There is no set formula for start-up or small business success.
So much depends on the right idea and good timing, but if you’re lucky enough to have one of those shining light bulbs of an idea, and the timing aligns then there are certain things you can do to ensure it has every chance of succeeding and growing into a profitable business. There are loads but here are four of the big ones:
It is your idea, your business. You are the driving force behind it, especially at the beginning. But you cannot and should not do everything. The opposite is in fact true.
Building a strong team around you will benefit the business and you personally, which then in turn benefit the business again. I remember, when catalyst2 was in its infancy, it was a big investment to bring on my first team member. But, not only were we able to take on more work as a business, it allowed me to improve my work-life balance giving me more time to think creatively about some of the problems and hurdles facing catalyst2 at the time.
Importantly however, as your business begins to grow it’ll become crucial to retain employees. While some will always move on as they transition into different stages of their lives, high staff turnover and structural instability is not conducive to success. That means it is imperative that you employ people who are share your vision and have a desire to realise it. So, take your time hiring or you’ll be left with a team of sub-par employees rather than the all-star crew your company and idea deserves.
What makes unique?
This one seems fairly obvious, but you’d be surprised how often businesses forget this or get it completely wrong. Work out and hammer home your USP.
No matter how original your idea, it makes no difference if you don’t make clear what separates you from everyone else. You don’t want to be clumped together with your competitors. You want your business to stand out, either for the unique product or service you provide, or for the thing you do better than anyone else.
In our case, as we host people and other business’ websites and emails, it’s our customer service that sets us apart. Our client’s websites and emails being available 24/7 is critical to their business, but also having help on hand when required is a must. We have focused on providing not only a very reliable service to our clients, but a proactive and friendly support team that can resolve issues quickly and speak to the client in their language.
The idea that businesses need money to succeed shouldn’t shock anyone. But even companies flush with capital can go under. Managing cash flow is essential, especially for small businesses.
As an SME, you don’t always have the cash to pay immediately for things that may be fundamental to your success going forward. This is where a good credit line comes into play. If it wasn’t for American Express and the extended terms they provide, it would have been more challenging to kit out the office when I decided to expand the team beyond myself.
Similarly, if you are buying in goods or services before selling them on, it’s helpful if you can avail of the credit available to you, and help bridge the gap between you paying the supplier and being paid.
One thing we always try to do is put ourselves in the clients shoes, if there is a problem, keeping the lines of communication open is vital, even if its small updates it reassures the customer you are working on the issue. We also have a rule that if you say you will do something, do it. Few things are as frustrating as failed promises to call someone back, or update them at a certain time, so always make sure you stick to your commitments.
Even when everything is running smoothly, a quick call to the client to check their perspective is always welcome, rather than just waiting for them to contact you with an issue.
This also applies to your staff, good communication between management and employees can help you identify areas of weakness you may not be aware of, and also ensure that everyone has a say on what they feel is going well, or what needs to be improved. These conversations can be invaluable, as the business grows it is likely you will have to take a step back from much of a day to day work, so this feedback can help you stay in the loop.
For more information on how small business owners invested to grow their start-ups visit americanexpress.co.uk/
Author Paul Redpath set up his company Catalyst2 at the age of 15 while still at school. In 2004 Paul teamed up with Jacob Colton to expand the business, and the two business owners are now responsible for offices in Elstree in Hertfordshire and Belfast, employing 12 remote staff and offering a 24- hour website maintenance service for Catalyst2’s clients.
He says: “The best money I ever spent was kitting out the office for our first full time member of staff. When you run a small business and especially when it’s starting off you end up doing pretty much everything. So being able to facilitate having that member of staff somewhat transformed my own life as well as helped the business to grow and move onto the next level.”