Small Business Advice | Start-Up Tips for Young Entrepreneurs

Small Business Advice | Start-Up Tips for Young Entrepreneurs

With the UK’s Scouts Association announcing the launch of an ‘entrepreneurs’ badge, it seemed like an appropriate time to talk about the trials and tribulations involved in starting up a new business under the age of 21. The most notable recent young entrepreneur is Mark Zuckerburg, co-founder of Facebook. Zuckerberg set up his multimillion dollar business while at Havard University, and it would seem that the UK has the potential to launch similar talent into the business world; the recent BBC television series, Junior Apprentice was a serious showcase of the amazing, young entrepreneurs that reside on these shores.

It’s clear that there are numerous teenagers and young adults in the UK that have the potential to be successful business owners. Within this post I wanted to discuss the approach and obstacles that the next Alan Sugar is likely to come across when starting up a business. Firstly, the process of starting up a business is roughly the same for everyone, regardless of age. Below are four main areas that require consideration in the early stages of starting a business.

  • Idea: Every good business starts off with a good idea. This doesn’t need to be original as some of the best companies come from recycling an existing idea but doing it better
  • Research: Sound research provides the foundation for any successful business. This can range from market research to testing your idea against an existing company that is following a similar path
  • Name: Naming your business requires creativity and forethought. Not only does it help build your brand but it helps provide potential clients and customers with a first impression of what your company is about. However one areas of difficulty is avoiding issues of copyright infringement – using the same name as someone else – and also using words that require prior official permission otherwise known as sensitive words
  • Plan: Once you are confident that there is a gap in the market for your business, the next step is to make a structured plan.  A business plan is effectively a written document that describes your business, its objectives, its strategies, the market it is in and its financial forecasts. This is not just for personal use as it can help secure funding from a bank or private investor. In the future it can also help with measuring success within your business

Alongside the issues considered above, young entrepreneurs may face additional challenges because of their age, such as the legal and financial complications below:

  • Legal: From a legal point of view, anyone under 18 is classified as a ‘young person’ but this should not deter young people from starting their own businesses. However it may affect your ability to conduct some areas of business because as a minor one is legally unable to sign or be held to a contact. Therefore getting someone over the age of 18 to help you may solve this situation
  • Financial: Getting funding for your business may be the biggest hurdle to overcome. As a young adult you will tend to have little or no track record of borrowing money, and it is more than likely that you will have no assets i.e. house to use as security for a loan. Moreover, if you are under 18 even with the aforementioned, you will be ineligible for any form of loan. However, there are a number of funding and finance schemes available from private sources that can help you raise much needed funds. As a starting block, check out The Prince’s Trust, Community Development Finance Institutions and Shell LiveWIRE

 If you’re a budding entrepreneur looking to set up a business, I hope this post has been useful. While none of the above is a blue print for creating a business for young adults, I hope it provides you with some good resources and contacts for support in your adventure and highlights some potential pitfalls. The UK is a hotbed for small businesses, so don’t be afraid to take that initial step, you might just regret it if you don’t.

So if you’ve read this post and are considering starting a business, leave a comment below, I’d really love to hear from you.

All the best,

Gordon

Small Business Advice |The importance of technology for SME’s

Yesterday’s news that David Cameron is putting his full support behind Martha Lane Fox’s Race Online 2012 campaign to get all of Britain’s working population using the internet, can only mean good things for the UK’s SMEs. Backing of such a level as Government signifies the increasing awareness of how important innovative technology and the internet is, particularly to small businesses and budding entrepreneurs. For any businesses, the internet is invariably recognised as relatively risk-free route to growth. These days, more and more businesses are focusing on developing their online presence and many start up’s begin with an online shop front.

It seems to me that there’s no denying that internet access and all the great opportunities and tools that come with it are a vital part of today’s small business . Here’s a few reasons why:

Websites

Having a website is now one of the most important platforms from which SME’s can market themselves by  crossing geographical boundaries and being incredibly cost effective in comparison to the traditional marketing routes. Not only that, creating an online component to your business can greatly extend your market reach and lead to new and healthy revenue streams. A good website should reflect the businesses personality, offering customers an experience similar to visiting a store, office or showroom as well as offering another line of communication.

Social Media

The new era of social media, in a similar vein to possessing a business website, provides SME’s with another marketing platform. However this platform is consultative and engaging, allowing businesses of all sizes to converse with their customers and clients rather than talk at them. In short, what social media provides is a channel through which market research and a more informal engagement with the outside world can take place on.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is no longer the preserve of the large enterprise. As the relative price and access gap between large enterprise and smaller business narrows, the value of video communication is beginning to register on the SME radar. Services such as WebEx or Skype are a great alternative to face-to-face meetings. Not only do they free up employees time that would have otherwise been spent travelling, it’s also an appealing option  for businesses trying to cut travel costs as well as their carbon footprint. Furthermore as 60% of communication is non-verbal, those important business calls once made via telephone can now be done face to face, regardless of location.

Flexible Working

Not only is business  getting faster but the business world is becoming increasingly globalised. This means the way we work and where we work from has moved on from the traditional 9-5.  Whether you’re on the move or working from home or a coffee shop, your customers need to get hold of you no matter where you are. Keeping your workers connected, allows them to work from practically anywhere.  Creating a ‘virtual’ office space that can be accessed from a laptop or handheld device means time out of the office can be just as productive as that spent in the office.

Are some (or most) of these tools an essential part of your business? If not, which ones would you suggest?

Small Business Opinion: Reflecting on 25 years of technology

As discussed in Phil Smith’s post last week,  Connected Conversations has revealed just how much of a strategic tool IT has become in the small businesses workplace, as we head into the next quarter century.

When we undertook the project, we wanted to get real insight into the ways in which UK businesses and public services have been changed by technology over the past two and a half decades. The thing that we found most interesting, however, was that key themes to come out of the discussion didn’t break down by industry or sector; in fact they very much remained consistent across the five conversations.  Identifying the lessons that can be learnt for technology in the future is vital to all businesses growth whether it’s a large enterprise, an established and growing business or young start up. So, we thought we’d share them with you too.

IT has come closer to the user – difficult as it can be to imagine now, there was obviously a time before technology was as ubiquitous and ingrained into business practices as it is today; a time when IT was often considered a part of the Finance function, providing programming and background support to solely inward facing parts of the business. The commoditisation of hardware and software has meant technology has gone through a rapid evolution, bringing it to the forefront of business consciousness. The stratospheric rise of the internet in recent years has taken this evolution to its next stage, fundamentally changing the way in which businesses expect to operate and communicate.

For many businesses, the increased consumer and customer awareness of what technology can do has been a significant equaliser when it comes to deciding how business models and processes will work. Rather than pushing from enterprise back-offices to consumers, innovation pace and technology adoption are in many cases now being dictated by consumers themselves. Smart businesses will be those that adapt their ways of thinking and working accordingly.

It’s the service, not the speed – Getting internet access is no longer enough.  The issue now is how much faster broadband can and will become. For many businesses, the speed of internet access they currently have tends to be enough for the majority of applications. That isn’t to say there’s no room for improvement, but it does open up some space to discuss how effectively organisations are using their current internet capabilities. With fast enough broadband speeds, any content can be delivered to any device – whether that be movies and music, or applications and data.  However, the success of any networked or remote service is not simply about ever faster speeds.  The way people interact with information changes depending on their point of access and successful businesses will acknowledge this, questioning the content and the service as much as the delivery mechanism.

Data is going public – with so many channels through which to create and share information, the amount of data created on a daily basis is growing exponentially. As a result, the British public and the organisations with which it interacts have, in many ways, changed their attitudes to data protection, management and ownership. Over the next 25 years the ability to use that data to provide improved and more efficient services will be pivotal in the UK’s ability to compete as leading a knowledge economy. For businesses, the challenge will be to identify what, among the masses of information available, is relevant to its stakeholders and how that knowledge can be best used to improve processes and outcomes.

Does this match up to your businesses experience of technology within your work place? The Connected Conversations project was created to get to the heart of the various issues different organisations face; straight from the horses mouth. As such, it would be great to get your thoughts too.

Small Business Advice: Getting Your News Out

June 2010 is likely to be remembered for two things – Budgets and Sport. These are in no way related really except for that at some point, workers across the UK have probably followed budget updates and announcements, and the World Cup and Tennis scores using some kind of online media. I’m sure, of course, it’s not just the UK’s workforce going online for the latest news but with a lot of the action taking place before clocking off time, it has meant that replays and news has had to be followed using online video or live news streams as we go about our day to day work; whereas go back a few years and we’d be turned into a radio or waiting for the evening news or the following days newspapers to get our fix of the action. What it’s probably highlighted is that now, more than ever, is that we are so used to getting information, right here, right now, where and when it suits us.

Despite yesterdays disappointing football results, it does seem that there are some lessons to be learned from the World Cup. Businesses can learn a lot from the importance of updating content and news all the time as well as how they can use tools such as Twitter, blog, videos and other such tools to drive interest to their business and website. Here’s a few ways that businesses can do this:

  • Videos, viral and VODs – well-made video can be an excellent medium for showing off the best bits of your business and  today, it doesn’t have to cost the earth either. In fact, it’s become a cost effective way for small businesses to promote themselves and stay in touch with their customers; after all, an image can tell a thousand words. The key to compelling video content is the balance between relevant information and visual appeal so keep it as natural and spontaneous as possible, without diluting the message.
  • Blogging for business – a corporate blog can be a great extension of your company and its identity but it has to be more than just an advertisement for your products. The goal of a blog is to engage with customers (current and potential) by providing information and opinions in an informal, yet insightful way so aim to make it a forum to discuss broader industry issues, rather than just your company and its operations. Blogs are also a great place to encourage two-way dialogues with your customers so encourage constructive feedback by responding in a timely fashion to any comments received.
  • Social networking – tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and online Wiki sites can help to bring in the ‘social’ element of social networking into the business arena. Besides providing a common forum for your organisation’s external stakeholders to communicate in, they can also play a role in encouraging internal conversations and social interaction between staff, which in turn lead to better productivity and morale as well as keeping everyone up-to-date with your businesses latest news.
  • To Tweet or not to TweetTwitter has become something of a buzzword in business circles lately, so it’s important to get it right, rather than risk being seen as simply jumping on the bandwagon. If your target audiences are likely to be on Twitter, it’s a great tool for keeping them informed of what your business is doing.  Tweeting as an individual rather than an organisation, as well as striking a balance between work and non-work related Tweets, all go a long way towards making your Twitter persona more credible and, indeed, more likeable.

Small Business Advice | Presenting Perfection

We’ve all been there. Standing in front of our colleagues, customers or businesses associates expected to deliver an informative and engaging presentation about a topic, that we’re presumably an expert in. For some it’s no matter at all. For others though, it can be a source of much anxiety.  The nerves might kick in when speaking, or perhaps it’s a case of not knowing where to start when pulling your presentation together in the first place!  As with most things, however, there are steps you can take to try and make sure that, whether you’re presenting a business plan to the bank, a presentation to colleagues via teleconferencing or speaking to a room full of customers, you present to perfection.

Here’s a few pointers that I use when preparing for a presentation. Start with a plan and you won’t go wrong:

  • Think about your audience – what will they be interested in, and why are they sitting there wanting to listen to you?  And another set of considerations:  what is the environment like, what equipment will you have available, how big is the room and how will people be sitting? Can you engage with the audience? And most importantly how much time you have to speak! Once you’ve thought about this, you’re ready to get on with planning the presentation.
  • Establish your message – When delivering a presentation, you’ll find that focus and organisation are even more critical than in written work so be very selective in the material you choose to present. Establish your messaging early on so you’re audience remains engaged; remember you’re trying to tell a good story, keeping to the plot.
  • Practice, practice and then practice again – To draw on old clichés, practice makes make perfect. If you’re presenting to a large audience, think about recording yourself using a video camera so you can spot and straighten out any potential glitches. It’s also a good way to keep track of your timing. If you have someone willing to listen in, a ‘dress rehearsal’ so you’re practicing at least once in conditions as close to ‘real’ as possible is a great way to iron out any potential kinks in your delivery.
  • Keep to the point – On the day, stick to your points, talk positively and clearly and you’ll make for easy listening.  Remember to illustrate your points using examples or case studies rather than just pointing to a list of bullet points on PowerPoint.
  • End on a high note – Sum up decisively so things don’t peter out but, at the same time, don’t rush through the end in an attempt to get it over and done with.  Reiterate your main message and end on a positive note. And don’t forget to leave a couple of minutes for questions; ones which, if you’ve done your homework, you’ll be well prepared to answer.

Small Business Basics | Voice mail – How to ring the changes

When asked what aggravates them most about telephone communication it’s fair to say that the majority of people will say that it is an automated menu system and/or voice mail. If asked why, they explain that it is the generic, robotic answering process that companies use to screen and direct calls that bugs them, not the basic messaging-taking function.

Companies are spending large sums of money on these systems, but they only seem to antagonise their customers. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that when you need help with a problem and can’t reach another human, the situation deteriorates rapidly. Using the numbers on your touch tone pad is fine when you want to verify your bank balance, pay a bill or similar; but when your boiler breaks, your broadband connection fails, or a tree just fell on your car, automated call processing may not be the answer.

However, there are advantages to an automated system. Professional (not complicated) systems have a number of benefits. Not only can it save you money, but it also allows your business to appear bigger and more professional than it actually is. It prevents old-fashioned telephone tennis by allowing people to leave detailed messages in their own voice with clear and correct information – and means you’ll never miss that vital order or important enquiry. Indeed, voice mail crosses all time zones so people can leave and retrieve messages at their convenience.

The disadvantages are that people can hide behind voice mail, often the prompts are confusing, working through the menu can be more time-consuming than speaking to a real person, and some people just don’t like talking to machines.

Top Tips

If your company uses an automated system to process calls make sure it provides the best customer service by following these suggestions:

1. Keep your greeting short and sweet. (No one is interested that your menu options have changed. They only want to know what options they have now.)

2. List your menu options according to popular usage

3. Tell callers how to reach another human early in the process

4. Think twice before using voice mail for customer service issues

5. Survey your customers from time to time to see how they feel about your telephone-based customer service

6. Try calling your own phone system occasionally and experience firsthand what your customers do

Automated telephone systems and voicemail are incredible assets to your business, but they can prove painful for your customers if not used correctly. Don’t force people to spend their valuable time in a telephone black hole or even worse, sending them to voice mail jail.

Gordon

Small Business Basics | Voice over IP (VoIP)

Keeping your employees connected to people and information any time, anywhere is a big challenge and something we’ve already covered before on the blog. After that post, we had an enquiry from someone who wanted to know more about the technology behind mobile working, specifically voice over internet protocol (VoIP).

VoIP has traditionally been the plaything of large enterprises. And, if you look online for business cases of small businesses that have benefited, you’ll be pushed to find something you can relate to.

Small Business Basics | Voice over IP (VoIP)

However, don’t be put off. New developments have made the technology more affordable and there are some very obvious benefits that appear to get overlooked. We’ll take a look at these today, but first a quick explanation of the technology behind the name.

What is VoIP?

The most basic explanation I can give is that VoIP is the method of using the internet to run your phone system instead of a typical public switchboard phone line.

How does it work?

A handset or headset is connected to your IP network via a VoIP routing device that converts the regular telephone voice signal to a digital one. When a voice call is started, your voice is encrypted by the VoIP device and a data packet is created so it can be transmitted over your internet connection. The data packet is then picked up by the destination VoIP equipment where it is converted back and can be heard by the receiver.

How will it benefit me and my business?

When you switch to a small business VoIP system, you’ll increase productivity by combining and simplifying your communication tools. Your voice and data networks will also be more secure because they are combined and more resilient than traditional systems. However, some of the most significant benefits come in the form of savings on call and line charges.

A good place to start when evaluating your need for VoIP is to answer the following questions:

  • How much are your phone bills per month?
  • How many of the calls are to mobile phones?
  • How many lines do you think you have? And, how much rental do you pay for this?
  • How many lines do you really have?
  • What is the maximum number of lines in use at any time?

The benefits you can expect from a VoIP system include:

  • Dramatically cheaper call charges for long distance and calls to mobile
  • Reduced travel costs by using web and video conferencing (and other collaboration tools)
  • Easy to use call manager systems that make it easy to add, move, or change phone connections to accommodate a growing and increasingly mobile workforce
  • An abundance of professional features (including voicemail, caller ID, and call forwarding – without having to pay extra fees)

Depending on your bandwidth, most internet connections should be more than sufficient to support VoIP services. However, one consideration to make is with regard to the sockets via which you connect to the internet. After about ten years these need replacing to ensure they offer the most reliable connectivity.

If you opt for a VoIP system, it’s often the case that your customers will notice the change first. They’ll be able to reach your employees, without getting frustrated by lengthy phone system menus, annoying generic hold music or by being sent to voicemail. Your employees will benefit by having more ways to stay connected, wherever they are and hopefully by happier customers too!

Gordon