Starting a new business is exhilarating. You have an opportunity to stretch your wings and test your ability. This is especially the case if you have already spent years in an established career or job. I read one study which suggested that 6 out of 10 working people think about starting a new business but fewer that 2 out of every 10 actually take that first step. Why? There are numerous reasons ranging from inexperience, lack of funds and procrastination (“It’s the wrong time to do this…maybe next year”).
In 2020, we started a new business and worked 10 hours a day, 7 days per week minimum, for over 12 months. We still do not know if we are going to succeed but here are our 9 top tips for anyone who wants to follow in our footsteps:
1) Understand your USP
Knowing your “unique selling point” helps you understand what is different about your new product or service. It also helps you know why your customers will buy from you. After all, you need to stand out in the market. Your problem is knowing your product or service TOO well – you can lose sight of why someone else will want to buy it.
Our breakthrough came a couple of months before we launched. We had the opportunity to present to a potential customer who responded positively. In other words, she “got it”. This was the very first time that an independent third party with no financial or emotional investment in our product gave feedback to us. It was quite emotional. So understand your USP and keep “testing” the market by inviting feedback and using it (even when it hurts).
2) Understand your commercials
You MUST know your pricing structure and how your customer will pay (e.g. online). Pricing can be tricky – it is tempting to go too high because your are excited. Equally it is tempting to go too low (for example, to undercut your competition). On balance going too high is probably best – you can always do deals with new customers (everyone likes to feel they have got a bargain). Start too low though, and it is difficult to increase prices (especially if your customer is a long-term one).
3) Understand your finances
Let’s face it, without cash you will fail. A lot of start-ups “splash the cash” at the beginning, especially if the cash is someone else’s. But cash can quickly run out and if you are not bringing in revenue then you will be in trouble. Rely on professional support and spend wisely. Learn to differentiate between the “nice to have” and the “must have”. In that way your expenditure will bring a return.
4) Go digital or go home
The world has changed, even more so since COVID. Most personal customer demographics have now become tech savvy. The advent of smart technology means a seamless, cashless transaction from the comfort of one’s home. And of course if your new business is B2B then most business is done online anyway. A strong, solid online presence and across the social media platforms is essential. If you can, seek help from a good digital marketing specialist. One word of caution, these specialists are growing in number by the day so check their credentials and seek references from other businesses they have helped before you engage them.
5) Keep your professional support network close
You do not operate in a vacuum. The success or failure of your business will depend on your ability to maintain good working relationships. NEVER burn your bridges no matter how upset you feel or how badly you have been let down. And believe me, you will feel let down by someone at some time. Your personal integrity and resilience are vital at these times. Besides negative emotion clouds judgement and sours relationships quicker than anything else. Remember that old saying “What you sow, you reap”. If you sow discord, you will reap discord. The opposite is true too. So be professional and courteous at all times – most business opportunities come from personal recommendations because people do business with people. So don’t get a reputation for being uptight or unreasonable. Instead cultivate a reputation for being someone people want to do business with.
6) Maintain your work-life balance
If there is any advice we wished we had taken on board it is the need for work-life balance. We worked too long and neglected sleep, physical exercise and healthy eating habits. We cannot emphasise how important it is to structure your days and weeks and months to include personal time. You are on a marathon not a sprint. It is no good being burnt out when you actually launch your business. You need as much energy running it as you do for preparing for it.
7) Have a network of personal support
If you are lucky enough to have a family who support you, then lean close into it. Same applies to your friends. Your family and friends will tell you the truth and keep you grounded. It is too easy to lose perspective in a start-up and believe that the whole world begins and ends with your new business. It doesn’t! So keep investing in your family and friends, because one day you are going to need them. Good and bad days are ahead. That’s life but there is nothing quite like having people around you who love you whatever. We would just add: get rid of negativity and loosen bonds with people who have no emotional investment in your success. There is a difference between being kept grounded and being put down. Learn the difference and it will save you a lot of heart ache.
8) Expect the unexpected
You will have heard of that old proverb “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. People repeat it because it is so so true. Why? There will be days when you go to bed and think “I have done nothing today” because your plans for the day went awry. Actually, what you did was to respond to events beyond your control. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Expect the unexpected but always have a plan in the first place. If things go wrong, simply re-plan. Having an overall plan means you can get up the next day, dust yourself off and carry on.
9) Be extraordinary
We will end these top tips where we started: We do not know if we are going to succeed or not. Failure is an ever-present threat but we comfort ourselves with the following thought: it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. Remember: it is in getting out of the boat that we learn to walk on water. And a new business is just like that: a mixture of hard work and luck, of fear and faith, of glory and grit. But if you keep doing the ordinary, then the extraordinary will take care of itself…