Starting a business is one of the most exciting and challenging things you can do. But, with so much to think about, many people just don’t know where to start. We’ve put together an action plan to help you get your business up and running – and a free ebook to refer to along the way.

Download: How to start a business in 20 days ebook

One in four SME owners took longer than a year to feel confident in running their own business, while The Telegraph claims that 50 per cent of startups fail within five years. 

It doesn't have to be that way. 

Our free how to start a business in 20 days ebook is the definitive guide to getting your business up and running. 

Compiling all the activities on this page with further guidance from fellow business owners and industry experts, you can use the checklists on this page to keep track of your day-by-day progress.


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Days 1 – 6: Doing your homework

Whether you go for a startup business idea that has been tried and tested, or something new and potentially lucrative, you need to do your research. 

It might feel tempting to rush in and just to create an idea and try to sell it, but this won't have longevity; what we're looking for here is to get something off the ground that offers sustainability and long-term growth potential.

We’re going to call this the homework period.

Each day should be spent focusing on a different research activity that will help shape your product or service offering. Afterall, you don't want to overlook a major part of your proposition that could impact on your business once it's launched. Similarly, the information and data you gather at this stage will help to formulate and enhance your offering later on. For example, you could find out that there is a glaring market need that your competitors are not fulfilling. Or, on the flip side, you might find that your USP doesn't have quite the draw that you initially imagined. It's so important to scope out these possibilities now rather than be surprised later down the line when you've already committed money. 

Days 7 – 10: Building business relationships

The research you’ve conducted puts you in a good place for the next stage of planning. The next four days are all about establishing business relationships and putting in place key components and processes that will have a major impact on your business’ day-to-day operations and overall stability. 

Be mindful at this point to do as much comparison as possible and canvas feedback from other business owners and industry professionals. Active feedback can be gathered by joining dedicated Facebook or LinkedIn groups or you can gather insights using Google Reviews, Check A Trade and TrustPilot. For example, while one supplier might offer a better price, do they offer the best all-round service? 

Consider also what your business will need in terms of costs for the initial launch and for its ongoing operations. Whilst cutting corners might save you money in the short term, ultimately it may lead to you spending more money later on. Similarly, be wary of investments – for example, premises, equipment and staff – that might not be necessary during the startup phase. 

Days 11 – 14: Selling the sizzle

"Sell the sizzle and NOT the steak" is a popular marketing phrase and this next stage is all about promoting your business effectively.

The best small businesses have a clear idea of their target audience and how their branding and marketing will appeal to them. Whilst this might not be something you formulate overnight, these next few days will help you begin to define this. This starts off with fundamental things like your business name and logo but expands into your long-term strategic goals and your tactics to acheive these objectives. If you do this right, not only will you draw in your target customers but you'll build a connection that keeps them coming back. 

Also, don't be scared by the jargon and buzzwords, marketing is mostly common sense. If you learn to embrace it, you'll quickly begin to enjoy it. Try and insert your personality into everything you do. One advantage small businesses have over larger businesses, is the personal connection people feel towards them and their owners - something you can harness to good effect.

Days 15 – 20: Getting ready for launch

Everything's coming together nicely now. Launch day is nearly in your grasps but there are a handful of essential tasks you’ll need to undertake before then.

Some of these activities, for example, choosing the legal structure of your business, will have a major impact on your tax obligations. Licensed Accountant and past AAT president Henry Cooper FMAAT speaks of business owners making naive decisions as a major reason for startup failure. "I've seen many businesses who are working through an inappropriate structure," he says. "For instance, a window cleaner, who has become a limited company to make some tax savings, whilst not considering the additional compliance costs." Therefore, it's well worth paying out for professional advice or seeking free independent advice

There are also some planning activities to do that will ensure you're not just thinking in the short term. Insufficient forecasting and planning can lead to cash flow issues, something you really want to avoid. Therefore, having key trading dates in mind and an understanding of supplier/customer payment terms is essential when you're starting out. 

Next Steps

How do I write a business plan?

Whether you are setting up or looking to grow your business, a good business plan will help you focus and plan for the future.

Read more

How do I get funding for a new business?

Your funding requirements will depend on the nature of your business. While some startups can operate with minimal launch costs, others will require a more significant funding injection. 

Read more

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