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I have a great business idea – but how do I get started?

 (© visitlondon.com/Antoine Buchet)
(© visitlondon.com/Antoine Buchet)

London is a bustling hub of opportunity and it’s easy to get caught up in the entrepreneurial vortex. While starting a business is undoubtedly one of the most exciting and rewarding things you can do, it can also be one of the most daunting. From writing your business plan, right through to making your first sale, there's a lot to think about!

Last week, we met Aalia Butt, an aspiring business owner who’s keen to officially launch her new venture Whispers of Oud, selling handcrafted candles. Like many entrepreneurs, Aalia has a great idea and a passion to succeed – but needs some guidance to turn this into a business.

I asked Emma Jones CBE – best-selling author, business speaker, and founder of Enterprise Nation, to share her top five tips for getting started.

Do your research

I always tell people to ask themselves three questions: is there a gap in the market? What is your passion, hobby, or skill? And is there something out there that you could do better? Once you’ve come up with your idea, you need to test it. This doesn’t have to be expensive. If it’s a food product, serve it up to family and friends and then take it to a wider, less biased audience. Use social media to test the market. Work out what people are prepared to pay for your product, then work out if that allows you to make enough profit.

Create a business plan

A good way to look at this is to build a plan based on I’M OFF: Idea, Market, Operations, Financials, and Friends. As part of this, set targets and budgets over 12 months and longer-term plans over two, five, and ten years. This keeps you motivated, accountable, and on track in the short and long term. It also allows you to be more efficient with your resources and finances. Use this free guide to find out more.

Get out there and sell

Start with social media — it’s free and can get you noticed quickly. LinkedIn is essential for a business-to-business (B2B) venture or use Instagram if you’re in fashion or food for example. A Facebook page is often a must. Be sure to invest in good images. For product-based companies, try taking a stall on a local market or food event, or consider a flexible retail space in a brick-and-mortar pop-up shop to meet your customers and really drill down into what they love about your product – and what you could improve. You can reach a wider audience via global marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, and eBay. You must factor in costs though.

Bootstrap and get paid

One of the most important lessons in business and in achieving profitability is learning how to use resources efficiently.  Getting access to skills to increase your proficiency with digital tools is a really important step towards boosting productivity and hitting targets as a startup entrepreneur. Most startups start life as a side hustle – holding down a day job while working on the business in the evenings and weekends means you can start small with fewer risks. But make sure you are rewarded for your work. It sounds obvious, but being paid on time is vital. If you're using marketplaces, the cash comes through automatically, but if not, get used to regularly invoicing, and chasing. Getting paid is crucial for a healthy business and prompt payment is vital for small business cash flow.

Upskill and network

Once you've got work coming in and you are getting known, start networking to widen your contacts and access programmes that will help you build your skills. Join an Enterprise Nation online meet-up to connect with like-minded founders – or attend an in-person ‘Coffee Friday’ with Grow London Local to meet entrepreneurs in your local area.

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I hope you find these tips useful as you get ready to start a business. Visit Grow London Local to find more resources on getting started, as well as business advice, programmes, and events.

If you would like to discuss this or any other small business challenge, you can book a free consultation with one of my team or email me directly.

Dan Adair-Wright is Head of Business Support at Grow London Local