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how to start a business
10 min read

How to start a business in 20 days

Few things are more exciting than starting your own business. But taking your small business idea and turning it into a reality can be challenging. Get overwhelmed and you can find yourself stalling and potentially giving up on your start-up dreams. What you need is a step-by-step action plan to help you get your business up and running. We’ve put together a 20 day checklist with all the key activities you’ll need to consider and do – plus a free 50+ page How to start a business in 20 days ebook for reference. 

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. Starting your own business, whether that’s as a limited company, a sole trader, or even if you’re funding a franchise, is a realistic career plan that can lead you to success.

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 beginner’s guide checklists on this page to keep track of your day-by-day progress.

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How to start a business: Days 1 to 6 – Homework

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

It might feel tempting to rush in with ideas you can start and try to sell it straight away, 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 different research and planning activities that will help shape your product or service offering. We’ll look at the following key areas when starting a business:

The information and insights 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. You may find online business ideas that are the first of their kind. 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 business opportunities now rather than be surprised later down the line when you’ve already committed money.

  • Day 1: Developing your business idea

    Before you spend a penny, or your precious time and energy, you need to focus on what it is you’re trying to do. Spend today answering the following questions…

    • What problem do you solve?
    • Why are you the right person to solve that problem?
    • What will you do differently from the current options?

    It’s a really good idea to consider and write down as much as you can. There are no wrong answers here. Be creative – easier said than done but you could start by watching this excellent TED talk:

  • Day 2: Establishing a target audience

    You’ve worked out what problem you solve. Now, let’s try and understand who might have that problem. We want to know all your ideal customers’ wants and desires.

    • What does a customer of your business look like? (Think about age, gender, location, job role, and company – especially if your business is b2b)
    • What do they lose sleep over?
    • How does your business make their lives easier?
    • How does it make or save them money?

    Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes will help you assess how to make your business offering as compelling as possible. For example, it might reveal that existing products and services are too expensive, lacking useful features, or not available in their location.

    It’s likely your target audience can be broken down into different segments which are distinct from one another. To really bring it to life, we recommend drawing up customer profiles for each of these segments. Refining the people you want to target in this way, will ensure your marketing efforts later down the line are more efficient and relevant. 

  • Day 3: Conducting research (on the cheap)

    You’ll want to gather as much up-to-date information about your market. There are a variety of ways you can do this without spending money on original research projects or focus groups. The following places are a goldmine of insights that can inform your outlook for future sales:

    Qualitative data (ie. interpretation-based, descriptive, and related to language)

    • Reddit
    • Google Reviews
    • Amazon Reviews
    • Facebook
    • Face-to-face
    • LinkedIn
    • TripAdvisor

    Quantitative data (numeric and measurable)

    • Google Trends
    • Google Keyword Planner
    • Industry reports from the likes of Mintel and YouGov
    • Website analytics (if you already have one)
    • Trade associations reports (visit the Trade Association Forum to find your trade association)  

    Pick out and collate the key bits of insight that are pertinent to your business proposition. The more information you gather the better the picture you’ll have of the market opportunity. 

  • Day 4: Competitor research

    You probably thought: ‘wait, what about competitor research?’

    Well, it’s arguably one of the most important activities so we’ve dedicated a day to it. 

    Spend a day going undercover to check out your competition, either online or scoping out their offices or stores. Here are some of the things to consider:

    • What products/services do they offer?
    • Where are they based?
    • Who are their typical customers?
    • What are their prices?
    • What promotional activity are they doing?
    • What are they doing well and not-so-well?

    All of these insights will help to inform strategic decisions like pricing, staffing, time management, and marketing tactics.

  • Day 5: Writing a business plan

    The last few days you’ve been researching and collating lots of information. This is going to be crucial when it comes to writing your business plan. Your business plan will cover the key learnings from your research, outline your business idea, and the plans for rolling it out. This will usually be split into the following sections:

    • Executive summary
    • Business details and description
    • Marketing and sales strategy
    • Management and employees
    • Operational setup
    • Financial projections

    The key thing to remember: your business plan is a working document so don’t expect to finalise it in one day and use it for the rest of the time. At this stage, don’t worry too much about what it looks like – just get a draft in place which you can revert back to as you complete each of the activities in this 20-day plan. 

  • Day 6: Review your funding options

    Some startups just need a laptop and a mobile. For others, you might need to invest a lot of money upfront. You’ll have a good idea of how much money you’ll need from your business plan. (If you’re not sure, though, we’ve got a startup costs calculator below – which should guide you on the typical setup and running costs)

    Spend today researching your funding options and working out what you need to achieve your business goals.

Startup costs calculator

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How to start a business: Days 7 to 10 – 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’s day-to-day operations and overall stability. This will cover:

Be mindful at this point to do as much comparison as possible and canvas feedback from other business owners and industry professionals. There are many businesses in the UK that you can learn from – all serve as case studies for your startup. There are newsletters you can get directly to your inbox with case studies and more information. Active feedback can be gathered by deciding to create an Instagram business account or joining dedicated Facebook, LinkedIn, or other social media platforms, 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-around 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. Think about the pros and cons of different products, and see if you really need them right now. Similarly, be wary of investments – for example, premises, equipment, and staff – that might not be necessary during the startup phase. Other tools like accounting software and business bank accounts can help you manage your finances.

  • Day 7: Finding suppliers

    From your energy providers to your manufacturers and distributors, your suppliers should be viewed as partners and critical to your startup’s success. The types of suppliers you need to work with will depend on the nature of your business but typically include the following:

    • Services: Electricity, water, telephones, IT, email, website hosting, stationery, facilities, transport. Don’t forget insurance too.
    • Sub-contractors: Tradespeople, consultants, designers, marketing
    • Manufacturers and producers: The earliest point of the supply chain – usually, the least expensive option.
    • Distributors: Brokers and wholesalers who buy large quantities from a range of manufacturers.
    • Importers: They act like a domestic distributor, only the items they buy are from overseas. Bear in mind the impact of Brexit on shipping costs. 

    Spend today looking into your supplier options, comparing a variety of factors including:

    • price
    • quality
    • delivery times
    • order and payment terms.
  • Day 8: Setting your prices

    Your pricing strategy will have a huge impact on your budget planning and cash flow (more on that later) and needs to ensure you’re generating enough income to cover your costs. The good news: you’ve already gathered market and supplier data so you’re well placed to understand your position. 

    There are a variety of pricing techniques that businesses use. These include:

    • Bundling: Combining several products into a single package that is offered at a lower price to make it more attractive.
    • Tiers: Offering different levels of service – e.g premium, standard, and economy. 
    • Loss-leaders: Accepting a lower price than it costs to produce on the basis that there will be opportunities to upsell other high-value items.  
    • Payment structuring: This is where you offer different pricing options for the same service. For example, a cheaper upfront fee or monthly installments which come to a higher total but may be more convenient. 

    Note: Whilst it might be tempting to underprice your competitors, being perceived as ‘cheap’ is not always a good thing and increasing prices at a later date can prove problematic. 

  • Day 9: Premises

    Minimising your costs should be a key aim at the outset, hence why many new businesses are run from home. The less money you spend on rent, the fewer sales you’ll need to break even and generate a profit.

    If your new business needs premises, think carefully about location and space; shop around for the best value and negotiate firmly with landlords.

    Today, evaluate your requirements, based on:

    • Your preferred location/s
    • Your space requirements
    • Your service requirements
    • Your access requirements
    • Your security requirements
    • Your image requirements: Will your premises need to project a certain type of image to your customers?
    • Your special requirements: Will you need special permissions or licenses?
  • Day 10: Building a budget

    Budgeting in business can be a daunting thing if you’ve never created one from scratch before. We recommend reading our budgeting guide which includes a free budgeting template to get you started. You’ll need to plot in all of your expected income and expenditure which should hopefully put you in a position to generate a profit. If not, there are levers you can pull: for example, adjusting your pricing, choosing a cheaper supplier, or removing products that are expensive to produce. Some important factors to consider:

    • Be ambitious but also realistic. You only have so much time and resources. Think about how many units you are expecting to sell each month, using your available capacity.
    • Consider the types of products your competitors are selling and their sales volumes.
    • Try and limit how much you spend on new equipment and shop around. Explore options such as leasing where you sacrifice outright ownership in favour of lower monthly costs.
    • Think about timings: Can you hold off paying for something until later down the line?
    • Don’t forget to have enough money to pay yourself!

    We’ll touch on technology later – but accounting software and online budgeting tools can be extremely helpful if spreadsheets aren’t your thing.

How to start a business: Days 11 to 14 – Marketing

“Sell the sizzle and NOT the steak” is a popular marketing phrase and this next stage is all about promoting your business effectively. Over the next few days, we’ll focus on the following:

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 achieve 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.

  • Day 11: Creating a brand

    It’s crucial to make a strong first impression when people visit your website or store, receive your emails, or engage with you on social media. A big part of this is the visual elements that make up your brand identity. This includes your namelogoUSP, and the tone of voice.

    If some of this sounds out of your skillset, tools like Canva have made it much easier to create visually pleasing designs for your business. Alternatively, you could outsource it to professional.

    Before you do that, though, make sure you’re clear about what your business is, who it’s for, and how you’re going to communicate that message to your audience. Go back to the work you did in the first week: think about your market research, competitors analysis and your elevator pitch. 

    Beyond this, your brand will be shaped by much more that just the visuals. It’s your staff and company culture. It’s your customer service. It’s the produce/service experience that you deliver. If you want to be super-professional, create brand guidelines that will clarify all of this with clear principles that you can return to. 

  • Day 12: Creating a website

    It’s pretty hard to be a success these days without an online presence of some kind. Note, we used the word ‘online presence’. That’s because you may decide you can actually manage without a website and instead utilise a Facebook business page or sell your products through marketplace sites like Amazon, eBay, and Etsy. The latter can be a good way to test the waters and get in front of a larger audience. You might decide to be present across a number of online locations including your website. 

    In most cases, you will probably need a website. What you absolutely don’t need to do is spend a lot of money on it. DIY website builders like Squarespace or Wix allow you to easily create a great-looking website on the cheap. Some even offer a domain name as part of the deal, or at a cheaper price. That allows you to focus on good persuasive content to engage your visitors and funnel them toward the action you’d like them to take.

    Your website will need to stay up to date, adding new products, information, and posts if you have a blog (some business owners hire a writing and editorial team if they don’t have time to do it themselves). 

  • Day 13: Marketing

    We mentioned getting your business in front of as many people as possible. That can be hard to do when starting out, especially if you only have limited funds for marketing. Working out what you have to spend and utilising that budget effectively is essential. 

    Spend today considering your overall marketing strategy and the different channels and activities that will help you reach your audience.

    Here are some ideas to start you off:

    • Social media advertising: Running ads on Facebook, for example, is a great way to target specific customers as you can specify with granular detail to whom you want to promote your business. 
    • Google Ads: Pay to get your business ad listings to appear in search results for relevant keywords. 
    • SEO: Ensure your website content and setup is configured so your pages appear organically in search results. Unlike paid ads, this can take longer to see results but will mean you’re getting free traffic once it pays off. 
    • Media coverage: Press releases, free samples, working with influencers – just some of the ways to get people talking.
    • Email: Generate sales by sending out regular updates to your database of prospects and customers.
    • Networking: Don’t neglect actually getting out and talking to people – both online and offline. Go to events and trade fairs, connect with people on LinkedIn, and check out local business groups. 
  • Day 14: Social media

    These days most businesses will be present across one or more social media channels. Harnessed the right way, it can be a powerful way to reach and connect with your target audience, and build your brand presence.

    Before you go claiming all of your social media accounts, though, it’s worth reflecting on where best to spend your time. In the early days, you’re going to be time-pressed so it makes sense to choose one or two channels where you’re going to see the best results. For example, if your business provides professional services LinkedIn is probably going to be the best fit. If it’s a wedding photography business, you’ll want to be on Facebook and Instagram. 

    Spend today putting in place a focused social media strategy that will boost brand awareness and increase your income. 

How to start a business: Days 15 to 20 – Launch

Everything’s coming together nicely now. Launch day is nearly in your grasps and you’re ready to start your business but there are a handful of essential tasks you’ll need to undertake before then. This includes:

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. 

  • Day 15: Find an accountant

    One of the most critical relationships you will have is with your accountant. A lot of the time, however, small business owners miss out on valuable insights their accountant may have to offer – not just making sure you file your expenses on time. This is the case even when you’re preparing to launch your business. From the outset your accountant can advise you on the following considerations:

    • Choosing your business structure
    • Setting up your accounting records
    • Whether you need to register for VAT
    • Support with budgeting and your business plan

    There are accountants who will specialise in certain areas too. Some may have expertise in a particular industry or be focused on servicing startup businesses. It’s worthwhile trying to find an accountant that will complement your business ambitions.  

  • Day 16: Register your business

    Whether you choose to operate as a sole trader, limited liability, or as a limited company, the legal structure you choose for your business can have major implications on your tax and compliance responsibilities. When you register your business name with Companies House, you’ll need to make sure that it is not the same as another registered company’s name or intellectual property – if they are too similar, someone will make a complaint. 

  • Day 17: Planning ahead

    You need to be aware of key dates and timescales for your business operations.

    • Are there key trading dates you need to plan for?
    • How do you tie in marketing activity with your key trading dates?
    • What are the supplier lead times for delivering a service or product?
    • Are there times in the year when you will need extra staff?
    • Do you know when you’ll need to file your taxes?

    Now you’re close to launching, it’s worthwhile spending a day plotting out the key dates you need to accommodate. 

  • Day 18: Financial documents

    Before you start trading, it’s important to ensure your systems are set up and you have proper financial documentation in place. Some of this will be for your internal use, whilst others will be for external. These include:

    As well as spending today setting these up, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with financial terminology and what the numbers all mean. 

  • Day 19: Technology

    If looking at numbers and generally being organised isn’t your strength, don’t fear. Technology can make this and many aspects of running your business a lot easier. From managing your finances to delivering services and communications, you can streamline your workload by adopting the right tools.

    Today, read through our guides on the following tools:

    Remember to only pay for the software and technology solutions that you need – and where possible look for free solutions. Whilst it’s unlikely you will need all of the above when starting out, accounting software and bank accounts are definitely essential. 

  • Day 20: Find your first paying clients

    Everything is in place for you to start reaching out and building your client or customer base. Trawl social media, send out press releases, and join online forums and networking groups: just some of the tactics you can employ to spread the word and bring in customers.

    Don’t be disheartened if you don’t get immediate results. These things take time. Learn and improve. Try different approaches. Test and refine.

  • Day 21: Enjoy a day off

    Well done. You made it to Day 21. We’d be lying if we said that’s it – there are many things that will need to be done in the future, such as building your team and finding office space if needed. But now’s your chance to take some time off, unwind, before you get back to the daily grind of being your own boss. Even if it’s just for a day, enjoy a well-earned break.

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