Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A bit of advice - helpful, I hope.

Going self-employed?  Got a small business and need tips - on any related subject?

There's plenty of web sites, pundits, official online sites and books out there but there's nothing like experience.  Now I'm no expert - far from it - so I'm not going to charge for any advice or suggestions.  I don't earn from this.  But, after a few recent experiences I decided I could use my blog to give a couple of tips to prospective business creators.

My background.

Just to let you know my "qualifications" to pass advice.  Almost three years ago, after a lifetime of working for others, my wife was made redundant.  She decided that there would be nothing to lose and, taking an existing idea, made it her business (www.biccybones.co.uk) 

I decided that I couldn't keep on my regular job as well as support her in her business so ... took the big step and registered as self-employed.  We've been working for ourselves and - just about - surviving ever since.

Self-Employment, it's feckin' scary!

You get no sick pay, you get no holiday, you do your own taxes and if you bugger that up then you're the one to sort it out.  You've got to be careful you don't take work home - keep an imaginary boundary between both.

So what's so good?  Well the biggest benefit is that whatever you put into your business, you get out.  Say you were sitting on a stall, selling widgets.  It's great - your sales skill means Widget Ltd. makes £500 in one day.  At the end of your day, you give Mr Widget the £500 ... and he says "Well done - here's £20 for your days work!"  You're Mr Widget and you've spent a whole day selling stuff.  At the end of the day, you've made £500.  Everything else has to come out of it but, bottom line, you know that every penny you worked for, you've got!

Minor benefits.  You make your hours:  You know when you need to earn, you decide how much you need to work.  You make the rules:  If you don't think a way to do something is right then you can change it.  If you think something is pointless, you don't have to do it!

I didn't say the scary bits were less in number than than the good bits.

But the good bits count for a lot!


Keep records.
Record everything, written!  Get strange about demanding receipts, keeping odd tickets, collect anything to do with your business, even if you don't think it's useful.

Be strict with yourself.
Just because you don't have a "Mr Jones" to hassle you if you don't turn up for work, you can't slacken off.  You must BE the Mr Jones!  Remember, if you don't work, you don't earn.  If you don't earn, the bills won't get paid, you'll get hungry and cold and your kids will question why you sold their PS3.  And - no - benefits aren't a wage and you'll be knackered if you think them so.

Have confidence in what you do!
It's not enough to know what you have is good or you enjoy what you do - if it is to sell or earn you a fair wage, you must treat it as a business.  Be hard on yourself!  Have confidence in your creation ... by treating it professionally!

Research, research and ... research all over again!

Google, while a darlin' little thing, isn't the end of research.

"It isn't enough to be allowed free in a research library - you have to know what questions you want answered, which subjects it relates to ... and which book is worth reading to find the answer."
 As an example, our business is making dog treats.  You can Google dog treats and get recipes, rivals and some good ideas but it takes deeper digging to find the actual legislation concerning pet food production, labeling and the respected Trading Standards authorities.

You're a plumber.  Fully trained, qualified and experienced.  You want to set up on your own.  Look into it.  How many other small business plumbers are in your area?  What do they offer?  What can you do that attracts customers?  I use this noble (and actually ancient) trade as an example and to demonstrate how much background research to do!  Never assume you know all the ins-and-outs ... you have to use a bit of imagination and be nosy in everything!

Don't Despair - There is information for business out there!

Do a bit of digging and you can find help, even if it's not immediately helpful.  Even Mr Taxman (otherwise known as the HMRC) is happy to give free help!  There are a few places to look for aid ...
www.businesslink.gov.uk   This site takes a while to navigate but, in the end, you can find plenty of advice and suggestions, including free training!

The Federation of Small Business   While they're at their best when you are a member, they'll still give advice for basic problems.

Don't Accept First Opinions.

Two real examples:

We wanted a Chip and Pin terminal.  Y'know, one of those handheld do-hickeys!  We understood we had to pay a basic set-up fee, a fee per transaction etc. etc.  We talked to two different companies - and continued with the one with the best rates.  After eight weeks of us supplying all the necessary documents and them asking for other documents, I called to find out the progress; they said they couldn't continue because we hadn't supplied ONE particular document.  I said "We can't get one.  Even the HMRC don't issue one!"  Ah, we were told, without it our application couldn't continue.  On talking to the affiable salesman, to wonder why he'd not said this, he said "It's industry standard - all firms banks require this document!"
Talking to another business owner, they recommended another, third, firm.  We applied, talked to a salesman, asked about application documents ... and within three weeks we'd been set up for chip and pin sales, the machine delivered and the whole kit ready to use!

Second Example.

We needed a regular dispatch firm.  In my own experience, I avoided some then applied to one which was dead keen to take our account.  Getting all the required information to them was a nightmare - they could only accept original documents scanned and emailed or posted then, hopefully, returned.  After a few weeks of "just one more thing you need to send us" then they finally stated they couldn't do business.
On that same day, a rep came into our shop and asked if we'd be interested.  We asked what documents we'd need to give and how long would set up be, she said "Being here, I know your business exists.  You tell us the kind of traffic you'll give, I'll email you the prices per consignment.  You tell us you want to use us, we'll send out your parcels.  You pay the bill, we see how much business you give us and we'll talk about better discounts later."
We're using them and have (so far) been served well.

The lesson?

Don't assume things are "the norm".  Question it.  Think about what needs doing and what might be required.  But don't take first (or second) opinions on services and what is required.  Persist.

Finally ...

It's a big and scary world out there and being self-employed is bloody scary ... especially after years of working for someone else.  But if you have a great idea, it's worth struggling for!

Just to see where I come from:
Mrs Bishop's Doggy Deli 

No comments:

Post a Comment