Small Business Advice | Protecting the force

I run a specialist clothing company, Rig Equipment Ltd , for people working in dangerous environments, such as air ambulance crews, paramedics and specialist units in the police. It actually started out as a hobby business back in 1994 when I was still working for the police, but when I retired I’d put in so much work to the business, I decided to start running it full time.

Paramedics in Action

In my experience, turning a hobby business into a full time occupation has been proved to be a great decision. However, making the move from a career in a specialist unit within the police to MD of a small clothing manufacturing company has also brought with it its fair share of interesting challenges.  So, although I would always encourage other budding entrepreneurs to do the same, I wanted to share with you some of my own thoughts on things to consider before you make the move; so that your hobby business translates into a full time success:

Be clear on your business idea and the reasons why you are setting up a business. If, like me, you started the business as a hobby then you already know you enjoy all that it involves and making the jump to full time will be a natural progression.  I’d suggest starting with the basics. Research your business idea and see who is already offering your proposed product or service; research their strengths and weaknesses, is there a gap in the market? Consider how you plan to finance your start-up and which people do you need on board to help you get set up? I’m sure you won’t forget that you need a name for your business, but you’ll also need to register it too.

Be honest about your skills. Identify your strengths and weaknesses. If you are a fantastic sales person but lousy on finance then seek advice and get help. There were obvious gaps in my own CV. I lacked a background in sales and my previous experience of running a business was limited. On the other hand, having worked within the specialist circles, I really understood the product and the end-user which was a huge advantage. Other suppliers to the police, although good at manufacturing, didn’t really understand what the product was supposed to do, whereas my insight enabled me to provide the best product on the market.

Take advice. On everything. There’s so many blogs, websites, forums and organisations available that can offer practical advice on starting a business, there’s no need to go it alone.  Some of the things you might want to consider seeking advice on are how to structure your business – should it be a sole trader, partnership or limited company – to finance and auditing, HR policy and even finding a suitable premises. I personally found some of these resources to be invaluable.

If you require funding, make sure your business plan and financial projections are well thought out. There are a number of options you can look at to get funding, from banks or private investors to government agencies, so do your research. Personally, I found a lot of my help came from government agencies. For example, when we came to designing our product and getting it CE tested and the European Standard ISO, we had a strict budget in order to remain competitive. The Manufacturing Advisory Service were able to offer us half of the total cost in funding as well as offering what would probably have cost approximately two thousand euros of advice, for free. Likewise, Advantage West Midlands assigned me with my own mentor to help me through the early stages of the business which made a world of difference, especially when it came to helping me build up confidence around my weaker skills such as sales. Input like this was invaluable.

I hope some of my own experience can help you make the move too!

Good luck!

Ray

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