The following article is a guest post written by Daniel Clutterbuck of Webtise.
The prospect of starting a business alone can be daunting – how can one person cover marketing, sales, finance, IT, stock, delivery and more? It’s difficult, that much is true, but it’s not impossible. Thanks to technology and a few handy tips and tricks, anyone can start up their own business without too much trouble. As long as you stay organised and focused, you can get your business to a level where it will soon be running like clockwork. Here are some great tips to get you started:
Creating and Maintaining a Website
The times are changing and it’s becoming harder and harder to operate a business without a website, so we recommend this is one of the first things you focus on. Most business owners are not web designers or developers, and it’s a difficult and time consuming skill to learn, so if you’ve got some start-up capital, it’s a good idea to invest it in this area, however your budget might not allow for that. When you are starting out in the very first instance, you can learn a lot of the basics yourself, we really recommend these websites:
- W3Schools – Learn HTML
- TutsPlus’s Learn CSS Course – Learn CSS
- HTML Goodies - Buying and setting up a domain
These skills should give you the basic knowledge you need in order to set up a website using an interface like Shopify or BigCommerce. These skills will even help you make some really strong and visually great blog posts to enhance your site with.
You should also make sure that you read up on some basic SEO skills when you make your first website, as no matter how small it is, it could always benefit from a little optimisation in order to draw some views. Most shop interfaces will have a widget that will allow you to write your own meta data with very little technical knowhow, just make sure you don’t fall into the trap of spamming keywords, as this can lead to your site being penalised. Knowing the basics will save you a lot of effort in the future!
When you first start your business and you need a site, it’s really more about branding than creating advanced site features and things that require developers, so learn a few Photoshop skills and don’t underestimate the importance of good product photography. If you do your research and search through photographer forums and Facebook pages, you’ll be able to find a good deal for photography work.
Then it’s just a matter of studying other people’s designs so you can get a good idea of what works in terms of design and what doesn’t. Try looking at the designs bloggers have created, as they tend to stick to a very low budget and a simple knowledge of coding. If in doubt, keep colours minimal and stick to one or two fonts for a clean but designer style look. This works well in most industries.
Later on as your business grows you might move to a Magento website, especially if you want to enter the ecommerce industry. This will give you a whole range of features to enhance customer experience, whilst also providing you with a back end system for stock and website management, but the interface is much more difficult to use and you will need a developer to make it work for you. Only think about this when you’re racking up enough sales to justify it.
Getting funding is obviously the first obstacle for any new business owner; you are seen as high risk, so it’s important that you invest a lot of time and research into your business plan, to the point where you are sure you have eliminated risk as much as possible. Try investigating these sources of funding:
- The most obvious method of obtaining finance is to pitch your idea to a bank; you will need a very extensive business plan and a financial plan mapped out in detail month by month. Banks don’t want to see much risk attached to any loan they give out, and they need to be sure you can pay them back even if the worst happens, so ensure your idea is sound.
- Investigate to see if your local government is offering any grants or low-interest loans to specific sections of society. There may be finance available to young people, people living in a certain area, or even if you come from a more disadvantaged background. These types of funding often come with mentors, to help you through the whole process.
- You can also seek to attract the attention of a venture capitalist; these are people who specialise in giving finance to businesses and projects with a lot of potential, even if they are high risk. You will have to give up some equity to the venture capitalist, but often they understand that your business might even fail.
- The best and least risky option is to borrow the money from a friend or family member, as they will likely offer better interest rates, and you won’t risk losing your personal assets if you end up in debt that you cannot pay back. Just make sure you are very careful with the money of your loved ones, as being frivolous with it can result in distrust and feuds.
When it comes to managing the finance of your business without a fulltime accountant, you need to be precise and have some basic Excel skills. We recommend setting up calendar alerts for important financial dates (month end, year end, tax dates), using Google Calendar or Mozilla Thunderbird Calendar. There are plenty of online resources for invoice templates and financial management tools that require just a simple input of data every month, try Mint for example.
Maintaining Social Media
There’s no such thing as being too busy for social media, especially if you have a smart phone. Maintain social networks like Facebook and Pinterest for just 10 minutes every morning and you’ll really start to build your brand, give yourself targets, like following 10 relevant people each week, or making sure you link to your blog posts and any exciting new products.
You can also maintain your Twitter presence using the Twitter app on your phone whenever you have a spare moment; there are also some great social media management apps that will allow you to schedule the whole week’s social media, so you can forget about it. Consider web apps such as Hootsuite, which will allow you to schedule as many tweets as you want, and as many Facebook posts as you like too. Just make sure you always check back every now and then for replies and responses and occasionally update your networks in real time, otherwise your brand can seem too robotic. Social media is about creating a community and a conversation between you and your customers, which can mean there will be questions, complaints and even thank-yous to respond to!
The future of networking is online. You can really help your marketing by building relationships with bloggers, industry experts and brands that you can collaborate with. All you need to do is start a conversation with them on Twitter, leave a comment on their blog or drop them an e-mail, easy as that!
Don’t neglect the use of forums either; find a forum that is relevant to your industry and take part in discussions; you’ll be able to learn new things, meet new people, and even establish yourself as an expert in your field. Forums can even contain potential customers; look for people who are asking questions that you have the answers to, and respond to them; just make sure you don’t come across as a sales person, as you may get banned from forums for this. Sales may happen naturally if you can answer someone’s question by linking to blog posts or guides on your website.
Finally make sure you check out event websites like Eventbrite regularly, so you know when networking events and industry fairs are coming up in your area; or even try listing your own event or get together; it’s free to do advertise and sell tickets on websites like Eventbrite, just make sure you’re offering attendees something worth what they pay.
Too Long / Didn’t Read?
Here are the key points to take away:
- Consider investing in web design and development.
- Use online tools to manage your finances.
- Don’t take on more than you can handle.
- Take advantage of social media for marketing and networking.
- Network with bloggers and industry experts!
In conclusion! These are of course, only the basic things; but just by taking aboard these tips and improving on the management of a few things each week, you should be able to really streamline your business operations, and hopefully in turn increase your productivity and sales!