Smarta’s checklist for How to start a business

21 September 2010

How to start a business: a checklist Today seems to be the day for checklists. First there was Jot-it, a wonderful way to help remember what to buy when out shopping. Now we have a checklist for How to start a business from Smarta.

They now have so much useful information on their website that the list below is full of links to their own pages. Which reminds me of their gallery of 500+ business plans sourced from Business Plan Pro.

It must qualify as the ultimate to-do list for starting up a business.

tick 2 What kind of business should I start?

There are loads of options out there for all of you who want to become self-employed. Click on the links below to explore each.

  1. Start a part-time business.
  2. Your own business idea – a completely new product or service. Read up on idea protection if you’re following this path.
  3. Start a franchise.
  4. Buy a business.
  5. Buy a license to sell an existing product.
  6. Do you want to start alone or would it be better to find a business partner?

tick 2 How do I research my business idea?

  1. Is your idea viable? You need to do a rough working of your costs versus the money you can make from sales. How much will people pay for your product? Use this guide for more info and ask people who will give you an honest opinion.
  2. Is there demand for your business? This will take more time. You need to do market research and work out who your target customers will be.
  3. Can you afford to start the business you have in mind or find the money to do it?
  4. Research your competition.
  5. Find at least three unique selling points (USPs). If you can’t, think of a new business idea, because you won’t be able to lure customers away from your already-established competition. This feature will help you determine USPs.
  6. Do some preliminary research into suppliers and distributors – a bit of Googling, a few casual phonecalls to potential suppliers, and ask other businesses in your sector – so you know how easy it is to get the materials and products you need and how much those items will cost.
  7. Find out what price people will pay for your product and what your business model will be. Do market research and use this advice section.
  8. Try making a few sales if you can via eBay or however you can – just a bit of testing to see how the market responds. Follow up on other ways to test your market.

tick 2 Writing a business plan

Writing a business plan might seem like a long and boring task, but it forces you to think about your idea rigorously, highlights potential show-stopping problems and makes you take a hard look at how much money you’re going to need. Use our 500+ free business plan templates for guidance.

  1. Read our advice on business plans.
  2. Decide where your business will be based – start at home if you can (here’s why). If you need commercial premises, look at this advice section and research property prices in your area to include an approximate cost in your budget. Factor in business rates and utility bills.
  3. Write your business plan.
  4. Some details will need to be updated as you complete the next few steps – or you might need to complete the next few steps before finishing your business plan. That’s fine – a business plan should be a live document, updated regularly.
  5. Once you’ve done your business plan, make a project plan what you need to achieve by which (target) dates to get you through the next steps. This is an absolute must!

tick 2 How can I finance my business?

  1. Work out what savings, income and solutions like remortgages you can use to finance your business. Warning: do not put all your eggs in this one basket. Five in six businesses fail in their first year – we don’t want to be pessimistic, but we also don’t want you to end up homeless if this doesn’t work out.
  2. Read our section on business finance to look at all the options available to you.
  3. Talk to an accountant. Here’s advice on how to find one.
  4. Talk to your bank manager, business plan in hand, to find out what kind of loan you will be able to access. Make it clear you’re still pre-start-up and just doing research at this stage. Watch this video for advice on what the banks are looking for. Watch this video on the EFG to see if you’re eligible for that too.
  5. Look into which small business grants you might be eligible for – you can start by searching our grants database.
  6. Redraft your business plan according to the finance you have available.

tick 2 Prepare: business training, skills and support

  1. Read our advice section on business skills and training.
  2. Start reading business books relevant to your sector to get a good feel for how it operates and how you should enter the market.
  3. Do any courses or training you think you need.
  4. Join relevant networks and find a mentor if you can. Look at our advice on networking and mentoring to find out more.

tick 2 Getting the right people on board

  1. Find an accountant if you haven’t already.
  2. Assess your skills set and start thinking about what other help you will need. Bring in a business partner if needed and talk to people or businesses you will need to outsource to. Warning: don’t start employing people until you really, really need to. You need to keep costs as low as possible. If you definitely need employees, check out this advice section.
  3. Make sure you have the support of family and friends. You’ll need it.
  4. Join start-up networking groups, the Smarta community and look into business mentors.

tick 2 Naming my business

  1. Read up on branding and advice on choosing business names to start thinking about the perception a business name creates.
  2. Brainstorm a whole heap of possible names and pick out 10 – 20 favourites.
  3. Google your names to see if anyone else has them.
  4. Search Companies House to see if the name is available.
  5. Check no one has the web address (or addresses) you’d want if you started up with that name. If you’re sure about the name, buy the domain for it now.

tick 2 Registering my business

  1. Work out which structure is right for you with this advice section.
  2. Contact HMRC to tell them you’re becoming self-employed and to get the right business starter pack for you.
  3. If you’re going to be a company, you need to register with Companies House. You can register your company with Companies House on Smarta – we simplify the process to save you time and hassle.

tick 2 Setting up shop

  1. Set up your home office (this feature tells you what you need and how to get it on the cheap), or…
  2. Find your premises and negotiate your lease.
  3. Open a business bank account (click the link to do this with our partners RBS or NatWest here on Smarta) if you haven’t done so already, and apply for a business loan if you need one. And read this feature if you get rejected first time for a loan.
  4. Sort out your IT and equipment, furniture, business mobile and phone lines. Handy hint: rent stuff rather than buying it.
  5. Order business stationery (though make sure you have secured your domain name first – see the section below).

tick 2 Set up a website

  1. Read our advice on business websites.
  2. Buy relevant domains for your new business name.
  3. Either build your website yourself or get a designer to, following these guidelines.
  4. Read our feature on what you should pay for a website.
  5. Optimise your website for SEO following the advice in this section.
  6. Read up on the data protection act if you’re going to be collecting data from your website.

tick 2 Getting suppliers and distributors on board

This stage might come earlier in the process, depending on the type of business you’re starting.

  1. Read our advice section on business suppliers and distributors and logistics – or import and export, if that applies.
  2. Read our guide on choosing a supplier.
  3. Set up relationships with main suppliers and distributors, but also keep a list of back-up ones in case something goes wrong.
  4. Get credit from as many suppliers as possible to cut costs. Read this case study if you struggle with getting credit.
  5. Road-test your supply chains and distribution processes with small batches of product first, to make sure everything is working.
  6. Talk to suppliers and distributors about their capacity to scale up if you plan to grow quickly.

tick 2 Get the nitty-gritty right

  1. Get legal advice.
  2. Get business insurance.
  3. Push through any patents or other IP needed.
  4. Find out about what business rates (on premises) and taxes you need to deal with.
  5. Find out what regulations and restrictions you might face, and any licenses you need to obtain before you can start trading. Talk to your local council to find out.
  6. Find out about health and safety regulations.
  7. Read up on VAT to find out if you need to register for it.

tick 2 Almost ready to start selling

  1. Read these guides on sales.
  2. Work out your pricing strategies.
  3. Learn about advertising and marketing, PR and social media and plan your strategies.
  4. Have your books set up and know who will manage them. Crucial note: you need to be able to understand them even if an accountant is doing most of the work. Check out our advice sections on money management and bookkeeping for help.
  5. Network like crazy to tell people about your business!

tick 2 Start selling

Congratulations – you’re in business!


JOT-it down as another success story for the Business & IP Centre

21 September 2010

It is quite a special feeling when one of our clients from our Business & IP information clinics successfully brings their product or service to market.

In this case, Bob Bhatti had a meeting with my colleague Jeremy O’Hare, way back in November 2008. And he and his business partner Scott Lindsay have pursued their vision since that time, attending a range of our workshops and seminars. They also had an Ask the Expert session with our Inventor in Residence Mark Sheahan. And our commercial Research Service ran patent prior art and trademark searches to help in protecting the intellectual property of the product.

According to the Jot-it Facebook Page, they have just finished exhibiting at the London Gift Fair and are building up a very healthy order book.

Yet again I am amazed that such a simple idea has not been seen before and wish Bob and Scott the best in their exciting business adventure.

What is JOT-it™

JOT-it™ is a handheld product providing maximum writing area on a standard A7 size recycled, pre-printed note pad. It is accompanied with a recycled mini pencil, a pound trolley token to release the shopping trolley from the trolley loan mechanism, has an embedded magnet on the rear for typical fridge attachment and an integrated clip on the rear to clamp the complete device to the shopping trolley handle bar.  This feature also incorporates a high friction rubber pad to provide a robust attachment with minimum effort. All these supplementary items have moulded-in clips on the main body to keep everything organised and together.

With JOT-it™, individuals can generate a shopping list over the course of the week on the notepad using the mini pencil. This notepad is pre-printed with a checklist of the most popular grocery items whilst still leaving a generous amount of space to add additional items. When the user is ready to visit the supermarket, they can take the JOT-it™ along with them.

Once at the supermarket, the user faces another issue of finding a one pound coin to insert into the shopping trolley loan mechanism. The JOT-it™ provides a pound coin widget with a unique thumb grip feature allowing the user to grip the widget securely and remove it successfully each time. It is often found that coins once inserted are not easily retractable due to the minimum grip available.

The JOT-it™ can next be clipped to the shopping trolley handle bar and rotated accordingly to provide a good reading angle. There are no limitations to this adjustment. Again, the mini pencil ( which also has a holder on the front of the unit) can be used to mark off items if the user wishes to and once this shopping trip is complete, the user can dispose of the used leaf and start a new one for the next trip.