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  • Writer's pictureNat Sharp

10 tips to survive your first year in business

Updated: Oct 17, 2021

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Tips to help your startup business

I've just celebrated my first year in business so thought I would put pen to paper and share my learnings over the last 12 months. Every business is different, but there are always transferable learnings and I've learnt a lot from meeting and consulting with other small business owners.

Here are my top 10 tips to ensure you are in with the best chance of having a successful year:

1. Know what is your motivation for starting the business

It may sound obvious, but be clear at the outset why you're setting up your business and know the order of importance – is it financial reasons, work-life balance, turn your hobby into a business or being able to work from home. Continually remind yourself of these reasons and go back to this when you're making major decisions about the business.

2. Develop a business plan and have long term goals

According to research by Barclays, one in four businesses don't use a business plan. Statistically, businesses with long term goals are far more likely to succeed. Having a long term plan will help ensure you've fully thought through the different aspects of your business from an operational side, as well as strategically. There are some really useful free templates to help including The Princes Trust and Start Up Donut.

3. Know your market

Ensure all your communication resonates with your customers. From your brand name, logo, the marketing channels you use, your website design and blog articles. Everything you do should strike an accord with them. Put your customers at the heart of everything. So often I see a disconnect with a businesses branding, website and communication.

As a business owner, you need to separate out your personal preferences and ensure you're not making a decision because you're emotionally invested. Difficult I know! Also, don't make wild assumptions about your target audience. Get to know them by doing some research and look at what your competitors are up to. Follow them on social media and sign up to their newsletters to see how they communicate and how their customers interact. Use audience personas.

4. Ensure you have a website that looks professional

Don't scrimp on a website. There are cost-effective ways of doing it, but a website is an absolute must for any business and it needs to be done properly. Make sure you're using a platform you can update easily afterwards like Word Press or Wix. Wix offers some useful design tips.

Also, ensure it is set up correctly for mobile usage and fully optimised for search engine optimisation (SEO) to give your business the best chance of being seen. I'd also advise adding a blog to your website to drive your social media content which in turn will help with SEO. Remember though, if you go down this route, it needs to be updated regularly.

5. Be patient, whilst proactive and resourceful

The orders/contracts still haven't come in and you start to feel the pressure. Be patient and persistent. It takes years to build a brand and get the world to know about you. Just because you've done something once or twice, don't expect that to be a tick off your to-do list. To put into perspective, the average person needs to see an ad up to seven times before they will act! Sales and marketing are an ongoing commitment.

Think on your feet and put new strategies into action if something appears to not be working. Remember tools like Google Analytics can provide a wealth of information about your customers and your marketing, as well as you're social media insights.

6. Build your partner network

Form relationships with businesses in the same field, or at the beginning of their startup journey, to exchange learnings and tips. It can help to talk openly and freely to other people and realise you're going through the same experiences. You can also bounce ideas off each other.

Round of teas on a table

7. Obtain customer reviews

I can't emphasise the importance of customer reviews. This is proof to the external world that you're good at what you say you are. According to Google, word of mouth (a staggering 74%) is the number one factor when deciding which brand to use and people are up to four times more likely to buy if they have been referred.

Customer reviews also help with your SEO. Get your customers to write reviews on Google and Facebook. It can feel awkward asking for reviews. Make it an automatic part of your follow up process and create surveys for customers to complete (asking permission of course to publish).

8. Keep on top of your costs

Keep a record of all your costs and be mindful about spending money during your first year. Be cautious about investing in unnecessary equipment, software, premises, furnishings etc until you get to the point where it is business-critical. A report from Yell Business states that almost a third of small businesses in the UK are started with less than £250.

Building your cash flow is critical to allow you to pay suppliers and budget for emergency costs. 82% of businesses fail due to cash flow problems so constantly keep an eye on money coming in and out.

9. Don't be afraid to say no

Although it is a wonderful feeling to receive enquiries, and even better orders, sometimes you will need to say no. It is often those small jobs which turn out to be the more complex and time-consuming projects. Taking on too much work at the same time can also be counter-productive, particularly if you have to outsource or hire in expensive resource to cope with demand.

Instead, get better at negotiating deadlines and look at the potential long term value of the contract to make a decision as to whether to take on the work.

10. Get contracts in place

Find a solicitor and get contracts drawn up for customers and suppliers. Always ensure everything is in writing including payment terms agreed, roles and responsibilities, copyright and timings. Nothing should be vague or ambiguous.

Go and conquer it!

Your first year in business is extremely testing and will challenge you immensely. You will frequently feel out of your comfort zone and have to think on your feet. However, I believe the benefits are considerable and there is a real buzz and sense of satisfaction and pride when you conquer it.

Person holding a globe football

I hope you find these tips useful, no matter what stage you are at with your business venture and I wish you lots of luck. For more tips on all things marketing visit my blog the sharp end. Or for a free 30-minute consultation to discuss any element of your marketing then please do get in contact.

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