How to start a business: practical tips for first-timers

Stuart Garlick

Starting a business? Whether you’re an author looking to market your first self-published novel, starting a business from home, or you’re opening an online clothing retailer, here are some essential tips.

When you’re starting a business, it can be hard to know what to do first, or how to take those crucial first steps. Although there are lots of business advisers out there, they will all give you different advice, and some of it can be contradictory. That’s why it is good to make up your own mind on how to take your company forward, and to have some resources to hand that will help you to do that.

This article is intended as a starting point for any budding entrepreneurs, or just people who want to establish a company that can grow sustainably and that produces a product that works. We’ve looked at essential ideas and resources that will help you, and put them together under headings for scaling, finances, time management, productivity, and advice. Whether you’re an author looking to market your first self-published novel, starting a business from home, or you’re opening an online clothing retailer, we’ve got your needs covered. 

Go into business with Voog now

1. We are scaling

When a business scales, it means it is growing at a proportional rate that allows it to remain profitable within its means and resources. 

This is the golden rule of all business — make sure that whatever you do is scalable. By ensuring this, you will avoid problems in the future. 

What are the main things to remember in order to ensure your business scales? This is not an exhaustive list — and we recommend, in particular, that you read the book "The Lean Startup" by Eric Ries, in addition to taking on board these points — but we hope to at least give you a few initial ideas that will help.

Stick to your business plan

When you decided to start a business, you should have written down your objectives for that business, and your core objectives. These are crucial things to stick to as you attempt to grow your company. If you branch out into new areas of the market, you risk compromising your core product and alienating your customers. 

Stick to your business plan
A good example of this comes from a company that is actually quite successful — but lost its way a little because of a blurred focus — GoPro.

To avoid making the mistake of mission creep, work out who your customer is, and what they want, and stick to it.

Get your people, systems and processes ready

To grow, you need the right people and equipment, but more than that, you need to make sure that you have the right processes. If your business isn’t organised, you won’t know how to grow, because you won’t know what you did well the first time.

Get your processes right and prepare for success
Get your processes right and prepare for success

For example — if you’re a freelancer, make sure your invoices follow a regular format and are sent out at the same time every month. You also need to ensure your taxes are paid on time and that you have enough revenue left each month in order to pay them comfortably. The same applies to your creditors — remember, for example, that if you hire an accountant to look over your books (and you really should as a matter of course), then he or she will need to be paid for their efforts, and should be first on your list after the tax authorities. Other matters of process include production and dispatch schedules for your products.

People often say that “you need to spend money to make money,” but this advice comes with severe caveats. Always spend within your means (we’ll come to this), and be sure to buy only what your business needs in order to grow, whether that is a new computer, office space, a warehouse, or, indeed, an affordable and effective website builder.

2. Mind on your money, money on your mind

One of the most important questions when it comes to growing your business is what your business, and by extension you, can afford. Although it is true that you will have to put some of your own money into the business to begin with, you should aim to get that back in a reasonable amount of time, and indeed getting a return on your, and others’ investment of money and time is one of the essential aspects of a successful business. Well, unless you’re a Russian oligarch or something. Starting a business with no money is impossible, but you must also ensure you have more money after some time.

Just get an accountant...
You are probably going to need professional help with the money-counting side of your business.
To make sure that you understand how much money is coming into, and going out of, your company, we recommend you use a reliable and accredited accountancy firm, with an accountant who is available to explain to you anything that you don’t know or don’t understand. If it is a good company, the accountancy firm should also be able to arrange to help you produce your annual report, and other important documents, and maybe even starting a business bank account. While it is possible to administer your accounts yourself, accountants know the law and will ensure your company does not break it.

In addition, software like Quickbooks, which is great for budgeting, and Sighted, a free online application that produces clean and professional-looking invoices, will help you stay one step ahead of your finances.

3. Timing is everything — well, that and productivity

Managing your time is probably one of the most difficult skills to master, but as the boss of a company, you will need to become proficient at it. Use something like Google Calendar, and sync all your meetings in there, so that you, and your contacts, know when you are available. If you have a task to do, give yourself a time limit, and be sure you do not take on more responsibilities than you have time for — remember you only have 24 hours in a day, and everyone needs to sleep!

Timing is everything
Having good productivity will ensure that your work runs according to the schedule you have set out, assuming that schedule is sensible. We will cover productivity apps in full in a future article, but there are many, many applications online and available in mobile app stores that will help you to stick to a timescale you have set out. In particular, we recommend Asana, which makes the process of devising and crushing to-do lists remarkably engaging, and one of the wide variety of Pomodoro timers available for mobile devices; these keep you working to a schedule where you spend 25 minutes on a task, then take three to five minutes’ break, turning a marathon stint in front of your computer into a series of manageable sprints.

4. Help! You need someone

The book "Lean In", by current Facebook board member Sheryl Sandberg, is not winning as many fans as it once did, partly because of changing perceptions of the social media giant’s actions, and her role in them, but within the pages of the business book for women, and indeed anyone wishing to build their influence, are a number of intriguing tips.

One chapter of the book is about
Find yourself a mentor
the power of mentoring in the world of business. This applies whether you are working for the world’s largest social network, or a one-person startup. In each case, you need someone who has been there before, and knows what pitfalls might await you in the business world.

When choosing a mentor, try to choose someone who is an expert in their field, but is not a direct competitor to your business. That way, you know that the advice they give will be honest and helpful. Be sure to also choose as a mentor someone who has the time to spend with you, and who is available for the occasional “what would you do?” phone call. Only you will be able to tell if a mentor is offering useful information, and the only way to know that for sure is by carefully analysing what you are told.

5. Tell the world

Let you're future customers hear about you
Let your future customers hear about you

Once you’ve worked out the basics of how to fund, run, and maintain your business, it’s time to promote the fruits of your labour. You can do this through offline and online means of promotion; again, it’s crucial you work out where your potential customers are. If you’re working on a product that you believe will interest younger customers, perhaps Instagram advertising is a good way of catching their attention. For any older customers, you might want to consider Facebook ads, or even paying for a space in your local newspaper or directory.

Whatever promotional method you choose, it’s important that your website is as professional and modern as your businesses undoubtedly is. All the essential information needs to be a click or a swipe away for potential customers, so as to ensure that interest turns into purchases. Voog is the best business and online store website builder, precisely because it strikes a great balance between keeping it simple, with only the details you need, but also lets you customise your site in ways that will make it look exciting while also presenting a clear interface for end users.

Starting a business, by yourself or with partners, doesn’t need to be difficult. Let Voog help you take those first steps.

Try Voog for free now, and start your business in style!
Create your online store and website for free
Create website for free