I love running my own businesses (I have a freelance beauty industry business and work with my partner on our new e-commerce fashion company). It’s extremely hard work, sometimes beyond stressful but ultimately the right choice for me. The buzz that you achieve in securing an agreement to move forward with a deal and the freedom that it gives you to meet varied and talented people in their creative fields never gets old.
Having said that, there are some points that come up time and time again when I speak to new starts and, having heard some truly awful stories of exploitation and bad advice, I wanted to share five things many of us agree are worth paying extra attention to before leaping into the launch of a new business.
1. You don’t need a custom designed website.
Let’s be clear here. Your website needs to look great, be easy to navigate and encourage customers to engage with you. This isn’t an area that we all feel comfortable in as we don’t all share expertise or knowledge in web design, fair pricing and the skills that are needed to create quality sites. It’s really important to engage with someone who knows this industry well and can guide you in utilising the best content management systems for your specific business needs and build you a great website from these to get you started.
It’s much more beneficial to spend your money with someone who can launch you with a slick-looking customisable template and work with you as you grow rather than ploughing many thousands into something that you may quickly move away from as your company adapts and changes for your market, as initial plans almost always change once you launch.
2. Don’t assume that the bank is your buddy.
Banks are essential and can work with you to grow and adapt as you need to, but the days of the friendly bank manager who knows the family and deals with your requests as a known customer are long gone. Be bank aware and by that I mean compare your deal regularly against other bank’s offerings and check your statements religiously. It’s not unusual for an introductory offer of free banking to come with a whole host of exclusions, exceptions and one-off fees attached to it.
Pay very close attention to overdrafts that come with automatic yearly renewals fees regardless of whether you’ve even used them or not (and we can be talking fees of hundreds here), substantial charges for paying in cash at a branch and monthly fees that vary dramatically between institutions. You cannot afford to sit back and ignore your banking needs once you’ve started and should be reviewing the service you’re receiving regularly as there will be a perfect bank for you, but you might not have found them first time round.
3. Grants are gold dust
Apparently in the good old days there were a variety of local council grants available for new starts to give their companies the boost that they needed to get off the ground. Grants are still available but eligibility is key and where you live will greatly affect what’s on offer to you. Tech and sciences tend to attract more opportunities while creative industries do have their fair share of grant funding but you often have to be the creator of something, rather than the retailer or agent.
It’s also worth knowing that you almost never get a grant paid to you as a lump sum, it’s most commonly paid back to you after evidence of your purchases have been made. There are exceptions, but in most cases you have to have the funds to begin with and be reimbursed after spending on the agreed project.
4. Prepare to be criticised
Ok, so we know that technically you are your business but you have to project an image which appeals to the customer that you’re reaching out to. It’s so common for us to become protective of our businesses and believe that everything we do is fabulous and our message is completely on-point but the reality is you could be projecting something completely different. Don’t become so absorbed in the running of your dream that you forget it’s not all about you.
You only need to watch one episode of any Mary Portas or Alex Politizzi business salvaging programme to see how frustrating it can be to witness a business owner who believes they know better than everyone else. We don’t; we’re adapting to our markets and learning every day.
5. It’s even harder work than you thought it would be – but oh so worth it
Remind me what a holiday is? Deciding to work for yourself is freeing but also all-encompassing. At the beginning you may struggle to achieve set working hours and the need to chase customers, suppliers or collaborators means that any opportunity to meet is grabbed with both hands and breakfast meetings at ungodly hours can be just as common as attending an evening event after an exhausting day, just to meet that elusive contact.
Some people aren’t in the position to start a new business while others couldn’t imaging anything worse. So if you recognise that what could be the toughest challenge of your working life is still something that you can’t wait to get stuck into, congratulations – you’re an Entrepreneur and the world of business is waiting for you.