If you’re thinking of starting your own business full-time, in your spare time, have recently started or are just testing the water, this blog will help you stay on track...
1. Do some market research
Before starting any new business or launching a new product / service, I would always recommend doing some market research to see if there’s some real appetite & demand for what you are offering. I’ve personally always found face-to-face conversations a great way to do this alongside online surveys which can help you both validate your ideas & build up a mailing list of potential first customers or users.
My personal favourite for creating slick & professional-looking surveys is Typeform & you can learn how I used this to create our first Newcastle Startup Week festival in the video below.
2. Adopt Lean Startup Principles
No matter what type of business or organisation you run, I think you should try to adopt Lean Startup Principles which are all about reducing the amount of time, money & effort wasted on things that people don’t actually want & spending more on things that they do.
I highly recommend reading ‘The Lean Startup‘ by Eric Ries but before you do (& even if you already have read it) my 11 min book review below gives a really handy overview.
3. Get online
You don’t need to spend lots of money on a fancy website before you get started & can even run a business entirely on Social Media but as a bare minimum, I would encourage every new business to have:
- A basic website containing an Overview (usually on the Homepage), a Products / Services page, Contact page & ideally a Blog / News section too which you can regularly update with latest information about your business, product or service, how to guides, opinion / thought leadership pieces & anything else that your customers / clients / partners might be interested in & can help drive traffic to your website. My personal favourite for creating websites like this one is WordPress but you might prefer to use something like Wix or SquareSpace or if you are an e-commerce site, using the web tools that come with your subscription.
- Social Media profiles that can be linked to from your website & which your social media posts can point people back to your website. Each platform can help you reach a different type of audience & there’s no one size fits all in terms of the type of content you should share on each one. Personally, I think everyone should have both a Facebook Page & a Twitter profile which in my experience are the best ones for both attracting people, keeping them engaged & driving them back to your website or e-commerce store. Then, depending on your type of business or organisation, product or service, I would look to creating at least one more social media profile with strong visual appeal like Instagram or YouTube. However, be aware that managing successful social media accounts that not only keep people engaged but help drive potential customers / clients back to you can take up a lot of your time so I would recommend limiting the number of accounts you have & getting them working well before you start adding more.
(Watch the 1hr video below to see Ben Gell (Social Allies), Simon Clayton (Marketing Skills Academy) & me discuss how to use Instagram, LinkedIn & Twitter for business in a fantastic panel discussion / webinar hosted by Jessica Williams & Emma Storey from Just Williams in September 2020).
3. Choose your legal structure & register with HMRC
If you’re just starting out on your own, you can keep your costs & admin to a minimum by registering as a Sole Trader which means that you are the business, although you can offer lots of different products & services.
Legally, you don’t need to register as a Limited Company until your annual turnover hits a certain threshold (currently £85,000 at the time of writing) but your type of work, customers or clients may mean you have to do this from the outset.
There are pros & cons of both & other types of legal structure you may wish to choose if you are in a Partnership or if you want to be a more community-focused or charitable organisation so the best place to go to help you decide & make sure you do things properly is the ‘Business and self-employed‘ section on the GOV.UK website.
4. Open a business bank account
If you’re operating as a Sole Trader you can have any income paid directly into your personal bank account but it is much easier to keep track of your finances if you keep things in a separate Business Bank Account.
There are lots of banks to choose from but I personally think the best one for freelancers, startups & micro business owners (0-9 employees) in the UK right now is NatWest / RBS because of all the fantastic wraparound support they provide in addition to having a great core service including:
- Free accounting software from FreeAgent
- Free online learning tools through their Business Builder programme
- Free NatWest Entrepreneur Accelerator programme
- Ongoing webinars & physical events (COVID-permitting)
5. Manage your finances properly
As soon as possible, I highly recommend using proper accounting software to raise professional-looking invoices, record payments, manage your cashflow & keep on top of your finances.
As I said above, you can get free accounting software from FreeAgent when you open a business bank account with NatWest / RBS or you can 3 months free & 10% off for the lifetime of your monthly subscription thanks to us by going to https://bit.ly/NSW20FreeAgent & then clicking / tapping the ‘Try FreeAgent’ button.
Although you can manage your finances on your own, especially when you’re a Sole Trader, you may wish to work with an accountant to make sure you are doing everything correctly. Things become more complicated when you are a Limited Company & when you take on employees so if you aren’t a trained bookkeeper or accountant, I would encourage you to speak to a startup or small business-friendly accountant.
I personally ran my Plan Digital business as a Sole Trader for the first 2yrs (2016-2018) before becoming a Limited Company in 2018, upon which I appointed Blu Sky Chartered Accountants who have provided me with great ongoing advice & support ever since. They make sure my accounts are processed correctly whilst I focus on running other aspects of my business like day-to-day operations, marketing, making sales & raising invoices.
Blu Sky recently launched a new ‘Startup Club‘ where you can get all of the following for the reduced price of just £150 + VAT…
6. Get (& stay) organised
In my opinion, starting & running your own business is one of the most exciting, rewarding & fulfilling things you can do. It can also sometimes feel a little overwhelming when you think of all the many things you need to do to survive & thrive in business, especially if you work on your own.
Although I still like writing ‘To Do Lists’ in a notepad, I put tasks into a tool called Trello which is a really handy way for me to keep track of everything I need to do & very satisfying when I mark things off as complete.
The example screenshots below give you an idea of how I use Trello. Each column is known as a List in which you can have as many Cards as you like. You can also call them whatever you like but I always have Lists called Backlog, In Progress & Complete so everything starts in Backlog & then can be dragged over from left to right as they progress before being Archived.
There is a paid version (called Trello Gold) but I personally just use the free version so if you’d like to create your own free Trello account (which will also give both you & me 1 month free of Trello Gold perks) you can sign up at https://trello.com/plandigitaluk/recommend
7. Build your audience & grow your business
Since going self-employed in 2016, one of the best things I’ve done is use online tools that integrate with each other so certain processes can be automated saving me many hours of time & effort.
The most important of these for my business is HubSpot which I use to collect contact details of all my new or potential customers, clients & partners into a single CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system which also allows me to divide them into different lists & send bulk or individual emails out to.
With HubSpot I can:
- Manually add new contacts to the CRM
- Scan business cards via the mobile app which are automatically added
- Pull contacts through automatically whenever someone books a ticket for an event on Eventbrite (this needs to be connected via another tool called Zapier)
- Pull contacts through automatically whenever someone fills out a survey or registers their interest in a new event, product or service via Typeform (this also needs to be connected via another tool called Zapier)
- Collect contacts via landing pages & data capture forms
- Collect contacts via Facebook or LinkedIn ads
- Collect contacts via pop-up forms on my website(s)
I didn’t really appreciate how important a fully-integrated CRM was until I started using HubSpot & I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re not using a CRM system at the moment, you can get HubSpot CRM completely free of charge at https://hubs.to/wVcGC & only need to pay if you add the ‘Marketing Tools’ (email newsletters, list management, etc) on top.
8. Stay connected & supported
There is a lot of great business advice & support out there but having worked in the business startup world for over 15yrs, I also think there is probably too much out there which makes it very difficult to know where to go for the best advice, who to trust & what will give you the best value.
This is why I created our 5-day Newcastle Startup Week festival in 2017 so we could carefully curate & signpost people to the best advice & support available in the North East of England (or from across the UK) in a way that would take people through a 5-step process of Inspiration, Getting Started, Funding & Finance, Growing & Scaling, Keep Going or Pivot? (plus a lot of fun & excitement along the way)!
Although we currently can’t run any physical events, since May 2020 we have been providing new & aspiring small business owners with ongoing advice & support through our online ‘Startup Week Community‘. If you join, not only will you receive ongoing business advice all year around but you will feel a genuine sense of belonging amongst a highly-supportive group of likeminded business owners that you won’t find anywhere else.