First 100 days: The start-up checklist every new business needs
Starting a business? Use this cheat sheet with tips from fast-growing UK start-ups to ensure your new venture has the best chances of success…
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a start-up cheat sheet for budding business owners? Well, now there is!
With the help of some of the country’s top start-up businesses, we’ve compiled an essential checklist of the key tasks and activities that need to be considered in the first 100 days of starting any business.
As most people aren’t familiar with the steps to start a business, this checklist covers everything you need to know pre-launch and post-launch; from market research to domain names and business banking. If you’ve got a business idea, then this checklist will help ensure your start-up hits the ground running…
Don’t quit the day job until you have to
There are a number of benefits to starting a business part-time while working. Retaining a guaranteed income reduces the usual start-up risk and means you won’t necessarily have to secure start-up capital straight away. What’s more, by being involved in two jobs at the same time you’ll know for sure whether you’re truly committed to your business idea. Read our guides on how to start a part-time business here.
Talk to business owners and peers that you know and trust
Qudini CEO and co-founder Imogen Wethered’s cores advice is to talk about your idea in the early stages. Wethered: “A lot of people hide things due to fear of having people condemn or steal it, [but] you need to get real, honest feedback, and long term execution matters most.” Equally, as carwow co-founder James Hind explains “you don’t have to take the advice of others but other people who have been where you are now may have some interesting insights. It’s better to learn from their mistakes than to have to make your own!”
Consider a co-founder
On Startups, we’ve profiled a number of successful sole founder and co-founder businesses so there’s no one “right” path but Laundrapp co-founder Ed Relf advocates getting a co-founder on board. Don’t be reluctant to get others involved and give up a stake in the company, he says. 100% of a business worth nothing is nothing. Three is a magic number and a great basis for a founding team as it allows for a healthy mix of skill sets and – for the more ambitious start-up – de-risks the investment for would-be future backers who are often put off by the perceived high risk of solo founders. Onfido COO Eamon Jubbawy also believes that three “is the magic number” for co-founders: “Businesses require creativity, planning and implementation; having someone who comes up with the ideas, someone who plans them out and someone who makes them happen allows each of us to focus on one of those things.”
Join an online business community
As well as talking to people you know and trust, joining an online business community such as Bizcrowd, which has around 35,000 members or the Startups forum will open the door to connecting with others who have faced similar quandaries. Pose questions or ask for feedback on your plans to get a sense of whether you’re on the right track.
Define your customer profile
You need to know who you’ll be selling to so draw up a customer profile by considering attributes such as age, gender, income, relationship status, hobbies, car ownership, housing type, and more.
Research the market
Rebel Kitchen founder Tamara Arbib says it’s integral that you “do your homework, sense check your idea, research the market place and make sure you get impartial advice.” Snaptrip head of marketing Sean Thompson encourages start-up entrepreneurs to “list all the assumptions you make and don’t risk going forward without validating them.” For detailed advice and guides on market research, click here.
Assess the competition
Try out potential rivals as a customer to gauge their costs, what they do and the service they offer, and use this background research to find out whether your idea already exists. Qudini’s Wethered says this process can be scary as you don’t want to find you can’t do your “great idea” but says “it's better to do it now than find this out later”. At the same time, Wethered says not to let competitors deter you: “Remember that if you thought about an idea, something in the atmosphere/contemporary times influenced this so there's always someone else who thought of doing it too. The trick is to get out there and execute ASAP.”
Draw up a brief business plan
PROPERCORN co-founder Cassandra Stavrou: “It sounds obvious but draw up a business plan which considers what a successful year would look like. It will constantly evolve but having goals to measure yourself against will keep you in check.”
Choose a business name
You’ll need to think carefully about this from legal and marketing purposes. Check the Companies House web service to find out whether your business name is already taken and then check domain name providers to find out if there is a domain available which fits with your company name. You’ll want your name to match your brand identity but Qudini’s Wethered says you shouldn’t spend too long thinking about a name, rather “start with one and you can change it later”. Make sure you read our guide on how to choose a business name.
Register a website (or two)
Once you’ve decided upon your business name, you should register your web address (also known as a domain name). Given that you might want to change your company name, you may want to look at purchasing more than one web address to give you more flexibility down the line.
Make a list of suppliers and distribution partners
One of the most fundamental challenges to get your business idea off the ground, particularly if you’re a product business, will be sourcing suppliers and distributors. Google is a great starting point for sourcing local or European suppliers, while websites such as Alibaba.com list a range of international manufacturers and wholesalers. It’s also worth looking at stockists of competitor businesses. Check out our ‘choosing suppliers’ channel for detailed advice.
Make something you can show people – an MVP
Such as a service outline or product prototype. In the words of Powered Now co-founder Ben Dyer: “You can't create a successful start-up without having a product that people want.” Laundrapp co-founder Relf says: “Launching a minimum viable product (MVP) as quickly as possible is the only goal of an early stage start-up. You’re in a fight for survival, you’ve jumped off the cliff and you’re scrambling to build a parachute on the way down, if you’re not embarrassed by your MVP then you’ve already launched too late!”
Find your first customers
RefME founder Tom Hatton asserts that you should “choose your early adopters and focus on them.” Snaptrip’s Thompson agrees: “Let your customers know you're starting out and invite their feedback. Honesty goes a long way.” Thompson also recommends building an email list to track your progress.“Make it easy for [customers] to sign up and keep communicating with them here.” Total Freelance shares advice on attracting email sign-ups here. It may also be worth creating an Instapage, an online landing page for your business.
Look for small business grants and/or consider raising investment
As referenced in our first point, you might not need – or want – to raise finance as you may have a salaried income or savings to tide you over. However, if you’re looking to grow quickly then often the easiest way to do this is through small businesses grants and/or external finance such as equity investment and crowdfunding. VentureFounders advises you to “figure out your finances, consider how much money you think you’ll need and double it”. If you do secure investors then Flubit co-founder Bertie Stephens says you should consider your investors as your “number one customer”. Stephens elaborates: “If something goes wrong […] these are the guys and girls who will be deciding if they’ll pump more cash into your business. Update them constantly, talk openly to them, show them the vision.” For guides on where to find small business grants click here and for advice on other finance options, click here.
Register your business with Companies House
If you’re forming a limited company then this can be formed directly with Companies House and you will need to submit these documents. There are a number of reliable Company Formation Agencies such as Made Simple that can help you with this process.
Get a logo
You’ll need to create a logo that properly represents your business and there a number of logo design options available to new business owners. For a full guide on commissioning a logo, or for tips on creating a DIY business logo, click here.
Build a website
Whether you plan to sell your product or service online or offline, in today’s world it’s more important than ever that you have a digital presence – starting with a website. There are a number of affordable website builders that you can use or, depending on your budget, you could hire a developer to create a bespoke site. Comprehensive guides on building a website can be found here.
Bikmo founder David George believes it’s important to get your “social real estate” in order earlier rather than later. “Once you choose your brand, get your social handles and say hello to the world. Even if you're not going to start communicating now, you will be soon and it's a chance for people to find you.” For guides on social media for business, click here.
Get a business bank account
You’ll need to set up a business bank account to deposit payments, pay suppliers and staff, and complete all of the other financial transactions involved in the everyday running of a business. Banks such as RBS offer good deals for small businesses.
Make your first hire(s) if you can afford to
Many entrepreneurs launch a start-up with the mindset that they can do everything themselves – from sales to marketing to HR – but this simply isn’t the case. Rebel Kitchen’s Tamara Arbib, Currency Cloud CEO Michael Laven, RefME’s Hatton, and SMARTech Energy managing director Stuart Pearce have all made a case for hiring in the first 100 days:
- Arbib: “Recruitment is key; hire like-minded people that share your passion and drive and make sure their skill set complements yours.”
- Hatton: “Build a team with uniquely different skills and knowledge which will […] accelerate growth. Remember that new businesses are […] full of highs and lows, successes and pitfalls, so having a team that can persevere is very important in the first 100 days.”
- Laven: “Great people make a great company. And for a business that is just getting off the ground with little money, strategy or even product in place, having the right people on the ground floor is even more essential. When hiring for a new company, it’s more important to find someone who actually learned from their last job than someone with a stellar résumé.”
- Pearce: “By developing a strong team you can build your new business far faster than by doing it all on your own – learn to delegate.”
For an introduction to hiring and taking on staff, click here.
Get an accountant or purchase accountancy software
carwow’s Hind says that for any start-up “a good accountant is worth their weight in gold”. Hind explains: “It’s important to set off on the right foot, and ensuring you have a good accountant will help to overcome any initial hurdles and stop you making costly and difficult mistakes.” If you’re unable to afford an accountant then there are a range of reliable and affordable small business accountancy services on the market. Powered Now’s Dyer says that “keeping financial records, watching VAT requirements and complying with PAYE rules are musts, and although they shouldn't dominate things, time must be allowed to lay the foundations”. Get up to speed on small business bookkeeping and cashflow here.
Test, measure and iterate your business concept
As Housekeep founder Avin Rabheru explains, in the first 100 days you should “do things that don't scale”. Rabheru continues: “Don't worry about problems that have solutions at scale, worry about problems you have right now. We cleaned dozens of houses before we had a website or could even take payment for the cleans!” In essence, prove the concept.
Pobble founder Jon Smith: “Become a storyteller and practice your pitch at every opportunity, whether this is to investors, future team members, founders, friends, family and even partners! All will need to be convinced of what you are saying without actual proof!”
Lastly, make sure you can walk before you run!
RefME’s Hatton says you need to focus on being flexible in the first 100 days while carwow’s Hind advises you to “set your [business] up in a logical order and leave room for growth as you become more successful”. Rebel Kitchen founder Arbib has some final words of wisdom: “Know that you can always pivot or alter plans if your original decision turned out not to be the best or the landscape changes (it often does!), so don’t get too attached to a specific idea or concept. If something doesn’t work you have to let it go and change your strategy.”