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The ultimate guide to starting your business

Starting your own business is a massive task.

You need to be on top of everything from planning laws to plumbing.

This guide is going to take you through setting up your business, from writing a winning business plan to the moment you open the doors.

Let’s dive right in.

starting your business

Chapter 1:

How knowing why you’re selling can put you on the path to success

Knowing why you’re selling your business is as important as knowing how to sell it. If you’re clear on the why, then you’ll be clear on the how.

What goes in a business plan?

When writing a business plan you need to think about all aspects of your business, from who your customers are to your profit margins.

It doesn’t need to be long. In fact, if you’re pitching to potential investors, you should keep it short and sweet, but it needs to be thought through thoroughly.

No two business plans are alike, because every business is going to be different, but we’ll take you through the five things every business plan needs.

1. The executive summary: your business in a nutshell

The executive summary is the first part of any business plan.

It’s a high-level overview of your business, and lays out what your business is and how you’re going to make money.

It’s your business distilled down to the very basics, and should take up 10% of your business plan.

And it’s the last thing you should write. You shouldn’t write it until you know the rest of your plan works. The more work you’ve done on the rest of your plan, the easier it’ll be to craft a compelling executive summary.

There’s a few key ingredients to a winning executive summary:

The elevator pitch

elevator pitch

 

This is your big idea, your business boiled down. The elevator pitch is a one-paragraph overview of your business — nice and short.

Start by sketching out the problem your future customers have and the solution that your business offers.

You should also mention things like any work that you’ve already done towards the project, anyone you’ve secured a deal or an agreement with, or any funding you’ve got.

Problem

The problem section sketches out what hole your business is going to fill. What do other businesses do well, and what don’t they do? How do you distinguish yourself from them?

Solution

This is where you come in. How do you fill this hole? You’ll also need to quantify this. Who are your target markets and who you are selling to?

Team

Who are you, and who do you work with? What roles do your team play — and why is everyone best-placed to do what they’re doing? Also think about who you’ll need to work with. That means new hires as well as any partnerships you think you’ll make. Think suppliers, marketers, and all that jazz.

Financial Summary

The financial plan needs to be pretty detailed. It’ll contain forecasts of your business month-by-month as well as a projected balance sheet, but this isn’t the time or place for most of that.

Instead, for the financial summary you need to use headline figures: your milestones for the five years, big purchases like property and equipment, as well as any loans you might need to take out and funding you need to secure.

 

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That’s the executive summary done. Now, let’s go to the main body of your business plan.

2. Opportunity: what problem are you solving, and for who?

The main reason a business exists is to solve a problem.

The opportunity section of your business plan is the part where you talk about the problem you want to solve and how you’re going to solve it.

But it’s no good just talking about this in a general sense. Save the broad brushstrokes for your executive summary. Now’s the time to get detailed. You’ll want to talk about your buyer personas and your competition.

Buyer Personas

Your business’s buyer persona is person you’re going to target with your business.

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Buyer personas inform everything from how you market your business to how you decorate it, as well as what items you have on your menu and your prices. They’re pretty important.

Hubspot’s blog has a really detailed guide to crafting buyer personas, as well as templates and tasks to help you really get to know them.

 

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Get to grips with the competition

You also need to take a good look at the other players in your niche. You’re unlikely to be the only business doing what you do, even if you think you’ll do it better.

When talking about the competition, you need to be up-front not just about who they are, what they do, and how they do it, but why they’re doing what they do. You need to evaluate them as a business prospect, listing their strengths and weaknesses.

Don’t forget about your indirect competition. These are other businesses that provide what you’re doing, but aren’t necessarily the same type of business.

A great way to figure out your position against the competition is to put all of this into a grid, such as the one below:

Who the are What they do How they do it Why do they do it? Strenghts Weakness
           
           
           

3. Execution: how are you gonna do things?

Now you’ve got your business’s market and its niche, you need to talk about how you’re planning to run your business.

Your finance section talks about money, your execution section talks about how you’re going to make it.

Your opportunity section discussed where your new business will sit in the market, but your execution section will discuss how to make the most of that niche. There are two elements to this:

Your marketing plan

Your marketing plan will set out how you’re going to bring in and sell to customers

You also need to list your goals – these are likely to share some common ground with your key financial milestones.

For instance, it’s likely you’re going to track how many customers you have and how much they’re spending. This will be something that’ll be key to your financial projections, but your marketing plan might specify the actions you’ll take to build the brand awareness that leads to these customers, and how much this will cost.

Operations

So, you know how you’re going to get customers. Great stuff. Now, what are you going to sell them? How are you going to make it? In a factory or a workshop or a kitchen?

This is what you’re talking about in the operations section of your execution plan.

The operations section covers where you’re sourcing your products from, what equipment or infrastructure you’ll need to serve customers, your distribution and the assumptions you’re making with this plan and any risks you might be exposed to while operating.

When writing this section, you need to be as detailed as you can. Set out precisely how you’re going to work and what you’ll do when things go wrong – as they inevitably will.

Jeff Haden goes into more detail about what you should consider for each aspect of your operations over on Inc.com:

 

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A flowchart can be a nice way of figuring your operations process out. Here’s an example for you to take inspiration from:

 

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There’s a lot to get to grips with in this section but taking the time to make it as detailed as possible will pay off further down the road.

4. Team: who are you going to do it with?

A business is only as good as its people. That might sound like a cheesy slogan, but it’s true. This is why the team section of your plan is crucial. Rather than talking nuts and bolts, this is where you talk people.

Who are you, and who are the people you’re doing this with? What roles will they all play in your nascent company, and why are they specifically the best people to do the job?

There’s no need to over-complicate this section: you just need photos, job roles and short bios.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to make sure this section is as well written as possible. This is your opportunity to really get your personality across and tell readers what drives you, your team, and your business.

You also need to talk about who you’ll need to hire, what skills you want them to bring to your team, and when you’ll be looking to hire them.

5. Financial Plan: how are you going to make money?

This is far and away the most important part of your business plan outside of the executive summary so it’s vital that you spend time making sure your numbers add up.

The financial plan tells your investors and potential business partners whether or not your business is a viable project. If you need to know just how important it is to have figures that add up, check out this map of business survival rates in the UK from the FT:

 

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Your financial plan needs to have detailed forecasts for the first twelve months and year-end forecasts for the next three to five years after that.

At the heart of these predictions, whether they’re monthly or yearly, are sales forecasts: These are an accurate estimate of what you think you’ll sell.

Of course, you can never entirely foresee this but it’s important to try and give a figure that’s achievable.

There are three key documents in a financial plan: a profit and loss forecast, a cash flow statement, and a balance sheet.

Profit and loss forecast

You need to work out what you make per sale for the items you’re planning on making. To do this, add the Cost Of Goods Sold (COGS) for each item, and subtract this figure from that item’s retail price.

COGS is the cost of the materials that you use making an item, whether that’s a coffee or a car. It doesn’t include indirect costs like labour or electricity, though.

But this only tells you your gross profit.

Retail Price - COGS = Gross Profit

You should do this analysis for every item you’re planning on selling. Once you’ve worked out your gross profit per item, multiply that by the number of items you think you’ll sell.

After this, you can subtract indirect and marginal costs over that period like heat and lighting, and staff wages, as well as depreciation, taxes and any one-off purchases like equipment or property. With all of this you can get your total net profit for that period.

(Gross Profit x Number of Items Sold) - (Indirect Costs + Marginal Costs) = Net Profit

When doing this kind of forecasting, having a template to work from can be immensely helpful. Score.org, a US-based network that offers business mentoring, has two which are available to download for free – one for the sort of month-by-month forecast you need to make for the first year:

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and the second a year-by-year one:


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Cash flow statement

Not that I need to tell you this, but the amount of money you make isn’t the same as your profit. Increasing your profit does not necessarily mean you’ve got a higher cash-flow, and vice versa.

A cash flow statement takes this into account. If a profit and loss account is effectively a snapshot of your business at a certain point, a cash flow statement is a video of what happens in real-time.

Cash flow statements take into account all outlays that you make during a given period. So, spending on ingredients, bills, staff wages and taxes, but it doesn’t cover costs like depreciation. They’re important because they will highlight when you’re likely to have less cash to hand, so you’re able to plan accordingly.

As with profit and loss projections, having a template to work from can make things significantly easier: Startup Loans has created one for cash flow forecasts.

 

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Balance sheet

Unlike a profit and loss account or a cash flow statement, which both tell you what money a business makes and spends, a balance sheet tells you what a business has.

This includes current assets which might include cash you’ve got at hand, inventory, long-term assets like property and equipment. Plus, expenses like rent and insurance that you’ve pre-paid.

A balance sheet also includes current liabilities such as debts due to be paid within a year and portions of long-term debt that you need to pay within a year. As well as this, you need to include long-term liabilities such as your mortgage or leasing agreements.

Need help? Toggl has a handy template:

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Chapter 2:

Supercharge your plans with market research

You’ll go nowhere if you don’t know what your customers want. Fact.
And you’re dead in the water if you don’t know about the competition.

This is where market research comes in handy.

Why is market research so useful?

Market research gives you valuable insights into what kinds of products and services customers want, and allows you to take the temperature of the market, analysing your competitors to see where they are succeeding and where they come up short.

Any time or money that you spend doing market research now will pay off in the long run. We’ll show you what you need to consider when planning it.

 

What am I looking for?

When you do market research, you are looking to get information about what’s known as the “Four Ps.

BANT-01

  • Product

    Researching your product means trying to understand customer demand: what your competitors’ products do (or don’t do), and how you can differentiate yourself from them.

  • Price

    This one does what it says on the tin. You’re trying to find out what customers will pay for your product, and how your prices compare to your competitors’.

    Perhaps your customers will be happy to pay more for a premium product. Or perhaps they want a budget option. You’ll never know unless you ask.

  • Placement

    This ‘P’ is about how you get your products in front of customers. In some cases, this might involve working out distribution channels – what shelves you’re putting your product on.

    Or, if you’re selling an app or you’ve got a webstore, you might research how best to display your products online.

  • Promotion

    This final ‘P’ is all about marketing. Promotion has to do with advertising and PR. Working this out means working out how you’re going to convince customers to pay for your products – how you’re going to advertise, effectively.

 

What should I ask?

Whenever you’re doing market research, there are four questions you need to answer. Every question you ask should answer one of these four questions:

  • Who are my customers?

    Who are the people I’m selling to, demographically speaking? Are they male or female? Young or old? Are they affluent or not?

  • What do they buy now?

    Where do your customers go already? Chances are you’re not the only player on the pitch – who are the others?

    And if you’ve not got any direct competitors, then what do your customers do instead? For instance, if you’re launching the world’s first range of vegan steaks, you might ask what vegans already eat instead of steak.

  • Why do they buy what they buy?

    Why do your customers go for the competition? What attracts them? Or do they buy because they have to? This might mean that you can offer a breath of fresh air for consumers.

    This is where you take a good look at why your competition succeeds. Competitor analysis is always tricky, but market research can make it a good deal easier.



What would make customers buy from you?

Getting responses to this question means asking not just what your competitors are doing well, but where they are coming up short – and how you can best them.


What types of data research do I need?

When you do market research, you’re getting your hands on one of two types of data: primary data and secondary data.

Primary data is data that you collect yourself, from things like interviews, surveys, online questionnaires and focus groups.

If you need help collecting your primary data, have a look at Event Brite’s 7 Step Guide to running a focus group or take advantage of Survey Monkey’s free tool to create an online survey.

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When you collect it, you’re going directly to your target audience and asking them for their opinions and their motivations.

You can gather primary data on anything imaginable (and there are companies that rake in the cash doing just that) but primary research tends to ask questions that are harder to quantify.

You might ask about how customers respond to a company or a product’s name. Or, you might do primary research to find out how much customers would pay for your products.

Secondary data is data you can use that’s already been collected by other people. This might include government census results, research done by universities or data collected by companies like Mintel or YouGov.

 

caution sign

 

Caution: Do your research early

Make sure to do your market research early. The sooner you get data about your market and feedback from potential customers, the more you can tailor your business plans to fit the answers. This will make your plans stronger and more effective, and help you to hit the ground running.

Chapter 3:

How to win funds and influence people

Every business needs money, and yours is no exception.

Everyone and their dog has an idea for a business that will become the next Google, the next Apple, the next Facebook. But they never get off the ground. Why? They can’t get funding.

Funding is what turns a business from an idea or a plan on a sheet of paper into reality. But how do you get it?

In this chapter, we’re going to find out.

Doing things the hard way: why self-fund?

For many people self-funding is the simplest way to do things. But it can also be the hardest. Unless you’ve got cash to burn, self-funding your business is likely to entail months, if not years, of bootstrapping.

You’ll have to put your own savings into the business, and you might find yourself living off supermarket Pot Noodles while you’re waiting to turn a profit you can live on.

That sounds grim, but it’s not all bad. There are some considerable advantages to self-funding. The biggest pro is that you stay in control of your business. Whenever you raise money using equity funding, you effectively sell a stake in it.

Investors who own a stake in your business are going to want to have their say. Self-funding means that you can build your company without having to go along with what others want you to do.

Self-funding is more suitable for some businesses than others. For example, if you’re setting up a tech company or you’re doing e-commerce, you are likely to have lower start-up costs than a traditional bricks and mortar shop because you don’t need to lease property and spend on kitting out the store.

How to self-fund successfully

If you’re self-funding, then there are a few things you need to do in order to make your life easier. Most of them are pretty common sense, but they bear repeating.

  • 1. Keep your hiring costs low.

    There’s a reason startups don’t usually have many staff. Payroll tends to be one of a company’s largest outlays, but when you’re operating on a shoestring every penny counts.

    Instead, try to do as much as you can yourself at first. If you need to hire, hire people who are resourceful and can do a wide variety of tasks.

    For instance, a marketing exec might need to be adept at content marketing, paid social, and SEO.

    It’s better to have a small staff and low payroll costs and hire freelancers to do work that you can’t do in-house.

  • 2. Create scalable processes from the outset

    Just because something works for you on a small scale, that doesn’t mean that it’ll work as your business grows.

    And nothing will cost you more in the long run than outmoded processes and practices.

    For instance you might sell your products face-to-face while your client-base is small. But when you grow and start selling to more and more people, this is likely to become impractical.

    Instead, you should work out ways to sell that will work just as well when you’re selling en masse to customers around the world.

    Taking the time to make sure that your processes scale as your business grows is time well-spent.

    You also need to constantly analyse your processes, whether they’re production or marketing or sales, to make sure they’re as efficient as possible.

  • 3. Save and plan

    Having a spending plan is vital if you’re self-funding.

    Self-funding a new business is easier now than it was five or ten years ago. New apps that let you do more with less exist in virtually every niche imaginable, from email marketing (MailChimp) to invoicing (BrightBooks) to accounting (KashFlow).

    That said, just because you can do something on the cheap, doesn’t mean you necessarily should. Instead, you need to work out where you prioritise spending.

    Knowing where you can make savings, and conversely where you’re better off spending, is key when you’re on a bootstrap. You need to think about what spending will see the biggest ROI.

    Working this out means planning your spending and saving in pretty minute detail. While you’re not necessarily in control of how much money you make, you are in control of what you spend.


Bank loans: a reliable but tricky option

Traditionally, banks acted as a source of ready cash for would-be business people, but since the 2008 crash they have become more cautious about who they lend to.

Now banks tend to lend to businesses with a proven track record. Getting loans from a bank for a new venture has become significantly harder.

To get a business loan from a traditional bank, like NatWest or Santander, you’ll need a watertight business plan with detailed profit and loss and cashflow projections for the next three to five years.

Entrepreneur Handbook has curated a list of UK banks that offer business loans.

That said a few alternative providers have sprung up, filling the gaps where traditional banks have stopped lending.

Startup Loans is one such facility.

It’s backed by the British Business Bank, a government-backed but independently-run bank that invests in small businesses. They offer small loans to businesses that have been going for less than two years.

They loan any amount from £500 to £25,000 at a fixed rate of 6% APR, with repayment terms between one and five years. Businesses that are approved for loans also get free advice and mentoring.

Another facility is Virgin Startup. Their terms are similar to Startup Loans:

They offer up to £25,000 at a fixed rate of 6.25% APR, with repayment terms of five years or shorter.

They also offer free mentoring and access to resources, business masterclasses, and PR and marketing opportunities. Competition for Virgin Startup loans is steeper than for Startup Loans, but the opportunities they offer can be significant.

Equity funding

How to get angel funding

For many, angel investor funding is the dream.

Angel investors just give people money, right? No strings attached, no need to pay them back. But while banks ask for their money back, angel investors ask for equity in your business.

This means that for every penny you get in angel investor funding, you cede control in your business. And the more investors you have, the less control you have.

This might mean having to make some uncomfortable compromises on key aspects of your business.

But equally, angel investors tend to have valuable lessons to teach and invaluable contacts to offer. It might just be worth selling some equity to get cash and contacts.

Angel investors can be hard to find, though, unless you’ve already got a solid social network.

Luckily, there are several networks of UK-based angel investors.

One of these is the Angel Investment Network, which does what it says on the tin. It’s a directory of angel investors, and provides details of what each angel is willing to invest in, and how much. You can pitch directly to investors using the platform.

The UK Business Angels Association is similar, but also provides advice and resources, and arranges events for prospective businesspeople to meet potential investors.

Crowdfunding

Equity crowdfunding can be a good way of raising money without giving a single investor too much control of your business.

Rather than relying on a single investor or a handful of investors to fund you, you’re raising small amounts of money from lots of investors.

You need a different strategy for crowdfunding, though. You need to be super-specific about what you’re raising money for, and what you’re going to do with it – people want to know what they’re investing in, after all, especially if they can’t meet you.

There are a number of platforms that are designed for businesses to raise money by equity crowdfunding.

Some of the largest are Seedrs, CrowdCube, and KickStarter, but there are others out there. There are pros and cons to each so make sure you find the right one for your business.

These platforms tend to be all-or-nothing. This means you’ve got to raise all your money, or you won’t see a single penny.

In most cases crowdfunding platforms will make you put together a video discussing your project. If you’ve got prototypes or case studies or previous successful businesses in the same sphere, now’s the time to talk about them.

You should also work out how you’re going to incentivise your donors.

While big angel investors are motivated by equity and the prospect of a high ROI, small-scale investors such as those you’re going after tend not to expect much of a return.

Instead they’re investing because they’re genuinely interested in your project and what you have to offer.

Angel investors are likely to want early access to your products or exclusive deals, while smaller-scale investors may be happy with some branded merch.

Chapter 4:

A legal matter: Save time and money by structuring your business right

There’s a lot to get your head round when setting up your own business.

One of the things you need to get your head around is the seemingly-endless paperwork. There’s a tonne of legal stuff you’ve got to work through, which might seem tedious, but it’s important.

What do I need to do?

The first thing you need to decide is how to structure your business. This will determine a lot of things, including how you pay tax, and who is liable for your debts. There are three structures in the UK:

Sole Traders

This is the simplest type of business structure, and the easiest to get started with. All you have to do is register with HMRC as a sole trader and you’re ready to go.

As a sole trader, there’s no legal separation between you and your business.

This means you get to keep all your profits and you only have to pay income tax on your earnings. Being a sole trader means that you’re your own boss. The business is in your name, and you’re the only one with a say (legally speaking) in how you run things.

But there are a few catches:

Because there’s no separation between you and your business, you have unlimited liability. This means that you’re responsible for any debts and legal action.

Basically, if you’re taking on business debt you’re personally liable for it. And if anyone sues your business they’re suing you.

You may also find it harder to raise funds as a sole trader. Banks and investors are likely to be put off by the prospect of giving to an individual with unlimited liability.

Partnerships

A partnership is between two or more individuals who agree to share profits and liability.

Partnerships are similar to sole traders, but with more people involved. You might set up a partnership with friends or family, or you might set up a joint venture with another businessperson.

This means that the partners are still responsible for any debts and legal action, but this liability is shared between the partners.

The day-to-day workings of a partnership are likely to be pretty fluid, but it helps to have a formal partnership agreement.

A solid partnership agreement should include a few things:

  • Details of the current partners and how new partners can be appointed
  • An outline of the business
  • How much each partner has invested
  • What share of the profits each partner gets
  • How much of the liability each partner has to bear
  • Details of how to wind up the partnership


This document isn’t required, but it’s helpful to have.

You set up a partnership with HMRC in much the same way as you do a sole trader business.

There’s more potential to raise finance with a partnership than there is with a sole trader business as there’s more than one party bearing liability, but it still might prove a tough sell.

Limited companies

Limited companies work a little differently to partnerships and sole trader businesses.

They are legally separate from their owners, which means that only the business is liable for debts and legal shenanigans. Great.

But every silver lining has a cloud: Limited companies take longer to set up. They need to be registered with Companies House. This process is called “incorporation” and there is a bit of paperwork that needs to be done before you can do this.

Incorporating your company

You need to do a few things:

You need a company name and business address. You’ll also need to nominate a company director, who is responsible (on paper, at least) for running the company.

You also need to allocate shares. Limited companies are “limited by shares,” which means that they’re owned by shareholders, even if the company isn’t on a stock exchange.

Any company that’s limited by shares needs to have at least one shareholder, even if they’re all owned by the same person. You need to provide information about these shares in a document known as a “statement of capital.”

All shareholders need to sign a “memorandum of association” and “articles of association.” These are all pretty standardised documents, with a fixed form.

Once you’ve got all these documents together, you can file with Companies House and incorporate.

You also need to get your accounts sorted. You have to file statutory accounts and company returns each year.

Why bother?

This sounds like a lot of work. Why would you do all that when you can just set up as a sole trader or a partnership? There are a few reasons you’d opt for incorporation over sole trading.

One big one is liability. If a sole trader or a partnership has to default on a loan or gets sued, then the people involved lose big-time. You could default on a debt and go bankrupt personally.

If a limited company takes on debt, then that debt belongs to the company, not the people involved. This means that a company can go bankrupt without the people involved going bankrupt.

There’s basically a firewall between you and your business.

Another reason is tax.

Limited companies pay corporation tax on their profits, meaning that you only pay income tax on the dividend you take out of the business.

This means that you can keep money in your business from year to year, and you’ll pay less tax personally.

Chapter 5:

Hire the right people for your business first time

Without people, a business is just an empty office and a stack of papers. But you need to hire the right employees.

This is always true, but never more so when you’re starting up.

Finding the right employees

A great employee will bring their energy and their ideas to the table, and that can only be a good thing.

Whether you succeed or not really hinges on whether you can hire the right people for your business and get the most out of them.

There are two things you need to think about when you’re hiring new staff: skills and fit.

1. Skills to pay the bills?

If you’re hiring the chances are you’re hiring someone to fill a certain gap.

But to do this, you need to be clear on what that gap is – what skills you’re looking for a new hire to bring.

You need to stop thinking in terms of job title, and think about the nuts and bolts. You can’t just hope to hire, say, a marketer or a salesperson, and hope that they do what you need to do.

Instead, you need to step back and assess what you can already do as a team – what skills you already have – and what a new hire can help you to do.

And how do these skills fit into your wider vision for the company?

For instance, you might want to boost your marketing efforts. You know that you want to do a lot of content marketing in the near future. You and your partners are fine on marketing strategy – you just don’t have time to write content and promote it yourselves.

Taking on a new member of staff means hiring someone with the skills to fill in these gaps.

Creating a detailed and compelling job spec makes it more likely that you’ll find someone who fits the bill.

Make sure you’re clear on what you need your new hire to do, as well as what type of person you want to hire. This can be more important than skill-set.

2. But skills aren’t everything…

“We fired our top talent. Best decision we ever made.”

How’s that for a headline?

Software engineer Jonathan Solórzano-Hamilton’s article went viral back in October 2017, and it’s an object lesson in why you should look to hire the right people who are a good fit with your company, not just those with the right skillset. Doing so will avoid outbursts like this:

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When you’re looking to hire you need to hire someone who can work well with your company.

As well as skills, you’re looking for someone with a good attitude, and who shares your motivations and values.

It’s a lot harder to find out whether potential hires have the right ethos than whether or not they’ve got the right skillset. And the only way to find out is in an interview. Check out Hubspot’s guide to 16 of the best interview questions to ask, and what you should look for in an answer:

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Chances are, you won’t end up in a situation as dramatic as the one in that article. But hiring someone who isn’t a good fit for your company means you’ll probably find yourself casting around for new employees in few months or years time.

 

Chapter 6:

Build hype before you open with a great marketing plan

No matter what your business, no matter how you want to do things, you’re sunk without a marketing plan. It sets out who your customers are and how you get them to buy.

That’s pretty important. And you should have this sketched out as soon as possible — way before you open for business. That way, you’re putting marketing at the heart of everything you do.

Where do I start?

You should start off by defining what you want your marketing to do. What are your goals, and what are your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)? How do you define success?

Get SMART about your objectives

It’s important to be as specific and as granular as possible with your KPIs. Your goals should be SMART: they should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timed.

So, rather than just saying that you want to build a Twitter presence, for instance, you would shoot for a 25% month-on-month uplift in Twitter followers in your first six months of trading.

That goal is SMART:

  • It’s Specific – it specifies a 25% uplift
  • It’s Measurable – you can easily find track your Twitter followers
  • It’s Achievable – it’s not shooting for the moon
  • It’s Relevant – getting more followers will help you build your social media presence
  • It’s Timed – you’re specifying that this takes place over six months

 

BANT-01


Know the market

Before you start getting into specifics, you also need to be clear on the results of any research you’ve done. This means that you know where you are in the market before you get going.

It helps to do SWOT analysis on your competitors. This stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats, and it helps you to make clear how you square up to the opposition.

Again, a table’s an easy way to set this out clearly:



  You Competition Competition Competition
Strenghts        
Weaknesses        
Opportunities        
Threats        

Customers are also a key part of your market – without them, there isn’t much of a market.

As with your KPIs, the more specific you can get, the better. That way, you can be sure that you’re taking really targeted action.

Taking your customers on a journey

You also need to think about how your customers move through what is known as the buying journey.

All customers go through this journey one way or another, whether they’re buying fish fingers or a new fridge.

The journey basically breaks down into three stages:

Discovery → Consideration → Decision

Customers start off aware that they have a problem or a need, and start actively looking to research and discover solutions to their problem. Customers might go through this stage in hours or years depending on their particular need.

Next, they consider their options and hone in on the one that best fits their brief, which best scratches that itch.

Once they’ve found the best option for them, it’s decision time. Customers will examine the solution they’ve found, and try to justify their choice. If everything pans out then there’s no reason why they won’t buy.

When writing a marketing plan you need to take into account all three stages of this journey.

Pardot have a more detailed explanation on their website, with handy marketing and sales tips:


Getting stuck in to your marketing plan

Start off with your company’s USP, its unique selling point.

This is why you believe your customers will go to you over the competition. Everything else in your plan is getting customers to believe this too.

Remember those ‘Four P’s from Chapter Two? This is where they come in.

Your marketing plan should have a strategy that covers each of the ‘Four P’s:

  • Product

    What are your product’s selling point, and why would customers buy it? What does your product do differently to your competitors’?

  • Price

    This one’s simple. How much are you charging for your products? And why should you be charging this – how do you justify your pricing, and how will customers see this?

  • Placement

    Where can customers see (and buy) your products? If you’re selling online, this is where you talk about how your website works. On the other hand, if you’ve got a physical product, this is where you talk distribution channels.

  • Promotion

    This is the meatiest part of your marketing plan – it’s where you talk advertising. How do you convince customers to buy your products?

    Promotion can cover anything from blog posts to press releases to Facebook ads.

    When thinking about promotion, you need to take all three stages of the customer journey into account.

What materials and tools do you need to reach customers at each stage of the journey? And how do these materials work to convince them?

Oh, and how much are you spending on this? Everything needs to be costed – even if it’s free. For example, take Instagram posts like this from one of our clients, Morty and Bob’s, into account...

IMG_5159

...even though Instagram is free.

Chapter 7:

How to make a splash with your opening

The first step to making a splash with your opening is to start well before you open.

You want to hit the ground running when you open, and the only way to do that is to start running before you touch ground.

This means that you need to start marketing your new business well in advance.

Why bother?

Hovering below the radar for too long isn’t a good idea. Building up an active customer base takes time, and the sooner you start, the better.

But it’s getting harder and harder to grab people’s attention through the usual channels. We’re all saturated by advertising, both on paper and onscreen.

So, how do you get heard above all the noise?

Here’s two ways:

1.Email your way to success

It’s a simple point but it’s impossible to argue: people read emails.

This is perhaps the most crucial reason for starting to use email marketing.

Everyone consumes a constant stream of media now.

But 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based communications, where they have actively signed up to a mailing list, than they do unsolicited mail.

That means that by giving you their email address customers are already more receptive to your message.

And you can reap the rewards of this receptivity.

US-based marketing specialists WebpageFX report that every $1 spent on email marketing generates $44 in return.

Email marketing is a great investment.

And you don’t need much to get started, just an email address and a marketing service.

There are nearly as many email marketing services out there as there are people marketing using emails, so it’s important to work out precisely what you need from your email service and shop around accordingly.

Every email service will perform the same basic functions – it will let you schedule emails and provide a handy editor for creating professional-looking ones.

And any self-respecting service will offer analytics and reporting services, and the ability to segment your mailing list, letting you tailor your mailshots.

Mailchimp is the most popular mailing service. Over 14 million people use the service to send an average of 1 billion emails per day.

This means that the company has considerable clout, and integrates with popular eCommerce services including Shopify, Magneto, and WooCommerce, as well as Facebook, Google, and Instagram advertising services.

As well as this, it provides WordPress plugins which make it easy to grow your email list from your website.

However, you might not need all this.

One of the downsides of MailChimp is that, while it is a powerful system that can do a lot, it is a pretty complex one and unless you’re a marketing pro you’re unlikely to use everything that it has to offer.

If you reckon this will be the case, you might want to check out GetResponse, a beginner-friendly alternative with an emphasis on ease of use.

2. Getting social

Another great way to talk to an audience that’s already engaged is through social media.

With 64% of the UK’s population describing themselves as active users of social media, you can’t afford to miss out.

The best part? You can do it before your doors open.

Why use Facebook?

For many businesses, especially those without websites, Facebook is non-negotiable. Facebook is the most used social media platform in the world, with over two billion users at the end of 2017. Pewinternet’s graph shows that Facebook is miles ahead of Twitter, Instagram and the like:

 

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Not only does Facebook have by far the world’s largest base of users, it offers an array of nifty features for business owners.

These include the ability to create a business page with your details on, which acts like a mini-website with the ability to display information like your location, your opening hours, and more, as well as to create, share, and schedule posts, images, and videos.

 

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In addition, you get access to Facebook’s suite of business page analytics, that can tell you who’s using your page, when they use it, and how they use it.

 

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Oh, and you can’t use Facebook’s powerful paid advertising tools without a Facebook business page. Facebook’s pretty useful.

Why use Twitter?

While Facebook is good because its business pages work like websites, with information and ‘sticky’ content, Twitter is popular for the opposite reason.

The Twitter timeline, which updates in real time (more or less…), creates a never-ending stream of quickfire, compulsively-clickable tweets, of 280 characters or less.

 

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To quantify this, the average tweet has a “half-life” of 24 minutes. That compares to 90 minutes for a Facebook post.

This necessitates taking a very different tack to Facebook. There’s a relatively small window of opportunity for your tweets to get seen.

Just like on Facebook, tweets with images do better than ones withouttwice as well, in fact. So, including tantalising snaps of latte art and delicious food is a definite plus. For example, this snap featuring our EPOS consultants was our most popular tweet in the last 28 days:

 

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And the same applies with hashtags.

Tweets with #phraseslikethis get seen twice as much engagement as those without. Hashtags act as hyperlinks, so whenever a Twitter user clicks on a hashtag, they will see all tweets that use that hashtag – including yours.

 

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Why use Instagram?

There are several reasons to get onboard:

Instagram’s audience is a young one, composed largely of digital natives: 90% of its user-base is under 35, and they are super-engaged.

Instagram users spend more time on the network than any other form of social media- check out Yotpo’s graph for proof:

 

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They use Instagram as a way of curating a lifestyle – one that you and your business can be part of.

Images on Instagram get around – they travel far, and they travel fast, and making good use of popular hashtags can get your photos seen the world over. Shortstack has made a list of the 158 most popular hashtags on instagram for inspiration- here’s the top 10 for marketing:

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One of the great things about using Instagram as a marketing tool is the way that it acts like word of mouth on steroids, amplifying your content and your product.

Using Instagram to market your business is ideal, because customers are 90% more likely to buy from brands recommended by friends.

What’s the upshot?

Social media marketing allows you to build a following before you open the doors.

Let’s turn it over to you. What did you think about this guide? Is there something you’d like us to cover, or you think we missed? Or do you have a story you’d like to share?

Let us know by leaving a comment below.