Starting a business from scratch is a scary challenge. We have all heard the figures – you know, the ones that say that the majority of start-ups fail within the first one to three years. But if you’re reading this, it’s probably because you are the sort of person who relishes a challenge and for whom the scary bits are what makes life worth living. I’m also going to assume that you have a business plan that is inherently sound. Making sure you have a value proposition that really connects with a need in the market place is the subject of another blog – here, I’m going to look at a few simple ways of giving an essentially healthy baby business the best chance in life.
As a virtual assistant, I’m passionately interested in the health of the businesses I work with. And because I have the privilege of working with both young and old businesses, I have the opportunity to see what has worked for the older ones and to pass on that wisdom to the youngsters.
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and six pence, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” – Charles Dickens’ Mr Micawber, from David Copperfield
Practically all businesses take time to develop a healthy revenue stream. Another way of putting this is that for a time, a new business’ principal business activity will consist of expenditure! Whether it succeeds or fails will depend heavily on how long this period is and how wisely that expenditure is made. So many of my Startup Tips are about ways, some of them surprising, in which you can get more for your business for less expenditure. Here goes….
Almost all businesses these days need an online presence. Simple websites can be had these days for almost nothing. On the other hand, creating an all singing, all dancing website is an expensive business, so think carefully about what you want from your site, and don’t be seduced into investing unnecessary sums into a site that does more than you need from it. For instance, if you are going to be relying heavily on word of mouth or direct marketing to grow your business, there’s probably little to be gained from investing heavily in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). A simple DIY website, to which you can direct prospective customers and collaborators for information or to place orders, may be all you need, and should cost you little more than the hosting charge.
The best way to start planning for what you need is to write a brief of what you want and need and then either do research to see if you can built it yourself or use to send to selected developers. Feel free to download our copy to get you started.
2. Printed Material
Believe it or not, even in this online age you’re still going to need business cards, postage labels and the like. But precisely because the printing industry is suffering at the hands of the internet, there are some great deals to be had. Shop wisely, and your printed material won’t cost you the earth. Contact us to discuss printing options at trade prices!
Another area where it’s easy to be seduced into overspending. Yet much of the best marketing comes absolutely free, just by thinking about what you yourself want from the businesses you buy from.
- Saying thank you. Following up on a first transaction, to make sure it satisfied the customer is a cost-free way of cementing your relationship by making them feel valued. And for goodness’ sake listen – they may give you valuable feedback on how you can make your good service even better – remember this is free!
- Word of mouth. Personal referrals, based on a satisfactory transaction, are worth any amount of paid advertising. People actually enjoy telling their friends that they’ve been astute enough to find a new supplier that does a better job. Think about that social dynamic, and use it to your advantage. Make sure your happy customers always have a link to your website, or something else they can pass to their friends.
- Social Media – Facebook and Twitter are not for everyone, and they are certainly not for every business, but for businesses with a good deal of ‘social currency’ their value is not to be underestimated, and their maintenance costs are pleasingly low!
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited three days before getting a quote back from a young business, by which time I have already gone somewhere else. It’s vital that you have a means, right from the start, of capturing, storing and manipulating customer information. However, this doesn’t mean spending big on elaborate customer relations software! Almost all Customer Relations software packages are able to import data from simpler systems. Let me give an extreme example. Let’s say you started your business by just writing the details of your customer contacts into a simple Word document, using a table:
Very soon, you’d realise that this was a rather clunky way of doing business, and want to put your business data into a form that allows you to do more by it. Does that mean you’d have to write it all in by hand? No, because Microsoft Excel will allow you to copy your table into a worksheet:
And from there it can be exported to the software of your choice. Microsoft’s Outlook, for instance, offers reminders and so forth, making it an adequate customer relations tool for many small businesses. And later, when you grow to the point where you really need (and can afford) complex Customer Relations software, a similar process can be used to migrate your data from Outlook to the new system.
5. Internal Processes
Having just given an extreme example of simple data keeping, it’s now time to say – don’t start quite that simple! Think about the internal processes that are needed to turn a raw enquiry into a lovely, steaming, oven-fresh order. Use the office software that comes with most computers these days to create forms and templates that answer the needs of that process.
Your business name is going to be with you – let’s hope – for a very long time. It should say as much as possible about who you are, what you do, and what you stand for, in the shortest possible form. So it’s worth giving it a lot of thought, and getting all the help you can. I recommend this page at Kartia Designs for tips on branding and brand creation.
One of the quickest ways that new businesses commit suicide is to undertake for themselves tasks that are better outsourced. Either they employ staff whose salaries drain the resources of the business in the startup period, or they divert the energies of the principals from the core activities to which they should be devoted.
Get clear about what activities are related to the essence of your business, and consider outsourcing those that aren’t – we’re always glad to help!