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  • Jo Evans

Golden advice for start-up and small businesses!

Updated: Oct 19, 2023

Now this is a repeat of an old blog post that has been buried in the Emerald Frog blog archives but I happened upon it this morning and decided it needed dusting off and recirculating as it contains a lot of valuable advice.

Emerald Frog Marketing has undergone a lot of changes in the past few years, this year in particular – with a change of services, focus and company structure. And you know what, I’m lovin’ the new approach and working even more closely with customers! 🙂

I’ve learnt over the years that it’s ok to review and change your strategy as your business develops. I have learnt that running your own business can fun and rewarding – but involves a *lot* of hard work, failures along the way and long hours. I’ve learnt from my mistakes. I’ve learnt not to send emails with pricing on late at night. I’ve learnt how to spot tyre kickers and how best to now support them. I’ve learnt not to order too many brochures.  I’ve learnt that you get back from the community what you put in as a business. And, we’ve learnt that it’s ok, and indeed crucial to form networks and ask other local business people for advice and support.

So, a while back, I decided to ask others in business (via the Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce LinkedIn group) what their golden advice would be for start-up businesses.

Here’s a selection of the excellent answers given. (How I wish I’d asked at the start, seven years ago!)

“Do your research before jumping in! The best businesses create solutions for problems that others have”. Robin Knight

“Get yourself a really good accountant. You can’t know what’s really happening in your company or make good decisions without mastering the numbers. Preventing failure is as important as identifying growth opportunities.” Nigel Dawson

“Have a solid well researched plan, focus ruthlessly on what creates the value in your business and be obsessive about cash.” Michael Anderson-Brown

Georgette Rouncefield offered the following advice:

Do it for passion not money : Things don’t happen overnight, so do something you feel passionate about. Do not start something with an end and a fortune in mind. You’ll probably fail.

Do something you know about: Philip Green, the retail entrepreneur, gave this advice. He and his family only invest in retail businesses, because that’s what they understand. If you go into something you know little or nothing about, you have made things much harder from the start.

Don’t give up too early: Successful businesses are usually very different from those described in their original business plan. Try something and if it isn’t working, try it a different way. The key is not to give up too early. Persistence is a vital quality of any entrepreneur.

Have a mentor: The hard work is up to you and your team. Having a mentor can be a huge support and can help you see the wood from the trees. First-time entrepreneurs often fail because they don’t have a more experienced mentor from whom they can learn and turn to for adhoc advice. Everyone needs a sounding board.

Funding: Businesses often spend too much time and money chasing the wrong form of funding from the wrong people with inappropriate terms and then raise too little. Sales always take longer to close and working capital requirements can fluctuate far more than you might expect, so don’t go overboard but do get enough cash. Otherwise you’ll spend all your time raising money and not growing the business, and no-one will thank you for that.

Cash management: Cash is king. Manage it well. Ensure you have appropriate forecasts and monitor against expectations. You will not need a full-time finance director but do not think a bookkeeper will suffice. You need both skills from the start.

Build sales before anything else : A lot of people spend too much time getting things such as a nice design and the website sorted, instead of getting out there and closing a sale. You can always adapt designs but you need a reference client to build sales from – even if you initially offer them a reduced rate, a free product or service. Get out there and sell from day one.

Don’t try to rush: There are very few propositions that mean you must get ahead of the competition. Winning clients takes time – sell, tweak your offering, then sell again. Nothing can replace experience and you don’t want to alienate potential clients by getting it wrong.

Be wary of bad advice or suppliers: When cash is tight, you don’t want to get locked in with the wrong suppliers or taking bad advice. Asking a friend can be fatal at times. Do your homework before you pay for advice; ask for references from their previous clients, for example. Look for pointers from someone who’s been involved in your kind of business before.

Keep things at a variable cost: In the early stages, particularly when you are a small business, you don’t want to get locked into anything you can’t get out of easily. Don’t be afraid to use a probationary period for staff. Be wary of recruitment fees but similarly know when to pay a bit more for quality staff.

Other excellent advice includes:

“It is amazing how much cash is needed by a growing business, don’t start a new business under capitalised” John Clucas

“Learn stuff – whether it is learning what your customers think about you and your service so you can find ways of selling more, or learning what’s new in your industry so you can create new products or services.  Your competitors are studying hard so you need to keep up or be left behind” – Chris Markham

Mike Yates said:

1) Realise from the start that whatever product or service you have: you are actually in the sales business – the better you get at selling what you do, the more quickly your business will grow (and vice-versa!)

2) Don’t sweat the small stuff – many people get stuck in the minutiae of running a business (i.e. to coin the well used phrase – they work further and further ‘in’ their business rather than ‘on’ it)

3) Decide from the start: Are you going to be a ‘business owner’ or ‘be your business’. i.e. If you’re into graphic design – then are you a graphic designer or are you a business owner running a graphic design business. There isn’t a right or wrong here – but whichever you decide for you will deliver very different results. They are completely different roles and require completely different skill sets!!

4) Self-Discipline and Focus stay at the top of the list. Are you prepared to do the things that you know you should be doing but may feel uncomfortable doing them?

5) Realise that in business your number one focus is spending 80% of your time on the marketing and selling of your business. The better you can get at doing this – the better results you’ll get.

6) Set yourself a 12 month financial goal that is both realistic and a S-T-R-E-T-C-H. Then go hell for leather to achieve it – and don’t let yourself off the hook!

7) Accountability works wonders – and is one of the areas I focus on tightly with my own clients – what you say you’re going to do and what you actually do are two completely different things! The latter is what counts.

“My advice would be learn from everyone. Learn all the time. Try and get a little bit of information from everyone you meet – your peers, your customers, those who don’t want to be your customers, suppliers, the professional coaches. Just everyone.” Andy Irvine

All useful stuff. Thank you to everyone who contributed.

If you have any further advice for start-up business from your own experiences then feel free to leave your comments on this blog.

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