At this time of year and after this year of all years, now is the time when many are reviewing what they currently doing and considering taking the plunge and starting their own business. This is not a decision to take lightly though, so we thought we would shares some tips on what you need to do.

Things to do before you make the decision

Ask yourself why you want to do this? Phrases like being your own boss are often quoted and we understand that motivation. Many start up businesses quickly find though that their customers start to feel like “bosses” because of their expectations and demands. Others decide to go it alone to do what they love. That is fine but ask yourself is this the only way you can achieve this? It is not that we are against starting up businesses (after all we did that ourselves nearly 11 years ago), but we do find that most start up businesses underestimate how much hard work it will be.

Work out how much you want/need to earn. Then estimate what your fixed and variable costs will be and you will soon have an idea of how much you will need to turnover to realise your aspirations. Break this down into months and how many sales you need to do (or if you are offering services the number of hours you need to work) and remember the need to consider the fact that not all enquiries or expressions of interest will turn into sales. You have some of the elements of a business plan now and something to gauge your progress against.

Try and assess the level of demand for what you intend to offer. Ask potential customers would they be interested in what you intend to offer, what price they would expect to pay and where if they were looking for it, would they look. Wrong assumptions at this stage can be crucial. For example if you plan to sell an item for £25 and people expect to pay £18, you need to justify that premium and anticipate that some people, even those that want what you are selling may be put off. Also look out for competitors. If they are there – ask yourself how you will compare and standout? If they are not there, then just maybe that indicates there are not enough people looking for what you intend to offer/do in that area.

After the decision to go-ahead.

This is where the hard work really starts. This is not an exhaustive list but some of the key things you need to do.

Create a “to do list” and start to plot these in some sort of calendar or plan. This will help you put things into the right order, determine your priorities and highlight interdependencies. It also will help you drive your activity and help maintain momentum – “what I need to get done this week”. Beware the temptation to keep delaying things to get “all your ducks in a row”. Try and categorise things, maybe into “must haves” and “nice to haves”.

Finalise what you are going to offer (your products or services) and how and where you are going to offer this. In part this is about where you intend to operate but it is equally about your routes to market.

Settle on a business name. Remember to check Companies House to see if somebody is already using it and for similar reason google the name you are considering. Check the Government website for trademarks (remember that even if there is a clash if they operate in a different field or class this may not a be a show stopper) and that there is a domain name that matches or is very close to your name. We use 123 reg but there are other providers. If you are planning to operate internationally check on how your name translates and what its meaning is in different languages.

Create a logo for your name. This will be the visual representation of your name and will feature on everything you produce and you will also need it for your website, business cards, social media etc. You can try and do this yourself, but we usually find using the services of a professional designer is better in the long run.

Remember the practicalities. If you are going to be limited company register the business with Companies House. Set up a business bank account, take on an accountant and consider what premises, equipment or software you need from day one. Think about what insurances you need, what laws and regulations you must comply with and whether you will register your trademark at the outset. The latter of these is usually advisable if you have aspirations to grow your business. Think about what services and suppliers you need or in the short term what skills gaps you have if you are going to “insource” elements e.g. bookkeeping. Organisations like the Growth Hub which supports Gloucestershire businesses can be a great help. If you are outside Gloucestershire you will probably have your own equivalent.

Consider whether (or when) you will have a website. Determine how you are going to get it produced e.g. do it yourself or via a web company (we can help you find one). Create a brief of what the site will contain and make sure to look at lots of competitors. A common preference is for a light or uncluttered site but remember you are designing it for Google as much as you are the end user and a site with too few pages or words can struggle to rank. Remember you will need copy and photographs for your site (very often a stumbling block) and that you will need to pay for a domain name and to host your website. Make sure you set up your Google My Business profile and when your site is live make sure it has Google Analytics installed.

Decide what social media platforms you are going to use and set up your profiles. Remember to think what social media platforms your potential customers use and look at what your competitors are using. If you do not know how to do this organisations such as ourselves can do this for you. We also offer training and advice on how to make the best use of social media and also offer an outsourced service if required. You can find information on our social media services here.

Decide what if any local business groups you might want to join. We are members of the Cheltenham Chamber of Commerce and Circle 2 Success (we are happy to share why we have chosen these two if you want to get in touch) but we have been members of the Institute of Directors and Gloucestershire Chamber of Commerce in the past and many small businesses choose to join the Federation of Small Businesses.

Decide on how you are going to promote your business. We come across far too many businesses who have inadvertently become the best kept secret. A great first step is to identify your target customers and make a list of the different ways that you can reach them. Some marketing will jump straight to generating a sale, but more often than not you will find you will need to take them through a process. For most businesses the steps in this will be making them aware of you and what you do, creating a positive impression and then creating enough desire for what you offer for them to get in touch. It is a good idea at the outset to set a budget for how much you are going to spend on marketing in the first year. This provides a great framework for decision making and will greatly minimise the chances of costs running away. Remember the importance of repetition and reinforcement to guide your potential customers through your process. Also don’t forget to make the most of free sources e.g. social media, recommendations and referrals.

We hope that this list isn’t too daunting and that you will find it useful. Running your own business is very hard work, but it is also very rewarding. For us for example we get a great buzz out of the progress we see our clients making with our help. If you do think that you would benefit from some professional help with your marketing please get in touch.