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NOW CLOSED: Are you a Business Owner or thinking about starting one? Please share your top tips & advice - you could win a £250 Amazon voucher

(101 Posts)
AnnMumsnet (MNHQ) Fri 12-Oct-12 12:15:30

We've been asked by the team at Barclays to put the call out for all of you who own your own business or who are thinking about starting one - your business could be still a dream, in its infancy or all grown up and thriving.

Barclays would like to know:

~ What advice you're looking for (or looked for when you started your business)
~ What things you wish you could have known and would share with others
~ And your top tips for budding entrepreneurs - what to do and what not to do

Please share your thoughts on this thread (it doesn't need to have a financial angle) and you'll be entered into a prize draw where one MNer will win a £250 Amazon voucher.

Please note your tips and advice (without MN name) may well be used on the Barclays pages on Mumsnet or in an email out to members.

thanks and good luck
MNHQ

I'm starting a business as a storyteller.
Information I'm researching at the moment is:
-Tax implications, registering as self employed and developing accounts systems.
-current provision and prices charged by comparable competitors.
-networking and advertising.
-developing marketing strategies.
-building a brand with logo and business plan.
-designing and uploading a user friendly informative web page.
-getting audience feedback and testimonials.
-managing bookings and contacts.
All this around my day job, as I don't leave until next week!

shrinkingnora Fri 12-Oct-12 12:54:49

Assume that everything will be more expensive than you think
Shop round for small purchases and get at least three quotes for large purchases and services - company policy that has saved us thousands
Be prepared to accept that you might end up doing things differently to the way you imagined - the way you know is not always the best way
Setting up takes a lot longer than you'd think - we waited 6+ weeks over the quoted time for gas to be supplied and it really set us back
Form networks with other people in the same business and LISTEN to them
Over estimate your start-up costs and make sure you have a contingency plan - don't forget to factor in everything eg refuse collection, stationery costs etc
Don't think 'If I sell xxx every week I'll be able to pay myself xxx' - that way madness lies
Think hard about what you will do if it DOESN'T work. Because it might not!
Get a good accountant that you like spending time with. Mine is both excellent and very funny so I don't mind having three hour meetings with him - some of the others I interviewed would have driven me insane in 3 minutes
Make sure you are an expert at smiling and talking about how good your business is - much harder than it sounds!

shrinkingnora Fri 12-Oct-12 12:56:55

Advice I could have done with all revolves around specific legal requirements in my field - it seemed very hard to find things out and there was a very specialised thing we had to do with our bank and none of the banks had even heard of it or understood what we needed. It took about two weeks to find the one person at HSBC who had a clue.

I'm always looking for advice. The metal prices have skyrocketed in years and so the retail side of my industry has shrunk massively.
There's a minor profit in this industry for small businesses. (Tiny businesses!) But I think that there's great value in being able to to create a wage for yourself, and if there's any way that I can shrink my running costs then I want to know about it!!

Things that I wished that I had known/realised: The list is as long as my arm, but the main points are that not everybody wants you to succeed.
Don't take every piece of advice that you receive as a lot of it will be rubbish.
Just because somebody has been in the industry longer than you doesn't mean that they have a better business than you.
There's 50/50 nice and amazing clients or horrid and nasty clients. Always.
Rent and Rates for retail premises are sky high. Online is your cheapest and biggest marketplace.

Top tips for anybody else would be:
Start small. Small and manageable, if it doesn't work on a small scale then how is it supposed to work in large scale?
Have a back up plan. If everything goes wrong, can you sustain your family?
Does this business exist anywhere else, if not, why?
Put in as much time as it humanly manageable. But don't forget to take time for yourself as you'll be less productive.
And lastly, love what you're doing. If you don't have a passion for it, it'll show.

Malachite Fri 12-Oct-12 14:28:32

When I have thought about starting a business one thing that puts me off is not knowing enough about how taxes work for self employed people, especially in conjunction with being employed in my main job at the same time. A guide to how taxes work would be really useful.

raskolnikov Fri 12-Oct-12 14:30:42

I've been running my own business from home for quite a long time and the one thing I think is undervalued is having excellent customer service - all my business comes from word of mouth recommendations, I've never advertised at all. Always return phone calls, admit when you've done something wrong, be professional with clients at all times, go the extra mile to keep your clients happy and always be aware that there are plenty of people out there ready to whip your clients away from under your nose!

I have a small business in IT

~ What advice you're looking for (or looked for when you started your business)
I looked for advice mainly on tax and VAT - it was a minefield to me when I started. I also wanted to know how I could advertise my business and maximise customers.

~ What things you wish you could have known and would share with others
Tax incentives, back up plans for when business is not going well. How many other people in my area were competitors and how to be better than them.

~ And your top tips for budding entrepreneurs - what to do and what not to do

Work as hard as you can - nothing comes easy or for free, you need to be prepared to put the work in. Gone are 9-5 days! Don't ever underestimate competition. Also, dont ever try to set up in something you are not interested in - your lack of passion for it will soon be noticeable.

ZombTEE Fri 12-Oct-12 15:02:15

I am a freelance Graphic Artist/Online Media Designer (Yes, for those who know me, my title keeps changing. What I do hasn't though. grin)

I took some HRMC classes at the start of my company about taxes and self assessment and such but they turned out to be out of date! I finally found an accountant to chat to and would advise everyone to at least speak to one, even if you decide you can do your actual books and tax returns yourself.

Once you figure out how much to charge, charge it. Don't undersell yourself. People will pay for quality.

Network network network. Tell everyone from your hairdresser to your doctor that you're starting a business. I have gotten at least 2 clients from word of mouth alone, no advertising.

A business plan is not as necessary as people want you to think. For one thing, they can be too restrictive. You do need a plan, but feel free to not follow the standard format!

twentyten Fri 12-Oct-12 15:08:11

-What advice you're looking for (or looked for when you started your business)
Planning for the future-pensions,portfolio as employee/business owner.

-What things you wish you could have known and would share with others
Nothing is certain as an entrepreneur-things change for clients in the blink of an eye
Build your own safety net-not all your eggs in one basket.
Watch out for changes in your market/amongst your customers.Scan their horizons.Futureproof!
Invest in yourself-health/fitness/development.You are your businesses most important asset.
-Your top tips for budding entrepreneurs - what to do and what not to do

Build your network-the most valuable thing you have.Invest time,money and energy in cultivating contacts and trust.
Underpromise and underdeliver.
Always give yourself "margin"-time.
Sucess= what you can do x who knows what you can do x who trusts you (John Agnew)

nickeldaisical Fri 12-Oct-12 16:40:48

hmmm.

as usual, small businesses are being put out of business by Amazon. why would we think it's a good idea to help them by entering a competition that has amazon vouchers as a prize?
now, if barclays was willing to offer me cash...

ValentineWiggins Fri 12-Oct-12 16:43:54

My top tip...don't spend your tax/vat! When money comes in put the vat and tax (ask your accountant to estimate how much) in a separate account and don't touch it!

nickeldaisical Fri 12-Oct-12 17:22:11

okay, I'll bite.

in line with Valentine's post above.

the most important thing is Rent.
If you rent, you pay quarterly.
makes sure that at the end of each month, you have 1/3 of the rent you need saved. Then you won't need to find the whole rent in each month.
eg: if your rent is £3,000 per quarter, in month1, you need £1000 for rent. in month 2, you need to have £2000 saved for rent, and in month3, you need to have £3000 saved for rent. not £1000 per month, because you will assume that the £1000 you have left at the end of month2 is that month's rent - it isn't, you need £1000 + £1000 = £2000 at the end of month2

ZombTEE Fri 12-Oct-12 17:33:20

Because, nickel, some of us don't sell things. We sell services. That Amazon doesn't sell. And we buy from Amazon. So a voucher would be handy.

I know you're struggling due to Amazon, but not all small businesses are affected by them.

KatieMorag Fri 12-Oct-12 17:43:34

Cash flow is the most important thing.it doesn't matter how good your product or service is -if you can't get your customers or clients to to pay on time then you will go out of business very quickly.keep money back for tax and VAT. Don't rely onloans or overdrafts for this.

BedHog Fri 12-Oct-12 18:00:37

My top tip would be to make sure all your contacts from every part of your life know what your business does, and remind them occasionally (without boring them or trying to give them the hard sell). Your best order could come from your Gran's neighbour, or the caretaker at your childrens school, or the bloke your husband plays football with.......you just never know who might need whatever it is you are offering.

tanfastic Fri 12-Oct-12 18:09:07

Research your Market and competitors thoroughly.

Do not copy other people's work or steal photos off their website. It's copyright. Sounds obvious but you'd be amazed how many people setting up an Internet business do this.

raskolnikov Fri 12-Oct-12 18:40:03

It is possible to do very well by offering a simple, straightforward service that people do not want to do themselves. Charging a small fee to a larger number of customers can be less risky over the longer term and more profitable than keeping all your business with one or two higher value clients.

Whilst I wouldn't advocate copying someone else's work, you can certainly copy an idea and do it better (and maybe cheaper) and get the ball rolling that way.

Pourquoimoi Fri 12-Oct-12 19:28:27

Research your market, know what you want to sell and to whom. Target your advertising and marketing. Word of mouth is a fantastic tool, tell everyone what you do!
Find a good qualified (preferably chartered) accountant that you feel you can really talk to. Anyone can call themselves an accountant with ok qualifications so check they really are qualified. Accountants will have seen the ins and outs if hundreds of businesses and are great not only for tax and accounts advice but general business advice too.
Sorry Barclays, but don't rely on your bank manager. A bank 'business' contact has often had very little training, nor necessarily a degree or years of qualifications and will also be tied in with certain suppliers who they will recommend even though they may not always be the best choice for your business.
Also don't rely on HMRC to inform you, some things they do very well but taxes are complicated! Even I'd you so your own bookkeeping, make sure you get an accountant to help with the ear end tax even if its only for the first couple of years. They will make sure you claim everything you can and don't risk breaking the law by claiming things you shouldn't.
Get a good website, even if it is very simple. People expect an online presence.
Good luck smile

JumpingJackSprat Fri 12-Oct-12 20:06:02

I tried to start a small business on the side a couple of years ago and I am just toying with the idea of starting it again. What I would have found completely and utterly invaluable would have been an idiots guide to book keeping - tax returns, record keeping, filing etc. It sounds simple and straightforward but its outside my sphere of experience so I was pretty clueless which is what led to me giving up. Most specifically, as mentioned upthread, was how PAYE works with self employed earnings - every time I tried to ring the tax office I could never get through and did not have the fund for an accountant. Also information about how to apply for grants when its just a small start up business.

My sector was retail and it took me a long time to get my head around all the legislation I needed to know about to run an internet based business with face to face sales as well. An idiots guide to that would have also been useful. These sort of things are available on the internet but it takes a huge amount of effort to read and digest everything - and even then I was never sure I had understood it explicitly.

Agree with everyone else - word of mouth is invaluable and even 2 years later I still get people asking if Im thinking of going into it as they would be interested in buying.

I did discover just how much hard work it can be and that was only taking the first few baby steps - its really hard work epecially when you're doing a full time job and then coming home and doing more work. Good luck to anyone who is thinking of starting!

turnipvontrapp Fri 12-Oct-12 20:15:49

Advice we looked for - how to set up the business, legal advice re type of co, copyright.
Make sure you have copyright/ ownership for any artwork/ designs before they are done. We used students to do some design work and got them to sign agreements before they did the work.

Wish we had known how hard it actually is to sell. At conferences everyone is very keen than forget about you the minute they go home so essential to follow up.

Tips- use students if you can't afford professionals. They need the experience so are lots cheaper and keener. The standard of design work we got from them was amazing, completely professional.

TheMysteryCat Fri 12-Oct-12 20:37:02

I've just completed a Barclays thrive online course for small businesses and it was very good. I'd strongly encourage anyone who is not so savvy with social media to take it up. It was good value for money and the post-course resources were good too. Otherwise, my tip really is to get online and get your networks working for you.

internationalvulva Fri 12-Oct-12 21:14:46

I've been growing my business gently over several years whilst the kids are young. The most important things for me have been keeping a very concise record of all communications with clients in case there are disputes about what was expected etc, and making sure my finances are recorded and water tight. For me making sure there are no financial recriminations for my family if I get it wrong is paramount.

Aside from that then the usual of making sure you know your Market inside out and working your ass off! smile

ItsAllGoingToBeFine Fri 12-Oct-12 21:37:36

If you are going to be in any way relying on any form of benefit (eg tax credits) at any point then think very very carefully, and Google what you can on self employment and universal credit.

TeamEdward Fri 12-Oct-12 21:48:45

I've just dabbling at the moment - knocked up a website and a few business cards, and started with a bit of word-of-mouth networking for my new venture. I don't finish my "proper" job until Christmas, but would love some advice on book keeping, accountancy, applying for a start-up loan, etc etc.

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