3 starting points to success – building a startup

Small businesses, start ups, entrepreneurs, freelancers and solopreneurs are part of our fabric at HomeWork Workspace. I also fit into those categories myself! Most business owners have very common objectives and struggles – they are trying to make (more) money! Whether that is to earn a decent living or create value in their business with a view to selling. 

It’s a solitary affair though, and can feel very lonely at times. A successful business is created out of many ‘lightbulb’ moments (and failures) along the road. These only come when you get out there and engage with others, be it business owners, peers, business experts, business coaches, friends and family. Surround yourself with a network and resources to prop you up when the going gets tough. 

So, what are some of the cornerstones that will set you up for success? 

1. Find a support network

This can be anything or anyone that helps you when you need it most; that tells you to keep going when you feel like throwing it all in; that challenges your thinking when you’ve become too narrow; or makes suggestions when you’re out of ideas. 

For me, the following 3 things have been invaluable:

The HomeWork business networking event
  • Business coaching – Good coaching programmes are designed to help you operate at your best level and introduce you to lots of great resources. There are lots of good business coaching programmes out there if you do a bit of research. It doesn’t need to be expensive but can give you great access to experts and other business owners without having to sign up to full on one-to-one coaching. I’m a big supporter of ActionCoach. It’s really structured which suits me down to the ground, but you may prefer something more fluid. Ask around to get other people’s recommendations! All the most successful business owners have coaches.
  • Join a local business network – Networking is often a concept that makes people recoil. You don’t like the idea of putting yourself out there in a ‘business’ environment to chat about all things business with a bunch of people you don’t know. It can feel false and uncomfortable, especially if you’re an introvert like me. However, if you put in a bit of legwork you will find a great community of people who are all looking to do the same things as you and for that reason they are really aligned in terms of supporting you and giving you ideas. Networking is also fantastic for marketing as it’s a great way of gaining business referrals. There are better groups and worse groups. Try a few and find one you like. The key thing though is to be proactive at the end. It’s all well and good having a nice chat with someone but if you don’t do anything about it afterwards it counts for nothing. Personally, I try to make contact with at least 3 people from the networking group afterwards – either to arrange a one-to-one to get to know them and their business better or introduce them to someone they’d like to work with. In terms of networking group recommendations, I’m a member of BNI (as well as HomeWork Network of course!). BNI involves quite a lot of time and effort but the community is unbelievably supportive and helpful!
  • Join a coworking space – Any good coworking space should aim to support small and growing businesses. Go and try out a few – most will have day passes or free trial days available – and ask them what initiatives they have to support small businesses. At HomeWork, we have loads of initiatives to support and connect the members of our community – specifically we have the Business Club which provides our members with access to all the resources they need as a small business owner, entrepreneur or freelancer; and HomeWork Network which is our monthly networking group. As part of HomeWork Network we run masterclasses on particular topics of interest (digital marketing, accounting, HR etc) so we can address the most pressing questions and challenges our members are facing. Most of all though, a shared workspace will provide you with a community to immerse yourself in – other people to chat to, share problems with and socialise with. Most spaces offer their facilities on a part time or ad hoc basis now too so it doesn’t need to be a big financial commitment.
A space for small and growing businesses

2.  Read lots of books

Many people assume that they can make a business from a good idea or from being an expert in something (I was certainly one of them) but this is only a small part of the overall picture. You will need to learn lots of other skills too. I’m not much of a reader, but they are such a great resource when you’re starting or running a business, and it’s cheap which is super important when you’re operating on a shoe-string. Many of my lightbulb moments have come from the books I’ve read. The nature of the books will depend on what particular challenges you’re facing at any given point. 

A great starting point for overarching self development books: 

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey
  • The 7 Strategies for Wealth and Happiness by Jim Rohn 
  • Mindset by Carol Dweck

I’ve been focusing heavily on marketing recently so the two that I would recommend are: 

  • The One Page Marketing plan by Alan Dib (a good all round easy read)
  • They Ask, You Answer by Marcus Sheridan (specifically content marketing – a big digital focus). 

If you join a local network or get involved with a coaching programme, they will have lots of recommendations for you as well depending on where you are in your business.

3. Finding funding

It’s a pretty basic fact that you can’t start a business without money. You also can’t grow a business without money. Even if you are offering a service which is delivered by you yourself (and therefore have limited operating costs) you still need to earn a living! You also need plenty of resources for marketing in particular. It can take a fair bit of trial and error (and money!) to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and people often shy away from it because they don’t know where to begin and it can be so hard to measure the results. But the simple fact is, it doesn’t matter how good your product or service is, if no one knows you’re there, you won’t be able to sell it! 

Here are some of my tips for navigating funding: 

  • Start and grow your business on the side: You need to earn a living! In reality your business will cost more than it earns for quite some time. If you have an investor you can factor the cost of your salary into the overall start up costs and budget of the business. Buf if you don’t, you’ll need an income. The safest way to achieve this is by starting or growing your business on the side of another job until it gets off the ground. If you can go increasingly part time then you can ramp down your salaried job and ramp up your time in your business as the business revenues allow. It’ll be hard work but being a business owner is nothing if it’s not hard work and the rewards are totally worth it!
  • Start with your inner circle: Ask friends and family, but do this cautiously because as soon as you take someone’s cash (no matter how close you are and no matter how much they understand the risk) you feel enormously responsible for it. Think carefully about what would happen if it were to lose it all – would your relationship survive? Stick to small amounts from individual parties and discuss openly the risks. Consider carefully whether it is an amount they can afford to lose. If you’re comfortable with all of that, generally speaking those closest to you, if they have the money, are delighted to help and support you in something as exciting as starting or growing your own business. When you’re enormously successful, they’ll make a few quid too!
  • Ask your network for introductions to angel investors: There are plenty of them around. Again, this is something a co-working space, networking group or business coach will be able to help you with.
  • Government grants and loans: The government offers some great financial incentives for entrepreneurs via cheap loans and grants. Do some research and find out what you might be eligible for.