Not every student who attends a business college in Oxford dreams of starting up their own company, but it’s probably fair enough to assume that quite a few do. So then, where to start?
Whether you’re aiming to design the next billion-user app or planning to sell homemade soup in a once-a-month farmers’ market, there are some golden rules that every budding entrepreneur should keep firmly in mind.
1. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”
Actually, it’s not as stupid a question as it sounds. After all, your ultimate motivation will have a big influence on the sort of business you start. If making as much as money as possible is your aim, you need to think of a business you can scale up (and up), but if you just want an outlet for those weird earrings you like making out of Coke cans, you won’t need to consider that at all. Focusing on the end goal before you’ve even started may sound back-to-front, but it’s surprisingly sensible advice
2. Have a brilliant idea
Easier said than done, obviously, but no business can be successful if it’s not offering something different. That might be something new, something not new but cheaper than the competition, or even something not exactly new but kind of underexploited in the local area… The possibilities are endless, but there’s a reason why the acronym USP – Unique Selling Point – is referred to in literally every business textbook ever written. You can’t make money without one.
3. Make a business plan
This might be a few figures jotted down in biro on the back of an envelope or a multi-page colour-coded spreadsheet – at this stage, the format isn’t so important as the thinking it all through. You should have some idea of how much income you’re expecting to generate and what your costs will be. Even if you’re wildly out, knowing where you got it wrong will help you in the future.
4. Get finance
This could mean asking a friendly venture capitalist for a couple of mil, putting a proposal up on Kickstarter or applying to the government for a start-up loan – however you get it, you will need some cash to get the ball rolling. Just never lose sight of the fact that this is money you’re aiming to get back.
5. Get the paperwork right
It’s never too early to start thinking about tax, insurance, licences and all that. The UK government’s web page on how to Set Up A Business is a good place to start, or consider Googling around to find a small business adviser. You don’t want to be sued before you’ve even got going.
6. Start small
The McDonald brothers began with a hot-dog stand, Zara was once a single clothes shop, Facebook was originally available only to Harvard students, and so on. Developing your business skills in a small-scale, low-key environment means that your mistakes – and believe us, you will make them – won’t necessarily break the bank. There’ll be time for sensible expansion in the future.
7. Don’t forget about marketing
Or to put it another way, how are you going to reach potential customers? Assuming you’ve followed tip 6, this won’t immediately involve a gazillion-dollar cinema ad starring Jennifer Lawrence, but handing out flyers on a street corner basically serves the same purpose. As does an Etsy page, a Twitter feed, an ad in Shoelace Monthly magazine, etc. Unless your very first customer does your marketing for you, you’re going to have to think of a way to let the world know you’re here.
8. Carpe diem
Your friends says it’s a stupid idea, your family have disowned you, and the man at the Barclays Small Business Loans desk has laughed you off the premises…what should you do?
Go for it, of course!!! Wadda they know?!