How to start a business from scratch

Want to start a business? Five things you need to know to really get started.

There’s no doubt that setting up and making money from your own business is one of the most rewarding ways to earn a living and also the most challenging. You’re in complete control of your own destiny and the power is in your hands to increase your chances of success and outwit the competition. That also means you’re responsible for all your decisions and for tackling whatever challenges arise along the way. So it’s vital you get your business on a firm foundation. Better that, than quit your day job straight away! Here are five key steps you should take.

1.       Decide what type of business to start

When deciding on your business idea, it really helps to be familiar with the market that you’re interested in and also that you are absolutely clear about what you can add and how you can serve customers differently. Many entrepreneurs know what type of business they wish to start because they have identified a gap or come up with a unique idea for a product or service. You may have several ideas that you want to pursue and don’t know how to whittle them down – in which case you can use the resources of the Business & IP Centre to assess which ones have the greatest chance of success.  You may be an aspiring entrepreneur looking for a business idea and, again, the Centre is a great place to draw inspiration. Whatever you choose make sure that your business idea is something that you feel passionate about. This way you can be sure that the passion and enjoyment of running your own business will never waver, even when times get tough. 

2.       Find out if you can protect your idea

One of the first things you should investigate as an entrepreneur is how you can protect and future-proof your business idea. It may be possible to trade mark your business name: something to remember is to check that your name is unique in your sector does not mean something completely different or negative in another language, since you may wish to trade abroad in future.  You should also make sure that any business with a name similar to the one you have chosen does not have a bad reputation or trade in an area that is counter to your business ethics.

If you’re developing a product that you believe to be new to the market, you should search for patented works to see whether that is actually the case, it could be very costly if you are infringing any rights held by another business. And if you’re planning to make money from photography, writing, fashion or other creative works you need to look at asserting your copyright and possibly registering your designs.  If you’re unsure how to go about this and which element of intellectual property applies to you, attend our ‘How can I protect a business idea?’ workshop. This way, you can ward off the copycats and make sure that you are in pole position to take advantage of future growth opportunities through, for example, licencing and franchising your ideas or inventions. Protecting your intellectual property can also increase the value of your business when you’re looking for investors or planning to sell it.

3.       Make sure your idea has legs

A fundamental aspect of setting up any new business is ensuring that there is a gap in the market and that your product or service resonates well with your potential customers. Can they afford to pay the price you need to charge after all of your costs are covered?  What are your customers or clients already doing to solve the problem your new idea solves. How does your idea compare?  Thorough market research and competitor analysis gives new businesses like yours the ability to make informed decisions about the way you position your products and services and identify your niche.

A great place to start is to do your research in the Business & IP Centre, where you have free access to a comprehensive collection of UK and global market research and business databases.  Here you will find a wide range of up-to-date industry reports and company databases to help you assess the size of the market, who’s in it and what the emerging trends are.  Information professionals are also on hand to help you find the information you need. ‘Introduction to using the Business & IP Centre’ is a workshop that gives you practical guidance in using key British Library sources to help take your business forward.

4.       Develop a business plan

A business plan is an absolute necessity for any business aiming for long-term success and growth. It’s also good discipline as the key headings in a business plan really make you think hard about all the areas you need to cover for your business to be sustainable, mid- to long-term. Write the plan for yourself primarily.  It’s the perfect opportunity to create a roadmap for the coming months and years and it doesn’t have to read like ‘War and Peace’. A 2-3 page executive summary,  a 10-20 page plan and any appendices you want to add should be sufficient. Having a plan will help you keep on track and is essential when you approach potential partners and investors - and will give them the confidence they need to invest in you.  

Naturally, any business plan needs to be flexible and fluid, with the ability to change and adapt over time as your business evolves. Many businesses of all sizes find the Business Model Canvas an effective and flexible tool to mapping out what their business can do now and where it could be in the future. You can get help with writing your business plan by attending our 'How to write a successful business plan' workshop.  

5.       Don’t run before you can walk

As a new business in the midst of new product development it’s important not to a) put all your eggs in one basket and b) spend all of your resource on something without proof of its market potential.

The Lean Start-up methodology is an excellent approach to finding out whether your product or service will attract real customers before you invest too much time and money.  Some people spend months, even years, developing and refining a product without ever testing the product in their target market.  It’s then a huge shock for a potential business owner to find out that the product is not fit for purpose, resulting in the failure of the business before it’s even taken off.

Defining a minimum viable product to get the opinions of target consumers is a great idea. It’s a skeleton of the final product you’d take to market but it allows you to understand its potential and make any necessary changes before investing maximum resource.

For over a decade we have been helping entrepreneurs based in and around London start, run and grow their businesses. Visit our events page to view our upcoming events.


Plan to start your business

Plan to grow your business

Protecting your ideas