Business start-up advice: What support is available?
Some expert advice could be just what you’re looking for
Starting a business? Some expert advice could be just what you're looking for. A basic guide to seeking business startup advice and support
Your new business might just depend on it
Every new business owner wants the best for their business
If you're starting your own business, you want it to thrive. You want it to grow. You want more customers. And you want to make sure your bottom line stays healthy.
It's only natural. That's why, sometimes, it pays to seek expert business start up advice, support and guidance on a range of business issues that might affect you – especially if they are complex, or you've never experienced them before.
It will give your business the very best chance of succeeding.
We can't all understand every aspect of sales, software, business finance, premises, people management and employment.
But there are lots of business advice and support services that can give you help starting a business and make it much easier for you. And that's why we've developed this guide – to help you decide whether you or your new business could benefit from some expert help in starting a business.
After all, it could mean the difference between starting a successful business, or being one of the hundreds of thousands of companies that cease to trade each year.
Small businesses in the UK – the facts
There were an estimated 4.3 million business enterprises in the UK at the start of 2004, compared with around 4.0 million at the start of 2003.
Small to medium-sized enterprises were responsible for over half of the UK's workforce (58.5%) in 2004.
Over half of the UK's turnover (51.3%) also came from small to medium-sized enterprises.
Small enterprises alone (0 to 49 employees) accounted for 46.8% of employment and 37% of turnover.
Last year, only one in 5 business owners sought business startup advice from their customers, trade associations, or suppliers.
In 2004, just a third of business owners sought advice from other professional services such as banks and solicitors.
Government-funded business support such as Business Links in England were used by only 16% of businesses in 2004.
Fewer than 5% of businesses used local, regional and national government agencies for business start up advice in 1994.
During 2004, an estimated 181,400 companies registered for VAT and an estimated 179,400 companies de-registered – this is the best official guide to the pattern of business start-ups and closures for the year.
Does my new business really need support?
Hundreds of thousands of small businesses start up each year in the UK – and a similar number cease trading every year, too.
Starting a business means having access to vital knowledge, information and support on a huge range of business issues. Without that knowledge and support, you might not be giving your business the chance of success it deserves.
Here are just a few examples of the kind of information that you – and your business – should know before you start.
Protecting your business
If you are starting a business, protecting your company name and trademarks is essential. If you don't register a trademark, you may lose any rights to use that trademark if you discover another business using a similar one. But do you really know how to register a trademark?
Building good customer relationships
Even if your products, services or prices are fantastic, your new business still needs to build up good customer relationships for it to succeed. It means getting to know your customers, and offering them something completely unique that goes over and above any products or services you also offer. How much experience do you have of doing that?
New businesses often don't operate as effectively and efficiently as they could. With the right kind of support, your new business could meet and exceed its targets in everything from planning and tax to advertising and marketing.
Looking after your people
Often, the most valuable assets in a business are its people, and knowing how to lead, manage and motivate them is vital. Good support and advice can help you do the right thing when it comes to managing your staff – and make sure you get the best from them.
If you register your new business for VAT, you'll be expected to complete regular VAT returns, and make payments to HM Revenue & Customs. However, managing your VAT can be much more complex than it seems, and getting it wrong can be costly.
Marketing your new business
Like most new businesses, the chances are that you're doing everything on a small budget, including your marketing activity. However, there are lots of ways to promote your business without spending lots of cash – you just need to ask the right people.
Building a competitive edge
Whatever your new business, getting the right advice at the right time could give you a real edge over your competitors. Without that edge, you could lose customers to your competitors and your bottom line will suffer.
Finding new clients and customers
Every new business needs customers. And one of the best ways to find them is by networking. But it will only be worthwhile if you find out how to network, who to network with, and where to do it.
Paying your staff
There are many pieces of employment legislation which will determine how you pay your staff, such as the National Minimum Wage, and the Equal Pay Act. What's more, UK employment law changes very, very often and keeping up with those changes can be a huge challenge in itself.
Recruiting the best people
Whatever stage your new business is at, growing it often means recruiting new people. But if you've never done that kind of thing before, where would you start when it comes to finding qualified, experienced and competent people? There are lots of stages – and lots of legislation – involved, and it's something that you need to get right first time.
Health & Safety
If your new business has people and premises, it's up to you to ensure that everything – and everyone – is safe. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, you need to ensure you have a current written health and safety policy, and just as importantly, you need to make sure that you know exactly what to do if something does go wrong.
Your company website
As a new business, your website could be one of your most valuable assets. However, getting the most from it – and making it useful for your customers – often requires expert advice on everything from its design to the way your website content is written.
As an employer, it's your responsibility to treat all of your people equally and fairly, and to not discriminate on the basis of sex, pregnancy or maternity leave, sexual orientation, marital status, race, disability, employment status, religion, or belief. It's something that you simply can't compromise on.
If you already use software to help you run your new business, are you certain that you are getting the most from it? Good business support can help you make sure that your software is working as hard as possible for you
What kind of business support is available to me?
Expert business support and advice are available for every possible kind of new business, across virtually all aspects of your business, and in all industries.
It's impossible to break business advice down into specific ‘types', but here are the four main areas in which you can find help…
Before you start – you can find support and advice on finding and managing money before your business actually begins to trade, on naming your business, on choosing premises, and on marketing, advertising, and promoting your new business.
Employing people – good business support can help you recruit and pay staff properly, ensure you follow equal opportunities and health and safety legislation, and even help you deal with redundancies and disciplinary problems.
Using software – an expert support package can help you get the most from your software, and ensure that your data is always fully protected – which is often more important than you realise. If you also plan to use sales and marketing software – you can find support and advice that will help your marketing activity work even harder.
Growing your business – once your business is up and running and you're starting to find your feet in your industry, expert business advice can really make a difference on a whole new level. You can find advice on how to grow your business, how to manage a larger team, how to deal with staff problems, how to seek further funding, and much more – even if it's just something as simple as how to stay in touch with all the latest business news and issues
Starting a new business: are you aware of the issues?
The issues that affect small businesses in the UK can be complex, and these quick questions have been designed to help you decide whether your new business needs professional support. If you answer ‘no' or ‘not sure' to any of these questions, there's a good chance that you could improve your business, simply by seeking reliable, expert advice.
Does your new business feel like it will grow? No | Not sure | Yes
Do you fully understand the UK Tax, VAT, and NI structure? No | Not sure | Yes
Are you aware of the impact that failing to meet employment law could have on your business? No | Not sure | Yes
Is your business eligible to receive a grant of any kind? No | Not sure | Yes
Are you happy with the overall performance of your business? No | Not sure | Yes
Do you think your business has a clear edge over your competitors? No | Not sure | Yes
Do you have a clear future mapped out for your business? No | Not sure | Yes
Will your people be happy in their roles? No | Not sure | Yes
If you employ staff, will your payroll systems up to date and accurate? No | Not sure | Yes
Will your business comply with Health & Safety legislation? No | Not sure | Yes
Do you know the right way to interview and recruit new staff? No | Not sure | Yes
Are you offering a good selection of benefits to your people? No | Not sure | Yes
Will you treat each member of staff equally at all times? No | Not sure | Yes
Are you familiar with up-to-date Human Resources practices? No | Not sure | Yes
Do you think your software will make your business more efficient? No | Not sure | Yes
Do you find your software easy to use? No | Not sure | Yes
Do you trust your business software? are that you could use? No | Not sure | Yes
Do you use ALL of the features included with your software? No | Not sure | Yes
Are you using the very latest versions of your software? No | Not sure | Yes
Are you happy with the level of support provided by your current software manufacturer? No | Not sure | Yes
What to find out more?
You can seek business support and advice from a number of sources, including government business initiatives, local authorities, any many other independent bodies and organizations. But what's most important is that any advice you receive is trustworthy, reliable and up-to-date.