Written by Daniel Evans
So I took a call coming in through the business landline number the other day. I say hello, tell them my name and then ask how I can help. “Well I’ve had a business idea that I’ve been thinking about for a long time and I want to do something about it….”. In fact I’ve had several of these calls this week alone and it’s been a common theme ever since we first had a dedicated number. Despite the fact that it’s not there to act as a business helpline, we know that it takes courage sometimes to put yourself out there – we exist to help!
After all I’ve been in that position myself, you have an idea & you can’t stop thinking about it at 2am in the morning. It excites you and yet you feel frustrated because you have no clue how you’d actually take it forward. You know you’ve got to start somewhere but where exactly? Plus those fears and concerns – will it actually work? Is it actually a good idea or not?
So we’ve decided to distill our usual advice to these individuals in this blog. We’ll guide you through the essential steps you should take to bring your business idea to life.
Before you dive in headfirst, it’s vital to validate your concept. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is there a genuine demand for your product or service? By genuine, we mean are you solving a problem that exists or creating something that people REALLY want. You can think it’s a good idea and so can your partner/mother/best friend but do the people that you’d expect to buy the product/service think it’s a good idea – which leads on to the next question…
- Who’s your target audience, and do you truly understand their needs and preferences? There is a tool you need to use to help you with this – Hubspot’s Customer Persona Tool – this will help you get very specific about who you are targeting & make decisions about the business based on them.
- Are there existing businesses in the market, and what makes your idea stand out? Let’s get one thing out of the way – we’ve all had the heartbreak where we’ve got an idea we are excited about only to find during our research someone out there doing something very similar. If you’ve not then you’ve probably not looked hard enough. However, this doesn’t mean that this is the end of the road. If there is something unique or different in the way you are tackling the problem then the game is still on! Google wasn’t the first search engine & Five Guys wasn’t the first burger chain!
Start with thorough market research, surveys, and gather feedback to ensure your idea has legs. The ones that do this the best are the ones who will pick up the phone and speak to that target audience – it’s about what they think at the end of the day (not what you assume they think).
Crafting a Business Plan
Think of a business plan as your trusty roadmap. It should outline your goals, strategies, financial forecasts, and a game plan. A well-structured business plan not only keeps you on track but can also attract potential investors or lenders.
However, a business plan goes out of date the day it is written – your business & idea develops, grows and changes so the plan needs to be dynamic and adapt with it. A business plan also doesn’t need to be a 50 + page document outlining every little detail of the proposed business at this stage – it needs to give you the essentials that you can keep building on and developing.
We’d propose this as a starting point:
- Complete a Customer Persona – As already mentioned above!
- Complete a Value Proposition Canvas – One of our fantastic mentors, Bethan Miles, facilitated a fantastic workshop on this which you can watch here to help you.
- Complete a Business Model Canvas – Here is a template on Miro to use. Here is a video guide too that explains the concept a little more.
- Complete a Cashflow Forecast – This one can be a little tough but needs to be done. We want to figure out what income could look like against expenditure. Your first go is not going to be very accurate but it is a starting point to validate the concept – it’s going to help you understand what your costs could be before you start to generate revenue (so how much you need to get started) and how much revenue you need to generate to break even and move into profit. My big tip would be to underestimate your revenue and overestimate your costs. Here is our free template.
Doing those 4 steps is going to give you the framework to build the rest of your business plan from. Below we continue to explore other elements that will keep adding to this plan – again remember this is a dynamic progress and needs to keep updated as you progress!
Prototyping or Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
We need a way to test your product/service in a way that can be done quickly. Sharing the idea and gathering feedback is one thing but this takes it up to the next level where you can start to really validate the concept. Two great workshops that we have on this are ‘Design Sprints – Creating your MVP in 5 days’ & ‘So you have an MVP, now what?’.
Often people think of MVPs being highly related to software & tech based startups but the concept can be adapted and used for a range of different businesses. For example, if you were looking to launch a new drinks brand, you could make some samples and have a pop-up stall at a market to get valuable face time with potential customers to test it out before committing to full scale production & distribution.
Navigating Legals and Registration
Determine the legal structure of your business (e.g., sole trader, partnership, limited company, CIC/social enterprise etc). It really depends what your business aims are as there are pros/cons of each approach. Depending on your choice, there will be some registrations required. However, you don’t need to rush into this so take your time, get some advice and pick the best approach for you.
Additionally, check if your business idea requires licences or permits to operate. Finally you’ll want to begin to consider intellectual property protection, such as patents, trademarks, or copyrights. The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has some great free resources to help you here.
Funding the Business
Most startups need financial backing to get off the ground. Explore various funding options, including:
- Tapping into personal savings
- Applying for loans or lines of credit
- Attracting angel investors or venture capital
- Launching a crowdfunding campaign
If you completed the cashflow forecast, you’ll already have an idea in terms of the amount of money you may require. Choose the funding route that aligns best with your business’s needs and your financial situation. Again each approach has pros/cons. If you are starting in the UK then the British Business Bank’s Finance Hub can be a good place to start to look at your options.
Start to build an Online Presence
In today’s digital era, a strong online presence is a must regardless of the type of business you are building. Build a website (you can do this easily using tools like Wix or Squarespace), set up social media profiles (where relevant), and consider leveraging e-commerce platforms if applicable if selling products online (Shopify or even platforms like Amazon or eBay). Your online footprint will play a pivotal role in marketing your business.
If you haven’t got a LinkedIn profile then this is the time to get one! It is a must to build and manage your professional network and profile. I’ll even be your first connection if you send me a request here!
Crafting Your Brand and Marketing Strategy
Again like with a lot of what we’ve covered so far, remember this is version 1 – it is not the final thing and will evolve and change over time. Think about your visual identity for your business. What do you want the business to look & feel like and how do you convey to your audience what you are about as a business. With your marketing strategy, again how will you get the business seen & heard. Think back to that Customer Persona – where are those people and how can you get their attention to begin to build a relationship with them that you ultimately want to result in them becoming your customer.
A shout out here to a fantastic tool called Canva which is the backbone to the marketing & brand activities of so many startups – we even know large corporates who use Canva – it’s that good.
Testing, Learning, and Adapting
When you’re ready to launch, keep a close eye on performance metrics. Monitor customer behavior, sales data, and user feedback. Use these insights to continuously improve your offering.
Some of this is well covered in the MVP videos shared earlier. Here we go to the Lean Startup & the ‘Build-Measure-Learn’ principle. Think of this as a philosophy to live your entrepreneurial life by. We are looking to constantly gather what is going in, learn and evolve. Do this from the start and carry it on throughout the journey!
Prudent Financial Management
Financial prudence is key. Establish a budget, track expenses diligently, and regularly review financial statements. Effective financial management ensures your business’s long-term viability. The lack of financial management is what kills so many businesses.
Don’t think that you can just bring in bookkeepers & accountants and they’ll take care of it all. As an entrepreneur or business owner, you need to be able to understand your businesses finances. Maybe you don’t need to know how to prepare a Balance Sheet or Profit & Loss Account but you do need to be able to read and understand what they mean.
Again, the earlier you can imbed good financial habits the better. Keep hold of receipts and expenditure so you know what is going in/out. I’d recommend using software (Xero, Sage etc).
Seeking Mentorship and Networking
Surrounding yourself with the right people is an absolute must on your business journey. Like-minded people in the same position as you but also experienced business people who you are able to learn from. There are an abundance of business networks and events out there to take part in. We of course run events from time to time so definitely sign up to our newsletter to track them. Also platforms like Eventbrite are a great way to find what else is out there. Also ask others for recommendations for the best events to go to or the best networks to join.
Mentors can provide invaluable guidance, insights, and support as you navigate the entrepreneurial journey. There is a lot of the guidance within this blog that is stuff that I have learnt from the mentors that I’ve worked with over the years. There are quite a number of experienced individuals who will give you their time and insight. Organisations like BEC also tend to have access to mentors as one of the key parts of the programme. Learn from people who have been there and made all the mistakes!
To be honest, starting a business is not as glamorous as it looks. It is hard work and is stressful so much of the time. When you get something solved then there is another issue waiting around the corner ready to bite you in the ass and cause you more grief. You’ll rant to your family and friends but many times they won’t understand. Then you’ll go to a networking event to spend time with those that ‘get it’ but you won’t want to tell them all your issues as you’d of just heard Fred tell you that the company is flying and they’ve just raised £1.2m in investment, when the reality is Fred is also as stress and sleepless as you as they’ll burn through that investment in 12 months and need to start raising money again NOW, whilst getting pressure from their current investors to hit big milestones for growth.
But, there are those sweet moments where everything just seems to click into place and for a window of time you feel like you know what you are doing and you can see exactly why you started that business in the first place – those moments make it all worthwhile. You’ve done something not many people actually have the courage to do and you have achieved something special. Breathe in those moments and cherish them because little do you know in an hour you are going to get an email letting you know that a key member of staff has decided to put their notice in without any warning and you are back to the grind once more.
Really it is a hard but rewarding endeavour that whether you succeed or fail, you’ll walk away with some major lessons and realisations about yourself and I believe you’ll become a better person for it.
So that is our overview of the key pieces we recommend when someone is looking to take an idea and get going with it. Check out more information through the website on how we can support or get in touch with the team at email@example.com or be one of those callers who inspired this blog 0800 002 5801.