Start me up

Business | Thu 25 Sep | Author – Business & Finance

Starting and running your own business remains an ambition for many individuals. Whether by choice or design it’s a popular route to take; starting up yourself might have been your career masterplan all along, or it may have been an option forced upon you by a change of job, redundancy, even early retirement, writes Ella Mason.

According to the Bank of Ireland’s infographic, ‘Startup Trends in Ireland 2014’, the opening months of the year saw growth: almost 11,000 business startups were registered in the first three months, up 6% year against the same period in 2013.

Tech was the boom industry, with a 47% increase in this sector – the fourth most popular, behind professional services, retail and wholesale.

In Ireland, entrepreneurship is positively embraced and welcomed. In January 2014, Forbes magazine highlighted the country’s credentials, stating that Ireland is now considered one of the best in the world in which to do business. The launch of Local Enterprise Offices (LEOs), also provides comprehensive coverage across the entire country, with 31 dedicated teams in place, offering support and advice for start-up businesses.

While there are no guarantees regarding the success or failure of a start-up business, there are processes to adhere to in order to give a venture the best possible chance of developing and thriving.

What follows is a by no means exhaustive guide to starting a business but some useful points to consider if it’s a realistic option for you.

Failing to plan …

Firstly, preparation is absolutely key. An idea for a business may have been conceived through a momentary flash of inspiration, or a random conversation with a pal in a pub and hastily scribbled down on the back of a beermat. That’s fine but that’s all it is: a germ of an idea. It may even be a gem of an idea. But it doesn’t make for a plan. That’s what comes next and can’t be rushed.

You have an idea. Now you need to draw up and finalise a coherent plan for how you are going to take that idea and make it a practical business. This preparation stage needs to include:

  • Funding – unless you have sizeable capital to put behind the business in the early days you will need to source investment to get it launched and operational, and to keep it all running until it gets to the stage of earning revenue.
  • Market research – is there a demand for this type of business? Who are your customers? How do you plan to reach them? Who are your competitors? What are they doing well? What are they doing badly?
  • Testing – as an extension of research, you might want to build in a period of testing which is particularly relevant if you’re planning on selling a product. For example, you could take a stand at a few trade shows and gauge response, or sales, if you’ve been able to produce sample items or goods. Another option might be to set up a pop up shop in a high street or other location. If things go well, you’ll be encouraged to plough on. Or you might receive valuable feedback and take that into consideration to make changes to your strategy. If it all bombs totally, you can still back out – better to do it at this stage rather than a couple of years in.
  • Operations – where will you be based? Depending on the nature of the business you might be able to work from home, on your own, quite happily and effectively. Or, you might need premises to store stock, or an office to house other employees. Whatever you do, remember to consider the overheads involved, which all command a cost. If you can, start small and grow as the business does. You can always rent a virtual office at start-up, giving the use of a receptionist and meeting room space without a lengthy commitment, and upgrade from there.

When all of these stages have been completed – which should take months – you will be able to finalise your business plan. This might seem a daunting prospect but it will give you confidence and a constant reference point – not to mention the fact that, if you’re raising finance through a loan from a bank, they will expect to see such an in depth document. Start Up Donut has a useful guide to writing a business plan here.

If you’re successful and the business launches, congratulations. But here is where the really hard work begins. Passion, enthusiasm, drive and ambition are all a given for the self-employed or new business owner, who is in charge of their own destiny to a large extent. The winning entrepreneur is one who understands the tireless work ethic involved in taking a new business and shaping into something substantial, sustainable and durable.

Which isn’t the same as slogging away, hour upon hour, fruitlessly. Work smart. You may believe in yourself, in your product, in the people who work with you or who you work with, but you’ll get nowhere fast unless your customers know about your business. Word of mouth isn’t enough to create and maintain awareness. This is where marketing comes in.

You must have a website for your business. It doesn’t have to be highly detailed in design or build but must deliver the basics: about the company, the services you provide, or products you offer, contact details. And make it mobile optimised, too – with so many people now owning smartphones and using their handsets to access the internet you need to ensure your website looks correct on any device. As the business progress you can add more content to the website – a regularly maintained blog and customer testimonials both reflect well.

Embrace social media. Use Facebook and Twitter as tools to promote your business, build up a database of followers and act as a quick customer service facility: polite and prompt replies to queries put any business in a positive light.

But that’s not all. To go the extra mile and potentially gain a sizeable advantage over the rest of the marketplace, create an app for your business. It’s actually not as complicated or as expensive as you might think and the benefits can be rewarding. The beauty of a mobile app is that it beams a business directly to the customer and with typical consumers looking at their phone an average of 150 times a day, according to Appsme, it can be a very powerful tool indeed.

With push notification technology now allowing business users to target their customer base with live offers – such a free bottle of wine with a main course at a restaurant, or a special offer on the dish of the day – it’s almost the equivalent of walking into the street and escorting a member of the public into your premises.

There is no such thing as a sure-fire recipe for success for new businesses but with solid preparation, detailed research, a well conceived plan, sound investment and an innovative strategy, your project has every chance of prospering.