Chris Dowling

Business Consultant, Mentor and Coach

How to Grow your Business – Top tips for Start-ups

People look at starting their own businesses for a range of reasons. Maybe you are reassessing your lifestyle and work, perhaps it’s a lifelong dream; maybe circumstances have forced your hand. Whatever the reason, if you have decided to start your own business you need to be prepared for the ups and the downs that running your own business brings. Here are my tips on how to get a new business off to a great start and how to achieve success.

Start While You Are Still Working 

Unfortunately very few startups show a profit that you can live on straight away. While you want to pour your energy and passion into your new business you need to be realistic about how you will pay the bills and fund your startup in the short term. It can be hard juggling both but just know that it is the short term and will afford you a valuable safety net whilst you work on building the business. Having a side hustle is now one of the main ways people start their own businesses today.

Working whilst running a business gives you cash – and as we all know “cash is king!” Whilst there are excellent business loans and grants available these do come with costs or strings attached – I have covered these in “funding” below.

Do your research

People launch their businesses based on either their current work skill set; a passion; a gap in the market or duplicating another successful business. However you come to your idea you need to check that there is a demand for it. This can be done in a number of ways and the value of this research is that it can shape the direction you take to give you the greatest reward if done correctly. I advise that you do some of the research online, and by asking your friends, family and local community.

Tools such as Free Buyer Persona Templates and Builder can help you build a profile of your potential client. Buyer personas have a direct impact on your business, product, and marketing strategy. It helps answer such questions as how to develop your product and product marketing strategy

Online surveys  such as SurveyMonkey or even facebook polls (to certain target groups) can offer up answers to specific questions.

The British Library Business and IP Centre is a free resource for startups and small businesses, where you can access reports on the latest trends for every industry. 

Once you have done your research, be flexible – do you need to reassess your idea? Make your research work for you, giving you the best possible launch pad and ensuring you know your potential customers are out there.

 Make a business plan

Your business plan is an essential first step when you’re thinking of starting a business. It should cover your research findings, funding, marketing, projected sales and more. Its main functions are to secure investment or bank loans, provide a measure to your progress and give you marked goals to head towards. There are many free templates available and examples online. I am happy to pass on my free template on request HERE 

It’s advisable to talk through your business plan with a trusted adviser, to raise questions and challenge details. A business coach or mentor will be able to assist you with this if you are looking for professional advice.

Sort out your finances

This is an area where I can’t stress enough that it can be the make or break of a business. Ensuring you are completely on top of your numbers will not only reduce the chances of failure but increase the future growth of a business. 

You need to pin down your expenditure – what are the actual running costs of the business, what sales are needed to show a profit. This is information you need before even starting. 

As a sole trader you can use a personal account for payments, but as a limited company you will have to set up a business bank account, and it is definitely worth shopping around.

Compare business accounts at Moneysupermarket.com or Uswitch.com. Ensure you understand the charges as these can quickly add up. 

Ensure you register with HMRC. Set money aside for your tax bills and do not put them off! It can seem very daunting but you must get to grips with it yourself for self assessment or use a good accountant who is worth their weight in gold when it comes to managing tax. 

There are accounting tools such as QuickBooks which help you manage your cashflow and send invoices. These can often be linked to your business account and can lessen the accounting burden, giving you reliable data on your financial position. A reliable invoice system is vital to ensure a proper cash flow.

Business loans come in all shapes and sizes. They can help ease the burden from month to month but are based on your personal circumstances for start up businesses generally. If your own credit rating is low you will not secure the best deals. Again shopping around is needed – and the charges / interest / repayments need to be understood. Look for Government back loan schemes, such as the start-up loan scheme.

There are a number of business grants available. Your first point of call for these would be the business department at your local council, they will have a list of options available. Grants can be a fantastic way of injecting money into a business but ensure you know what you are getting. Many grants are match funded – i.e. they will give you £5000 – but you must also invest £5000, other grants will only allow you to spend it in certain areas or on certain items and there can be quite a bit of paperwork. 

Get Customers Lined Up and start promoting before launching your business

Once you’ve got a business plan, done your research and are confident about your idea, start making noises. It’s a great time to get people excited about what you are doing and take them on the journey with you. Start networking and making contacts. Start connecting on social media and get a following. This presale technique will give you a springboard to launch from. You can’t start marketing too soon.

Don’t Do It Alone 

Small business owners and those just starting can find the process daunting. A simple search on-line will provide you with a mass of information but little of it is the exact answer you need or is related to your circumstances. It is well worth hiring a business coach or mentor. They not only have years of experience but will be totally focused on your business growth. Having been there and done it they can help you put together an actionable plan to solidify your business goals in both the short term and long term. Coaching sessions are one to one allowing you to get truly tailored answers to your questions. In a government report launched on National Mentoring Day, three quarters (76%) of UK businesses said mentoring had been key to business growth, with 60% saying it specifically helped develop their business strategy, and more than half (52%) saying it helped boost revenue. Significantly, 66% of businesses that invested in mentoring said it helped them survive. Pick a business coach or mentor with a proven track record and hands on experience would be my advice. The Association of Business Mentors vets business mentors and is a good place to start. You should also try before you by – great business coaches and mentors offer a free trial session – you can book directly of a 30 minute trial session with me HERE

Just because you’re starting a business, doesn’t mean you must be an expert on everything. Outsourcing to other professionals will help ease the burden and can save you money in the long term – areas such as contracts / finances are most regularly outsourced but also consider a phone answering service if you are missing client calls which could cost you sales.

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