There is a huge range of help available to help you deal with the challenges of starting your own business and make the most of your opportunities. Making sure you have the right skills, finance and practical support reduces the financial stress and the pressure of having to make all the decisions yourself.
Business support organisations, professional advisers and your own network of contacts can all help.
Identify the support you want
Assess your financial resources and requirements
Firstly you should be realistic about the financing you can expect to raise. Allow for the costs of setting up your business and continuing to meet your existing financial commitments. It is also important to be realistic about the likely delay before your business starts producing significant income. Initial costs can be cut down - for example, by working from home rather than taking on business premises. This is often essential during the early stages of launching a new business.
Identify the weaknesses in your own skills and experiences
Unless you have experience of running a business, you may need help in areas such as business planning. Sales and marketing are vital activities for most new businesses and you may require support to build your self-confidence and credibility. Likewise you may need advice on sales and marketing techniques. Other important areas to consider may include financial management, purchasing and production, information technology, and dealing with any employees and advisers. You are also likely to need professional advice in areas such as accounting, taxes and legal issues.
Consider the practical impact of starting a business on your personal life
You may need support with domestic commitments, such as caring for any dependants. Remember that starting a new business can be very stressful - you may need both emotional and practical support.
Take advice early, before starting your business
Early advice helps ensure that you set up your business in the right way, before making any potentially expensive mistakes. Putting time and effort into planning pays dividends. Business support organisations can help you develop your business plan. Planning helps you to think through all the activities you will be involved in, anticipate potential problems and identify the extra support you need. It is sensible to take advantage of free information and advice before deciding whether additional support is worth paying for.
Think about how training could help you
Start-up training can develop your confidence as well as your business skills. Further training in specific areas can reduce the need to pay others to provide services (such as bookkeeping) and increase your effectiveness as a business manager.
Use business support organisations
Get start-up training and advice from your local Enterprise Agency
Enterprise Agencies focus on supporting pre-start, newly launched and very small businesses. Services are usually free or heavily subsidised. Typical pre-start training services include training and advice on business planning and raising finance.
Find government advice for businesses
The GOV.UK website offers a wide range of support, advice and information for both start-ups and existing businesses.
Consider joining a trade association
Trade associations often provide information and advice specifically tailored to businesses in your industry, and opportunities to network with similar businesses, suppliers and other useful contacts. Membership of a trade association can also help boost your credibility with potential customers. Many trade associations offer additional member benefits, such as insurance deals, legal services, discounted attendance at exhibitions and so on. Subscription costs vary widely, but they may be discounted for smaller businesses.
Look for other business support organisations for your particular circumstances
Find financing and financial support
Be realistic about whether banks and other investors will finance you
They are unlikely to be interested in financing your idea unless you have a credible business plan and ideally previous business experience. Many new businesses rely on savings, family and friends. Even if you have worked in a similar business, you may find it difficult to raise money unless you have a track record of successful management. Remember that banks will usually want you to make a significant personal financial commitment before agreeing to back you.
Identify any sources of 'soft' loans or grants
The availability of easy financing depends on factors such as where you are, what industry you are in and how you plan to use the money. Finance is more likely to be available in deprived areas to support activities such as innovation and training. The GOV.UK Business finance and support finder can help you identify any local or national support schemes you might qualify for.
Make the most of advice and support offered by sources of finance
Most of the major banks offer business start-up packs and information. Professional private investors (business angels) and larger investors (venture capitalists) will however often want to take a hands-on approach, or at least offer informal advice.
Check what tax credits or benefits you are entitled to receive
If you have been receiving certain benefits, you may be entitled to the New Enterprise Allowance. This gives access to a business mentor as well as a weekly allowance and a loan towards your start up costs. If you look after a child, you are likely to be entitled to Child Tax Credit, unless you have a high family income. You may also be entitled to Working Tax Credit, even if you have no children or if your earnings are low.
Get the right advisers
Find an accountant
An accountant can give you advice on the best way to set up your business, how to organise your bookkeeping, and tax issues. Many businesses also use their accountant for broader business advice, such as personal financial planning, etc. Ideally, you will want an accountant with experience of your type of business. Business friends and contacts such as your bank manager may be able to recommend a qualified accountant.
Get any legal advice you need
Business support organisations can often provide general legal guidance free of charge. For more specific legal advice, you will need to consult a lawyer.
Consider what other business advisers you might want
You can use business advisers to fill any gaps in the support you are getting from the business support organisations you are working with. You may also want to build a relationship with an individual business adviser. Regular meetings will allow the adviser to build a deeper understanding of you and your business. Additionally you may want to find specialist advisers - for example, to help you with information technology. A business adviser can also act as a mentor: rather than providing direct advice, the adviser helps you talk through your ideas and work out the best way forward.
Build your network
Make the most of existing contacts
Friends, colleagues, customers and suppliers from previous jobs can all be useful sources of help. Many new businesses make their first sales to existing contacts who know and trust them.
Consider joining your local chamber of commerce
Getting to meet other business owners lets you share experiences and helps overcome the feeling of being on your own. Membership of your local chamber of commerce helps bring you new business contacts who may end up as customers or suppliers. Subscription rates vary, and depend on the number of employees you have. A small business might pay around £200 per year, which includes access to business advice and other services.
Identify other local and national networking opportunities
Ask friends, business contacts and advisers what groups they belong to. Opportunities can include:
- business networking organisations;
- charitable groups, such as the Rotary Club;
- social groups and networks, such as a local sports club or parents’ support group;
- online groups, which make it easier to network outside the local area (and may also have local sections);
- networking events or online discussion groups organised by the business support organisations you work with.
Find practical support
Look for ways to get cut-price products and services
The Federation of Small Businesses and the Forum of Private Business both offer members money-saving opportunities as well as business advice and other services. Additionally, business support organisations or your local council may provide low-cost business premises (eg serviced offices). Some business centres include free or subsidised support services such as advice and training. Also, local business colleges may offer subsidised training, or students who will work on projects for low or no cost.
Get any domestic support you need
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