All posts tagged Startups

  • Starting your first business is like learning a new language

    Starting your first business is like learning a new language. You progress quickly and only then do you realise you know very little. But that doesn’t mean you should stop learning, stop progressing, because when you get to a point when you can converse with clients and business partners, nothing feels better.

    Attending holiday-language lessons gets you only so far, but it’s not until you get into a tricky situation do you realise you don’t have any of the required vocabulary to converse properly. You have a choice at this point: ask someone around you who can translate for you or lose out on what you really want to say.

    Running a business is very similar. You progress so quickly, registering your company, getting your first client, a whole world of possibilities seem open to you. Then, suddenly, you are faced with accounting, bureaucracy and legal issues and you hit a brick wall. If you don’t ask for help, you’re likely to get it wrong.

    When I first started my business, I was shy to ask for help. I wanted to learn and understand everything for myself to maintain ultimate control. After all, a business is like your baby, you want to help it grow, nurture it, but you always want to protect it too. I quickly realised that in order to protect my company, I sometimes needed to ask for help.

    Making mistakes can sometimes cost you dearly, but you will always learn from them. Surround yourself with people who know what they’re talking about and never be afraid of embarrassing yourself. (S)he who dares, wins.

    My top tips for learning to run your business fluently

    – Let people (including clients) know you are just a learner. This might sound totally against everything you think you should do, but believe it or not I got my first client by saying, “Hey, never done this before. New company, want to give us a go?” and landed a contract 15 times the capital I started the company with…

    – Find a mentor. Search Google for local mentor groups. Your local authority will probably have a few links too. Otherwise search further afield via the internet. Even a Skype or Email pen-friend is better than nothing. Someone you can bounce ideas off and someone who has done it before.

     Join a business community. There are startup communities popping up everywhere. I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from chatting to a stranger over a beer in a local pub. I’ve pivoted entire sections of my business just from a single conversation that opened my eyes.

    Look for free workshops. HMRC run them. Your bank will offer them too. Your local authority may also run events. They’ll help you in the beginning with tax returns and legal advice. You’ll quickly outgrow them, but they make a great starting point.

    – Choose the right tools. No matter your business, some tools just make work so much easier. Try Trello for project management or reminder lists and Evernote or Google Drive for storing and scanning important documents. It really depends on your business, but there’s lots out there that can make your life a whole lot easier.

    – Cheat. Some tools are just too good to be true. My favourite cheat is business accounting software FreeAgent, which makes all your invoicing and accounting a right doddle. Highly recommended.

    – Practice makes perfect. Just like learning a real language, the more opportunity you get to practice, the better you will be. Also just like learning a language, make mistakes and you’ll never make them again. It’s absolutely fine to get things wrong once in a while and, so long as you’re honest, most, including the tax man, will forgive you.

    In bocca al lupo!

  • Pre-requisites to starting your own business

    A few of you will remember the government’s latest initiative to get the people of the UK starting their own businesses. The so called “Startup Britain Bus” has been touring the UK offering advice to potential new business owners. At least that’s what it says on the tin.

    Last week I drove into my hometown, Cardiff, where the bus was stationed for an afternoon. There will be people who have put a lot of work in behind the scenes so I don’t want to be too harsh in my critique, but it was, at least in my own opinion, an unmitigated disaster.

    I could rant here about how huge-corporation graduates from Microsoft, Intuit and Paypal were trying to sell their own products, but I think I’m going to leave things be. Instead I’m going to say what advice I would have liked to see, having already started up myself.

    I have an innate dislike of business speak. Ironic really considering I studied business at university, am an Economist reader and run a small business myself. I want to give you my three pre-requisites to starting a business, cutting out all the crap and confusion that normally accompanies these kind of things. Take from it what you like, but I believe they will set you on your path to achieving what you deep down have always wanted to do: start your own company.

    My three pre-requisites to starting your own business:

    1. Passion. You have to be passionate about your business idea. You are going to spend every waking moment for at least the next 12 months thinking about it. Don’t choose an idea because you think it’ll make you lots of money, choose an idea because you want to change the norm and do something new. Your main idea can be something old-hat, but make sure you are going into it with a little bit of you attached.

    2. Find out who you’re up against. When I wrote my original business plan I (stupidly) thought that Applingua was a never-done-before business. A day into my plan, I discovered I was so very wrong. Don’t ever assume anything. Spend at least a little time googling who you’re up against. Phone a few potential customers and ask whether they’d be interested in your product or service. Fortunately for me, my potential market is big enough for several competitors.

    3. Get a support network. Don’t attempt to start your own business without a support network. This can be friends, family, a bank or an investor. Starting your own company will take a lot out of you and you will need people to vent to sometimes (friends, family), but also share in the good times too (friends, family, investors). You will want people to talk things through with, to give you an outsider’s view of what you are doing. Never ever be arrogant, always ask for people’s advice.

    Your support network will unfortunately also have to include some saved money. I would recommend at least 3 months rent plus spending cash. I had to move back home to my parents house in order to start Applingua. Living here is rent-free and I’m now thinking of moving out. I am very grateful for my parents’ support.