If you're a busy mum, or want to go back to work with more flexibility - then setting up your own business could be the answer. There's lots to think about, so follow our step-by-step guide to starting out
If you’re a busy mum, or want to go back to work with more flexibility – then setting up your own business could be the answer. There’s lots to think about, so follow our
to starting out
As a mum, you’ll already know that looking after the family is a job in itself! Steph Welstead, editor of Startups.co.uk, one of the leading websites for new businesses, suggests thinking about something you can run part-time and ideally from home.
Steph advises that you: ‘Start with what you know – do you have a hobby or skill you could turn into a business, such as tutoring, design, cake making, jewellery design or arts and crafts? Starting part-time and from home can be a great, low-risk way to test the water before full-time entrepreneurship.’
You need to know there’s a strong enough demand for your service or product before you spend too much money or time on it.
It is important to think about what makes your idea stand out. Steph Welstead from Startups.co.uk says: ‘You also need to make sure you’re offering something different and that you have clear unique selling points. What is it about your idea that would convince customers to buy from you rather than your competitors? Or, if no-one else is doing what you are planning, is there a good reason for this?’
Good market research is crucial when you’re starting a business. This doesn’t have to involve lots of money either – in fact, market research sites such as Euromonitor and Mintel publish reports into a variety of different topics. So check these and other websites to see if there has been any recent research that’s relevant to you and your new business idea.
Use the information wisely. You might read that people are spending less money on fancy gifts, but if you live in an area where there’s a market for this, your idea could still work. Mix the wider statistics with local research of your own.
Funding is one the most important aspects when working out how to start a business. Avoid spending too much to start with – of course, you may have to invest in products or equipment to get going. If possible, avoid investing in anything that requires a big commitment – you don’t want 3,000 cupcake cases in your cupboard just because you quickly realised that wedding cakes were more popular!
If you don’t have the money to start with and you don’t want a bank loan, you can see if you’re eligible for a small government business grant. Check the Business Link website for details. You might also prefer to set up a business bank account – talk to your existing bank first then shop around for a good deal.
If you’re worried about how to start a business, get inspiration from others. Melissa Middleton, Programme Manager for the PNE Enterprise ‘Supporting Mumpreneurs in the North East’ project, says: ‘Starting up a new trade is definitely a challenge, but with huge rewards. We see lot of people who want to become an entrepreneur, but they’re worried about juggling
the business, the school run and everything else that goes alongside
being a busy parent. But every day we see parents making a go of it and
creating a successful business that lasts.’
A business mentor is another option. ‘Ideally someone who’s already launched their own business and can offer impartial advice with no agenda,’ suggests Steph Welstead from Startups.co.uk. ‘There are a number of organisations that can help you find a business mentor, such as online network Horsesmouth or the government mentoring service mentorsme.co.uk.’
In this competitive market, you need a catchy business name. But before you order business cards, build a website and start spreading the word, make sure the name or a similar one doesn’t already operate. There may also be sensitive words or expressions which are copyrighted by an existing company. Use the Company name and trademark checker on the Business Link website as a guide.
Like any project, how to start a business successfully depends on a good plan. It doesn’t have to be fancy but you should write down what you want to achieve, spending details, how you will cover costs and what you plan to charge for your product. This will help you work out whether it’s doable or not. If you’re asking the bank for extra money, you will need to write a more detailed business plan – there are free templates on the Business Link website.
Don’t forget the ‘boring’ bits when you’re starting your new business! It might seem like a chore but it’s important that you get registered as self-employed and inform HMRC (Revenue and Customs). Just click on the HMRC website for full details. They also have over 200 videos which explain things brilliantly and a handy Setting up as self-employed checklist.
You might need to check your home insurance if you’re using your home for the new business, especially if anyone will be coming your home as a visitor or worker. Take a look at the guide from Startups.co.uk about choosing the right insurance.
Too often, people get the pricing wrong for their service or product. Under and over pricing can be equally devastating, so spend some time deciding on the right price. Work out exactly what you will spend on making/producing each item, or how long the service will take – and cover your costs plus profit.
Don’t do yourself down. Remember, people are paying for your time, expertise and the convenience of not doing it or making it themselves. Use Excel if you know how to (or ask a friend to show you the basics as it’s not too complicated) or just grab a calculator and a sheet of paper for starters.
‘Starting your own business is hard work and can be isolating at times, especially if you’re working from home,’ says Steph Welstead from Startups.co.uk. ‘Try and build a network of contacts to bounce ideas off and get out to meet people as much as possible.
‘Networking can be a great way to meet useful new contacts who can help you grow your busines, or offer you advice and support about how to start a new business. You can find local networking events using sites such as Meetup.com.’
Networking doesn’t have to be formal either. Talking to other mums, local friends or neighbours is just as good – you don’t know where it might lead to in terms of new customers!
You can also buy your website name easily e.g. if you set up a craft business and call it: ‘Crafty Things’, you can buy the domain name ‘craftythings.com’ or ‘craftythings.co.uk’ from a website such as 123-reg.co.uk or godaddy.com. You can then direct that website address to go to your free website. It might sound tricky, but once you’ve bought the name, your provider will offer you support. You can even have a business email address such as ‘email@example.com’.
Social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can be invaluable. You can set up a Facebook page and get your friends and contacts to ‘like’ it and spread the word. Use it to showcase your service or product, highlight any offers or new items and interact with your customers. Twitter can also work out well if you follow relevant users and engage with them.
And don’t forget that good, old fashioned social media skill – talking. Tell people what you’re doing – mums at the school, your neighbours, friends at your local gym. Word of mouth is still one of the most powerful tools around and people are always keen to support those they know and local businesses.
Depending on what your product or service is, using online marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, Etsy and Facebook’s MarketPlace can be a great way of showcasing your business and selling your service to lots of people without any huge costs.
Obviously these retailers will take a cut, so you should price your product accordingly. Remember that selling on these websites might help you get more orders, so it might be worth earning a little less profit if it will help you to get more business.
As you’d expect, there are lots of books about how to start your own business, but we suggest you buy one that you like the look of and most importantly, which offers advice for your particular idea. A popular option is The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting Your Own Business which offers practical advice in an easy-to-read format.
If you’re looking for inspiration, try Anyone Can Do It: Building Coffee Republic From Our Kitchen Table from the founders of the coffee chain Coffee Republic. Browse the local library or bookshop to find the one that’s right for you.
You don’t need to pay lots of money to get useful advice about how to start a new business. Sites such as Business Link, Startups and and Start Up Britain offer lots of tips, advice and contact information. If you’re near cental London, you can visit the British Library Business & IP Centre at St Pancras which runs several useful, free workshops.
Use free internet tools such as Skype for free calls, Google Docs to manage your work and Google Mail for a free but professional email service. Good luck!