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

Small Business News | Surviving Public Sector Cuts

Real Business has recently published an article outlining how small and medium enterprises (SMEs) who supply to the public sector are able to protect themselves against the ever increasing public sector cuts.

Across the public sector, the government spends around £140bn on goods and £80bn on services annually. Although active discussions on price cuts are only being held with its 20 largest suppliers, it seems likely that this is to spread to the majority of suppliers including enterprising businesses and SMEs. Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, has already been reported as saying that he expects public sector suppliers to cut their prices in order to help lower the public deficit.

However warnings are being made to smaller suppliers about ‘knee-jerk’ price cuts as there are concerns that it could be rather harmful to their overall profits. Suggestions have been made on how to come to a compromise over this situation. One such being to develop total cost of ownership tools to help evaluate the lifetime cost of the contract to the government, offering longer term contracts in exchange for lower annual costs.

To see all the survival tips and full article please visit the Real Business website.

Small Business News | London 2012 athletes need help from UK SME’s

An article featured in Real Business announced that with two years to go until the opening of the 2012 Olympics, small and medium enterprises (SME’s) are being asked to support the Team 2012 fund.

The campaign, championed by entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne, to spearhead this scheme is called “Our Team 2012” and aims to raise £15m to provide up to 1,200 Team GB athletes with training and equipment in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics. All in all around 750 firms will be asked to pay £9,900 per annum to take part in a two year programme. Sponsorship provides SME’s the chance to meet athletes, gain access to prestigious venues such as the House of Lords, be invited to networking and black tie events and allowing them to display a special “Team 2012” logo on their website and in their e-mail signatures. Alongside the aforementioned benefits there is talk that association with the Olympics could result in new business opportunities for those taking part. Money raised by the initiative will be used to fund coaching, training and competition support, medical and scientific services, equipment and access to the best facilities for Team GB.

For more information on the programme or to see the article in full, please visit the Real Business website.

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 News | Valued employees can make a real difference

The Independent recently covered the story of Simon Murdoch, co-founder of amazon.co.uk and Vineet Nayar, author of Employees First, Customers Second, raising some interesting points about the value of employees to a start-up business.

The article looks at the difference customer service makes to a start-up businesses. Using Simon Murdoch as a case study, the Independent describes his background and experiences of a ‘customer centric’ approach as one that has led his to such a belief. Looking at the wish for a ‘personal touch’ that many of today’s customers seek, the article moves on to examine how large number of internet based start-ups achieve this when the company is, by definition, never face-to-face with customers. Vineet Nayar’s publication of Employees First, Customers Second, suggests that the key to customer service is creating a situation where employees feel like owners, thus becoming personally attached and eager vessels of change. This signifies a move away from traditional customer service to one that provides internet based, small and medium start-ups with a more sustainable platform for success.

To see the article in full, please visit the Independent website.

Small Business News | Government to protect SME workers

The coalition government has launched a pilot scheme to try and crack down on the bosses of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) who treat their staff poorly.

Alistair Darling, trade and industry secretary, has recently outlined government plans to protect vulnerable workers and reveal employers who fail to meet the minimum health and safety standards. In London and Manchester, two pilot schemes have been set up which will bring together industry gurus from unions, businesses, enforcement and advice bodies. The panels shall be working with an eye to strengthening enforcement procedures, secure fairer working conditions, give employees the chance to develop skills and ensure that bosses can understand and comply with UK employment law.

To read the article in full, please visit Business High Street.

Small Business News | Empires built on free code aren’t cheap

The Register has recently claimed that whilst starting up a business is still fairly cheap, the price paid for success is far more expensive.

A reduction in hardware and software costs certainly do suggest that it’s a ‘great time to be an entrepreneur’ as declared by Joe Kraus five years ago. Nonetheless lower start-up costs seem to have had little or no effect on venture capitalists as recent data from the National Venture Capital Association reveals that average investments are similar to levels since 2007. Furthermore the cost of scaling a company may have actually gone up. Customising open-source software and creating data centres – an action recently taken by Facebook – is not cheap. Such facts suggest that things like capital intensity and scale only privilege the minority, leading to market concentration and in cloud computing. Of course the cheaper alternative is to outsource your data centre, but companies such as Facebook are hardly going to trust third parties with such a wealth of information. So whilst it may be cheap to start-up a business, beware, because it is still highly expensive to scale one.

To read the full article please visit The Register website.