Startup or young Company? a brief checklist of do’s and dont’s

office-227746_1280THERE ARE A NUMBER OF FACTORS WHICH DECIDE THE SUCCESS OR FAILURE OF A START-UP. WHILST MOST POINTS MADE HERE MAY SEEM COMMON KNOWLEDGE, IT MAY SURPRISE YOU THAT THERE ARE STILL BASIC MISTAKES BEING MADE BY WELL-MEANING START-UPS WHICH THEY COULD EASILY AVOID . SO WHAT MAKES A GREAT START-UP?

THE BUSINESS PLAN

Put simply, a well thought out business plan can decide the fate of a start-up or entrepreneur. Your plan must be clearly thought out, with an emphasis about why a customer would come to you, and how your service will solve their problem. You must show how your Company or business has the ability to cover the requirements of your customer not just from the initial query but throughout the entire process of initial consultation, identifying the needs of the customer and explaining the process to satisfying their need, presenting deadlines with quote, and when the work will begin/ end.

If your Customer will be using your service more than once, for instance you may be a specialist in IT support, you will need to demonstrate how you offer ongoing support to your client and how this relationship will enhance their IT infrastructure. Successful start-ups typically have one singular common trait: their transparency of service to the end-user or customer. By clearly setting your stall out in your business plan with this philosophy in mind, you can expect a better response from your potential custom base.

EXPERIENCE

To set up a Company when you haven’t even got the most basic certification may seem a recipe for disaster, but you would be amazed how many people rush headlong into setting up a business in an area which they think would be lucrative, without the forethought of realizing the skills and experience required to offer the service properly. One example is the number of electricians who have moved into the market of supplying and fitting solar panels. It may sound easy money in a growing market, but ask a specially trained and accredited solar panel company of the amount of badly fitted installs they have had to correct and they would tell you a very different story. You need a degree of expertise, and that only comes from proven experts. Just ask yourself: would you trust your GP to perform a heart bypass? Your experience in your preferred market is pretty much essential. Most entrepreneurs who set up on their own have done so with a clear vision of what they can offer their customers based on many years of working within the same industry and therefore are aware of what ticks the proverbial boxes in terms of growing their client base. Going to college and getting the correct qualifications is always a good start if you’re in a specialist market but nothing really beats experience if you decide to go it alone, so it is important to know your market, your product and your client base. Your customers are relying on you to deliver the goods, so you better know what you’re talking about.

COMPETITION

In most cases, people start their own business in a market where there are other Companies already doing similar, or in some cases exactly the same. So it is important to demonstrate to your customers what makes you stand out from the crowd. Having competition can be a double-edged sword; on the one hand it may seem difficult to break into a market when there can be hundreds of other companies (in many cases already well established) available to your customers, so how could your little start-up possibly compete with this? However the very fact that so many other companies are out there, establishing themselves and growing their custom base in your market, suggests that there is a demand for your services. It can be just as daunting setting up a business with seemingly no competition! You will need to consider how you wish to be different to your competitors, and why your customers will get a better service by choosing you. Perhaps you offer an initial free consultation, whereas your competitors will charge for their time. Or you may offer a discount for a first order, or have a loyalty scheme for long-term clients. If you’re a web designer for instance, you may offer free hosting for a while as part of your design package, while your competitors may not. So study your competition closely, ultimately they might be able to help your business more than you think.

YOUR COMPANY NAME

This one may seem the most obvious, but having a strong Company name can mean a big difference to your market remembering who you are. Don’t settle for a generic name like everybody else. Picture an image of what your company stands for to yourself and what image you wish to project to your clients. Don’t make it long-winded and pretentious. Think of a name that encapsulates what your service represents, and to whom. Think of a name that is unusual but relevant, that is easily remembered and which sounds professional when you say it out loud, especially over the telephone. If you’re a sole trader it may seem straightforward if you simply include the initials of your name as your business brand, and this is often the case of very successful local businesses like tradespeople and bookkeepers, but whatever you decide to choose as your Company name, remember you want it to be the name on the lips of your target audience, in addition to the name emblazoned on the front of your business cards, your website and the rest of your marketing literature, which brings us nicely to the next consideration.

MARKETING

How you market your business can be a vital part of your Companies success. It is important to consider how you brand your Company with your client base in mind. What may work for one Company may be completely unsuitable for another. A Landscape gardener may find a local door-to-door canvassing campaign worthwhile in drumming up interest, but the company who provides a business to business solution cannot expect the same volume of interest by employing these methods. The B2B company will find it a lot more worthwhile by marketing directly to your chosen client by a mixture of media, and this starts with your own website. If you do not have a website yet, I encourage you to get one. With the number of great web designers on the increase in the UK there has never been a better time to find a very affordable package for your needs and having a prominent online presence is considered by small business experts as essential to your success as your USP. An email campaign targeting your customers can also be beneficial, but be prepared for a lot of work for what can seem a minimal response for your endeavours. Taking advantage of a business profile on some of the better known social networks is a proven way of generating interest for your business, and better still it costs you nothing to set them up, so this is something you can do straight away. Networking and breakfast meetings can also have an impact, but remember you can also waste a lot of time going to too many of these functions, so a good idea would be to limit your time at these functions to at the most once a Month. As you begin to grow, exhibiting your Company at industry specific trade shows and small business events is certainly a trusted way of getting your name out, but this is something you should only consider once you can allocate an amount of money that you can write off as disposable, as there are no guarantees that you will get a return on your investment, at least not straight away. The most important thing to remember is not to get too ambitious with your marketing straight away, but not by omitting this part of your business plan altogether. The above points are positive areas of marketing to consider, but for further reading you can refer to our ‘marketing v word of mouth’ section for a more in-depth look. There are no simple ways of guaranteeing your business will be successful, but there are a few basic rules that all entrepreneurs follow and just by spending a little time on your business plan you can give yourself a better chance to achieve your goal.

There are some other things you will need to consider to grow your business quicker and better, and that’s other businesses. You will need an accountant, not just a bookkeeper. An IT specialist is also someone worth knowing, in fact pretty much the Companies and services representing office essential! In a future article, we will explain in much more depth why the people you employ to help your business can either be a great asset to your success or slow you down. Finally, never forget the business you start begins and ends with YOU. Remain enthusiastic, positive and passionate and be honest with where you are and what you stand for and you will win your customers over. But never be complacent or overly ambitious. Keep your feet on the ground and you can surprise yourself with how far you can go. Good luck!