When you’re in the process of setting up a business, there are one hundred and one things to think about. Having a comprehensive business plan in place can help you to visualise the path to success. Splitting this plan into smaller steps can make the process easier and less daunting to tackle.
This seven-point checklist breaks the process down in to simple steps so that you don’t struggle when it comes to setting up your business. Written by Sarah Musgrove, Editor in Chief, Opus Energy.
Build out a business plan
Determining what you want your business does can be the easy part – picking something you’re passionate about or good at, or finding a gap in the market you can fill. But moving from pie-in-the-sky to a brick-and-mortar store (metaphorical or otherwise) can be a lengthy process, and it needs to be underpinned by a solid business plan. A business plan should include key information like when you plan to begin trading (or when you began, if writing retrospectively), the legal structure, financial forecasts (more on that soon), and any other important information. It should demonstrate that you have an awareness of your competitors (who are they, what sets you apart?) and a detailed breakdown of your customers based on market research. Market research should give you a lot of answers about the viability of your business, so if you can’t pull together a business plan just yet, then you may need to go back to the drawing board to firm up your idea.
Bolster your brand
Moving on from your business plan, you need to decide on a few key things. First up: what will your business be called? Is this name already in use? Are you allowed to use it? Once you’ve established this, you can start to market your business. A trademark check at the start can save you hassle in the long run. Once you have a name (and secured the domain URL), you should think about putting together a brand bible – also known as brand guidelines – which will help you to establish a unique identity to match. Your branding can (and should) extend across all your physical and digital materials to help set you apart visually. Make sure that this is consistent across all your signage, business cards, letterheads, leaflets, email signatures… it’s a lengthy process and will involve some investment, but it’s worth it to ensure that your business has an identity your clientele will recognise.
Kick off your marketing efforts
Marketing is an endless field, but for budding businesses, the best place to start is often online. Establishing social media platforms and building a following is one of the quickest, cheapest ways to do this. Different platforms offer different benefits; on Facebook, you can list detailed information (opening hours, location, history, website, and so on) and respond to customer messages instantly. Alternatively, Instagram offers a very visual way for you to communicate with your target audience, allowing you to build up a brand identity. Much like its fellow social platform Twitter, the use of hashtags allows you to potentially expose your posts to thousands of people. Producing content that you think will appeal to your customers – whether written, audio-visual or otherwise – can help to drive people to your website.
Location, Location, Location
Next up is where you decide to open your business. There’s no shame in running a business from your sofa at home, especially if your business can comfortably run from a home office. But if you’re opening premises within a certain industry, you can benefit from knowledge and skills-sharing in business clusters, areas where similar businesses group together. Recent research carried out by Opus Energy has shown that small businesses aren’t taking advantage of business clusters which offer collaborative and financial benefits.
Dedicating some serious thought to where you should open your business can pay dividends in the long run. Business clusters have pools of talent which business can tap, helping to bring skills and knowledge into the organisation to help growth. As such, considering where to base yourself can lead to competitive advantages – so this should be high up on your checklist! Want to learn more about business clusters in your area? You can find an interactive map of the UK’s business clusters here.
Get your financials in shape
One of the most important items on this checklist: get your business finances in order from day one. Making sure that your business and personal accounts are separated will avoid any financial issues in the long term, and will also make it clear (to an accountant or to HMRC) that your business is tax compliant. Having solid fiscal information may also help attract investors to your business. Secondly, you’ll want to have financial projections. Rough estimates of when you expect to make profit, as well as forecasts of your income for the first five years, can help you to establish whether your business will be viable or not (i.e., whether you’ll succeed or fail). You’ll also need to factor in costs of employment, such as pension and National Insurance contributions. There’s a lot to take on, but short-cuts at this stage could cost exponentially later on – if possible, hire a professional to be your go-to guy for advice.
Don’t be afraid of future gazing
When thinking about setting up a business, you need to keep one eye on the future.
Planning for future business growth can help you to decide when you should begin scaling up. When will you introduce new goods or services? How do you plan to attract new customers? It can be easy to rest on your laurels, but going with the flow and only acting reactively can be the death of a business, particularly when competition and consumer trends are continuously fluctuating. Continuously evaluate whether you are still offering value to your customers. Keep an eye on whether your team, especially your leadership team, are still motivated. Think about new ways in which you can keep innovation fresh in your business – whether it’s product offering, business structure, new markets. As the old proverb goes, the only constant is change. Maintain an inquisitive mind and you could find that, by exploring new paths, you open income streams you’d never even considered.
Lastly – stay positive
Despite your best efforts, the most astute financial forecasts, and the best business acumen you can bring to the table, your business can still surprise you in unexpected ways. Research has found that there is one thing that almost all successful, wealthy people have in common – they choose to spend time with optimistic people and avoid pessimistic people. This is because a positive outlook on life is more likely to reveal opportunities, while a negative outlook can mean a narrow life view and tends not to inspire enthusiasm in employees. Learning to bounce back from disappointing days and staying positive is an essential characteristic to have as an entrepreneur. Knowing how to deal with it and channelling it appropriately can help to push your business on to new heights.