Start Small but Think BIG!
By Manolis Zografakis
Are you constantly dreaming about being your own boss? If you’re serious about this scenario you need to consider some facts. First of all, be ready to work hard- really hard- till you get that ship going. Secondly be ready to study hard- really hard- to get the knowledge skillset you will need to do various different jobs, from programming to designing and from accounting to marketing, to bring your company to the level that you want. Basically, be ready to become your own hero. Your hero will be a super hard worker, a multi-tasker, extremely creative, very organised, hugely communicative and exceptionally efficient. If you are a shy type then watch a lot of Bruce Willis and Steven Seagal movies, because you will need to get the ego boost and attitude to forget your shy side. Your goal will be to impress yourself, and trust me this whole journey to entrepreneurship will make you stronger and wiser, whether you are successful or not. I faced lots of similar difficulties when launching BrokeinLondon so the tips mentioned below are coming from personal experience. Below are several tips that will help you be efficient when starting your own online business, and some mantras to keep you going forward:
- Start small but think big
- Believe in yourself and your skills and don’t give up easily
- Learn and love DIYing (Do it yourself)
- Ask for help when needed
- Be grateful for the help you get and always have something to give in order to be able to receive
Below I have mentioned 10 simple tips & tricks to help you bring your small start-up boat into the digital ocean smoothly and cost-effectively.
#1 Do Something You Love – Use Your Background Knowledge and Skillset
Start a business around what you already know, your skills and your knowledge.You can make and sell your own stuff, resell stuff or sell your services and knowledge. In the beginning do all the essentials yourself to lower the expenses. If you don’t know how to do it, just Google it! You will be able to see if there is a solution out there. To be honest there are so many resources on Google and Youtube that it’s easy to find how to do it. Although finding the solution on the net doesn’t necessarily solve your problem, it can give you a good insight of the skillset and materials needed to solve the problem, so at least you get the bigger image of the problem and a basic knowledge that you didn’t have before.
* EXTRA TIP: If you can’t find the solution yourself it is better to outsource the problem instead of hiring permanent personnel. For example, if you have a small e-shop and you want to launch a blog but you don’t feel like writing, you don’t need to hire a full-time copywriter, just pay a freelancer to write an article now and then.
- Do what you love
- Use your skills
- Outsource the problems
#2 Start Small and Cut Unnecessary Costs
In the beginning, it’s better to start small and not to rent an office. You want to start your online business for cheap right? Then you should definitely try using your home as an office.
You don’t need to buy the latest equipment to start your online business: on eBay you will find some great deals for cheap used items and on Amazon you can find awesome past models. Try to keep the expenses as low as possible. You don’t need fancy Macbooks and iMacs for the early stage of your business, it’s better to start small with this stuff. Buy a Lenovo or a Dell for £300 instead of a Macbook Pro for £1300, you will still be able to do the same tasks as with the Mac and at the same time save £1000.
Moreover it might be a good idea to look through websites like Freecycle, Freegle and Gumtree to find free equipment and free furniture that you will need. These websites can be perfect for finding freebies from printers and laptops to desks and couches.
* EXTRA TIP: Regarding stationery, you can buy pens, paper, notebooks and so on from shops like Poundland– each item will cost you at least 3-5 times less than normal and you will probably not realise the difference in the quality.
- Use your home as an office
- Buy used equipment or past models
- Get the furniture for free
#3 Think BIG – Predict Future Development to be Prepared
Before starting your business think about the future growth of the company, and the tasks you’ll need to do. If it’s about making your own craft and selling them through the internet then you can do it by yourself. However if it’s a business with fast growth potentials it’s better to form a strong team in advance than working by yourself. If at one point the company starts attracting lots of customers, you will need more people around you to share responsibilities and tasks. That said, it’s always better to have more dedicated and trustworthy partners from the start. The best way would be to have a team with at least 2 or 3 founders from the start where each one will be specialised in different aspects of the business (e.g.- one will have the technical knowledge, the other will take over the financial part of the business and the last one the sales and the marketing part). It’s also good (I could say essential) to create a business plan as this document will provide the priorities, your goals and other key points you need to set as you start up your business.
* EXTRA TIP: Be very, very careful who you partner up with. Sometimes partnering up with your best friend can be very tricky and can end up a disaster bringing an end to a long friendship. Remember that short reckonings make long friends, so consider what might go wrong in the collaboration and try to make clear partnerships from the start.
- Have a plan and stick to it
- Think about the the business model and future growth of your business
- Partner up in advance with trustworthy people
#4 Register the business yourself and hire an accountant
Registering a business in the UK is the easiest thing and can cost you just £15. There are companies that will charge you approximately £70-100 to do this for you but my opinion is not to outsource if you can do it yourself. You just need to spend some time reading HMRC’s tutorials and follow the guidelines. It will take you around 20-30 minutes to fill the online application and it usually takes 48 hours for the government to process your request. There are different types of private limited company so you need to spend some time choosing the best for your needs. You’ll also need the company’s name and registered address, names and addresses of directors as well as details of shareholders and share capital. There are plenty of governmental articles but also tutorials and guidelines on how to do it yourself from various websites out there.
Regarding your financial and tax obligations you will need to hire a professional known as THE ACCOUNTANT to do the job for you! Personally when I hear about accountancy and tax related stuff I just raise my hands in the air and surrender as I prefer to give it to someone who knows 100% about the job. You can try to read tutorials and guidelines about how to file tax returns but you might find it a bit complicated and time-consuming, so unless you’re an expert in tax and finance you should do the same. The accountant will be your financial guru and will be able to assist you with up-to-date info on any general or legal enquiries. You can handle the book-keeping in order to lower the final annual or monthly cost. You should know that hiring an accountant for your Limited Company will cost you minimum £300-£400 per year. The best way to find an accountant is to ask around your network for a cheap and trustworthy one. If English is not your native language I would suggest you find an accountant who speaks your mother language. In that way you will be able to understand everything he says without losing the meaning. If you can’t find any accountant through your network then you can ask for a quote from cheap UK accounting companies such as Cheapaccounting.
* EXTRA TIP: There are some extra costs to consider when starting a company, like for example the cost for trademark registration. However if your company is not the next big thing and you are not planning to expand worldwide then I would suggest not to pay for trademark registration (at least not in the beginning).
- You can register the business yourself
- You will probably need to hire an accountant
- Spend money only when necessary
#5 Taking Care of the Technical Part- Hosting, Doman Registration and Web Dev
When it comes to creating your website you will have to think about several things. Do you have the technical knowledge and skills to take over the technical part or you need to hire a web developer? Is the website that you have in mind a simple WordPress-based website or do you need to build it from scratch? Do you want to buy your own server and be the ‘key holder’ of your digital business or will you ask a webmaster to do this for you?
- Regarding the web hosting and the domain registration I believe that you should do it yourself and you should be the one holding the ‘keys’ of your server and business. It might be a mistake to trust someone else to acquire the hosting package and the domains for you. In this way he will have all the admin rights for the server and the domains and if for any reason you face problems and want to terminate your collaboration due for example to bad services you may not be able to take your website away from him easily… You can buy your domains from Namecheap, the hosting package from Hostgator or Hostmonster (or DedicatedSolutions.com which is one of the best for dedicated server hosting) and a template from Envato, all are trustworthy and provide excellent and at the same time cheap service.
- If you don’t have an initial budget to invest and what you need is just a basic website based on a ready template, then you can set it up yourself and outsource only specific development tasks whenever you need assistance. If you don’t have a basic knowledge of computer science then you don’t need a web developer to do this for you. There are plenty of free WordPress templates out there but also websites like WIX through which you can create your website for free.
* EXTRA TIP: Always search for promo codes before checking out from websites like Hostgator, Namecheap and Envato. Just Google it using the search term example ‘namecheap promo codes’
- Learn the basics of coding to solve simple problems
- Buy the web hosting and the domains yourself
If you are the only one involved in the project be ready to spend lots of time on it, like a lone wolf. One good way to break the loneliness is to join your business related groups on Linkedin and Facebook and follow the conversations and threats. By exchanging ideas with other members you increase your PR network, you promote your business free of charge and you also increase your knowledge on the topic and on current trends. Moreover you can also follow and comment in conversations on threats on Reditt and in various blogs regarding your sector. The best way to take part in these conversations is to provide useful information about the sector and not just to promote your business. If you give good insights and your own valuable point of view you are more likely to get some followers and to create long term digital relationships/friendships. Joining forums and blogs and just promoting your new website will be considered spamming.
* EXTRA TIP: Try to provide good valuable tips throughout your comments and in some point you can also point to your website for further details on the topic or for finding more articles. In this way people will consider you as an expert and not as a spammer.
** +1 TIP: Although, most of the PR we do today is digital, having an old school business card is still super important as it’s the most one of the most direct marketing tools, it’s the first impression of your brand and it shows that you’re prepared and professional. The best budget solution for getting your own premium quality Business card is through Moo where you can design and print on a range of sizes and paper as well as use their own designs which by the way are very cool.
- Socialise through social media
- Express your opinion and share your valuable knowledge
- Don’t just promote your business
#7 Old-Style Word of Mouth is How the Start
Spread the word about your new venture. Tell your family, friends, friends of friends, be passionate about it! Although you may not have a marketing or PR manager in your business you can be that person. However there are some tips to follow to be more efficient. For example when you want to ask friends to like your page on Facebook just send a private message to each one of them. You don’t need to contact all of them but at least the closest as well as the ones that you think that might be interested by your idea-service-product and that they will either want to buy or promote it to their circle. You can also ask them to spread the word, and if they are your best friends and also like the idea behind your company they will be happy to do it and by promoting your new venture they will also feel part of it! Remember to ask them to promote it using the proper hashtags to be more efficient. By the way please don’t send collective messages. Most people hate them, so be subtle and don’t annoy! By sending a massive message to 200 friends it is more common to see half of them leaving the conversation than replying and helping out.
* EXTRA TIP: Sending a personal message can take you more time but at least you have 10 times more chance to get where you want and don’t forget that this is your main goal.
- Let everyone know about your business
- Send a private message instead of a collective one
#8 Inbound Marketing is What You Need!
Nowadays it’s all about inbound marketing. If you don’t have the budget to spend for traditional promo like Adwords, Facebook ads and so on, it’s wise to spend your time creating really good, valuable and extremely useful content for your readers. If the content of your website is powerful enough to solve the readers’ problems or to inform them of specific issues that concern them then it can bring social media shares, regular traffic and therefore leads. The number one thing that you need for creating useful and powerful content that will be loved and shared by your fans/readers/customers is knowledge on the topic and good research!
* EXTRA TIP: Firstly find out who are your buyer personas and then target your content to that specific target audience. Don’t forget to always think like a buyer and consider what type of information they would like to receive.
- Write with passion about what you know and what you love
- Create informative, helpful and useful content instead of promotional
- Think like a buyer, would you like what you read?
#9 Don’t Be Shy to Ask for Help!
Ask for help from friends and family. It’s true that we can’t make everything by ourselves. So if your best friend is a graphic designer and you know that he has some free time and he is willing to help just take the opportunity to ask him and he will probably be happy to do it. Just don’t forget to always have something to give in order to be able to receive to show your appreciation. So if you don’t have the money to pay for a service that a friend can offer to you, you can thank him by inviting him for a nice dinner or buying them a pair of tickets to their favourite concert. The idea is to be grateful for the help that you receive and try to repay in your own way. This can be also simply by thanking him publicly for his amazing job or through the company’s social media and of course mention him in the credits whenever you can.
* EXTRA TIP: Never say no to extra help when you need it. It is better to lower your ego and accept that you can’t do it all by yourself, and take the help to reach your goal without the need to pay extra money that you don’t have.
- Ask for help when you’re in a need
- Show your appreciation
- When you take always give ‘something’ back
#10 Use Your Network and Websites Like Fiverr and People Per Hour
I mentioned this several times so far… Starting your own online Business for Cheap means that you will probably need to rely on your personal skills. However, there will be moments that you will need assistance and help on various tasks so always have your ears and eyes open for potential collaborations and contributors. Whenever you need to outsource a task you should firstly ask your friends, family and network to see if there is a contact that you can get for an affordable solution. Someone might know someone who knows someone… who will get the job that you want done for a low fee and you know that the work will be good or even descent. However if you can’t find any solution to your problem through asking around then you might want to search through global marketplaces like Fiverr, where freelancers offer their services at a cost starting from $5 per job. You always have to check the ratings and the reviews to find the best freelancer for your needs. Through online marketplaces like Fiverr or People Per Hour you can find translators, marketers, programmers, musicians, graphic designers, copywriters and whatever else you can imagine! The good thing is that these platforms are universal so you can find good deals from freelancers around the world who are willing to provide their services for a low fixed fee.
* EXTRA TIP: It’s good to check out the positive reviews but you should always find out if there is a negative review about the freelancer’s service, and if so why the service was bad. Don’t forget never to pay the whole amount in advance. You can negotiate to pay him an amount in advance and the rest after the completion of the project. In this way you know at least that they will do their best to provide a good result in order to get paid.
- Use your network
- Search through global marketplaces
- Remember to always check the bad reviews
Finally I have one last tip for you. Working from home can be a bit boring and tricky as you have the whole place to do whatever you want and therefore it’s easy to get districted and lose your productivity. You need to stay focused and to stick to the business plan in order to develop your company, so check out my previous post about 5+5 Tips for being productive when working from home. Below you will find great websites that will help you during your entrepreneurial journey:
5 Great UK Crowdfunding Sites
#1 Seedrs – Good for sharing economy projects
#2 Crowdfunder – Targeted at creative and community projects
#3 Crowdcube – UK’s leading investment crowdfunding platform
#4 Buzzbnk – Dedicated to social ventures
#5 Funding Circle – Provides business loans funded by thousands of individual investors
5 Great Free to use Resources and Tools
#1 Wave – Great small business software to do your invoicing, accounting and payroll
#2 Enloop – Nice free online Business Plan Writing App
#3 Entrepreneur – In my opinion, the best website for entrepreneurs providing essential tips and advice
#4 Crowdingin – A nice site that helps you find a crowdfunding website that suits your fundraising needs
#5 Skimlinks – Helps you monetize your site with affiliate-marketing links
Good luck and enjoy the journey!
You may also want to have a look at these 5 key steps to get a job in London.