09 April 2014 - Dave Jackson

10 Tips for Startups

You have an idea for a new business, it’s exciting and you just want to jump in and get going before someone else steals the idea. You think you are 100% clear about your goals and strategy, the business plan is all in your head. “Stop holding me back!!”

I’ve been involved in many startups over the years and every time it’s a completely different experience. No two businesses are the same but all have a lot in common in terms of the process of setup. Here are a few words of wisdom that I would give someone about to start this process.

  1. Create a business plan
    At number one, because its probably the most important. A business plan helps you make decisions you have not thought of yet. It forces you to ask yourself valuable questions and may even change the direction of your business. The process gives you the opportunity to take a close look at what the business will be; who it will be targeting; how you will manage your finances, establish goals, responsibilities and strategy. This will save you from making rash decisions when things get crazy. You may even find that writing the business plan will make you abandon the idea.. better now then 6 months after the business is set up.

    There are plenty of business plan templates out there, find a good one and try to complete as much as you can. You will need this if you are looking for investment but even if nobody reads it apart from yourself, it’s an invaluable exercise and something you should read back over every few months to make sure you are on the right track when things get going.

  2. Know your market
    This is obvious but you’d be surprised how many jump in without doing the research. Look at who you are selling to, ask the questions:– Who needs this product/service?
    – What are they willing to pay for it?
    – What is the overall market worth for this product/service?
    – What share of the market are you after?
    – Who else is offering this, how are they getting on?The best thing The Friday Agency did as part of our business plan was ask our clients about what they wanted. Use Survey Monkey and get as many one to one chats with people in the know as you can. People will be happy to help if you ask them, don’t be shy.

  3. Have a USP
    You either have a completely original idea (very rare) or there is already someone else doing want you want to do. You need to stand out from the competition, what’s the point in being the same? It doesn’t have to be ground breaking – it could be price, process, how you communicate or the after service you offer. Look for gaps in the market in terms of how people are doing what you want to do. One of the USP’s of The Friday Agency is knowledge and experience. Everyone has that, right? You’d be surprised. Having worked in the digital marketing industry for a combined 60 years we have met a lot of people who hold high positions and may have good management or people skills, but what’s missing in a lot of cases is real knowledge and passion for how they create what their client wants.

  4. Be realistic about timing
    Patience is a virtue. Don’t rush into it, think it through. This brings me back to my first point about creating a business plan. What we learned from the process of developing our business plan was that it took about 3 times longer than we thought. We are glad it did because it helped us lay a solid foundation that will continue to hold value for us in the future.

  5. Choose your partners wisely
    In this day and age most people in serious relationships move in together before they get married (unless of course like me you are Catholic, that would be living in sin!). It gives couples a chance to get to know each other in a more intimate way and find out if they can live together without someone being murdered. The same principles should apply for business partners. Before you set up a business with someone, you should have experience of working closely with them. The Friday Agency came to be by 2 digital marketing companies coming together with a similar vision. We shared an office for almost a year before we launched the agency and worked on several client projects together. This allowed us to establish roles based on the knowledge of each other’s strengths and because of this we have a great company structure, transparency and solid relationships.

  6. Get a good solicitor and accountant
    Don’t just go for someone you know, talk to a few accountants and solicitors before taking one on. This should be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Every company needs an accountant but you should do as much of the company accounting as you can yourself at the start. Don’t rely on an accountant to do everything for you, stay on top of it and not only will you save money on fees but you will have a clear picture of where the company is going financially. I have heard stories from accountants about their clients being genuinely shocked when they are told that their businesses were in financial trouble. Until they had their end of year accounts done, they had no idea how their own businesses were doing financially.

    Solicitors are a necessary evil, nobody likes paying them but if you are going into business with anyone you need contracts and agreements in place. Conflict resolution processes need to be hammered out, prepare for the worst. We found ourselves in strange conversations discussing things like, what might happen if one of us died – morbid I know but it’s likely that if we agree these points in writing now there will be no problems if something bad happens, nobody wants to end up in court, where solicitors are the only winners.

  7. Brand is everything
    We are a design focused marketing agency, so we are obviously going to spend time on our brand and we can do it ourselves without much cost. No matter what you are doing this is one of the most important parts of the set up process. Your brand tells people who you are, what you do, your personality type and the quality of your work. You could be highly skilled in what you do, a master of your craft, but if your brand is telling the wrong story it could undervalue what you do to a point where it may reduce your business’s real potential. Invest in your brand.

  8. Keep costs down
    You have to spend before you earn. Sense check every bit of spending you do. Ask yourself if what you are paying for is going to add real value and help increase turnover in the short to medium term. Don’t splash out to look flash, you don’t need a hot tub in the office! Only hire the talent you really need, each staff member should be earning their salary, expenses plus profit. They should be busy otherwise you are wasting your money. Running a tight ship will ensure you will maximise your potential to grow as a company.

  9. Recognise your strengths and do what you love
    I have been self employed for 13 years so I have had to work on every aspect of my businesses whether I liked it or not and whether I was good at it or not. This had to change in order give this new business the best possible start, as well as keeping me in a good supply of fun and enjoyment. I wanted to focus on doing the things that I enjoyed, and of the things I liked doing I wanted to focus on only doing what I was good at. There are plenty of things I am good at but I don’t enjoy and visa versa. I forced myself to recognise these areas and my goal where possible was to hand the responsibility to someone who both enjoyed and was good at carrying out these tasks. This basic principle will allow you to have fun at work while working efficiently and also minimise messing things up.

  10. Have fun
    Ok, number 10 may be repeating what I said in number 9 but its important and who wants to read a Top 9! You have to have fun at work, it’s not going to be a lol-fest all day everyday but it should be enjoyable, you shouldn’t dread going into work. The only way to have fun at work is to take control of your own destiny and steer yourself in a direction that gives you real satisfaction. Passion is a good place to start: if you don’t have passion for what you do, STOP and do something else if you can.