We recently held our first Stylist Network event to inspire budding entrepreneurs. Here are the 10 best tips and tricks shared on the night...
Business experts including Jo Behari, who started tradeswoman company Home Jane from her kitchen table, Calypso Rose, director of bag company, ClippyKit, and fitness queen Janey Holliday, who runs the popular Fit For A Princess exercise brand, shared their success stories with the crowd at a Stylist Network event to help inspire and motivate budding entrepreneurs. We also gleaned expertise from HSBC and Capital Enterprise.
Here are the night's top tips.
1. WRITE A BUSINES PLAN IF YOU WANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY
A business plan is key to gaining funding from banks and investors. “Don’t worry about the business plan being 100% right,” says Cheryl Payne, regional head of business planning at HSBC. “It will be out of date if you do. It just needs to give us an understanding of what you want to do.”
Remember to cover the background of the business, why you think there’s a market, what the competition is and how you will produce or sell the product. And remember to include your weaknesses. “There will always be weaknesses so don’t hide from them, we want to see that you have ideas on how to deal with them,” says Payne.
2. THE MONEY IS THERE, YOU JUST NEED TO KNOW WHERE TO LOOK
Get on the phone to Business Link who can point out all the best schemes, grants and loans. There is a scheme called Backing Young Britain, where the government will pay for someone to work with you for six months.
3. STICK TO YOUR VISION
Pin down your vision for your business, as having a long-term focus is crucial. Holliday recommends making a vision board of what you want to achieve in the future.
4. GET A BUSINESS MENTOR
When you are passionate about what you do it’s easy to forget that you need to make money. The answer? Business mentoring. “My mentor taught me something called ‘dollar versus effort,’” says Holliday. “Anything that I did, I had to weigh up the effort against the money I would make. I quickly realised that so many things I was doing didn’t make cash but required effort. He helped me flip that around.” Try Natwestmentor.co.uk for useful mentoring on the financial side, Nesta for business in sciences, technology or the arts or Stylist’s business mentor, Kerrie Dorman.
5. SWAP SKILLS WITH FRIENDS
Instead of risking heavy debts, ask talented friends or contacts to help instead. “I know an amazing web designer and she built me a website for nothing,” says a savvy Stylist reader. “It would have cost me £10,000 if I had gone to someone I didn’t know". Behari also recommends skill swapping. “Everyone wants to save money. So offer your skills in exchange for ones you don’t have.”
6. READ UP
“Books are a fundamental resource,” says Dorman. “Everyone needs continuous referral, to have something when the internet inevitably goes down!” Try BOOM! by Emma Wimhurst (£14.99, Amazon). Easy to follow, it covers the real necessities for starting and building a successful business.
Building up a loyal network of useful business contacts is crucial. The more people you can share your business message with, the more people who can spread it. They’re also great for offering experienced advice when you get stuck.
To build up your network, Dorman suggests signing up to as many relevant events as possible. “Take along 10 business cards and make sure you have swapped all of them for someone else’s by the end of the night. It works to have a goal.”
8. PICK YOUR PEOPLE CAREFULLY
The people you work with have the power to make or break your business. “My advice is to stick with your gut instinct,” says Holliday. And don’t be scared of firing people who aren’t working out (although you need to follow HR laws). “This is your business and you are the boss.”
9. BUILD A BRAND
The most important thing to decide, and quickly, is what sets you apart from other businesses. In other words, you need a USP. “Starbucks didn’t create coffee, they just saw it and sold it better,” says Holliday. “Branding is about being able to take a cup of coffee in a plastic cup for 60p and sell it in a different cup for £2.80.”
Start thinking about a logo immediately. Holliday says 99designs.com is your business start-up’s best friend. “It costs about £17 to register. Just type in your business name and concept and pitch to freelance designers all around the world, and you only pay about £135 for the final logo.”
10. PROMOTE YOUR BUSINESS
However great your business, if nobody knows about it you won’t make a penny. So get savvy about PR, pronto. Behari suggests avoiding expensive PR companies at the start and instead doing your own PR. “Create a media tool kit with photographs of you, a biography and a history of your business. Then find an angle for why your business or product is useful right now and get on the phone to journalists. They want ideas as long as you can sell it to them,” she says.