New Year, New Business?

Thinking of starting that business? redundancy looming? fed up with working for someone else, have a great idea but just unsure of how to make the jump into self-employment?

These are the main reasons that people start their own businesses.

Sadly, the failure rate for start-ups can put you off from even trying. Starting and running a small business is tough. You are subject to high levels of mental stress. You need a solid physical constitution because you may find yourself working longer hours than you ever did as an employee. You have to deal with uncertainty and anxiety and, if you make mistakes, you have to accept the consequences. All that and no absolute guarantee you will even succeed! You may start a small business and find two or three years down the track that your investment has gone up in smoke.
But if you are suited to running a business, you may find that it is one of the most exciting and rewarding things you do in your life. You can control your own destiny in a way that you never would as an employee. If you succeed, you will have the satisfaction of carving out a place of your own in the business world. And you may find yourself wealthier than you otherwise would have been working for someone else.

Your first step in becoming a business owner should be to assess yourself. Can you accept the risks and the hard work? Are you the kind of person who will be satisfied by the rewards offered from running a business?
There’s been a lot of studies of small business people who come up with different ideas about what makes them tick and what characteristics they have in common that makes them successful in business. They find some pretty obvious things like; entrepreneurs as people tend not to like taking orders – they strongly prefer being their own boss; they are high-energy people; they are passionate about their business; they tend to be sociable – which helps when it comes to marketing and selling of course; and they are self-reliant and can work long periods in solitude and without support. More than that, they are resilient, can cope with rejection and failure and still come back for another try. They have mental stamina and can exercise good judgment under stress.

Do you have what it takes?

If you have confidence in your idea and are willing to put your energy into doing what it takes, then the only missing jigsaw piece is knowing the key aspects of creating and developing a business quickly and effectively and getting that right first time round without making expensive mistakes.

Find yourself a mentor, that you know you can work with – who will encourage, push you and make sure you have enough information to make informed decisions as you develop your plans for your business.

 

The Value of Research

I recently watched a student who wants to start his own business, go through an experience that led him to say “this start-up process isn’t as easy as I thought, is it?” – he was learning lessons fortunately before spending vasts amount of money about what you need to know before making decisions in business.

When starting up it is unlikely that you will know all you need to avoid making costly mistakes. For those of you considering a self employed life here are some tips!

  • Ask someone you trust for some independent reality checking of your plans
  • Do your research, about your idea, the market you are entering, your prospective customers, your competitors and your possible suppliers.
  • Try not to view seeking paid for support as a cost, it can be the best investment you consider.

In the students case doing his research and discussing it led to me seeking more specialist help on his behalf, regarding intellectual property issues, saving him £££’s in the longer term.

If you are unsure of your next steps in start-up then speak to someone you trust and don’t just assume everything will be alright!

Till next time….

Work On not IN your Business

Is this you?

You run your own business. You spend your time mostly sorting things out, answering phones, replying to email, or talking with team members, fighting fires, juggling all the elements of your business at once – winning new work, selling, managing all the day-to-day operational elements and juggling money, cash flow, chasing debt and income.

You are in early, leave late and regularly forget to stop to eat or eat at odd times grabbing snacks to keep you going. And then you take work home. In any small business this might have to happen occasionally in busy times but for you it’s become the routine.

Sound familiar?

This is what working IN your business means.  So what if you could work ON your business, you may have heard this phrase but what does it mean in reality?

If you were able to take a few steps back from your business and look at it objectively, saying, “If I wasn’t’ here what would happen to my business? What do I want to happen? What needs to be done differently to stop me having to work in it all the time?”

Imagine taking some time away from day-to-day tasks and looking at your business in the long-term. Putting plans in place to make the most of the opportunities that currently you miss because you are bogged down just getting by.

This is what is called working ON your business.

Think about why you went into business in the first place. What ambitions did you have then?

Perhaps, financial independence, persona success, being your own boss, building a legacy to pass on?

How many of those goals have you actually attained?

Interestingly most of us  fall into business and suddenly we are so busy with admin and firefighting that we stop looking forward.

Steven R. Covey, in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, says to “begin with the end in mind.” In other words, whenever you start a process, understand exactly what the end point is before you start.

So, why not decide to set aside some time for looking ahead – you may be surprised at what that will do for you and your business dreams.

Do you believe that only Start Ups need a business plan?

Many business owners do think that and some survive without one and that’s OK while everything is running smoothly. However there are some equally good reasons to develop one especially when you are established.

Many objections stems from a perception that a plan is set in stone and sometimes viewed as a major hassle to develop.

Certainly start ups should have a plan but so do existing business owners as you can hold too much information in your head and allow some of those perceptions to guide your decision making.

The process of planning can unlock little (or large) pockets of potential than bad habits can cover up and hide. The process of planning can help you revisit targets and goals and review the resources you have and need to keep your business on a successful track.

Advisors and consultants are often criticized for pointing out the obvious but all that is happening is that the work you do and the way that you are doing it is being looked at with a fresh perspective. Something you can all do by stepping back even for an hour or two, to work on planning rather than the day to day doing. It also means that making improvements does not have to be as much hard work as you think. Many conversations I have with clients running established businesses reveal that that they have stopped doing the things that made them successful in the first place.

A good business plan is your most important management tool.

Writing things down helps bring a little clarity and helps avoid missing the obvious that slip through cracks. Then over time all those little things build up, you find yourself fire fighting and then get hit by an unexpected challenge and have to spend valuable time getting back on track.

So, first steps:

  • What made you successful?

Are there actions you have just stopped doing over the years perhaps because you have become too busy?

  • Regular meetings with your team, keeping everyone up to date with your ideas and plans, successes and challenges?
  • Marketing activity that built your business, have you identified the steps that really work for your business?
  • Have you set and written down some specific, challenging and realistic goals for 2012?

You don’t have to overcomplicate – you just need to make a start

The Power of Testimonial

One of the major headaches new business owners face is having the confidence in selling their services because they feel they don’t have a track record to shout about. This is a real challenge for many and one that has to be overcome quickly.

If you have testimonial about your products, services and how you work then, it is a fabulous way of demonstrating your value at a time when you might be feeling a little shy!

If the client or customer giving the testimonial has a high profile themselves, then others tend to respect and value what they have to say and therefore a more persuasive approach to support your other general marketing activity.

Generally, recommendations help raise your profile and possible introductions to new work opportunities, will often follow word of mouth testimonials from people you know, who know you and what you have to offer.

After all, we all seek advice and guidance from friends, family and associates when we are making a purchasing decision.

In my experience, testimonials are still not used enough and mostly for the following reasons:
• Not sure how to ask for one
• Nervous about the reaction you might get
• Assumptions that a recommendation shouldn’t be asked for at all
• Lack of confidence in yourself and in the value of the work provided, particularly in new and young businesses

So, which are the best ways of gathering some testimonial for your business? Here are a few ideas:

If you have had some positive feedback for your work, develop a habit of asking if you can use it in your marketing, you might say, “Thank you for that lovely feedback, would you mind if I used that in my future marketing?”

You can add that you don’t have to use their name if they want to be anonymous – there are some businesses where a level of confidentiality is required.

Some networking organisations encourage written testimonials which can then be displayed for all to see, that way your customer can also promote their own business by using headed paper.

It is essential that you do get permission to use testimonial in this way and many who are asked are usually very happy to agree. I have also found that happy clients will also become a willing advocate for your business and talk to prospects personally about their experience of working with you, which is also very reassuring for prospects considering using your products or services.

So, when is the right time to ask? Well, usually when the experience of purchasing from you or working with you is fresh in the customers mind.

One response at this time can be: “Yes of course – what do you want me to say!

Some customers will be comfortable writing a few words based on their experience. Others just unsure of exactly what you need and in what format.

If you want to really capture their appreciation of your work – you might suggest some areas that you want to highlight, for example:
• Why they purchased from you?
• What value did the product or service give them?
• What was it about how you delivered the product and service that impressed them?
• Why should others consider you?

Often the words and language a customer uses is much more appealing and accessible, than the jargon we can sometimes use in our own business. They will describe you and your business in a way that your prospects are more likely to engage with.

Another increasingly popular method would be to ask for video testimonial, which you could use in its entirety or edit for some few good ‘sound bites’. This you can use on your website or You Tube account if you have one.

Remember, you want the whole process to be effective, so ask people who you know will feel comfortable and who will enjoy the experience – it is also an opportunity for them to promote themselves at the same time.

The process of building testimonials and recommendations for your business is an ongoing one and that also means that you need to be mindful of their relevance and whether a testimonial needs updating.

The way you do business needs to reflect your attitude to the experience your customers have working with you and maintain the highest standards so that your testimonials keep coming.
What people perceive about your business has an enormous effect on whether or not you attract the kind of customers you want, however you will only maintain your reputation by delivering product and services of quality that add value.

So, for those of you who are a little nervous, think about someone you have worked with recently who was thrilled with what you did and you haven’t a testimonial from them – will you ask?

10 Key Steps to Starting Your Own Business

Starting and running a small business is tough. It is quite different from working for someone else and you will need to deal with a measure of uncertainty that you may never have experienced before. To a greater degree you have to be responsible completely, all risk and all reward! But if you are suited to running a business, you may find that it is one of the most exhilarating and rewarding choices you make in your life.

Don’t underestimate what you need to know!

There are many stories of business owners learning by experience and some of those lessons were hard and sometimes finished a business off before it became established. Only this weekend I have been reading about the unexpected pitfalls of lack of knowledge or lack of resources that await some small business owners.

There is plenty of information out there and that in itself becomes a problem: who do you ask, who can you trust? What do you NEED to know?

So here is a brief guide to some key steps to consider when starting your own business:

Step 1 – Do you have a viable business idea?

This means have you a product or service to sell that you know through research, has a market place where customers/clients will buy from you (not just hopeful expectation). This also means researching a pricing structure based on real information and not just chosen because it undercuts your competition.

Step 2 – Does your business idea or product have a real point of difference, either real or perceived?

Are you able to clearly set your business apart from your competitors or any service or product that would divert prospects from coming to you as supplier of choice?

Step 3 – Self reflection

Do you have what it takes? Consider the personal attributes and qualities that will help you through the challenging times as well as the good times? What skills do you have and what skills will you need to be successful in business? Do you think that when under pressure you will be resilient? Be able to take criticism or rejection?

Step 4 – Do you have a written plan?

The one key activity in the early stages is planning – the process of planning helps you identify all areas of your business that will need to be considered. Starting a business is often done on a shoestring, so important choices have to be made in allocating resources, the key here is to KNOW that you are spending your limited pot of funds on activity that will promote sales, build your brand and profile and protect the business from unexpected events that could derail you early on. Your planning should consider your idea and define that day to day activity and practicalities in running a business.

Step 5 – Develop your identity/brand

Consider how you want to present your business, its image and its culture. This also means ensuring a consistency of message that you and your team (if you have one) are proud to be associated with and can confidently market and promote.

Step 6 – Know your marketplace

Research who you will be aiming at, so consider who will buy and why they will buy from you. If you do this you will start out understanding more about your potential customers and be able to research your competitors too.

Step 7 – Plan the most appropriate marketing strategy

There are many ways of marketing and social media has become a very popular part of many small business marketing strategies. However, it has already become apparent that some businesses suit a social media strategy and have grown almost exclusively using social media whilst others have used more traditional methods successfully. As a start- up it is critical that a full appraisal is made of marketing activity and a strategy developed using the most appropriate and effective elements, so that you ensure the best return on any investment you make.

Step 8 –Networking

I am separating out networking from marketing to reinforce its value in business. Networking in this case is nothing to do with meeting people to sell to – it’s all about relationship building and maintenance and it’s a long term activity. The people that you connect with at some point, may well become customers but networking offers so much more than a quick sale. A support system, people that you can talk to about issues you are having, suppliers, people who once they have got to know you and your work might refer you to prospects. They may be people that you can help out with referrals and support too.

Step 9 –Practicalities

Where will you work from? There are many ways of starting out and NO rules. These days more than ever the use of technology means that more people are working in a flexible way. The choices made now are really determined by the sort of business you have. Many individuals start from home and then when necessary use small business incubator hubs, where you can rent desk space or meeting rooms as you need them. Or you may be starting a business that requires, shop space or storage/manufacturing space. Again this is an area for research, talk to contacts, build that network of people who can provide you with help and assistance and at sometime in the future you may well be able to reciprocate. This as part of your planning process means looking at the ‘HOW’ – How you will deliver your services? – What do you need to have in place to ensure your business will deliver consistent and great value products and services? What do you need in terms of financial help? •

  • Finances – Start up costs, cash flow management processes and planning, together with management information for future planning and funding growth plans. Also consider tax and NI compliance.
  • Intellectual property protection (your brand, logo and proprietary information)
  • Legal guidance (business structure, business registration, terms and conditions, shareholders agreements and contracts, trademarks and copyrights for intellectual property etc) – other compliance areas like Health and Safety.
  • HR (contracts of employment for staff and terms and conditions of employment and compliance policies • Insurance (personal and business)
  • Contingency plans? What would happen if after just starting the business something happened to you and you couldn’t work for a while

Step 10 – ENJOY IT

Self employment is not an easy choice and it is very likely that you may become overwhelmed with the small business way of life – if you can incorporate some balance between work and home early on you will benefit from it. It’s a good idea to establish some boundaries and start some good habits. You will need to recharge your batteries from time to time, so that you can stay on the top of your game.

 

If you are struggling with any of these issues – either considering start up or established and feel ‘stuck’ then please call me: 07760 767 025 For anyone seriously considering self employment or growing your business I offer a FREE initial consultation and then a variety of great support services. Including the BRAND NEW – Online business review – find out exactly what you need to do to grow your business NOW – Value guaranteed so a no risk investment!