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How to build a successful start-up

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Last week, we broke the news that Shortlist Media (Stylist’s parent company) has been nominated in the Santander Small to Medium sized Business of the Year category at the National Business Awards.

The awards aren’t till 8 November but if you can’t wait till then, we grabbed half and hour with one of the busiest ladies in business, NBA judge Julie Meyer (founder of Ariadne Capital and seasoned entrepreneur), who will be one of the people deciding our fate on the night.

If you’re thinking of starting a business or have already taken the plunge but want to know how to grow your enterprise into a medium sized (possibly award nominated…) venture, read on for Julie Meyer’s top business tips - and then download our handy Cheat Sheet version of them to keep for reference using the attachment at the bottom of the page.

1. Don’t focus on investment: You need to think about building a business which is worth investing in rather than expecting thousands of pounds straight off. Despite what you see on TV, most people don’t instantly get £200k investment. You can research and even start a business with next-to-no money at all by doing market research yourself, working your network of contacts for free publicity and giving your ideas oxygen in the marketplace by testing it on your corporate friends (and getting testimonials from them for your website).

2. Entrepreneurialism is a state of mind: With your own business you have to forget the salary mentality – no one will pay you for an idea or put your wages in your account at the end of the month. Find people who are willing to work for equity rather than salaries, and be prepared to wait before getting your big break. I have one client who said it took him three years, 129 meetings and 69 nights away from his wife to get his first client. Another got their only big sale on the 95th meeting. That’s why the first two years of a business are the hardest.

3. Make yourself an instant expert: You are as crucial a part of your business brand as the idea itself so you need to turn yourself into an expert on your chosen industry. Speak at relevant events, write a business blog or even a book, and give advice to related groups on LinkedIn. Become the hub of your network and make sure your name comes up first when someone googles your industry. It’s a chance to PR your business but also shows credibility when you ask people to invest. Business comment pieces in newspapers are important in getting your name out there so pitch yourself as much as your business.

4. Put your financial house in order: You can’t build a house on shaky foundations and neither can you start, or build, a stable business if your home finances are unstable. Trust me, when you start a business you’ll end up putting in more of your own money than you ever thought you would, so don’t start in debt. Also, you will have to learn how to stave off the ‘employment’ mentality which says that someone else will foot the bill.

5. Create a company culture: All the small to medium enterprises (SMEs) I’ve come across (including ShortList Media) have grown and succeeded because they have managed to develop a strong company culture. They’ve created an identity which is uniquely theirs and with which all the employees associate. Think of your company culture in terms of a football team: your business should have a common cause, a common goal and should know its competition. The culture you create – whether it’s croissants on a Friday morning or drinks at the same pub every Friday – has a direct effect on the marketplace.

6. Express your brand: Brand is just another word for reputation and refers to anything you put into the market – from advertising to a website, to how you relate to clients. SMEs tend to have incredibly strong brand identities. For example, when I was naming my company Ariadne, I chose the name because it refers to the story of a Greek princess who helps people through trials. Plus it’s a female brand identity. Even my business name works that little bit harder to explain and promote my brand (we specialise in technology investment and advice for media entrepreneurs). It’s also important that your staff understand the business’s mission statement and express this at every opportunity.

7. Be the face of your business: The bigger your business gets, the more important it is to give it a human and public face so clients or prospective investors know what it will be like doing business with you. An entrepreneur is switched on to see every opportunity as a marketing chance: from a trip to the supermarket to a networking event or drinks in the pub. Pitch both yourself and your business with energy.

Download Julie's advice to save and print off in Cheat Sheet form below.

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