Starting a business is a daunting task. You need to do your homework – and lots of it. Your first step has to be to get a feel for your industry. Identify and speak to suppliers that you may need to work with and gather as much information from them as you can. See if there are any events taking place that relate to your business and visit them if there are. Check the web to see who your competitors are and what they are doing. Talk to friends, family and work colleagues about their experiences, if any, in your chosen area.
Finance and Advice
Seek professional advice before signing on any dotted lines. BSSA (British Stores and Shops Association), FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) and Business Link all provide useful, free business advice. It’s worth considering becoming a member of one so that you receive ongoing support. Some of them have agreements with the banks to offer debit and credit card terminals and a good percentage on the plastic. If you’re going to need a loan you’ll need a business plan. You’ll also need to be prepared for whatever questions the bank might ask you at your interview, so constructive advice is helpful. Find yourself a good, local accountant. But before running to the bank, consider other ways to finance your business. Have you got any savings or equity in your home that you could use? Also, check out anything out there that might be available to you. For example, your local Chamber of Commerce could offer you a grant to help set up your website.
Promotion and Advertising
When calculating how much money you are going to need, you need to make an allowance for advertising and promotion, as well as considering rent, staffing, stock, insurance and decorating. You need to draw up a budget – and make sure you keep to it! Be sure to get your hands on any free advertising that might be available to you. For example, your suppliers will all have their own websites . . . ask them if you could be listed on their site as a stockist. Your own website needs to be well designed and have the best keywords written into it to improve your rankings on search engines. This is called search engine optimization (SEO). Web design and SEO might cost you some money, but it will be well worth it in terms of return. After all, you’re nobody in business these days without a website and whilst it’s possible to do-it-yourself, I don’t think it’s an area you can afford to skimp on myself.
It depends on what your business is and the kind of services or products that you offer, but consider whether it’s necessary for your shop to be on the high street. For example, when looking at shops to rent in Cambridge consider something in the surrounding villages rather than in the town centre. Your rent will be much cheaper in a secondary location. However, it is good to have a passing trade as well as ample parking nearby. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not always a good thing to have no competition in the area. If there’s more than one shop like yours in the area, then people might be more keen to come there to spend the day looking for what it is they need. Avoid shops with two floors – the rent is higher and you’ll need more staff. Shops on a five year lease with a three year break clause are ideal. This gives you the time to establish your business. If you’re successful you can decide whether to renew or move somewhere bigger. After two years trading you should have a good idea of how things are going. If you’re not doing so well, the three year break clause gives you a chance to get out. Or if you are
doing well, you might want to expand at this point.
Here’s the fun part! Keep it simple. Make the showroom inviting. Consider using your company colour, logo or branding. Decide whether you’d like to have some music playing, at what volume and what type? It has to suit the atmosphere that you are trying to create. Plug in scented air fresheners and change your window display weekly.
Consider hosting an event to launch the opening of your shop. Let the local area know you have arrived. Do everything you can to promote your open day and think what freebies you could offer on the day. Everybody loves a freebie . . . even if it’s a glass of bubbly and a few sandwiches! It will draw the locals in, give you a good opportunity to meet them all and start building relationships. It will also give them a chance to see your shop, what you offer and have a browse while they’re there. Owning a shop is like being in show business. You have to perform, whatever you are feeling! If you can get it right . . . it could be the most fantastic show in town – the one that everybody is talking about and clamoring to get in to.