5 steps to starting your own small business

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Owning a business is a life goal for many of us, but it can be tricky to know where to start. Here are 5 tips to help get you up and running.

1. Come up with a great business idea

This is the really fun part – coming up with a whole flurry of ideas and arriving at something that can really make a splash in your target market.

Having ideas isn’t something you sit down and work at. As Entrepreneur explains, It’s a creative process, so you need to take time, be open, and allow it to happen. Your brain will make connections based on the information you give it, so talk to plenty of people, go to new places and be observant when you’re out and about.

When a start-up idea strikes, write it down, no matter how silly it might sound. As most successful entrepreneurs will tell you, good business ideas are often reached after coming up with a lot of bad ones.

Armed with your bank of startup business ideas, it’s time to research and develop them, testing the best ones out to make sure they’re roadworthy.

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Sound out your entrepreneurial passions

For many people, starting a business is a chance to turn a passion into profits and make money from something they love to do. If you’re in this situation, you’ll have a few parameters already in place, like knowing the cost of materials or the types of retail opportunities out there. You probably already know quite a bit about your industry because of your personal enthusiasm for it.

You need to test out whether there’s a way to turn that personal passion into something with long-term business potential. Will you be able to scale it up over time? Can you make it profitable enough to support you if you leave an existing job?

Eye up the competition

Look carefully at your competitors, large and small. Make sure your idea is different enough from what they’re doing to be successful, and that you’re offering something nobody else can do. Look at their prices, business model, marketing and customer service. Check their reviews – is there anything they’re not doing that customers want, and that could be a business opportunity for you?

Look at your target market

When learning how to start your own business, few things are more important than researching your potential customers and the money they’ll be willing to spend. Market research tools like surveys and focus groups can be very helpful for collecting opinions and insights to help you refine your ideas and approach. You can put together a market research survey based on a template using free tools like SurveyMonkey.

2. Know your obstacles – and work around them

Every small business is different, but they all face certain obstacles during the start-up journey, some bigger than others. Here are a few typical challenges for small business owners, and strategies for moving past them.

Establishing business ownership

If more than one person is involved, you need to have some honest conversations about who will own the business and whether it will be shared equally between founders. Consider who will do the majority of the work and what each person brings to the table. Agree some ground rules about contributing to the business and what happens if someone wants to step down.

Choosing systems and software

One of the obstacles to starting your own small business is knowing how to develop the right infrastructure. Having helpful software and processes, rather than ones that add work and make life more difficult, can be a huge factor in your success when starting a business. Project management tools, accounting software – even if it’s just a basic spreadsheet – and the email system you choose will all have an effect on your productivity.

Take some time researching different options and talk directly to software providers who may be able to offer bespoke solutions tailor made for your business. The good news is that your early start-up days are a window of opportunity for trying new things and changing your mind before routines and systems get embedded, so you can afford some trial and error here.

Growth and hiring

When you start a business, knowing when to hire your first employee can be tricky, and the move from being just founders and owners to having staff can be a real game-changer for your company culture and ways of working. As well as weighing up practical things like payroll and insurance, take time to consider the cultural impact of becoming an employer, and how you want to be seen as a place to work.

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3. Know the traits of a successful small business

How to start your own small business, step 3: learn what success looks like. Understanding what works well will help you develop a competitive advantage in your target market and make your company a good place to work into the bargain.

Culture is crucial

If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that small business success nearly always goes hand in hand with a strong company culture. Businesses that look after their people, are open to ideas, and where everyone feels listened to and able to contribute are on to a good thing.

Business owners can help establish a great culture by setting an example with their own behavior. Rather than taking decisions unilaterally, good leaders are able to take various points of view on board and adjust their business plan, without losing their role as the overall decision-maker.

Be open to change

A flexible business structure can really help the budding entrepreneur adapt and take advantage of opportunities when starting out. It’s typical for people in a start-up culture to ‘wear many hats’ and feel confident trying out different roles, rather than sticking to a rigid job description or process. This goes hand-in-hand with a great company culture that empowers staff and allows them initiative.

Be smart with marketing

Finally, a well-defined marketing strategy is a hallmark of a great small business. Investing in your marketing brings all kinds of benefits, from building your brand and developing your values and identity to bringing new business in the door. And what’s more, it doesn’t have to cost large sums of money. 

4. Set goals

Ever been in a job interview where you’re asked ‘where do you want to be in 5 years’ time?’ It’s a question that applies to businesses as well as people. Your business plan should include long term goals for the big-picture things you want to achieve.

At the same time, it’s important to set short-term goals and objectives and measure against them.

  • Long-term goals inform your strategy and overall focus.
  • Short-term goals can keep your pace and momentum up from day-to-day and guard against unproductive behaviours like procrastination and decision paralysis.

To really benefit from goal-setting, you need to track progress. Try setting some KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) like sales figures, revenue or even social media reach for your business will help you see over time whether you’re  on track and building momentum, or if you need to make changes in certain areas.

5. Position and promote yourself

Building your brand is something you do from day one, whether or not you mean to. So it makes sense to have a conscious approach and guide your brand identity through its formative stages. Everything is easier if you can be clear and deliberate about how you want to be seen and who you want to appeal to.

Realistically though, when you first start a business your resources will be focused elsewhere, and you may end up with a small budget for marketing and promotions. Big glossy marketing campaigns might be beyond your reach, but there are plenty of ways to promote your brand without breaking the bank.

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Invest time in social media

For many small business owners, social media is a must-have resource, thanks to its powerful reach and the fact that it doesn’t cost much money to maintain. It does take time to develop your tone of voice, build up a following, create and publish content and respond to prospective customers. But social media marketing doesn’t have to take up large chunks of the day.

A little-and-often approach, with a few minutes spent here and there boosting your social presence, can add up to something impressive, quicker than you might think. That’s partly because of the cascade effect of social sharing – good content develops its own momentum, which you then have the potential to boost with paid advertising as and when it’s in your budget.

Boost clicks with SEO

Search engine optimization is another helpful strategy for small businesses seeking a wider audience. SEO is sometimes seen as a mysterious art that’s hard to get to grips with as a layperson. But the basics can be learned quickly and put into practice straight away, so that your web pages and blog articles are performing at their best. Some of the most useful advice comes from the search engines themselves – for example Google’s SEO Starter Guide.

Perfect the art of the press release

If you have a limited marketing budget when you first start a business, don’t forget the good old press release, which costs virtually nothing to produce, and if done right, could get your name in front of some seriously influential people. Here’s a Guardian journalist’s guide to getting press releases right.

You’re part of a small business community

Wherever you are in the process, setting up your own business can be both thrilling and daunting. Fortunately, it’s never something you’re completely alone with. There are plenty of other people out there on the same journey, and lots of resources  available to help you succeed.

Buzzing with ideas for your small business? Check out these 4 things small businesses can learn from big multinationals

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