Thinking about setting up a small business? Some brief tips

Since I’m in the process of doing this, I thought I’d share my experience so that if you’re thinking of starting your own business you don’t have to dredge the screeds of information just to decide if it’s even for you.

There are four key things you need to know:

  1. Market – is there a market for what you want to do, who is already in the marketplace, and are they based where you want to be.
  2. Training – skills or qualifications to give you sufficient credibility or an edge over the competition.
  3. Location – are there suitable spaces where you want to be based, and an available workforce with the correct skillset if you need to hire staff?
  4. Legal and financial – the relevant regulations, funding options, and the financial viability of your proposed business.
A circle of skyscrapers taken from the ground looking up disappearing into the fog
Can your dream become a reality?
1. Market

For myself, I already knew a friend of a friend in Scotland was making a living out of proofreading essays and CVs and content writing by targeting local students, organisations and businesses.  There are also many successful local agencies in Yorkshire so there’s a local market.  Focusing on Yorkshire seemed like a good model for me and it would also make advertising cheaper and more effective as I could target a condensed audience.  It doesn’t mean I’m limiting myself to the area though.

I thought about all the possible terms I could use to search for competing copywriting, CV and proofreading services on Google, my background as a researcher coming in handy for a structured and comprehensive search.  It’s also important to cover social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn as many business only operate through free channels rather than a dedicated website.

Once I had my information on the writing services market, I then had to consider whether I could successfully compete in it.  This is where each new business needs to find its USP – unique selling point – or niche.  For me it is to ultimately offer a quality one-stop shop for marketing and communications at low prices – as a sole, home-working trader I can undercut the agencies.

We all have valuable skills and services to offer to our communities, but we can’t know everything about everything.  A little spelling or sense check makes a world of difference to the professionalism of a business but shouldn’t make a dent in its pocket.  That is where I can come in.

Lots of offices seen through the glass like pigeon holes
Could one of these offices house you and your start-up business?
2. Training

Though you may already be fully qualified and experienced in the line of business you want to follow, you may still need new skills in designing a website for your business or on financial record-keeping for example.

Or you may be starting a business as part of a career change.  Before signing up at your nearest college or University, it’s still a good idea to look at the viability of your chosen venture first so you’re sure you’re going to reap the benefits of the time and money you spend getting qualified.

I already have an excellent background in communications, a good understanding of marketing, and a billion ideas bubbling away for the clients I already had in mind.  I still felt that a professional qualification would round out and reinforce my skills and give me verifiable credentials in that area.

I looked at the professional bodies for PR and marketing to learn about their qualifications and where I could study. This was perhaps one of the hardest parts for me as there were so many exciting courses to choose from and very little detail as to exactly what was covered on each course so it did involve a lot of fact-finding through the teaching staff themselves.  Don’t be intimidated by all those letters after their name – they are friendly and happy to help – and it’s part of their job.

With the Certificate in Professional Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing  through Leeds Beckett University applied for, I also felt it would be helpful to gain some skills in website coding.  A sound knowledge of how websites work and what is and isn’t possible with regards to layout and function will help me advise my clients on improving their sites, so I have also researched and signed up for the best courses for my needs in HTML, CSS and SEO skills.

3. Location

If you do need to find premises, that’s a job in itself.  It will also mean you have start-up costs, so you may need to apply for funding.

My aim is to work from my home in Bingley.  I have an inspirational view, and I’m well placed to get on the road through the beautiful countryside when I go out to meet clients.

If you are going to work alone, make sure you’re suited to it.  I am very focused on my work and perfectly comfortable working alone, but I am fortunate enough to still have plenty of interaction with others.  I prefer to talk with my clients rather than type to them – in order to provide the highest quality of service from knowing them better, and because verbal communication is the most successful form of communication.  I also go out to promote my writing services and take photos for my website and have lovely conversations with the business owners, staff, and locals and tourists out sharing my enjoyment of the iconic Yorkshire locations.

I do value my privacy however, so I also use serviced offices in Ilkley (where my family lives) as my public base which might be something you want to think about.

A shop door with an open sign
Do you need premises for your business?
4. Legal and financial

If you’re still keen to start your business, now comes the final part of your fact-finding process, which is one of the scariest.

As soon as you key “starting a business” into Google you get plenty of businesses wanting to sell you their services. Ignore these and go straight to the most authoritative (and free) site https://www.gov.uk/set-up-business.

There are many pages of information on there and not all of it will be relevant to your business. As you follow links within each topic you can easily start to lose your way.  A tip from my research experience is to copy and paste relevant snippets into a text document along with the web address of the page you got the information from and any links to suggested further reading.

That way you can complete an initial trawl and then, if you’ve still not been put off, go to the start of your notes and look at each topic in more detail and paste or write yourself full information.  From this you can formulate an action plan which I will write about in another blog.

If you feel a bit out of your depth, then do seek professional advice.  Avoid the dubious online businesses advertising on Google and opt for charitable or publicly-funded entities.  Some trustworthy one-off advice from an accountant may be all you need to advise you on financial set-up and requirements. Try Ascentis Accountants in Ilkley or Julia Forrester at Tax Assist in Bingley.

A hand with a pen in it checking through an invoice
Can you deal with the financial side of your business yourself?
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