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Starting up a small business

Most of us - at some point or another - dream about being our own boss. Why work hard to line someone else’s pockets? There are 3.7 million small businesses in the UK and they employ more than half the workforce. They are very important to the economy. Unfortunately a large proportion of them don’t reach their 3rd birthday so if you are dreaming of your independence plan carefully or the dream could be short lived.
The first thing you need is the support of friends and family. You’ll be working long hours probably for very little return for quite some time and without that support you’ll lose friends and your relationship will suffer.
No matter how good your business idea it’s unlikely to be unique. Is there anyone else in your area doing what you want to do? You want as little competition as possible so there’s no point in opening a cab company where there are already several others - unless you’ve done your market research and are sure there’s enough demand to allow you to make a living.
Is there a demand for what you’re offering? Ask everyone you know but just because they say they’d buy from you that doesn’t mean you’ll succeed. You need to know you will have enough customers. It’s less time consuming and cheaper to keep a customer than find a new one - so if you offering something that people will need or want again and again that’s a head start. But you have to make them keep coming back to you.
You need to be in the right place at the right time. So location is very important. Stand outside any premises you’re thinking of taking on and ask passers by if they’d be interested in what you have to offer. Think about how easy it is to get to and park.
Once you’ve got the idea, are convinced there’s a market and have premises you’ll need money. Some people can carry on in employment while getting started so they can go on paying your rent or mortgage and the household bills. If you can’t do that do you have savings or a working partner? When you’re working out how much you’ll need calculate how long it will be before you can start taking a wage out of the business.
The first port of call for most would be entrepreneurs is the bank. Shop around to see what each offers. If you’re selling your time and expertise and working from home you’ll only need enough for an extra telephone line and some business cards. But if you need premises, equipment and staff it could run to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The bank will want to see a business plan showing what the idea is, how it will work, and how it will progress. Ask yourself why anyone should risk their money with you.
Your business plan is an invaluable tool against. You decide where you want to be, by when, and it’s your route map for how to get there. It should cover all the details of how, where and when you plan to set up, what market research you’ve done, staffing, marketing, your unique selling point which will keep the customers coming in and coming back.
You’ll need advise on the legal status of your business, tax and National Insurance, cashflow, the accounts, health and safety regulations, staff, employment law to name but a few. The bank should be able to give you some of that information but there are also business services that can help - Business Links in England and Wales, Small Business Gateway in Scotland and Business Connect in Wales. You’ll find details in the phone book. The Government has also set up the Small Business Service and the main website is at www.businesslink.org
According to Alistair Tait of Tait Enterprise Development, who works with new and growing businesses, the biggest mistake people make is taking too much money out of the business too soon. “They can’t wait and get frustrated if the business doesn’t become successful quickly. It takes time and the big house and the sports car will have to wait”.
So you’re unlikely to get rich quick. Work out exactly what you need to take out to live on and take no more until the business is looking healthy. There’s a lot of hard work ahead but with the right idea and good planning you’ll reap the rewards in the long run.
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