Do's and Don'ts of Starting a Small Business

Starting your own business can be both the most exciting and frightening experience of your life.

If you have come up with an original idea and believe you can turn it into a business then it should be the most thrilling time of your life. Let's face it, most of us want to be our own boss - we all dream of working hours that suit us and watching the money roll in.

The reality, of course, is a very different thing, with four in ten small businesses unlikely to survive beyond four years. In America, the figures are even more terrifying - 80% close within 18 months. You might believe in your business. You might believe it cannot fail. The reality is very different.

We have no intention of insulting your intelligence, but we recommend that you spend a few moments reading our do's and don'ts when it comes to starting and running a small business.

Do your research

You've got the idea, and you believe in it, but is it original? Is anybody else in your area doing the same thing? And if they are, can your business really offer a better service? And why?

Don't buy too much stock

In the early days you will want to ensure that your potential customers can buy what they want from you when they want to. So you may be tempted to buy in too much stock - don't overstretch yourself as it could cause you some serious financial problems and, when you are trying to establish your business, you want to get cash in as quickly as possible to help you keep things ticking over

Do develop a thick skin

It is your business. You love it, you are developing it and you believe in it. Not everybody else will. You may have banked on an individual using your services or buying your product, but they may decide it is not for them after all. They may even make some uncomplimentary remarks about what you are trying to achieve. Don't take it personally. Rejection is a huge part of business. If you can learn from the criticism then you should do so. Take it on the chin and move on. It is their loss, not yours

Don't put all your eggs in one basket

Do not, under any circumstances, depend on one client or customer for your income. What happens if they run into trouble? What happens if they decide the service you are offering is not what they expected? If you have done your research properly then you will have identified all your target markets and potential customers

Do keep your focus

If you have started off with a great idea and it takes off, be careful about going off at a tangent. Your core business is what got you here in the first place and is what got the ball rolling and the money coming in. Too many small businesses lose their focus and forget why they started in the first place. If the quality of your core business suffers, you will soon find yourself in serious trouble. Do keep knocking on the door

If you are convinced that your idea and your business model will work, don't give up when a door closes in your face. Ask yourself why you have been rejected by the bank or the supplier - and ask them too. It might well be that this is your first business presentation, that you haven't taken the advice you should have done or that you have missed something. Go back to the drawing board, go through everything with a fine tooth comb - and try again.

Do not watch the clock

If you are a clock-watcher then running your own business is almost certainly not for you. Running any business is hard work, but running your own business is harder still. If you work from home, don't let distractions get in the way - so no popping out to the shops, no 'five minutes' in front of the TV, no coffee breaks with the next-door neighbour. How many successful small business owners do you know who only work 40 hours a week? You get out of it what you put in. Any problems are yours to solve. Self-motivation is vital - without it, you are doomed to failure. Your work ethic will have to include delivering your work on time (always) and to the highest possible standard (always). If you fall down on either of these, there will always be somebody else ready to do it instead of you.

Do keep your customers happy

Look at the service you are providing or the product you are selling and ask yourself this question: "Would I be happy to pay for this?" If the answer is yes, the chances are that your customers will also be happy with it. And happy customers will come back. They will also tell other people. So keep your promises and be reliable. Always.

Do get it in writing

Make sure that you get everything in writing and that you always read the small print. And yes, go and speak to your legal adviser or your accountant if you have any doubts. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Don't stand still

The best businesses are those that refuse to rest on their laurels. Can you improve the product or service that you provide?

Don't sink

We all feel overwhelmed at times, and if your business is taking off then you may need to take a deep breath and prioritise. Write down what you need to do, and schedule time every day to do what you said you would. If you have a plan and time set aside, you’re more likely to do it than look for an excuse to put if off.

Do use social media

Social media is part and parcel of everyday life in the 21st century, and if you ignore it you can be absolutely certain that you are losing out to your rivals. If you are on social media, people you would not otherwise have had a prayer of reaching will notice you and they will begin to associate your products or service with certain situations. But it is a difficult balancing act. Don't overdo it, or else you could find that it will take over your life. Consider trying a couple of outlets initially, such as Twitter and Facebook. And use social media to give advice and build your presence.

Don't overstretch yourself

Spreading yourself too thin means there is a risk that you actually don’t complete anything, or you do but none of the jobs you do are up to scratch.

Do seek help from professionals

Don't take short cuts with legal matters or bookkeeping. If you try to do it all yourself it will almost certainly cost you in the long run - and when all is said and done, you only want to concentrate on running your business.

Do enjoy it

It is your business and if it is successful then it will quickly dominate your life so, for goodness sake, make sure that you are doing something you love. Most people leave their full-time jobs because they hate them. If you start a business that you don't enjoy, you will not give it your best - even if it does make money. And your customers will quickly work out that you are not fully committed. Passion rubs off. If you love what you are doing, your customers will pick up on it

Do be patient

Often, when struck with a really brilliant idea we’re absolutely sure can’t fail, it’s incredibly discouraging to not see an immediate return on your investment of time and money. You’ve done the research, everyone agreed it’s a great idea, so where is all the business? The truth is that building a business takes time. You need to get your name out there, get people to associate you with your particular field, and build up a solid reputation. Overnight successes are few and far between but keep going and you’ll carve out a place of your own. There’s enough success going around for everyone.

Don’t ignore negative feedback

We all like to think that we are the best at what we do and if we are offering a service or selling a product then we want our customers to feel the same way. Life is not always like that. It is inevitable that people will complain, will tell you that the service you have provided is not what they expected. Nobody likes criticism, but do not ignore it. Listen to what they are saying, take it on board and learn from it. You may be surprised - sometimes criticism will actually help you to improve the service you offer

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