1. Decide on your business
Find the right business for you and a sector you feel comfortable operating in. When I first set up the business I was selling screen protectors for mobile phones. I had a touch screen mobile phone for which I needed a screen protector, and tried to find one on eBay. The cheapest one I could find was on sale for £12. Rather than paying the £12 I decided to see if I could find a cheaper supplier and managed to find a company in China selling them for about 30p. We sold the products on eBay for £2.99, undercutting our closest supplier massively, and they sold like crazy. The college library became a small factory where friends helped to pack the screen protectors and prepare them for posting.
From there on I was introduced to multiple suppliers who offered a range of products. We sold everything from golf trolleys, to showers and plasma TV brackets.
Eventually, I decided to settle on building a brand around a single product, and I picked hot tubs! Hot tubs seemed a little more interesting than the other products we were selling and we didn’t need to hold as much stock – all we needed was three sizes – small, medium and large. For me, the decision to sell hot tubs wasn’t a light bulb moment, but came to me over time.
2. Business plan
A business plan is important to help you source the funding you need and as an internal tool to keep the business on track. The writing of it helps you think about where you’re going and how you want the business to look in the future. It gives you something to work towards. Financially, getting your projections down on paper will help you decide if they really are realistic – if not, then it’s back to the drawing board.
Securing funding is hard, particularly now when the banks are still reluctant to loan. I set up my business without any funding simply by using the profits from selling one container to provide the capital for the next. It did cause me some problems as I had to wait for a container to fill up before I could afford to bring it over, which meant the first person to order was waiting a lot longer than the last for their delivery. I think start-ups have to be realistic – you may have to plough your savings into a new idea and you have to be prepared for the early years to be tough financially.
4. Your brand
Think about how you represent yourself to your potential customer and investors, particularly important if you’re an online business like us. Your website is your shop window so it has to be right. Make sure your site is functional and has everything you need to appeal to customers. Make good use of social media to engage with your audience – just remember you’re using social media as the company, not yourself so do watch what you put out there!
5. Get a mentor
Whether the mentor is someone in your family, a friend or a local business person you trust and look up to, it’s good to have someone to talk to. You can learn from their experiences and seek their advice if something is concerning you. Two heads are definitely better than one when there’s a problem to be solved.
6. Locating your business
Think about the facilities you need, whether you need to be close to your customers or good transport links and whether the geographical base makes any difference to how you operate. As an online business, I needed to base us somewhere central so my home town of Nottingham was an obvious choice. We’re close to major motorways and in the middle of the country.
7. Hiring employees
Hire when the time is right, not when you feel pressurised to do so. This was one of the early lessons I learnt. I started hiring two years after I set up the business to enable me to step away from the daily activities of the business and concentrate more on expansion. However, at the time I was an inexperienced manager and I recruited the wrong people which caused me issues I hadn’t anticipated.
8. Learn from your mistakes
Expect to make mistakes, just make sure you learn from them. That could be anything from hiring the wrong people to selecting the wrong supplier to poor quality distribution partners.
9. How to handle competition
When I set up the business, our USP was low prices. However, the problem with being the cheapest is there is always someone who’s prepared to undercut. It was then about finding a new USP and reinventing the business. We now have a far greater focus on the service we offer customers. Rather than having sales people, we have account managers who build a relationship with the customer through the life of their order.
10. Growing your business
Always have an eye on the future and where you want to take your business and make sure you have the right people in place for any growth to happen smoothly.
Daniel Thomas is director of DanzSpas.