How to start a business

Follow these simple steps to get your new business idea off the ground and thriving in 2022.

Our experts

We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality. This article was authored by:
  • The Startups Team

Following the chaos and confusion of the past two years, and in the midst of new challenges posed by Omicron, you might be surprised to learn that now is actually an excellent time for entrepreneurship and new business in the UK.

That’s right – despite the challenges, a record 800,000 new businesses were created last year. And nearly half of all Brits also began a side hustle, taking advantage of new flexible working policies.

There are around 5.5 million small business enterprises (SMEs) currently operating in the UK, accounting for 99.9% of the UK’s business population. Every one of their founders was once a novice whose dream grew from a bud of an idea into a fully fledged enterprise.

Anyone can start a business – you don’t need a big-league degree or impressive funding in order to begin. What you do need, however, is a basic set of actions to give yourself a realistic time frame and a clear goal to work towards.

We’ve collaborated with some other small business founders, as well as our own experts, to help you build just that. Below, you’ll find a handy guide with simple, actionable advice to get you started on your exciting new business venture.

You’ll learn about market research, branding, writing a proper business plan, and getting your finances in shape. So, what are you waiting for? The journey begins here!

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What Does Your Business Need Help With?

Evaluate yourself

Evaluating yourself is a vital step in starting a business. Lacking experience or confidence shouldn’t have to be a barrier, and identifying the areas where you might need support is the best way to overcome obstacles in the future.

As a simple task, consider running through this checklist to begin your self-evaluation:

  • What skills do you have?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What is/are your area of expertise?
  • Are you committed to starting a business?

As well as the questions above, you may also consider more practical points around finance and resources:

  • How much can you afford to spend?
  • Do you need to raise or find extra capital?
  • Are you in any debt?

Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is also a good way to decide on the type of business you want to launch – as well as the role you might play in it.

For example, if you plan to start a restaurant and know that you’re better at communication than cooking, then you’ll likely be better suited to a front-of-house role.

Richard Osborne is founder and CEO of UK Business Forums, the UK’s most active online community for small and micro-business owners. Osborne told us: “You need to have a really strong reason for wanting to start your own business. A strong, personal reason for starting your own business will help keep you going and give you the motivation to carry on – and it’s really important that you have that in the first place.”

You don’t need to formalise these questions – although it can’t hurt to share them and discuss them with mentors. Knowing the answers, though, can be a real help when completing the following steps.

Come up with a business idea

Most people looking to start a business will already have a vision of what that business might be, even if the idea is a bit rough.

However, coming up with a business idea is only half of this task – then you’ll have to get specific. For example, you might know that you want to work in construction, but need to drill down a little more to find a specific enough venture to launch.

Richard Osborne added: “The idea for UK Business Forums started when I was sitting at home in the very early stages of setting up my first company, and I was really struggling with isolation and loneliness. I missed office camaraderie: peers to run ideas past and people to help me overcome stumbling blocks and share experiences with.

“I spoke to another entrepreneur, and he felt in the same boat, so together we started an online networking group that would later become UK Business Forums.”

If you haven’t got any tangible ideas at all, then our annual Business Ideas campaign is a great starting point for you. Every year, we research top industry trends to suggest the best new ideas to start, including the cheapest ideas to get going quickly on a budget.

In 2022, we’ve identified a wealth of key trends that will be shaping the way consumers spend and businesses develop.

Some, such as wellbeing and sustainability, were already seeing impressive growth that has simply accelerated as a result of the pandemic. But there are other emerging areas, such as flexible office spaces and pet-based products, that are also worth tapping into early.

Ken Parker is CEO of squeaky-clean startup Vycel, a cleaning technology manufacturer. When the COVID-19 outbreak struck the UK, Parker immediately looked for ways to tap into the surging demand for first-class health and safety products.

“Any business plan [should] focus on demand. When COVID-19 started, everyone focused on getting PPE and hiding away. We now have major viruses regularly such as SARS and MRSA, and I felt that if this business was going to be here for a long time, we needed to focus on killing the viruses. Vycel does this easily, quickly and for a very small cost.”

Take a look at potential innovations in the space you’re entering by reading consumer reports and indexes to find where the demand is coming from. Research like this can be incredibly helpful in cementing your idea.

If you’d like to be a clothing, footwear or apparel retailer, for example, it won’t take you long to spot that resale (flogging second-hand products) is replacing fast fashion practices. In fact, resale is expected to grow 11x faster than the broader retail clothing sector by 2025.

It would make sense, then, to hone in on this trend and sell second-hand or vintage products over new.

Will your business idea work?

Whether you have a business idea already or not, there will be some questions to consider before you can be certain it has legs.

Taking a look back to the self-evaluation step above, you should think about the idea you have in relation to some specific questions about yourself and your goals.

Does the idea fit your skillset? Do you have the knowledge you need for this business? If not, what qualifications and expertise do you need to learn?

Is it original? You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to start a new business, but it’s a good idea to have something new or unique to bring to the market. Ask yourself: what makes your business idea stand out? What problem does it solve for customers?

Phillip Bacon is the director of marketing agency Bacon Marketing. He told us: “The idea for my business came from my past experiences working as a marketer in-house, when we often lacked the funding and staff necessary to achieve our goals. That's how I came up with the idea for Bacon Marketing, to be that extra resource providing all-around care and the seniority that some companies needed.

“I bounced this idea off people that I knew and respected within the industry and that worked for other agencies to see if it was something their clients also required. The feedback showed that it was definitely something they felt was needed – and thus Bacon Marketing was born.”

Finally, is it realistic? In light of your existing financial situation and the industry you’re trying to enter, you might need to scale down your idea based on what’s achievable.

Some sectors are easier to enter than others. Take IT as an example: most small businesses here were not hit hard by the pandemic, and remote working was not an issue as the majority of workers are based online.

But if you’re looking to start a business in leisure or hospitality, the industry is currently dealing with major staff shortages caused by the Omicron variant and subsequent surge of coronavirus cases.

That doesn’t mean you should abandon the idea outright. But it does mean you might need to take additional steps, such as investing in socially distanced tools like QR codes, to ensure you can still operate with reduced staff numbers.

Market research is essential to understanding the industry you’re trying to enter, and calculating how obtainable your objectives are. Find out more about it in the next step.

Conduct market research

You wouldn’t ever choose to host a dinner party without first knowing who your guests are.

Similarly, you shouldn’t start a business without first understanding your market – which is what makes market research an essential ingredient when cooking up a successful startup.

Research provides the perfect opportunity for new founders to understand their audience base. Typically, it takes the form of a physical or online survey.

Anneka Wallington is founder and creative director at Recognised, a socially-minded jewelers. Wallington told us that it’s not just research, but also analysis that’s key when you’re carrying out market research.

“I was studying business and marketing at the time, so initially conducted a pestle analysis on the market which helped identify key trends, customer behaviour and competition. Most of all it highlighted a gap in the market. I did further market research in the form of surveys and product testing to get feedback on the type of product customers wanted.”

You’ll most likely have some idea of who your target audience is already, so make sure you target your survey or form to that group (for example, if you’re starting a butchers shop in a high street premises, you could send postal surveys to local postcodes or target nearby community groups).

One thing to note is that your market research must not involve family or friends. Aim to get a truly randomised set of respondents that will give you an accurate, unbiased reflection of your business idea.

Questions you could ask include:

  • What are the best communication channels to market your business to your audience?
  • What costs are going to be associated?
  • What products or services already exist that you’ll compete with?
  • What makes your product or service worth the money?
  • How much would your customers be willing to pay?

Conducting comprehensive market research is one of the best ways for you to evaluate the strength of your new business.

It is also important if you want to raise capital at any point. Investors and banks will want to see evidence that you understand your market, and that your business has a chance of success.

What next?

Market research will give you valuable insight into how to shape your business model, but it doesn’t stop there. The next step is to test your business idea, and see if it is a viable business model in the long-term.

For proper, effective testing, you need to find a minimal viable product (MVP).

Businesses often skip this step because they're in a rush to launch their product. But an MVP is simple to produce, as it’s basically the leanest version of your business.

Why do you need an MVP?

Having an MVP means you will be able to see how many people are interested in your brand, and monitor which area of your product or service is most successful or gets customers most engaged.

Examples of MVPs include a pop-up market stall version of a retail store, or a test website using a low-cost platform, like a social media landing page or advert.

Testing an MVP is important whether you want to go local or international; small or large scale. Since this is carried out early on in the development process, you’ll still be able to make any tweaks or changes in response to real feedback from the target audience, with reduced financial risk.

Market research comes in lots of different stages and requires good organisation to ensure you don’t lose track of your project.

We recommend project management (PM) software as a way to oversee the scheduling, organisation and planning processes, giving you more time to focus on the more important aspects of starting your new business.

Read our guide to the top PM solutions for small businesses to find out more about the tools available.

Assess your finances

Now that you’ve evaluated yourself and completed your market research, you will hopefully have a clear understanding of what sort of skills and capital you’ll need in order to start, and therefore how much (if any) funding you need to raise.

Unsurprisingly, funding is often cited as one of the biggest barriers to setting up a new business. According to CB Insight data from 2021, running out of cash was the top reason for closure, with 38% of small business owners claiming this was the cause behind their startup’s failure.

Finance is also a bigger issue for female entrepreneurs, a discrepancy referred to in the media as the ‘gender funding gap’.

In 2021, we reported on a survey from Tide which found that only 18% of women would consider starting a business, compared to 29% of men. When asked, 35% of female entrepreneurs identified money as their biggest barrier to launching a new company.

Are you a woman looking to start a new business? Read our guide to find out what business grants are available for women. 

Obviously, a key problem when it comes to raising capital is not having enough funding to invest in the early stage of your idea. But there’s also the longer term issue of making enough money to support yourself, or your family, once the business gets going.

Of course, the finances you need will depend entirely on the business you are launching. Some will be relatively cheap, whereas others may require thousands of pounds to even consider starting.

Dropshipping, for example, is a business idea with relatively small overheads. You simply make a sale, and then pass on the delivery responsibilities to the courier. In comparison, starting a gym business is an expensive venture up-front, thanks to pricey equipment and premises rental costs.

One way to assess your finances is to break your costs up into categories, so that you can get a general idea of what you’ll be spending and find areas to minimise expenses. Some general categories you could use include:

  • Essential investment: the things you definitely need; that your business cannot operate without. These should be at the top of the list.
  • Helpful investment: the things that will help you operate and improve efficiency or success. These should be second on your list.
  • Nice-to-have investment: these things aren’t essential, and might not improve efficiency, but may provide smaller benefits. These should be last on the list.

To put this idea into practice, consider your purchase against these three categories – more simply categorised as must have, should have, and could have.

Must have; cannot operate withoutShould have; purchase when possibleCould have; but not essential
Premises, stock and a till systemWebsite for online brandingCoffee machine

Compare finance options

There are a number of finance options available, whatever your situation or business – although some will require more work than others. For more comprehensive information, we have a few pages that you may want to look at.

Sources of business finance: this page covers the more well-known finance options, including bank or startup loans and investment. These options are more suitable for larger business ideas, or for founders who need to raise a large sum.

10 ways to fund your business: this page covers alternative forms of finance that don’t require traditional bank loans or investment. These options are more suitable for smaller, cheaper businesses, or for founders who only need to raise a little extra capital.

Should I get a loan?

Business loans can be a smart way for startups to get up and running. They allow you to retain business ownership, protect your credit score and personal wealth, and – most importantly – get your business off the ground.

Taking out a loan definitely isn’t a rare strategy for new business owners. Many SMEs borrowed money to bulk up their cash flow when business fell as a result of COVID-19.

The vast majority of new bank loans were issued via government-backed lending schemes, such as the Bounce Back Loan. The average mean claim was £30,340.

However, you shouldn’t enter into a loan agreement blindly. Everything comes at a price, and some loans often charge hefty interest which means you could be lumbered with a long repayment period.

They can also be hard to qualify for and potentially put your credit score at risk if you don’t pay them back in time.

Because of this, we recommend you don’t take out a loan unless you are 100% certain that you’ll make the money back on whatever you’re purchasing. Speaking to a third-party accountant or financial advisor can help you to be sure.

How do I find the right loan provider?

  • Startup loans – the Startup Loan is a government-backed scheme that lets you borrow up to £25,000 with a fixed interest rate of 6% p.a.
  • Business loans – business loans are similar to startup loans, except that they are not just for new businesses and don’t have the same caps. Select this option to compare business loans with KnowYourMoney.

As well as the options above, you may also consider investment and funding from other sources. For example, The Startup Series is the UK’s only EIS and SEIS funding competition, offering early-stage businesses the opportunity to win up to £250,000 in investor backing.

As a response to the Omicron variant, and rising coronavirus case numbers, the government has announced various support measures including £1 billion in new grants for businesses in England.

Hospitality and leisure businesses will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises, whilst more than £100 million in discretionary funding will be made available for local authorities to support other businesses.

It’s a good idea to keep an eye on the gov.uk website, which outlines all of the best available funds and grants to keep SMEs supported in the pandemic recovery effort.

Consider finance tools

Although having enough capital in the first place is vitally important, it is also essential that you are able to effectively track and manage your money further down the line.

This is particularly true in the current climate, when government support is frequently given and taken away. As we mentioned above, many companies have taken out loans to survive the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic, and you need to ensure you have a repayment plan that’s fully laid out and achievable.

Plus, in the case of another lockdown following new coronavirus variants such as Omicron, it’s good to have some cash reserves stored up for emergency use.

In the list below, we have included a number of tools that you might need to consider.

Business bank accounts

A business bank account is one of the first and simplest steps toward properly handling your business finance. An ordinary account may be sufficient for a minority of self-employed people, but unsurprisingly, a business account is almost always the preferred choice for entrepreneurs.

Having a business bank account is a requirement if you're a limited liability company. You're legally required to have a business bank account so that your business finances are separate from your personal finances.

Visit our page on how to open a business bank account now for a more comprehensive overview.


What Does Your Business Need Help With?

Accounting tools

As well as business bank accounts, which are a legal requirement for some forms of business, there are also other tools and services that exist to support small business owners in their money management.

Tools like FreshBooks are created to help businesses spend less time filing receipts and formatting invoices. The purpose of these tools is to simplify and organise tasks that traditionally may have taken hours of work just to understand.

Freshbooks review dashboard

Freshbooks review dashboard

FreshBooks, and other tools like it, are geared specifically towards small businesses and may not be suitable for larger scale ventures. At that stage, you may want to consider building a finance team or outsourcing your accounts to a provider to help, but it is unlikely that you would do so in the early stages.

Want to know more about our top accounting recommendations? Check out our full guide to the best small business accounting software solutions.

Create a business plan

Completing the above steps will provide you with solid foundations for a comprehensive business plan, which will act as the blueprint for your business going forward.

If you have evaluated yourself, done market research and worked out your financial situation, then you’ll be in a strong place to tailor your plan accordingly.

Albert Larter is co-founder of Wakuda, an online retailer for black British vendors. Having run another business previously, Larter is experienced at writing a business plan and told us: “We used a template which made it very simple to put down the ideas and the vision for Wakuda. We thoroughly researched competitors, created a SWOT analysis and more. Our business plan outlined the vision and where we believe Wakuda can be in the next five years, along with the impact the platform will have on consumers’ spending habits and the confidence of entrepreneurship in the black community.”

It’s worth bearing in mind that if you are applying for investment, your business plan and market research will need to be more thorough than if you’re starting your business without external support. This is to make sure that potential investors will be convinced to part with their money and help fund your idea.

What should you include in your business plan?

We’ve written about the four key areas you should include in your business plan in our comprehensive guide to how to write a business plan. These surround business, marketing, finance and management.

As well as discussing the above four areas, you should also leave space for your executive summary – essentially an elevator pitch for readers and potential stakeholders. This is the most important section and should summarise your company's mission statement – a few sentences encapsulating what the business does for what type of clients, your aims for the company and what gives it its competitive edge.

What are your biggest challenges?

Your business plan should not be all golden – every industry has its own different problems, and you should take care to evaluate the impact they could have on your startup.

In 2020, we carried out a survey of our small business readers to find out what their biggest frustrations were. Their top three frustrations over the past 12 months were given as:

  • Coronavirus/Lockdown (26%)
  • Finances (21%)
  • Personal (9%)

If you’re setting up a business in 2022, it’s likely these will be the key issues you will face.

Make sure you carry out research into the specific pandemic or financial issues facing your industry. For example, if you’re running a courier business with a long supply chain then you’re most likely going to face issues with Brexit and delivering internationally.

Preparing for these difficulties isn’t just for your own benefit – it’s also a good way to show reviewers or potential stakeholders that you know what the challenges ahead are.

And if you’re running a beauty salon business, you need to take care to follow the health and safety regulations set out in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

For a step-by-step guide, visit our business plan template page to create your own.

Register your business

Once you’ve decided what type of business you’ll be trading as, a good next step is to legally register your company on Companies House.

The cost of business registration depends on several factors, such as whether you complete it online or by post, or if you require a same-day service.

You must be fully registered on Companies House, and have received your ‘certificate of incorporation’ confirming that the business is legally recognised, before you can register for corporation tax.

This requires the following:

  • Selected company name (cannot copy or resemble other trademark business names, or include sensitive or offensive words)
  • Company address
  • The name of one or more directors
  • Nominated shareholders and details of their entitlement
  • Your SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) code
  • Details of PSCs (people with significant control) of your company, such as those with relatively large shares in the business

Every new business in the UK must register, though the process may vary depending on what type of business you have.

Choose your business structure

In order to register your business, you’ll first need to decide if you’re going to start as a sole trader, a partnership or as a limited company. All of these have different tax issues to consider, as well as different liability considerations.

Many businesses will set up as a sole trader to start with as it involves minimal red tape, but it's worth assessing whether a limited company might offer more benefits. It’s possible to change your business structure once you've started, but it makes sense to think about it now.

The difference between the main structures are included below:

  • Sole trader – exclusive ownership of a business with entitlement to all profits, but also liability for losses.
  • Partnership – similar to the option above, but profit and liability are split between all founders.
  • Limited company – a private company where your liability is only tied to the amount you have invested.

Limited liability partnership – as above, but with multiple partners tied to the amount they have invested.

Why should you register as a sole trader?

Becoming a sole trader is a good idea for those who are usually/likely to be a basic rate taxpayer.

The most common form of small company registration is as a sole trader. For this type of business, all you need to get off the ground is a National Insurance (NI) number.

Sole traders get to keep all business profits following tax, but remain personally responsible for any loss of profit the business may incur. Because of this, you should become a sole trader if you are not sure how profitable your business will be, prefer simplicity and don’t want lots of admin. 

If you want to become a sole trader, Joanne Thorne, who is the Technical Compliance Manager at SJD Accountancy, broke down the requirements for us: “You need to keep records of your income and expenses for the period and then file a Self Assessment tax return (SATR) annually, in order to calculate your earned income and the taxes due in the year. Once the SATR has been submitted to HMRC, you just need to pay the tax liabilities at the required time.

“You will pay income tax on profit earned, regardless of whether you had drawn all of the profit earned in the tax year, as well as pay Class 2 and Class 4 NI contributions. However, if you earn around the basic rate tax threshold (£50,270 for the tax year 2021/22) or below then [being a] sole trader may still be more tax efficient for you as there is no company tax to pay.”

Why should you register as a limited company?

“[Becoming a limited company] offers more opportunities for growth tax planning,” says Thorne. “[It] can also offer more commercial credibility in the market, as agencies, for example, will not work with sole traders.

If you are a higher earner [then] there is more scope to be compliantly tax efficient, and so limited companies generally provide a better return on your monies as your profit rises over the higher rate tax bracket.”

Thorne does advise however, that you don’t make the decision too quickly, as the differences between your business structure are substantial and worth properly considering.

“The above are very general terms of course, and so discussing your plans with an accountant can help to outline the most suitable option for you based on your personal circumstances and requirements.”

For a more detailed look at what each business structure means, take a look at our article on choosing the right business structure, which discusses the merits of each.

Get business insurance

Business insurance can help protect business owners and independent professionals against everyday risks. It’s important to have so you can feel confident that you and your employees are protected from potential issues like human or software mistakes, stock or premises damage, and legal costs.

Some types of business insurance are required by law:

  • Employers’ liability insurance is required to cover the cost of compensating employees who are injured or become ill through work
  • Commercial motor insurance is required for businesses using vehicles
  • Professional indemnity insurance is required by the regulators of some companies, such as IT consultancies

Other types of business insurance are optional, such as:

  • Commercial property insurance, which covers the cost of repairing or rebuilding your business premises, or replacing your stock or equipment.
  • Liability insurance, which covers the cost of compensation claims following fault or negligence brought against you or your business
  • Cyber insurance, which covers you for losses relating to damage from cyber attacks or online scams

Trademark your name

Registering a trademark may seem like an unnecessary hassle. But trademarks are valuable assets. Once registered, you can use the ® symbol to show that your brand and logo are protected. Registered trademarks can also be sold, traded and even used as security on loans and mortgages.

If you trademark a name, you can also license it to other businesses – thus setting up a franchise – and rely on the trademark to prevent other companies from imitating your brand, services or products.

How do you trademark your name?

Before applying to trademark a name in the UK, you’ll need to first check whether existing or similar trademarks are out there using the UK Intellectual Property Office’s (UKIPO) database. You’ll also need to choose the class of goods and services that you want the trademark to cover from the World Intellectual Property Organisation list.

Once you’ve established what you want to trademark and the classes you wish to register in, you can apply to the UK Intellectual Property Office. You can register online with the UKIPO or trademark a name using Form TM3 via post.

The process should take around four months if there are no objections.

Brand your business

A strong brand is integral to the success of any business. To start brainstorming your own, think about the brands you know and what makes them stand out. Chances are that you will choose certain products based entirely on the brand that creates them – for example, whether you choose iPhone or Android is a perfect example of this principle in action.

Branding comes in a number of forms, and how you choose to brand will depend on various factors. A lot of these factors will depend on your market research, but there are several core considerations that you will need to bear in mind:

  • Who is your target audience?
  • What is your product?
  • What is your unique selling point (USP)?
  • What platforms should you use to advertise?

This is by no means an exhaustive list; for more information, take a look at our marketing category.

Depending on your business type, there are various elements of branding to consider:

  • Logo – do you need one? Where will it be used?
  • Premises – if you’re running a restaurant or opening a shop, how will your brand inform layout and decor?
  • Marketing – what kind of branded marketing material will you use? This could be anything from flyers or posters to online ads or social media.

As above, this is not an exhaustive list, and you may need more (or less) branding elements depending on your type of business.

Anneka Wallington, Founder and Creative Director at Recognised, told us: “We worked with a freelance graphic designer to create our logo and brand colours. As the founder, I had a very clear idea on the creative look and feel but didn’t have the skill set to create the branding assets. As we’ve grown, our brand has evolved and matured – and as a result we’re continually learning, getting better at communications and content creation. I think because we always had a strong brand DNA and purpose, branding has always come quite naturally. We just have to steer the ship.”

Branding is also important for social media channels. In such a competitive landscape, having attractive imagery on sites like Instagram, as well as engaging copy across platforms, is important to ensure your brand’s ‘voice’ shines through users’ LED screens.

You should look at every aspect of your brand – font, colour, design patterns – to ensure they’re all consistently used, as you don’t want customers to get confused about where your business stands within the market.

Choose one style and stick to it throughout your various campaigns, so that it’s clear to customers who you are and how you are appealing to them. If you can, try to brand every piece of visual content you produce with your logo.

Recognised social media page

Recognised social media page

One of the core themes that you will need to consider in your branding is your USP: what makes you stand out, and why people should choose you. If this isn’t present in your branding or marketing, then you will struggle to gain customers from other businesses.

Find customers

Marketing and finding customers are, largely, one and the same thing. Today, there are so many ways to approach this that providing direct advice might be tough. Instead, you should think about your market research and about the businesses you admire in your space.

Ask: How do my competitors find customers? What channels do they use? How do they get the best return on the money they put in?

It’s also important to remember that, sometimes, this will be a process of trial and error. You might have a target audience in mind, but if you’ve never marketed to them before then you may need to test a number of methods and approaches before seeing results.

Try a variety of methods, and then over time you’ll get a clearer picture of where you should continue to invest your time and money to get the best results.

sophie fleming

Sophie Fleming

Sophie Fleming, founder of the eponymous luxury bag brand, told us: “When I launched Sophie Fleming I didn’t have a lot of money to invest in marketing or outreach, so I put my time into developing press that would only cost the gifting or the loan of a backpack.

“The most effective method was through bloggers, and whilst influencers are now a huge business, I had started out during a much earlier stage which meant the placements I received never cost me anything.”

Build a website

The importance of your website will depend entirely on the form your business takes. It might be that your venture is entirely web-based, meaning that you will likely be investing a lot of time and money into creating a functioning, state-of-the-art domain.

For other firms, a website may just be a nice addition – a form of marketing to let people know that you’re around.

There are three basic approaches to building a website:

  • Build it yourself – this requires experience and knowledge that is quite specialist; if you’re not experienced in this area, then it may be best to avoid.
  • Pay someone to create one for you – this allows you to build a bespoke site, without the drawbacks of the option above. This is often an expensive option though, and the more complex the site, the more it’s likely to cost.
  • Use a website builder – platforms like Wix and Squarespace are well known now as simple and efficient tools for web creation. As these builders have progressed, they have fast become more than sufficient to suit the needs of even the most complex online business.
The Wix platform on mobile and desktop

Our number-one rated small business website builder, Wix on mobile and desktop

Sophie Fleming launched her brand while working full time, and found that a website enables a passive income approach (a low-maintenance way to ensure sales without constant full-time work).

“The ability to sell purely online is a massive advantage to anyone who wants to start a business as you don’t need a huge amount of capital to get started, and that’s exactly what it enabled me to do.

“When I built my site back in 2012 there were a few options out there for template sites. I decided to go with Squarespace as it ticked all the boxes for how I wanted my business to run, from the product and branding to ecommerce functionalities – including integration with Stripe, which made online payments fairly seamless.”

If you want more information on this section, visit our how to build a business website page.

What Does Your Business Need Help With?

Build your network

When you’re setting up a new business, it can be tempting to emulate the famous Henley line “I am the master of my fate” and try to go it alone.

But the truth is, successful new businesses often rely upon partnerships made along the way. These partnerships could be developmentally or financially beneficial to your startup, which can be the key towards finding like-minded businesses and referrals that accelerate your growth.

Networking can be performed in a wide range of different circumstances. Whether you're attending a meeting or event, there are always going to be opportunities for you to take advantage of.

While the new leads that you obtain via your marketing efforts can provide you with good business, the connections you make when networking are typically higher quality, which makes it easier to follow up with these referrals and turn them into customers and clients.

What does networking give you?

Utilising the resources of a more established company can give you access to a large knowledge centre from which to gain feedback on your ideas. Practically speaking, you might also be able to use professional equipment and tools, or gain access to other professionals within your industry who may be qualified for positions in your company.

Another reason for networking is that it can help you to find mentorship or support from established businesses. Typically, mentors will have more experience in the industry and be able to guide you through the business and avoid costly mistakes, while also providing you with the ability to gain insight and advice about your business direction.

Since networking with other professionals in your industry will help you obtain exposure to a larger audience, building a strong network should give you more leverage with investors. When the brand awareness for your startup grows, investors will invariably find your brand more attractive and appealing, which can be highly beneficial to your startup.

Jessica Alderson co-founded SoSyncd, a personality-based dating app, in 2020. Alderson’s number one piece of advice for anyone looking to start a new business was to begin building your network early.

“Whether you are fundraising, hiring new employees or looking for a mentor, having a strong network will maximize your chances of success. It can be the difference between thriving or dying as a startup. Having a strong network will also help you grow your business, because you will have contacts who are natural ambassadors for your product or service. Last but not least, having a network that you trust is essential for emotional support and helping you through the tougher times.”

Andrea Sexton is founder and CEO of Admire PR. Sexton agreed with Alderson, telling us that entrepreneurs need two things when starting a business:“One is a mentor or a business coach. None of us are born with all of the tools we need to run a business – find someone who can teach them to you.

“The other is a peer group. Surround yourself with a small number of businesspeople who inspire you and who you can bounce ideas off of. It helps if they are further along in their business journey than you are. “

Find your premises

As with other stages in the process of starting a business, the premises you choose will depend on the business you’re launching.

Location

If you’re launching an event or activity-based space or butchers, which you can’t really offer as an online service, then you’ll need to find the right location.

Think about where your customers are and how they will get to you. If they are based in a particular geographical area, or travelling mostly via train, it makes sense to locate your business where they can easily find and visit you. Similarly, where are your competitors? Do you want to be close to a cluster of competitors that attracts customers, or to have exclusivity in your area?

Another influencing factor could be your proximity to your supply chain. If you’re a fish and chip shop looking to supply fresh scampi to your customers each morning, it makes sense to base yourself near to the coast. Do you want to be close to particular suppliers? Could this give you flexibility on stock control or reduce your transport costs?

Other actions to take:

  • Work out how much space each person needs
  • Think about internal layout
  • Think about access limitations – you may need to provide access for employees, customers and deliveries outside working hours.
  • List the services you need, such as power, phone lines, good broadband, plumbing and drainage.
  • Check if expansion or layout changes are possible
  • Ask yourself if the space has enough natural light

License, lease or buy?

When you occupy premises, there are three kinds of property contract you can sign.

1. Licensing gives you maximum flexibility, but minimum security. It typically suits smaller businesses and startups as it covers a short period of time – usually a few months.

2. Leasing gives you less flexibility, but security of tenure for the term of the lease, which is generally between three and 25 years. You’ll also be responsible for internal maintenance of the property.

3. Buying a property means you’ll own the freehold. However, few businesses buy premises unless they have large amounts of spare cash and are looking for a long-term investment.

You also need to take into account how the decision to license, lease or buy your premises affects your pricing. The more expensive your costs, the more you’ll need to charge for your product or service to ensure you’re in profit.

Bear in mind that it’s not always vital to have a premises for every business, particularly when you’re just starting out. Many entrepreneurs start their businesses from home, in a spare bedroom or in the kitchen to save money before moving elsewhere.

Anneka Wallington told us that Recognised quickly outgrew her living room. Wallington was tasked with finding new premises that didn’t compromise the business’s cash flow.

“We have always tried to find sustainable and affordable premises solutions. For example, in our first year we worked out of the premises hosted by the Business Accelerator we were a part of. Today we have a central London HQ for operations and the majority of our team use co-working spaces, which further helps us minimise our overheads. In terms of retail premises, we’ve chosen a wholesale model and continue to keep overheads low by hosting pop-up shops as opposed to hiring permanent space.”

Finding a premises

It can be difficult to know where to start when shopping around for new office space. But there are plenty of sources that are designed to help.

As well as speaking to private landlords and touring locations independently, you can also make use of local council websites, which tend to have a list of nearby business parks and knowledge districts.

Similarly, you can also speak to universities and other public institutions that are designed to foster innovation.

These locations often give startups other benefits, such as access to a network of fellow innovative companies.

Garry Moore is CEO of Velocity, a commercial washroom product manufacturer. Moore told us about successfully sourcing business premises through university incubators, such as the University of East London’s Knowledge Dock, and the University of Essex’s Innovation Centre Knowledge Gateway.

“In addition to offering easy-in, easy-out terms that allow you to grow your business, they are marvellous modern working environments with business specialists on site who are able to facilitate access to university resources, and ICKG are one of a national cluster of Oxford Innovation spin-outs, which offer excellent networking opportunities and specialist help when you need it.”

Flexible coworking space

If you reach a point where you have a team and require space, coworking spaces and managed offices can be a good option, providing the added benefit of networking potential with the companies – big and small – that you might be sharing the space with.

Learn more about the benefits of flexible work spaces with our handy guide to coworking in 2022.

Albert Larter, co-founder of Wakuda, told us: “[We] launched during the pandemic, so there were no plans for us to find a premises. In the current climate, working from the office has become outdated. So for a startup it’s important to decide whether or not forking out the cost of an office space is worth it.

“I think having a premises is important if you have quite a large team. Co-working spaces have grown to be very popular now and could be handy for introducing flexible working.”

Source equipment

It could be as simple as a laptop or a mobile phone, but if you don’t have the right equipment then you’ll be starting your new business at a disadvantage.

Either market research or your own experiences can tell you what equipment you’ll need.

For example, if you’re a market stall owner that sells flower bouquets, you’ll need a card machine like SumUp to make sales. But if you’re looking to be a florist ecommerce store, you’ll instead want an online store builder like Shopify to help you set up your business.

Basic equipment requirements include:

Of course, you need to be savvy and stay on budget, so take a look around and do your research to make sure that you’re getting the most suitable products at the best prices.

Choose your vendors or source your product

Not all businesses will need vendors. If you are providing services or manufacturing your own product, then this step may not be necessary.

Choosing a vendor brings considerations. What did you find in your market research? What is your business’s USP? These questions, and others, will dictate which vendors you work with and the products you get from them.

To make it simple, when finding a new supplier, try to think about four key aspects:

1. Supplier cost – how much will they cost you to work with? Likely, you’ll have a figure in mind as you’ll know which products you’re looking for, and how much you’re willing to pay. But prices between suppliers can still vary, so it’s important to look for the best deal.

2. Quality – you don’t need to have the finest quality materials to run a business. But the last thing you want to do is incorrectly market your products as high-end, as this could affect customer loyalty and branding.

3. Reliability – remember: when choosing a new supplier, you’re entering into a long-term relationship with them. It’s wise to ask for references from other businesses who have worked with them in the past.

4. Location – as a small business, you’ll likely want to find a local supplier that can show expertise in your area.

Another aspect to consider when finding a supplier is their culture. Do your research, find out how they like to work and what they value. From this, you should get a good idea of whether or not the relationship will work.

As founder of an ethically-minded company, Anneka Wallington saw sourcing a vendor as a particularly important task. “We researched extensively to find the key players and sought advice from advisors already in the industry. However, the most helpful tactic we found was visiting suppliers in person. This way you can build proper relationships and also see the workshops and factories for yourself, which is very important with regards to ethical sourcing.”

Reaching out to vendors can be as simple as sending a quick message via an online channel. But if they’re a sought-after supplier, you might need to design a business pitch to get them on side.

Albert Larter, co-founder of Wakuda, has over 300 businesses selling on the platform. “We originally were sourcing vendors by joining different social media communities and reaching out to them via message. As we have grown our brand awareness, we’ve had a lot more vendors joining us organically via word of mouth.”

Wakuda

Wakuda founders Nathaniel Wade and Albert Larter

Build your team

Building your team is another part of starting a business that may not be relevant to everyone; it also may be a step that needs to happen earlier in some industries.

For example, if your business is centred around manufacturing or software development, and you don’t have these skills yourself, then you may have built a team very early on to help you deliver your service from the get-go.

When you do get round to hiring, it is a critically important step to get right. Make sure you’re investing in the right people to bring skills that your business needs, and fit with your business culture. On paper, you might find the most well qualified candidate you could ask for. But if you don’t think they’ll mesh well with you or any business partners, then they may not be the right choice.

Anneka Wallington told us that businesses should approach recruitment slowly, and take the time to find the best candidate for the role. “The best advice we’ve been given in this area is ‘be slow to hire, be quick to fire’. In the early stage of start-ups, finding people who fit in with your team culture and values is crucial and more valuable than the most talented person on paper. I look for people who have great character, resilience, initiative, capacity and who can also be flexible and learn new things quickly.

Building a team can be a challenge, and it might not ever be perfect. One of the most important parts though, is to know in advance what you want.

Think of your business like a football team: what positions are filled already, and which positions need to be filled? What characteristics are going to be most suitable for those roles, and how can you find candidates that fit all the boxes?

Jonathan Williams founded self-service PR platform Briefly in 2020. Like Wallington, Williams advises new businesses to approach recruitment carefully in the early stages. 

“Every person you hire is an immediate drain on cash so make sure that you really need every team member, that they are going to deliver full value and are committed. It can take a while to find a good person, so if they leave soon after and you have to start again it is going to be painful.”

In the early stages, you may want to use a recruitment consultant to help fill roles. This can be expensive, but you are paying a premium for experience and connections which may be difficult to replicate.

Of course, if you have experience in people management or hiring already, then you may be more than comfortable completing the entire hiring process independently.

HR software

Finding new talent is a big priority when it comes to building up your team – but you mustn't neglect the importance of supporting staff members once they’ve been hired.

Managers need to look after their employees and offer the best perks and incentives to ensure you are keeping your workforce happy and retaining, as well as sourcing, the best talent. But how do you do this as a small business owner? Short on resources, and stretched for time, how do you ensure you’re managing your people properly?

Enter HR software. This handy business tool has replaced the need to hire a HR manager, dramatically improving efficiency in areas like recruitment, payroll and employee profiles, and removing pressures on admin.

Citrus HR dashboard

Citrus HR dashboard

Payrolls, CVs, leave requests, even birthdays – all of this important information is stored in secure digital files at your fingertips. You also don’t need to worry about being logged into your company network, making HR software ideal if you work from multiple locations or have a remote team.

HR software can even lend a hand in developing your employees. You can use it to log performance reviews, training courses, objectives and qualifications to help improve employee engagement and retention.

Our top HR software choices are:

  • CitrusHR
  • Gusto
  • Deputy
  • Zoho People
  • JazzHR

It’s easy to see the benefits to HR software, but how do you know which is the best system for you?

We’ve designed an online cost comparison tool where you can compare free provider quotes by answering a few simple questions, and find the best HR software for your startup.

Apprenticeships and work placements

Another way to ensure you find the right team is to take on work experience candidates or apprentices.

Hiring an apprentice is a productive and effective way to grow talent and develop a motivated, skilled and qualified workforce. You can also adapt their training according to the needs of your business, so you’re essentially investing in the business’s future, rather than the employee’s.

Training apprentices is known to be more cost effective than hiring already skilled staff, as it tends to require lower overall training and recruitment costs.

Vicky Etherington is founder of The Website Mentor, a coaching service which helps small businesses to build their own website. Etherington told us: “My main challenge has been to increase capacity when demand for my web services increases. In order to do this, I have become increasingly reliant on apprenticeships. I have worked with 14 apprentices over the past couple of years, and am taking on another 2 apprentices in January 2022.”

What’s next?

The next steps are difficult to define. For most businesses, it’s obvious: grow!

At this point, you’ll know your business better than anyone, and you’ll be best placed to choose what is going to be on the horizon. It is always good to set objectives. Ask yourself: What do you want to achieve in the next five years, and how will you know that you’re on the right track? What milestones should you be aiming for?

But the most important part of setting up a successful company is to get stuck in as soon as you’re ready. You will likely make mistakes as a new business owner and that’s okay – there is only so long you can prepare until you need to take that first step into the business landscape.

Mark Haslam, agency founder and managing director of PR agency Loud Mouth Media, told us that taking action was the real key to starting a business: “Just do it. If you’re sensible, scale appropriately, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket, it will be worth it. If you fail, get back up on that horse. It’s all part of the journey!”

The Startups Team

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