Things to consider before launching
So, you make things and people are always telling you “You should sell these” but you never have. Or maybe you are a tradesman or woman, working from dawn till dusk…only for someone else to reap the benefits and now you have decided to take the bull by the horns and start your own business.
But, where to start? Sam’s Office Services Business Coach can support you with starting your own business or growing an existing business.
First, you need to decide whether you can afford to get stuck into it full-time straight away and cope on minimal income to start with. If not, start in your spare time or on a small scale. This is feasible for many types of business.
There will come a point when you have to make that decision! Your own, new business is getting busy but have you got the confidence in it being able to support you and take over from your full-time ‘safe’ income? If you are not comfy to make that jump and start your own business, it would be safer to keep it as a hobby, at least until you are really ready. It won’t make the money or be a success unless you have the motivation and confidence to push for that and put in some hard work to achieve it.
If you are in construction/a tradesperson/mobile hair dresser/mobile nail technician/cleaner/ironing service, for instance, you could book customers in for weekends. Just ensure you won’t have difficulty accessing materials on a weekend or you could arrange this during your lunch break on a weekday.
If you are going to sell a product – handmade or not – you could try selling online first or find out if your local council offers a trial market stall – some do.
If you are offering an online service, (bookkeeping, teaching) this can be done in your spare time most easily – even on your lunch break from your current job – or existence as I call it!
Decide what you are going to do. This seems obvious if you already know, but so many just want to work for themselves and ‘The Business’ isn’t their first thought. If this is you, consider what skill you have that others would pay for.
Can you make things to a saleable quality? (Cakes, crafts, sewing, woodwork, beauty products).
Can you grow plants and start a market garden business?
Can you offer an ironing service, cleaning or dog walking?
Are you an artist?
Do you already have a trade? (Electrician, carpenter, painter, plumber, DIY handyman, hairdresser, nail technician)
Do you want to open a shop? Or a workshop?
Keep thinking along these lines and you will just ‘know’ what you should do to start your own business. It needs to be something that interests you as well as having space in the market for it.
Where would you trade from? Do you need/have capital to buy stock, materials, tools or equipment? If you need a business loan, you must write a business plan and have a percentage of the money to invest yourself.
If your business takes off quickly, could you keep up with demand? If not, don’t make promises you can’t keep. Instead always explain to customers that this is handmade to order and give a realistic date. That is realistic to you, and to the customer.
Your business needs a name and an image!
This is important to get right. Too silly and people won’t take you seriously, too abstract and nobody will know what you do (or at least, not until you have a BIG reputation).
The name will, ideally, be your website domain, possibly sign written on a vehicle, on the front of your shop, printed on uniforms and most importantly it needs to be remembered by your customers and the first thing they think of when they want whatever you can offer.
Sole trader tradespeople often use just their own name with or without mentioning their trade – such as Edward Evans Electricians. Sole traders do not have to register a company name with Companies House but cannot use ‘limited/Ltd’ in the company name.
A clever play on words can be memorable. There is a local taxi firm near me called Cummings and Goings and I can only assume the owners surname must be Cummings. Be careful though because it needs to be appropriate and you need to consider your target market.
If you have a shop, online or physical, you can get away with a name that doesn’t describe what you sell as people will see that for themselves. It does still have to be appropriate and memorable and I would still try to use your product as a starting point for thinking what to call it.
When you think you have decided on a name, check it on Google. Does it bring up any businesses by that name? This doesn’t matter too much if you only plan to be local and the other business is nowhere near you. It may also not matter if you only plan to stay small.
Companies House (For UK readers) will not allow you to register a name that is the same as, or very similar to, another registered business name if you plan to set up a Limited Company. This doesn’t apply to sole traders. As mentioned above, a sole traders’ business name does not have to be registered.
You must Register for Self-Assessment (click on link for UK readers). This will register you as self-employed for tax and National Insurance as a sole trader. The best way to cover this is to save approximately 20-23% of your earnings ready to pay your tax bill. It is likely you won’t need all that but if you don’t do it, the tax bill can be a shock and it may be difficult to find the amount due – and then with penalties and interest it just keeps getting bigger! It is worth doing this soon after you start your own business.
You don’t need to register for VAT (click on link for UK readers) until your turnover is £85,000.
If you are a UK tradesperson and you plan to work as a contractor or sub-contractor in the construction industry, you will need to register with the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) You do not have to do this immediately if you don’t plan to do this type of work in the near future but you can do it shortly before you need it, if things change for you down the line. This enables your tax to be deducted by the Company or Contractor paying you, using your CIS number for this type of work and is a legal requirement, not a preference.
You will also need Public Liability insurance. Usually £5m is enough unless a customer requires more (eg a school or other council body might) and if you are selling products, it’s worth looking at Product Liability insurance. If down the line, you employ staff, you will also need Employers’ Liability insurance but that’s a whole other ball game with plenty of other topics to cover too.
You also need to consider what ‘image’ you want to portray when you start your own business.
Is your business style going to be classy, fun, organic, technical, quirky, eco?…… Your product or service is likely to dictate this. If you are selling macramé plant hanging pots, you may use an eco, natural or quirky theme for instance.
Whichever style you choose, it needs to flow through all your business stationery, website and business cards. Eventually uniforms and vehicles!
This is where you choose a colour theme and fonts. This is similar to choosing a name and the result can be amazing and eye-catchingly memorable or you could get it badly wrong and give the wrong impression or not attract the customers or clients you were hoping for. Readability also depends on the font size – especially on vehicles and when viewed from a distance.
For instance, only use Comics Sans font if you are opening a Day Care Centre.
Like name choosing, also consider other businesses and what colours they use. Colours can speak volumes and describe your business style in a split second. For example grey is very trendy right now so it would convey modernity. Primary colours used all together can suggest young or teaching which is fine if that is your business, red and black together can imply sexiness, again this is fine if you are aiming at an adult market and that doesn’t mean just having grown up customers – think burlesque!
Choose colours that work well together or boldly clash so you stand out but you need to ensure writing is not difficult to read in your chosen colour scheme.
Think about a logo. This is not something you have to have but branding a business contributes to marketing and makes it stay in customers’ minds. Be careful not to just use a picture from the internet in case it is copyrighted. If you need help with this it is something that can also be out sourced on a freelance job site (Look at People Per Hour or UpWork).
Marketing and Research
Next you need to do some market research before you start your own business.
- What competition is there?
- What demand or potential market is realistically present?
- How will you compete?
- How will you be better, cheaper, more accessible, more reliable, more niche… ?
It is always worth having a website and this can be FREE and quite easy to set up. If you need help with it and nobody in your network, or friends or family can help, have a look at the websites for freelancers. You list your requirements, they send you a proposal, you discuss it and they do it for you at whatever cost you have agreed. There is a small cost involved in having your own domain name but this is worth doing.
Use as many social media sites as you can – they are free and have a huge audience. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and if you have photos to post and constantly update; Pinterest and Instagram. There are many, many more social media sites and they are all worth a look. Facebook has many groups or pages for small businesses to advertise on and network with other business owners and entrepreneurs.
Your website and social media accounts need to be updated and maintained regularly.
People that see the same thing constantly, stop seeing it at all.
If you have promotions or offers for periods of time, ensure that marketing / advertising for these are removed the second the deal is done. If you don’t have the time, skills or desire to do this, look into using a ‘Virtual Assistant’ who can also help you with general office work, bookkeeping and anything you don’t or can’t do. Using a virtual assistant will also free up your time so you aren’t doing paperwork all evening, every evening or all weekend. You can get back to quality time, down time or even work an additional day in the week and maximise your earnings. A Virtual Assistant works remotely from their own office and is like having your own remote personal assistant with less cost to you.
Also, search Google for ‘advertise my business free’ as this will give you another long list but beware of free if it only means to start with or only for personal adverts and not businesses. Nextdoor is a good local app too, where you can advertise and people receive updates daily.
Don’t forget that some shops and small post offices also still have Advert Boards and you can put a card there for not much money.
Go to suppliers that have a link with your business. If you are a gardener, ask the garden centres around you if they would hand your card to anyone who buys turf, for example.
This means getting some professional looking business cards printed with your company name, contact details and a brief description of what you can do, add your website if you have one or your Facebook business page link. A lot of people only want ‘virtual’ contact so they will email, text or order/book online if they can. Have a look at companies like VistaPrint for cards.
Keep business cards on you at all times and be permanently in the mind-set that networking, marketing and other opportunities can, and do, arise all the time and in all sorts of situations. Just be careful not to come across as a 1980s second hand car salesman; don’t be pushy but do maximise chances that arise. They may be useful to progressing your business.
If you plan to sell homemade edible items, you will need to have an appropriately checked kitchen, hold hygiene certificates and liaise with your local authority. You MUST ensure you list all ingredients on every product due to allergies and the danger these present. If you can’t guarantee your products are nut free, you must state this and that includes the original production of raw ingredients.
Labelling with ingredients and allergy warnings also applies to handmade beauty products, eg lip balm made with sesame oil.
If your business is a niche business, then major on this in your marketing. State if items are locally sourced or locally produced, handmade with love or if items are organic or eco friendly.
Describe your products with adjectives (organic, rustic, elegant) and describe them in full if this suits your business.
Don’t just say ham and tomato sandwich, call it ‘thick cut honey roasted ham with Mediterranean sun dried tomatoes, served with our own homemade wholegrain mustard and triple cooked chips’ – obviously what you say has to be true!
Also be appropriate, you want the lengthy description to make your customers mouth water on a café menu so they want to come back time and again to try your whole menu. You don’t want loads of words on pre-packed sandwiches that you are selling from a bap truck on industrial sites during work lunch breaks as you want people to pick, pay and go.
Think of a tag line to go underneath your business name. This could simply be what you do or what you supply or it could be a clever line used as an additional tag for describing what you do. Search engines use words from your website to help decide where yours appear in the results so think about what people would type to find you.
If you have a ‘finished result’ in your business (new block paved driveway, multi coloured ombre hair do, magnificent cupcakes, elegant gift hampers for example) make sure you take photos of all your work. If you use them on your website, make sure you don’t include any names or addresses and get the customers permission, explaining they/their property won’t be identified. For some businesses it is good to show before and after photos – probably not if you are a nail technician! You should never make your customer feel bad about themselves. My Mum went to the hairdresser some years ago, after trying to save money by cutting her hair herself, and the hairdresser said she would do what she could, but you can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear…
Engage with your customers too. If they leave comments on your website or social media sites, reply…even if it is just to say thank you for taking the time to comment. However, if a customer is complaining, make sure your response clarifies the problem, is brief and most of all do not get into confrontation on there. It would be best to apologise that ‘X’ wasn’t right for them or up to your usual standard but if they contact you directly (this is privately and not going to harm your reputation) then you will be able to look into it in more detail for them. Quite often people don’t bother going past the first rant. We can support you in your customer service and social media management.
If the customer has a valid point though you will need to consider if this is something you need to amend, whatever it is.
Don’t be disheartened, as customers sometimes complain because they are jealous that you are doing well, maybe they want to be in your shoes but haven’t got the oomph to do it, maybe they were just having a bad day, maybe they were hoping for a freebie…Chances are, you are doing OK so don’t stop doing it.
Where and how will you sell your product or service?
Before you start your own business, you need to decide on your venue.
Are you planning on opening a physical shop, store, market stall or having a stand at craft fairs?
Unless you are totally confident and ready to open a full blown shop, it is worth testing the market by selling online and at an inexpensive ‘stall’ somewhere first. Research boot sales, craft fairs, school fetes, village fairs, Christmas Markets and other events in your area.
These are not usually expensive to book but you will need to provide your own table and create the right impression. Plan this well as first impressions count and this should be the start of your new life!
If it is outside, be prepared for rain or wind. If you use a gazebo will it lift in the wind? Do you need weights to hold it down? If you are planning on a boot sale, do you have a way to protect your stall from rain?
Make sure your stall looks appealing and conveys the image you want to give. Have your company name and website on display if you can.
Use your colour scheme for your display and your font for signs. Have business cards available for people to take away with them. Hand them out too.
Make sure everything is visibly priced, people are not always comfortable to ask the price. Remember also that some people will try and haggle. If you are happy to do this, have a figure in mind and don’t get battered on it. If you are not happy with being haggled down, politely decline and don’t be offended by someone trying.
Is your stall well laid out, airy and light and easily accessible? Create the right ambience for your products. If you are selling fairy lights, maybe you don’t want too much natural light otherwise customers can’t see the fairy lights twinkling.
If you want to play music, it is likely you will need a licence (UK) as this may be considered a public performance. If you do play music, bear in mind the volume, the genre and your neighbouring stall holders. This is more suitable to do on outdoor stalls.
Try and get varying heights on your stall. Can you utilise a well-balanced shelf unit? Products at eye level will always sell more easily than items on the bottom or top shelf. Circulate your items and experiment with what should be where. Have a few practices at setting up your stall. You want to look and feel professional when you arrive at the venue and this will give you the opportunity to make sure it looks so appealing, customers won’t be able to help themselves!
Will you only accept cash payments? This is easier for you but more and more customers don’t carry cash, even when visiting stalls. A card reader is easy to come by and not as expensive as you think, or as they used to be. Have a look at iZettle as a starting point but do research them and their fees. You will need WiFi for these to work but your mobile smartphone is likely to have a hotspot so you can link them. Check with your network provider as you don’t want to run out of data as your best customer of the day is trying to pay or to get stung with a huge bill for data at the end of the month!
You need to make sure you have a float to be able to give customers change when they do pay with cash but ensure your cash is secure.
When you have made a sale, will you offer a carrier bag of any sort? Ideally not a second hand, well used supermarket carrier! Brown or coloured paper bags, with or without your company name are a nice way to present your customer with their purchase. Once you have profit to reinvest, it is worth having these bags printed with your company name as it then becomes a walking advert and people DO reuse bags, especially nice, expensive looking ones.
A Market Stall is a good halfway step. If you’ve tried the one-off fairs and fetes and found success, it could be time to try a market stall. Some councils offer a ‘try before you buy’ stall for a couple of market days. This allows you to trial your product and test the water. This is worth doing before you start your own business fully. However, It takes time for word to get around and build a reputation so if you are going for it, go for it! Don’t invest loads into purchasing a brand new stall set up. You can hire a market stall framework and the cover or buy second hand. Either of these may be the best option until you are definitely going to commit. Most markets have a minimum size requirement for your stall so a gazebo would be fine but a decorator’s paste table won’t be. You also need to bear in mind the footfall there is likely to be. Whilst this is exactly what you want to be a part of, you need to ensure your set up is sturdy enough to cope. For some markets you will need to apply to the council for a Trader’s Licence and you will definitely need Public Liability insurance as a minimum.
Most importantly, smile and interact with customers, but don’t be ‘in their faces’.
There is a fine line between showing you are interested in your customers and obsessively, desperately trying to push them!
You can use this as an opportunity to gain further market research now that customers can see your products. Is there anything else they would like to see stocked?
Before the day, or first of many days, write yourself a checklist so you don’t forget something vital. Dress for the weather and take food if it is an all-day event. Learn and tweak as you do more and more of these and maybe this will lead to a full-time shop, if that is your goal.
If you are offering a trade or service that just wouldn’t work at a stall, your sales platform is your advertising initially, followed by word of mouth and recommendations as you build your reputation.
There are sites, such as RatedPeople.com where customers post their job and you buy the lead. If used wisely, this can be a great start. Customers will leave you reviews and this helps build your reputation.
Being reliable is a massive bonus for you because so many customers book a tradesperson who then just doesn’t bother turning up. If you make an appointment – keep it. If you are going to be late (and try not to be, as it does matter) then call the customer, apologise and check it will still be convenient if you arrive at X time.
Your initial visit will be to gain the information needed to provide the customer with an estimate. Always call it an estimate and not a quote because a quote is a fixed price but an estimate is a changeable figure. This matters because it allows for the unforeseen, although any changes or discoveries as work progresses must always be discussed with the customer. Never just do it then slap them with a bigger bill.
When you arrive, the customer will be judging you within seconds. Your appearance, manners and attitude are all part of this. If you look scruffy, they will assume your work will be scruffy, on the flipside, if the customer thinks you are ‘loaded’ they will assume your prices are high.
Take a tape measure, pen and clipboard with you. Click here for an estimating table template available for you to use to try and capture all the information you need. This can be modified to adapt to your business. Contact Sam if you need help with this. You will need Excel to open it but remember to delete the example information in it! There are formulae in it to calculate and add up for you but printing it off blank means you can take this with you to see the job and use it to prompt you.
Start by finding out what the customer wants; what they are trying to achieve. If something isn’t feasible, explain why and make an alternative suggestion. This needs to be done carefully so the customer doesn’t mistakenly think you are just trying to get more out of the job.
Once you have all your information make a commitment to the customer about when you will get their estimate to them. Sending by email is the fastest and cheapest way but check your customer is happy with this option and make sure you get their email address!
Before you can put your estimate together you need to decide on your hourly rate. Find out what your competition charges. Your hourly rate usually includes an amount towards your overheads and running costs as well as the amount you plan to take as a wage. Remember also, to put about 20% into savings ready for your tax bill.
Also, shop around for the best prices but beware of skimping on quality. You should already have discussed the details that determine quality, with your customer. For instance they want new fencing but do they want wooden or concrete posts, 3” or 4” posts, lap panels or close board, dip treated or pressure treated? Have you discussed disposal of their old fencing with them? If they are having a skip for it, will that be on their driveway or on the road, which then needs a licence and costs a little more?
Beware of using discounted prices for estimates as the suppliers promotion may have ended before you buy that item and then you have to take the brunt of the increased price, unless your estimate states that it is only valid for X period, after which time, the material costs may have changed.
Also be careful of using prices you find at online suppliers. Sometimes there is a hefty delivery charge on top or they may not deliver to the area you need. Always check this detail if you plan to estimate based on this.
It is prudent to open ‘Cash Accounts’ with suppliers and build a relationship with them. You will gradually accrue discounts but this won’t give you any credit facilities. These usually come later when you have been trading longer – unless you open them based on personal credit checks.
When you type up your estimate, it is ok to put in a line asking for a deposit in advance, people rarely mind this and you can use it for materials, for example:
“50% deposit will be required on instruction, with the balance payable upon completion”
If you need help with any of the admin, you can use a Virtual Assistant, even if this is just to get you up and running. A remote personal assistant will become invaluable to you though as you get busier and you want to focus on what you are best at.
Although this has been aimed at Construction Trades, it can easily be adapted for other service providers. If you are a nail technician, hairdresser, cleaner or ironing service, you would want to find the right suppliers and calculate your hourly rate to cover running your vehicle and other overheads.
If you are ready to start your own business by opening a shop, it is vital that you do run-up marketing on social media and local sites but it is worth hosting an open day. This can be advertised on your social media but local newspapers like events and are interested in community. Tell the papers, radio and even local TV news about it in advance and invite them on the day. Never feel you are too insignificant so you won’t bother; you never know what will come from these things and it costs you nothing to put a well worded email together and send it out. Also invite other local businesses and definitely aim for your target market. On the day be prepared to mingle, to discuss your business, the reasoning behind it and your hopes for the future. Offer drinks and samples (if appropriate). If you can round up a couple of trusty, well primed, volunteers to help host, this would ease the burden and ensure more potential customers can ask questions and be shown round.
Going forward, you need to make sure your shop continues to have kerb appeal, the window display and your social media posts need changing on a frequent basis and any staff you employ must be looked after so they look after your business.
Accounting and Admin
As a sole trader, you need only keep very basic accounts – what you spend, what you earn and what you are left with. It is best to keep receipts in case you need them at a later date. Ideally, keep them filed with each job/customer if you are a tradesperson or file them in envelopes weekly and date the envelope. You need to set up a simple system otherwise you won’t bother!
Click here for a basic spreadsheet to record your income and expenditure. This includes formulae to add and calculate for you but would need to be tailored for your business. It is not essential to break down all the columns but it is useful when you complete your tax return.
It is good to use documents that all have the same letterhead, appearance or theme to create a brand feel for your business. Your estimate and invoice can be the same document with only a few minor changes as seen in this example here.
You need to be aware of GDPR and spam. You are no longer allowed to retain customer details any longer than you need them so, when a job has been completed, you can’t keep them. You also can’t send mass email marketing campaigns as this is unsolicited. It is only OK to contact a customer if they want you to.
Additional revenue streams
Alongside what you will be doing as your main source of income, there are other options you can add in to boost the coffers.
It is possible to get adverts on your website so when customers click on them, you get paid. It would be advisable not to have many on there and only relevant ones. For instance, if you are a Wedding Planner, you might link to suppliers that you work with; wedding dress shops, cake makers, printers, florists and venues and likewise, ask them if they will list you on theirs, or hand out your card.
If you supply products that would work in hampers, make up hampers to sell at Christmas Markets. Offer bespoke hampers, customers can choose the contents and you make them up. Make seasonal packages up – Valentines, Easter and summer hampers.
If you run a café, can you add in deliveries or take away? Could you offer a catering service? Many businesses book caterers to provide lunches for training days and meetings.
If you are a hairdresser or beautician you could talk to residential homes about being their go to person, offer a discount. If you got together with each other (a hairdresser and make up artist) you could offer wedding packages for Bride, bridesmaids and Mother of the Bride. You could do girly parties. You could look at a niche market and specialise in doing children’s haircuts or discount a child do with every adult one.
If you are running a craft business could you put craft kits together to sell? Aim for a niche – child, seasonal or themed etc. Could you make YouTube tutorial videos?
If you are a tradesperson, could you hold training sessions, for instance basic plumbing or bricklaying? This would not lead to a qualification for your customers but would appeal to handy DIYers. You could produce them a ‘Certificate of Attendance’. You would need a workshop and the materials but these can be re-used for more than one session and could be held on a Saturday morning as an income boost. This is potentially a business in its own right.
Whatever your business type, if you want it, there are lots of additional revenue streams out there.
Loyalty bonuses and promotions are useful as customers love a bargain. Depending what your business is, you can easily produce the well-known business card size Loyalty Card so your customers can clock up a freebie or discount once it is filled.
If you want detailed or specific support:
Business Coaching to help you start up your own business or to grow an existing business
Assistance with your Admin – A Virtual Assistant (remote personal assistant)
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