We need to be honest – starting up our own business hasn’t been all cute logo brainstorming and hilarious ‘mute on/off’ debates…it’s been intense and it’s been challenging, but we wouldn’t change it for the world. If we were to describe it in years to come at a non-socially distanced dinner party, we’d probably say that starting up our business it’s been like taking an intense personal development course whilst learning to rollerblade whilst listening to a TED talk with a calculator, a legal dictionary and more opinions that we ever needed shoved in our pockets. That’s probably not our finest extended metaphor – but you get the idea!
Recent reports have shown that 85,000 online businesses launched during lockdown (UK Tech; July 2020). This is incredible and we are super proud of the small business community that we’re now part of and that we support through our services.
We love sharing ideas and tips with fellow small business owners! Remember we’re not perfect and our mistakes make us who we are today. We thought it would be useful (and therapeutic!) to share some of our most important learnings about this wonderful process. If you’re thinking about starting your own business right now – be brave, be bold, but be prepared….
Create a robust business plan but don’t be a perfectionist
There’s no way of avoiding it – you have to do a business plan. This could be 2 pages or 32 pages, but whichever way you look at it – you need one. Depending on how your brain works you might become obsessed with different areas – you might focus too much on your vision, your objectives or your marketing strategy or you might just be all about the numbers and forecasting. Every single element matters and it’s essential that you give all areas the appropriate amount of focus. We really enjoyed brainstorming our proposition, our goals and objectives (and of course our marketing strategy). However, we also needed to pay attention to ops & processes and how we could start small and scale up. We also needed advice around our financial forecast (revenue and expenses) which was a very new and overwhelming area for us.
Ultimately, your business plan should be your top priority when starting up your own business. Ask friends and mentors for help, but don’t obsess over all the fine details. You can have a strong draft in place as you scale up and add to it as you go. As long as your objectives and goals are clear – that’s the main thing. We believe progress is more important than perfection. Get it looking 80% good and then get going!
Marketing: an essential step when starting up your own business
Clearly this was an area we were less intimidated by. However, we weren’t lucky enough to have a big budget and 8 team members to support us like we were used to. This marketing plan needed to be cost-effective (free!) and scalable.
The following is definitely not an exhaustive list, but here are our short-term vs. medium-term highlights:
Short-term priorities (essentials):
- Brand identity (logo): The creation of your brand identity is essential. We would strongly recommend you use a professional designer for this so that your brand is clear, consistent and professional from the outset. This is very hard to change retrospectively and you can’t undo the damage poor home-made designs can create. A simple logo, chosen colour pallet & font choice may be all that you need to get started. Your visual brand is very important, but your verbal brand is even more important! If you don’t know your vision, mission, values and USPs yet, sign up to our Brand identity & messaging workshop. In this workshop, we help you create/refine your brand identity and ensure you stand out against your competitors.
- Purchase your domain: You don’t need to build your website on day 1. Think carefully about your audience, your unique selling points, your tone of voice and of course your services/products. Many businesses rush to get their website launched and they end up launching too soon. Definitely save/purchase your domain so that you can launch it when you’re ready – but don’t rush. Many businesses launch on social media for the first few weeks/months to get settled and to build up their audience slowly.
- Launch on at least one social channel: You may have a huge network and many contacts already – but you need somewhere to sell yourself and launch your products/service. We would recommend starting small and sticking to one or two channels at first. It’s not essential to be across all social media – you need to choose what works for you and your audience. For us the majority of our clients are on LinkedIn – so this was a perfect place to launch.
Medium-term priorities (what you need in the first 3-6 months):
- Marketing collateral: It’s all too easy to get caught up in getting your new business card printed alongside brochures and other marketing collateral. Focus on your marketing essentials to start and then think about print marketing. Do you even need printed marketing materials?
- CRM system: You’ll need a customer relationship management system as you scale up and get more clients on board. This might just be a fancy spreadsheet or an off the shelf system. Either way – you need somewhere to track your leads and the customer journey for all your customers.
Learn from our mistakes!
If you haven’t learnt by now, we like to be honest and we’re super keen for you to learn from our mistakes. We’ve rounded up our top 5 most valuable mistakes-turned-lessons when starting up our own business:
- Ask for advice but not TOO much – We used the ‘free complimentary hour’ of way too many lawyers and accountants and we went round in many circles. Speak to only a few experts and try to go with friends or trusted recommendations. People will always have opinions and this can cause unnecessary confusion.
- Make a start when you’re 80% ready – We are perfectionists at heart and this is often our biggest weakness. The majority of businesses will never be 100% ready to launch as perfection is nearly impossible (especially when you haven’t even got anything to compare it to). Start when you’re nearly ready – you won’t regret it.
- Be realistic with timelines – We had to switch from working with a big team and outsourcing some of our work to suddenly being a 2-person team. We had no idea how long things would take, plus we had never carried out some of those tasks before. Be kind to yourself and be generous when setting your own deadlines.
- Start simple and then scale up – You might be like us, where you’ve only ever worked for medium-large companies and your vision and ambition matches this budget. However, things are different now – you most likely have a small budget and basic resources. Start small and then scale up as you see success. Add to your empire little by little as you see the customers flow.
- Ask for help from friends and family – It’s so easy to think that you need to do everything yourself and that asking for help is a weakness. Your friends and family will really want to support you and even if they aren’t an expert in your field – an outside opinion is always useful for a fresh perspective.
Our recommended resources:
There is an overwhelming amount of advice and resources out there about launching your own business. It’s so hard to find what you need when you don’t always know what you’re looking for. Here are our favourite and most useful resources:
Enterprise Nation is a nationwide membership community that supports small businesses. Their website hosts a ton of free content and resources all about setting up and maintaining a successful business. Membership is only £10 a month, but you can access so much including free sessions with experts like lawyers/accountants/business advisors. They also host regular informative and networking seminars which will help you gain insights fast and meet new potential clients or partners.
The Government website has a whole section for business and the self-employed. Here you can find the most up-to-date info about setting yourself up, your tax requirements, employing staff, the support you can get and everything in-between. There are also some great templates and guides on here. There’s also a really handy ‘Business Support Helpline‘ chat feature where a member of their team helpfully answers any questions and collates all the relevant info for you by email. This is a free resource and highly recommended!
This website is full of short and easy articles covering all the important areas like planning, law and tax with fantastic content ranging from choosing your name, how to create a sales strategy and tips on growing your business.
Whilst some of the advice is restricted to London based businesses, the online content is free and relevant to anyone. Their resource library is a great place to start if you’re just starting to think about starting your business.
LinkedIn Learning has some great business start-up courses and can help you quickly up-skill in areas where you may not have needed to be strong before. This social media platform is also an incredible tool to connect and meet with like-minded peers and potential clients. We recommend you browse relevant networking groups in your area to meet potential partners. Also just learning about other businesses in your new space is a great way to quickly understand where the market is right now and what the customer needs.
It’s been a really intense but really fun few months – we are so grateful to all our old and new friends for supporting us on this fantastic journey. Thank you so much to everyone and we can’t wait to keep learning and growing with your support.
We love supporting small businesses and we love learning from our clients too. Are you about to launch your own business and you need marketing support? Do you have an idea that you’d like to brainstorm? Or would you just like to share your mistakes confidentially over a virtual coffee? We’re here to chat whenever you are! Remember – you can book a free consultation with Saltoria anytime.