and how your competitors sell, you can decide how you should sell, whether that’s online, offline or both. Selling via other businesses might be possible. By this point, armed with your market research, you should know exactly what you’ll sell and how – but how much should you charge?

5 Work out whether your business is viable…

Knowing how much potential customers will pay means you can work out whether you can make enough profit to keep your business afloat and earn enough personal income. If not, you’ll need to reduce your costs. The lower you keep your start-up costs the better. If you personally can’t cover all of your start-up costs, you’ll need to secure funding, finance or investment. Creating a start-up business plan can really help.

6 Develop your brand…

Your brand is what will come to mind when customers think of your business. It’s not only your brand identity (ie logo, typeface, colours), but also what you stand for – your brand values. This is vital. Your brand should be distinct. It should engage potential customers and encourage them to buy from you. A great business name is key to branding, so think carefully before deciding. Also ask others what they think of your business-name shortlist.

7 Create an impressive website…

Even if you don’t sell online, customers will want to find out more about your business before they decide whether to buy. Your website allows them to do that quickly and conveniently. Your website should create a fantastic first impression by showcasing your brand, telling potential customers everything they need to know and why they should buy from you. Doing your own website will be cheaper, but hiring a professional will ensure much better results. Would you buy from someone with a poor website?

8 Start to attract customers as early as possible…

With your website sorted (optimised for Google, of course), explore ways to market your business – online and offline. Establishing a presence on social media websites could attract customers for very little cost. A leaflet drop might work better for other businesses or simply arranging face-to-face meetings with potential business customers. You must let potential customers know you exist – otherwise they won’t buy from you. Do it before you launch, then you can hit the ground running.

9 Sort out a few other important things…

Decide where you’re going to be based, whether that’s commercial premises or your home. Working within your start-up budget, source everything you need to run your business, which could mean equipment, tools, technology, machinery, office furniture, a vehicle, stock or materials. Be firm but fair when negotiating with suppliers. Also sort out your bookkeeping system (get advice from an accountant if necessary, they can also help with your tax returns). If you need to recruit staff, leave yourself enough time.  

10 Register your new business…

You can register online to become a sole trader (ie self-employed). Although it will mean less accounting and tax admin, you’ll pay relatively more tax and be personally liable for any business debts. To remove that personal liability, you can set up a private limited company via Companies House. There will be more accounting and tax admin, but you’ll pay relatively less tax. And if you want to set up a business with others, you can register an ordinary business partnership or limited liability partnership (so you’re not personally liable for debt). Whatever your choice, you should know your legal obligations and how much tax you’ll pay each month. Once registered, you can open a business bank account, so look around for the best deals. Best of luck.


Mark Williams

Mark Williams is a freelance editorial consultant, writer and SME content specialist with over 25 years' experience.  He contributes to The Guardian Small Business Network and planned and wrote the Start Up Donut website.  As well as award-winning magazines and websites, his writing has featured in national newspapers and Sunday supplements. 

You can find out more about Mark's work on his website: www.markiwilliams.com