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Ready to start a small business? Read this first

Strategy, Legal & Operations

Ready to start a small business? Read this first

Thinking of setting up a small business in 2021? You’re not alone.

In 2020, many of us found ourselves with more time to think about what makes us happy, to ask: “Am I in the right career?” and to re-evaluate our priorities in life.

This is one of the few positive outcomes from the global pandemic: it forced us to slow down.

This is why the UK has experienced a significant rise in would-be entrepreneurs who want to make their passion their profession and start a business.

Recent research from Enterprise Nation, the network for entrepreneurs, found that one in five Brits want to start a new company this year. One in 10 already have the wheels in motion.

For most, this decision to start a business isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to furlough or redundancy (although 8% of respondents said this did play a part).

For 37%, becoming their own boss has been a lifelong ambition.

As a small business journalist and the host of Sound Advice, a new podcast aimed squarely at the startup community, I’m lucky enough to meet and speak to entrepreneurs every day.

Here are five pieces of advice I would give to any would-be founder to help them start their business.

1. Let nothing stand in your way

You don’t need a lot of money to start a business.

It’s never been cheaper to create a company and start selling. Incorporating a limited company with Companies House costs just £12.

If you want a website, there are now many handy tools that can save you thousands of pounds in web design fees.

And, using social media, you can begin selling your wares before you even have a website.

So don’t let fears over budget hold you back: you can always invest money back into the business as you grow.

You don’t need to know a thing about the industry you will be working in either. Sometimes, being a complete outsider can make you more successful.

You don’t do things the same old way because that’s how it’s always been done. Just be prepared to ask a lot of questions and go on a seriously steep learning curve!

2. Start with a side hustle

If you’re not quite ready to give up the security of your 9-5 to start your own business, the good news is that you don’t have to. You can create your startup in your spare time.

The side hustle has become extremely popular in recent years: research by Henley Business School found that a quarter of us in the UK already have a side hustle.

Some 55% of these side hustlers started up in the past two years and the pandemic has accelerated the trend.

Remember, you’ll need discipline and resilience to make your side hustle work. You need to keep putting in the hours – even on days you’d rather be flopped on the sofa in front of Netflix.

Side hustles can also take longer to become successful, so prepare yourself for that, and adjust your goals and your idea of what success looks like accordingly.

3. Go for unloved industries

It can help to look at industries that haven’t seen too much disruption or innovation in recent years.

If you’re going to create a new soft drink or popcorn brand, you’re going to have a tougher time – there’s so much competition.

Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation, says the UK lockdowns have provided ample opportunity for many to spot these unloved industries.

“They were trying to source products and services that were not available,” she explains.

“This led to the rise in ‘lockdown startups’ such as Muddy Trowel, which launched to deliver plants to people’s doors and Sculpd, offering home-delivered and make your own pottery kits. Who’d have thought?!”

Muddy Trowel was among 100 speakers at Enterprise Nation’s Startup 2021, an online day event all about successfully starting a business, sponsored by Sage.

4. Get some great advice

Great advice is key.

Yes, Google is your friend and you should read all the intel you can. But it’s also vital you find people who work within the industry.

Track them down on LinkedIn or Twitter, ask friends and family for introductions, and see if they’ll do a quick call – or a walk and coffee (if your Tier allows it once the current lockdown measures are eased).

Be smart about how you ask for their time – flatter them! Tell them how interesting their last project was, or what their advice will mean to you.

Try and find a great mentor while you’re at it. You need people that you can talk to when you’re a founder – especially a solo founder – as it can be a lonely journey at times.

A good mentor will have a great little black book, bursting with useful contacts. They can also advise on when to invest in software for your small business, including accounting software.

A study by Sage found that 93% of entrepreneurs say that having a mentor has been integral to their success.

And, for more great advice, listen to my podcast – Sound Advice – Get Year One In Business Right.

We’ve had some amazing guests, from Julien Callede from to a forthcoming chat with Coffee Republic’s Sahar Hashemi, the woman who convinced a tea-drinking nation to switch to skinny lattes.

They’ve been brutally honest about their experiences and setbacks – and what it takes to succeed, so check it out.

5. Be authentic – and listen to your customers

Hashemi brought the concept of the US-style coffee shop to the UK. Coffee Republic had more than 100 cafes its peak.

Hashemi says you need two core skills to start a business in 2021.

“Authenticity and empathy,” she says. “The world of the customer has changed massively and the person that succeeds will be the one than can anticipate customers unmet need and meet that need.

“You have to have a lot of empathy with customers to really understand your product from their point of view – and see it with their eyes and ears.”

She will be sharing more pearls of wisdom like this on episode six of Sound Advice too.

Wishing you a very enterprising 2021.

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