Starting a business can be an exciting (and sometimes scary) undertaking. No matter the kind of business you’re looking to start, there’s bound to be a plethora of information available to you. Whilst that can make things a little easier, it also means you can get overwhelmed and not focus on what is truly important, writes Sky Gazer founder Georgette Hewitt.
I’ve had the pleasure of starting a few businesses in my time and each one has been an incredible learning lesson. Not all businesses go the distance (I know this first-hand) but some can succeed with the right mix of planning and hard work.
Here are my top five tips before starting your business
Research your business
Research is the number one thing you need to do before you invest any time, energy or money into a business. In fact, research should be your top priority of things to do before you do anything else (that means before you think of a business name or start buying that domain online). You may think you have a unique idea or business proposition however without thoroughly doing research first, you can get into hot water. Ensure that you check out the competition because while competition is healthy, you don’t want to choose a market that is flooded with the same offering. If you find a business or product that already successfully exists, think about how you could make it even better or put a spin on it. Don’t just go in and do exactly the same as another business because it will mean you’ll have to work harder and you’ll always be one step behind.
When you do your research, make sure you honour your findings. If your brain – or instincts even – tell you not to go ahead with something, then don’t. If you have any doubts, fears, or minor concerns, either work out solutions or discuss it with people who might know the answer. A great recent example of a business idea not honouring their research is actress Kristen Bell’s and friend Monica Padman’s podcast they launched this year. Launching with the name of “Shattered Glass” they mentioned on their second episode that there was another program of the same name (making it clear they had done research but didn’t honour it). They have since been forced to rename their show because, in Kristen Bell’s words:
“We got a new name – because we got a cease and desist letter – and we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,”
The name change no doubt caused embarrassment, confusion and costs related to new marketing collateral (but thankfully no legal fees).
Know your personal driving force before you start
Before starting a business, ask yourself ‘what is my driving force?’. The reason this question is fundamental is because it will be the thing that determines whether you succeed (or not). Knowing your personal drivers or motivators gives you the ‘why’ for doing something. Is your driving force money? If so, you’ll want to make sure your business has the capacity and scalability to make lots of it. Is your driving force the thing you’re passionate about? If so, make sure your business aligns to your passion, so you’ll be more driven to make it work. There’s nothing worse than working in a business or field that you’re not passionate about (if passion is the thing that drives you). Do you want to start a business for better work-life balance? Well, you need to know that it will still take a lot of hard work (but maybe you can choose your hours). For me, my personal driving force has changed over the years and that is the thing that has dictated what I do next. Right now, my business Sky Gazer was the thing that allowed me to make a sea change and focus on getting the work-life balance right. Do some serious self-reflecting and understand what will motivate you to make your business succeed.
When you are thinking about starting a business, it is natural to think about it from where you are – the beginning. But you need to work backwards with your business. Ask yourself some important questions like:
- Who is the end user and what price would you expect to pay?
This can help you factor in things like online delivery cost and delve further into the logistics of it. For example, you don’t want to sell a product that is heavy or bulky yet cheap, because no one wants to pay the same amount of money for delivery as the product they are buying).
- What is your exchange or return policy?
Depending on what you’re selling, you need to have these parameters in place (with reasoning as to why). If you don’t have these terms clearly outlined, you don’t have legs to stand on when it comes to challenging customers. You don’t want to run into a scenario when someone is asking for a refund in June of a Christmas gift they received.
- What are the costs for bags, boxes, shipping or any other material needed for the sale?
These items costs money so it needs to researched and factored into your business plan. These kinds of costs can seem like they’re small and incidental, but they can add up very quickly. This is something we had to factor in with Sky Gazer – a typical towel can be quite big and bulky, however we were able to create towels using innovative fabric that makes it lightweight and can roll up tiny for easy portability (weighs just over 500g). This means our shipping costs are smaller and we’re able to offer free shipping to customers.
- What are the costs for a storage space or office?
Depending on what you’re selling, things like storage or office space can be very costly. If it’s a physical product, the smaller the product the cheaper it will be to store, but if it’s a product that needs to be stored in a specific temperate you need to know about these costs beforehand.
Keep your running costs down
A typical business can take a couple of years before it is truly profitable, so it is important to keep your running costs down from the start. Thankfully there’s so many free tools out there to take advantage of. If you’re looking for advice or help win a particular area like marketing, then there are some great Facebook groups (e.g Like Minded Bitches Drinking Wine) where there are lots of stay-at-home parents who used to rock their corporate world but now prefer to work from home for small clients. If there are any ways that you can keep your running costs down from the start it will allow you more freedom later on or help you to be able to pay for those non-negotiable factors that can make or break a brand. To help you do this, compile a list of must-haves, nice-to-have and take-it-or-leave-it items to gain a broader overview of what’s important.
Have a plan at the start
A business without a plan can be doomed from the start. You need to know what your end goal is, along with where you want your business to be in 3, 5 or 10 years. You need to know your business inside out and the way you can do this is build out a business plan. Also factor in an exit strategy. Sure, it might seem like something you don’t need to know right now, but the end goal will affect the start up and running strategy. Do you want to sell and retire, move onto another business, franchise, or sell a stake? Your business plan should factor all of this in. Again, there are so many great resources online that can help you to build out your busines plan along with prompt you about the things you need to factor in before starting your business.
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