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Starting and Growing your own Business
Andy Douglas shares his thoughts and experience...

Andy Douglas is Development Director and co-business owner of the training and HR services company Graffham Consulting Ltd. Built from scratch from 2003 and incorporated in 2007, Andy with his co-director and team have worked hard to grow the company into one of the most authoritative organisations in their field of work.

This is Andy's personal reflections on starting and growing a business and is a work in progress.

To your success!

Introduction

Ok, so you want to start a new business? You might be fed up with your current work situation, or just want a change. You may have a good idea and are trying to work out how to turn it into a project that can support you financially or just as a hobby.

First off, I just want to say that the following are just my general ideas and are not a substitute for specialist advice. I hope they are helpful, but are just ideas. I would encourage you to read widely, yes, read my ideas, but also read many more by other people. Try doing a search in Google on 'how to start and grow your own business' and then make your own decisions about how to move forward with your business.

Ok, are you ready? I'm going to share with you some of the things I've learnt after being in business since 2003.

Before you begin your new venture, I would suggest that you get as much knowledge as possible about your new idea and how to turn it into a business. In my experience it's not easy starting any business and the more knowledge you aquire, the better. FIRST, remember Knowledge is Power.

Knowledge is Power

This is the most important tip. Knowledge is Power. Do whatever it takes to get knowledge, use Google, read books, talk to friends, ask for help, look at YouTube, look at your competitor's websites. Ask your Facebook friends. Knowledge is powerful because it puts you in a powerful position to be able to make informed decisions and start your business with some idea of what will work and what won't. A lot of getting going in business is trial and error, but try to minimise this by learning as much as you can from others. Become a powerful guru! :-)

If you have knowledge about your potential product or service and have knowledge about how to sell it to other people, you could be on the verge of building a successful business. If you have no external knowledge and just rely on your own thoughts and ideas, you may be limiting your potential business growth opportunities.

Don't jump

You've heard it said, don't give up your day time job, right? Well, there is some truth in that. Before you leap headfirst into your new business venture, consider that it may not take off the way you want it to or become profitable as quickly as you want it to. It might be wiser to keep your day time job and try to build your business on the side, perhaps in the evenings, or weekends to start with until you get to a point where your business is making more money than your regular job.

Are you interested in the idea?

Will you sell physical products or offer a service? This may sound silly but think about what it is that you want to do and then ask yourself the question, am I really interested in this particular subject? Not just for making money, but do you really have an interest in it? If the answer is no, then be careful about moving forward because this is something that will be with you for a long time to come.

In nurturing your business, make sure the idea you choose is something that you are interested in. E.g.) If you want to set up your own driving school business but don't have the patients to teach others, this may not be a good idea. Or, if you love web design, a business in this area may be more successful. The reason for this is because you are interested in it and will therefore naturally want to spend more time with it and this will show to you your customers.

Show your passion for your business idea. Make sure it is something that you are interested in and would like to spend more time with it.

Is there a profitable market for your idea?
See what your competition are up to

Type your products or services into a search engine, perhaps Google or Bing. The results will show you other businesses that are already providing the service that you want to provide. Have a look at their websites. See what they are selling, who their target audience is and how much they are charging. This will give you a good idea of how profitable your idea is, how much competition there is out there and if there is a market.

Also, see if your search results return any paid search results. These are the adds that generally display at the top, bottom or side of the Google search results. If adds appear, this could be an indication that people are prepared to pay for search clicks to their website. Could this mean that they are making money with this idea? You decide.

Think about your potential customers

Who would you aim your products or service at? Do you have a niche market? Which sector, which age group? The general public, other businesses, NHS, education? Put yourself in their shoes, who do you think would want to buy your products?

How are you going to reach your customers

If you build a website advertising your products and services, don't expect people to come to your site and buy without you doing anything to get them there. If you are offering a local service, you could think about leafleting your local area or putting postcard adverts up in local newsagents and shop windows. If you offer guitar lessons for instance, these type of shop window adverts could be good. Make sure you use a fluorescent marker pen to make your ad stand out from the rest.

Or, do you need to generate internet traffic to your website? Think about Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) or paid search such as Google, Bing and Facebook. But don't spend too much money, just test it out with a limited budget. If it works, you could always increase if you can.


I'm not sure if ads in magazines and newspapers work. Perhaps they do, but I have no experience of using adds in papers.

Present yourself as the Expert in your field (This is important)

Do your customers think you are the expert in your field? If so, you will project confidence to them and confidence is attractive to potential customers and they may be more willing to buy form you. If a customer feels they can trust you as an expert, they are more likely to use you. If you are thinking to yourself, I'm not an expert, then make yourself into that knowledge hungry guru, learn as much as you can in your field of business, and let that confidence ooze out to your customers by helping them. Also, learn from your competitors...

Do this short test. Look at your competitor's websites and see how they portray themselves. Search for your competitors on Google, land on their websites and ask yourself, would I buy from them? If the answer is yes, what is it about the way they portray themselves that makes you want to buy? If the answer is no I wouldn't buy from them, ask yourself why. Is their website shabby or unprofessional, no contact details, no office address, no credentials, logos or testimonies. I.e.) They appear that they are not an authority in that field and therefore not an expert or guru.

What is a real shame is the businesses that have people who are experts but this is not portrayed through their websites. Remember, your website is your shop window. If you look like you are an authority in your field on your website, then in your customers minds, you probably are.

Become the expert the in your field, get the knowledge and learn how to use it. Show this on your website, it will portray authority, confidence and your customers may want to use you more.

Your website is your business face - make it look good with authority

There are loads places where you can sign up for a free website. You don't need to pay for one to start with. Some of these sites let you set up a site for free and then charge you if you want create your own domain name, e.g. gardentoolsandstuff1234.com

Take a look at www.websitebuilder.com At time of writing, they offer a free online website creation system, pick a template and add pages and your own information etc. The templates look good and are quite easy to use. Check it out, see what you think.

Add authority to your website by possibly adding your telephone number at the top, an email address, any good customer testimonial comments, any logos of bodies you belong to, your business address and registration number in the footer if this is what you want to do. Add an About and Contact page. On your home page, introduce the benefits of what you supply and your passion behind it. Make the site look finished and professional. Check for spelling mistakes! If you use pictures, make sure you own a licence for them. You could use Istockphoto for instance.

Don't through a loads of money at an un-tested idea

See what your custmers want. It's easier and cheaper to sell to your current customers that get new ones. Rather than spending loads on marketing and products, speak to your customers to see what they want. If you find a common theme, then start to look at doing some paid web adveritsing, Google Adwords, facebook etc, or other means.

Using Google Adwords to test the market

Use a small budget to test your market with Google Adwords or similar. You can test keywords to see what people seach for on the internet in rleation to your product or service.

Grow organically

Don't try to rush growth. Try to grow organically. By this I mean let the business find its way and with you nurturing it. If you sell a product or service that sells well, ask your customers what else they need. Is there something connected to those items that they need? Research and then think about offering that. Don't waist loads of money on advertising new products and services just because they are a good idea. They possibly won't sell. Listen to your customers and see what they need and want, or even better, want and need!

Adding new products and services

Advertise new products and services on your website. Create a page for each one and test the market with Google Adwords or ask your customers

Do I need a building?

With a new bsuiness, you really need to keep your overheads down to start with to give time for turnover to increase and income to grow. Instead of renting an office, could you part use a room at home to run your business? Or is you business internet based, selling form your website?

Build a team of support around you

It can be lonely in business, talk to your family and friends about it. Ask them to support you in your new venture. Even if it is just someone to talk to. Many times in business I've used friends and family to bounce ideas off, to see what they think about from how my website looks to the services we provide. Don't be shy to reach out for support. You don't need to be an island. You may even want to think about joining a business support group in your area. There may be a free one. Check Google.

Build a team of mentors

You don't need to pay for business mentors, there's loads of them on the internet who freely share their knowledge for free on their websites. You don't even need to speak to them, just read their sites or watch their YouTube videos. Do some searching in Google and even signup for one or two free business tips newsletters. Remember, knowledge is power, search and you will find websites where there is free information on business growth, how to market, how to sell, what to sell, motivation etc.

What type of business? Sole trader, Limited company?

Think about tax, it could be easier to set up as a soletrader first and see how it goes

Insurance

Think about whether you need insurance, e.g. public liability, professional liability etc.

Get some more knowledge: Read books, search Google & YouTube

I try to read as many books as I can. I tend to use audio books mainly. It's a personal thing. I seem to be able to learn quicker through listening. You may find that you can learn quicker through reading or listening, you decide. I also use a Kindle.

Some of the books I've been reading recently are:

Malcolm Gladwell: The tipping Point and Blink


Build Your Confidence and Assertiveness

Confidence is attractive. If you have confidence, your customers will be more attracted to your business and may feel more confident about buying from you. Ok, you may be think you don't have confidence. Well, confidence is a skill that can be learnt, you can learn it. You can also learnt to be more assertive in the same way. I'm going to do a whole article on Confidence and Assertiveness soon and will add a link to it here. Drop me a message bellow if you really want this and it might encourage me to get on and finish writing the article soon.

Conclusion

I hope you have found my ideas on 'Starting and Growing your own Business' helpful. They are just my general ideas and observations that may or may not be useful and as such are not a substitute for specialist advice.

Feel free to ask me a question below and I will try my best to answer it.

All the very best with developing your new business idea.

To your success,

Andy.


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