Like most entrepreneurs, when I started my business I had an idea, I saw a gap in the market, it was something I knew I could do, and some ideas of how to start, but I had no knowledge of how to make it all happen.
The first couple of years were slow going. I was working full-time in my day-job, struggling to afford London life, and working every evening and weekend I could to launch my business. I started with no funding - just my passion, time, and a fairly rubbish computer, but I started to make some headway.
15 years later I have a market leading business with a global client base. It's still a micro company, but its also mighty!
I've met a lot of budding entrepreneurs and business owners along the way, and their stories usually reflect my own, but here are three lessons I have learned about starting a business.
Research, Research, Research...
...and when you've done that, do some research!
This is so important. I thought I'd done lots of research but in reality I'd just done lots of thinking! It meant I had to improvise and make spontaneous decisions as I went, but have more than made up for it since with lots more research for new products and services I've created since. Had I done more at the start, my business may have been more successful earlier on!
Your research needs to cover all the bases, and all parts of your company's operations.
Yes, market research is essential to make sure your product or service is actually wanted, but you also need to research a few key area which trip up many start-ups:
Employment. As a founder you be happy to work every hour of the day while you realise your ambitions, but others are not. If you're a Baker you may need people to serve while you bake to help you make those dreams a reality, so you need to know your duties to care for them.
Office Systems. The right office systems will save you time AND money in the long run, but not all are right for all businesses. You need to track your sales opportunities, income and expenses, marketing activity, admin and communications, preferably getting them all to talk to each other with automation to reduce boring admin. Its a steep learning curve, so research is worth it.
When things go wrong. If the Pandemic has taught us anything it is what to do when things go wrong. Insurance will, for many businesses, be a first line of defence, but knowing how to handle a crisis is also essential. This takes forethought, planning and training for you and your team.
Getting your pricing right is often an evolving project, especially for freelancers.
Definitely check out your competitors and, once you understand your brand identity, place yourself somewhere in that spectrum, but there are a few things to consider:
What do customers get when they buy your cakes? Is it just a collection of baked ingredients? No - they're supporting a small business, your years of training and expertise, supporting initiatives in your local community, and everything else your brand identifies. So, what is your training, experience and expertise worth?
The bottom line. Whatever you charge you need to make sure you are at least charging enough to cover your costs. If you can't do that you don't have a business.
Marketing and offers. When shops reduce items to clear, they're nearly always still making a profit. If you want to offer discounts and deals then you still need to make a profit.
I initially matched competitors, not realising they were part of larger organisations and subsidised their services through other funding. It took me a few years to get my pricing right and start to generate the income I actually needed.
When I think about how I marketed my business when I started, I get shivers. My website was awful, I thought 'branding' was a logo and colour scheme!
Understanding your brand identity is essential. It defines you and is what makes you stand out from the competition.
You may make amazing cakes, but your 'brand' is what defines you from all the other bakers.
Are you an underdog, a trend-setter, a traditionalist or a maverick? Are you passionate about a cause and want to support that through your business. What inspired you to start the business? Who are your clients, and what is your style?
All this and more makes up you brand and will influence how you present yourself to clients and how your business operates.
Clearly identifying your brand values will set you apart and engage your market. Get it wrong and your customers won't value what you do.
I've spent years devising training programmes and coaching others, which is something I love to do. But, most of my day-to-day work lies in marketing and event management, coordinating hundreds of events a year. Teambuilder shares this knowledge and expertise, so get in touch if you need any support as you build your business.