Tag Archives: Business Plans

What Businesses can do while isolated

what businesses can doCoronavirus has impacted businesses in a way that was unthinkable just weeks ago. No business will have planned for this and the smaller ones will be more vulnerable.

I believe though that when we get through this crisis it will be those that have used this period of forced isolation and closure to prepared themselves that will rise fastest and even make gains on competition that have not been proactive.

What you can do:

Secure the business:

  1. Keep safe and don’t be tempted to find ways to get around isolating, Sports Direct have already suffered public condemnation for needlessly trying to stay open.
  2. Ensure any workers are reassured and supported.
  3. Contact your customers to explain your position and what you are doing to support them at this time.
  4. Suspend all costs that it is possible to do so and look carefully at cash-flow for the next few months. Talk to your bank about how they can help you.
  5. The government are bringing in measures seemingly every day that may assist small businesses and hopefully sole traders. Get on top of what assistance you are able to claim. If you have an Accountant, now is the time for them to earn their fee, talk to them.

Plan for the future:

  1. If you could provide goods or services on-line, but haven’t yet explored that option – start looking. Those that already do, see how it can be expanded or made better.
  2. Use this chance to re-examine your business, think about your goals and how you will put in place actions to reach them. Dare I say, now you have time, do a Business Plan.
  3. Some restrictions are likely to be in place for a while, how can your business best operate once the immediate lock-down is lifted.
  4. Consider how the public mind-set may be altered over the next year and find ways of communicating in future marketing a reassurance of working practices and care for your customers. Good PR can come from your good intentions, helping both you and your customers. It’s not cynical, it’s understanding what now is important to potential customers.
  5. Keep positive. Every crisis eventually passes, position yourself for growth when it does.

 

 

What’s the most important thing in starting a business?

Most important for startups

Actually there are several inter-related aspects of starting a business that need to be worked on to ensure a successful startup, but I consider these to be the most important…

1. Start a business in a subject that you are interested in.

Running a new business is hard work, it becomes a little bit easier, if you at least enjoy or have some attraction to the service, products or activity that is at its centre.

2. Come up with a differentiation for your business from its competitors.

It may be a brand new idea or invention, perhaps a fresh twist on an old idea. The best are disrupters of established markets, such as Uber vs taxis or Airbnb vs hotel rooms.

3. Check your idea for a business is commercial.

It is said that ideas are 10 a penny and not every idea will actually be a commercial success. You must really look hard at whether someone will put their hand in their pocket and pay you money.

4. Get your numbers together.

Finance may not be everybody’s favourite subject, but even a simple listing of costs vs likely selling price will guide you in the viability of the business in the first place and in knowing how to set prices and what you can afford as an expense.

5. Finally, how you implement is key.

The best ideas badly implemented will fail, but even average startups stand a good chance if well implemented.

By implementation I mean think through your supply chain, how you will get your product or service to market, how will you let your potential customers know that you exist, what customer service you need to provide and ensure you have a cash flow that won’t run out before you get enough sales to start making a profit.

 

 

Could the “Experts” be right about Brexit?

Expert on financeIn an alarming development Britons are starting to wonder if the “so called experts” might have something going for them.

We’ve believed for years (well ever since Michael Gove revealed in his Brexit speeches that experts are always wrong) that people who have studied a subject for decades can’t be right.

Tony Simonds, retired Sales Executive said: “The so-called experts are always telling you things are bad for you, and it was only after my second heart attack that I thought their advice about not having deep-fried black pudding for breakfast is probably correct.

“They might be right about smoking too, so I’m going to look into that, although it flies in the face of lots of stories about people who smoked 80 Capstan a day and lived to 100.”

Store Manager Vicky Thompson said: “I’d always assumed experts just liked sounding important.

“However that advice about leaving a safe distance between you and the car in front turned out to be correct. I’ll definitely be telling my friends once the concussion’s worn off.”

The public is now grudgingly accepting that experts may have valid opinions on other subjects, such as patting tigers, swimming far out to sea and even the state of our economy after Brexit

However, Van driver Nick Baker said: “There’s only one sort of experts I trust and that’s UFO experts. Finding out all that highly classified government information takes a lot of work and you have to respect that.”

 

With acknowledgements to thedailymash

 

Finding business opportunities from market changes

Opportunity from market changeBusinesses are often wary of change. It creates uncertainty and development projects get stalled. Instead of seeing change as an opportunity, business leaders start to plan for worse case scenarios that may result from the change.

The businesses adversely affected are normally large organisations with a vested interest in the status quo, however for smaller more flexible businesses and certainly start-ups, these market changes can be a fantastic opportunity to grow.

There is always change, in reality nothing stays still, as the bones of once giant corporations will testify. In the past many have been caught out by technological or fashion trends, but now we also have global changes such as Brexit, migration and the fall out of Mr. Trump’s policies that will add to the melee.

So how do we go about spotting those changes that are likely to produce great opportunities?

1. One way is using Brainstorming -  Here are a few guidelines that should be useful, you can amend these as you wish, but it gives the method:

  • Basic technique – Using colleagues, or friends (5 to 12 is ideal, but if you are a one man start-up finding even just a couple of friends to help will get you going), jot down thoughts on a flipchart or post-it pad, no idea is initially too crazy and no one should be dominant.
  • However give it structure (see below), address a specific question and having a team leader will facilitate the process.
  • Firstly ask what changes are going on in the world / your market place
  • Have your brainstorming session on that question and then collate the results into groups that comprise similar changes
  • Looking at those groups of changes, rank the groups in order of possible interest, taking into account your market, business and ability/expertise to address
  • Now starting with the first change have a brainstorming session on the question “what will be the consequence or impact of that change to people, or the market”
  • Again collate and rank the results
  • Then ask the question “What opportunities will there be to these consequences of the change”

You will see that we are identifying changes and then delving deeper into the impact of change to discover opportunities that we can address.

2. You can also look at recent entries to your market, are these businesses addressing new opportunities that have arisen from change that you can expand on, or that may inspire you to think of similar opportunities.

3. Another way is to think about those established companies that are going through tough times – why – what is taking their custom?

In all of the identified changes, think about the basic strengths of your own business (or yourself if an entrepreneur looking for a potential business). What is your core knowledge / expertise? How can that be applied to creating an opportunity from the changes?

In every change there are going to be people that spot the opportunities and make a lot of money, think of when financial regulation of the stock market changed in London and the fortunes that were made, or how Russian entrepreneurs embraced new market conditions after communism fell.

You can be one of the people that do very well out of the changes happening today, but only if you take the time to spot the opportunities and then most importantly – act on it.

The Future of Retail: Your 5-Step Ecommerce Start-Up Plan

ecommerce-240So you’ve made the decision to launch an ecommerce business? Congratulations – you’ve chosen a great path for your new business.

But like every new venture, if you want to give yourself the greatest chance of success, you’re going to need a solid plan. Everything from the style and tone of your content, to your web design and even the products you sell will need to be carefully considered and worked into an overarching business strategy.

This might sound daunting, but if you know what you want to accomplish, then the planning phase will probably be easier than you expect. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the first five steps towards launching a successful online store, so you can be sure to get your ecommerce business off to a positive start.

Don’t forget to also read these top start-up tips to help propel you into business success in 2018.

1. Find That Niche

You may already have a product or service in mind for your ecommerce business. However, with so many online stores vying for the top spot in search results, you need to choose your niche carefully. To do this, you will need to find something that your business can excel at, and that sets it apart from the competition.

The trick to this is to find something for which there is demand, but not too much competition. A good place to start your search is Google Keyword Planner, as this will enable you to see how popular a particular search is, as well as the potential competition for that keyword or phrase.

Search isn’t the only place to look though – mine for data on forums like reddit and Quora, and scour social media for relevant posts and updates.

Once you have figured out your niche, you’re ready to construct the rest of your marketing strategy. Remember, having a niche does not mean you can’t sell or promote anything else; it simply serves as the focus for your business, and the main draw for your customers.

2. Set Your Budget

Having a clearly-defined budget is essential if you want the launch of your ecommerce store to go smoothly.

●    List your confirmed funding sources, and reach out to potential investors. Don’t rely on any funding source that isn’t definite.
●    Plan for setbacks. Figure out the cost of remedying potential problems, and budget accordingly. Tying up a portion of your capital in a recovery plan is far better than falling short in an emergency.
●    Take calculated risks. No business venture is a guaranteed success. However, you can greatly increase the security of your investments by weighing up the risks against the likely ROI.
●    Don’t cut corners. Careful budgeting means you can make savings and spend more efficiently as a result of planning and forethought. But remember that a greater initial outlay can sometimes mean lower long-term costs. Always consider your future costs when weighing up a purchase. Is it scalable? Is it future-proof? How much will it cost to maintain?

Knowing exactly what you have to work with is extremely useful when constructing your business plan and content schedule. Even matters such as selecting your ecommerce platform are heavily dependent on your budget, as different platforms and packages come with varying costs.

Keep in mind that your budget can always be adjusted if you secure additional funding. However, it is far better to base your plan on funds that you have confirmed, than to have to start from scratch if a planned source falls through.

3. Scope Out the Competition

Now you have the bare bones of your business, you need to bring yourself up to speed with the competition. Visit their websites, explore their target keywords, and consider signing up to their mailing lists.

These insights will help you to understand the sort of things customers in your industry have available to them. This enables you to create something that is new and different, while still catering to the same needs. It is important not to copy your competitors, as not only will you fail to stand out, but you will also have a much harder time ranking in searches.

While checking out your competitors, you may even find some that you could collaborate with. Perhaps you fall within the same industry, but are targeting different, yet complementary niches. This could be a great opportunity for guest posting in their blogs, or setting up a mutually beneficial partnership.

Another way to scope out the competition is to find similar websites that are listed for sale and delve into their sales figures and results. It will give you a good idea of what’s been working (and not working) for other retailers, and may alert you to a niche that’s become oversaturated. You may even find the perfect store and domain name already built – ready for a savvy buyer like you to snap up!

4. Design For Your Audience

Once you know who your audience is, you can decide on your marketing message, the aesthetic of your store, and even the social channels you will focus on. While it is important that your brand’s image reflects your aspirations for your business, it is also essential that you keep the needs of your audience in mind at all times.

Of course, it can be hard to define exactly what your audience will like the most, so this step can include quite a bit of trial and error. Split-testing is particularly helpful here, as it enables you to make complex design decisions, while gaining an insight into the preferences of your customers. This can be used for everything from your landing pages, to ads on social media, or even targeted promotions.

Depending on your chosen platform for your store, you may have access to a range of analytical insights based on the interactions of your customers with your website. This data will be invaluable for the growth and evolution of your business, as you will be able to identify the strengths and weaknesses in your marketing strategy, and optimise your approach accordingly.

5. Plan Your Website

The final stage of setting up your ecommerce store will be creating the store itself. A great option for many budding entrepreneurs is to use an ecommerce CMS. Platforms such as Magento, Shopify, and WooCommerce offer a range of functionalities, and varying levels of customisation.

You should base your choice on your budget, as well as your specific aspirations for your business. Shopify, for example, has an app store with over 1000 applications to choose from to help you customise your store. Others, such as Symphony Commerce offer pay-as-you-go pricing structures, which can be fantastic for a fast-growing business with limited startup capital.

Before settling on a platform, make sure it has all the features you require, and that you are comfortable working with it. Don’t be afraid to contact support services for your preferred platforms if you have in-depth questions about their functionality. It is far better to make an informed decision than simply hope for the best.

Of course, you do not have to rely on any of these platforms. If you are a confident web designer, or you have a team in place to handle this for you, then the greatest flexibility can come from setting up your store from scratch. Keep in mind that there are important features that you will need to include, such as a secure payment system, and a legally compliant means of collecting and processing customer data.

Once you’ve achieved all that, you’re well on your way to ecommerce success. Of course, the work has only just begun, so don’t relax just yet. To ensure that you maintain this success, and give your business the opportunity to grow, you will need to keep improving on your work so far.

Start with your onsite analytics, to gain insights into how well your content performs, and how your customers interact with your website. From this you can learn which products are your most popular, and which might need a little more promotion. You can also see who makes up your audience, which will ultimately help you to make better decisions about future marketing campaigns.

The more you learn about your customers, the better you can cater to their needs. And, of course, happy customers are more likely to buy more, recommend your store to others, and come back to make purchases in the future.

 

Victoria-Greene-100Victoria Greene is a branding consultant and freelance writer. On her blog, VictoriaEcommerce, she shares tips on ecommerce and how entrepreneurs can develop their businesses. She is passionate about using her experience to help fellow entrepreneurs do better.

Top Tips for a Successful Start-up

business startup tipsOver the years I’ve talked to many entrepreneurs who started with a great concept and high energy yet failed to launch a successful business.

I’ve also seen people who only had modest ideas and yet went on to establish large profitable companies.

 

 

These are my conclusions and top tips for a successful start-up: 

1.  Know your market. Many of the entrepreneurs that failed had dashed headlong into launching their business without having done the spadework of testing the market’s acceptance of their idea.

The ones that succeeded had worked out a practical marketing plan, knowing how they were going sell the product or service to an identified group of customers.

I’ve written on this before, see Marketing Planning and Marketing Ideas

2. Start with a co-founder or partner. Almost all the successful businesses had a partner.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and even Richard Branson had co-founders. It takes some of the burden from you, inspires action and gives another person to bounce ideas off. See Should You Have a Business Partner?

But do make sure you put the business partnership in writing .

3. Start lean. In the early days those that were most successful focused their funds only on the areas that would make a difference.

No big cars or designer offices. The founders worked for minimum wages, ploughing all the money back into the business.

4. Measure and keep track of how you are doing. Knowing your costs vs sales and the timing of funds in and out is a necessity. Some that failed were profitable companies but sank because they underestimated the importance of their cash flow.

It doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, use online accounting software like QuickBooks which is ideal for the small business. Because it’s online you are not trapped in the office to use it, vital when it’s you doing many of the jobs in the business and dashing around.

Nobly have a good reference for what to look for and have rated the best accounting software that you may want explore.

5. Use customer feedback. You won’t get everything right first time. Those that reacted quickly to customer feedback made the biggest strides. Also, in engaging with your customers you build loyalty and repeat sales.

In fact customer service is a great differentiator for you. Many that failed were somewhat arrogant in their customer dealings. Have a look at rather an old article now, but still relevant Provide a Better Service Than Your Competitors .

Yes growing a business is hard work, but also fun. With a little bit of foresight and doing the right things the business will blossom and provide you with enjoyment (and reward) for many years to come.

 

What will make my business more attractive to Investors?

How to get InvestmentInvestors have a lot of choice and you are in competition with all other investment opportunities, the final decision on which gets investment will be those with the best combination of good sustainable profit and lowest risk.

That may not be the highest profit, or the least risk, but an acceptable (to that Investor) mixture of the two.

The following will greatly help your chances of investment:

1. Know your market
- Show it is growing and sustainable (use facts)
- That you know the competition
- You can say what your competitive edge or uniqueness is
- What issue or need you will address
- Who will buy your product / service (your target customer)

2. Proof
Great ideas are a dime a dozen and investors have heard all the hype before, the more you can do to show your concept works and people will buy it, the better your chances of investment.
- Projects just at the idea stage seldom get funding
- For new products you at least need a prototype
- For services or retail you need at least some sales

3. Gain confidence in your ability to grow their investment and that you can work with the Investors
- Previous experience in this market
- Good work ethic and energy
- Confident, not arrogant, you must be open to input and be flexible
- Ideally an experienced team of people who can execute the plan, this isn’t always possible, so show you know where gaps may be and how you will fill them. Too many gaps however will start to increase the risk

4. Business model and implementation

- How you will make money (and a profit) from this great opportunity
- Understand all the costs and numbers, making sure they are realistic
- An exciting but achievable sales forecast
- It’s not often the idea but how it is implemented that counts, show that you understand this

5. Skin in the game
- Have you invested your own money in this? Investors like to see that you are committed and taking the same risks that they are. Sometimes your own funds may not allow much opportunity to do so; in which case you will need to talk about the other commitments you’ve made to the business.

6. Government tax breaks and Incentives
In the UK there is the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS), in the USA there are local State incentives to encourage new small businesses in their area. Some States have more advantageous and flexible tax breaks if you incorporate there, such as Delaware, Nevada and Wyoming.

Where ever you are, look into such incentives and show Investors you are knowledgeable. Don’t expect free grants to be available anywhere however, those days are past.

7. Lean start-up
Investors will expect you to use their investment to grow the business. Not mainly to pay you a salary or provide you with corporate luxuries. Show you are using the lean start-up principle; you can begin taking a better salary and working conditions as the profit grows.

Finally, make sure your plan is clear and that you are able to describe in a sentence what your business does. In one more sentence you should be able to describe your business model (how you will make money from the activity).

Clarity goes a long way in convincing Investors that you know what you are doing and that they can intrust their funds to you.

 

Once you have a business idea how quickly should you start it?

Business ideas need actionBusiness ideas are like freshly buttered warm toast, they look wonderful. But if put to one side for long enough they get cold, stale and uninviting.

The first surge of excitement at discovering an opportunity needs to then have action to build a momentum, which in turn drives further action.

If the initial process of research and getting products or services to market takes too long, it may never happen.

There is the real chance also that if the idea is topical and takes advantage of events or trends that are happening right now, others will go ahead and do it while you are dithering.

If you have a good business idea, check out that it is commercially viable and do it. Right now.

 

Fed up with working for someone else?

Follow your dreamsWorking for a company can bring security (less now than in the past) and for those that are fortunate, job satisfaction. However it also can bring the stress of not being in control of your own destiny and there is nothing like creating your own business, perhaps following a passion and using fully your skills.

If you are in a job at the moment but thinking of beginning your own business, here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years of talking to those that have been successful:

  1. Don’t immediately quit. Do as much research and planning as you can while still bringing in a wage.
  2. You may already have a strong idea of what you want to do. But if not, look at what interests you and makes you happy. Starting a business you enjoy means that you are more likely to make it a success.
  3. Write down your thoughts on the business. That makes you think it through rather than just keeping everything in your head. Yes it is the dreaded “Business Plan”, but this can be just a couple of pages and doesn’t have to be formal. Having said that, have a look at the areas that are important to consider when starting a business in these Business Plan headings.
  4. Starting a business with a partner can be easier. You will have someone to bounce ideas off and motivate each other. Putting people together to begin or grow businesses is the reason that Company Partners started. Find a Business Partner.
  5. Don’t wait too long. It can be warm and comforting to have the dream and scary to actually start it. Wait too long and it may never happen.

There are a record number of new businesses starting across the world as regulations and technology make it easier than ever. Will you live your dream, or work for someone else who is living theirs?

 

Good reasons for the use of Business Angel investment

One of the key bits of information that Business Angels or Investors into a venture will want to see is how the funds are going to be used.

I’ve seen every possible use given, from the perfectly sensible – “product development”, to the unlikely to succeed – “no one will lend to me any more and I need money to pay my rent, then I can get a business going”.

For some time I communicated with a chap who needed funds to train as a commercial pilot, he would then pay back the funds with significant interest out of his subsequent earnings. Sounded risky, relying on his ability to pass the exams and training, but he was a pleasant and determined guy, I hope it worked out for him.

So what ticks the box for Investors? Generally this can be anything that helps to grow the business:

  • Additional market research
  • Product development
  • Manufacturing facilities or equipment
  • Marketing of the product or service
  • Recruitment of staff
  • Working capital

Within this you do need to explain why you feel this will expand the business and some explanations are more attractive than others. Throwing money at marketing a new business that has never been operational is risky, but bringing to market an exciting new product or service from an already established business could be a winner. Taking on more staff to meet a high demand is good, whereas taking on staff to simply start an unproven idea is not so attractive.

Note that Investors are not interested in reducing debts or to pay yourself a high salary.

Surprisingly, many of the business plans and requests for funding that we see have excellent write ups of the opportunity, but completely miss out describing how the Investment will be used. Not only should that be very clear, but it should be part of the financial spreadsheets, showing when tranches of investment come in to balance the operational costs.

If it isn’t clear how the investment will be used in your proposal, but you have been fortunate in securing a meeting with an Investor, be prepared – they will ask!