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Setting up a business in 16 steps

Starting a business has never been more popular as a career pathway but there is a lot to think about. We’ve looked at the key steps you need to take when setting up a business, from the planning stage all the way through to launch. 


Why start a business?

Record numbers of people in the UK are looking into businesses you can start. According to the Centre for Entrepreneurs, 589,008 new businesses were registered in 2017.

Technology has made it easier, quicker and cheaper than ever to start your own business. There are online courses to educate and help create business ideas. You can research your target market, how good your personal finance situation is, and more. Some people start a business to earn more money, while others seek greater flexibility so they can better manage work and family commitments.
Being your own boss can be more rewarding, enjoyable and satisfying, but it takes hard work and commitment. The hours can be longer and there are no guarantees that your new business will survive. There can be periods of irregular income and you have to keep up to date with all of the business trends. There’s a possibility you’d have to look into business loans or business funds and you’d have to track all of your tax returns yourself! You also have to market yourself to others, often starting with your friends and family and branching out from there.

Your new business could be based on knowledge or skills you’ve already gained or you could try something completely different. Your new business could be based on your hobby or a gap you’ve identified in a market. For example, if you find yourself good at maths, you may develop an accounting software that can help people across the world.


Kettlebell Kitchen founder

“I realised there was a huge gap in the market for fast, healthy food,” says Carly Jones, founder of Kettlebell Kitchen. “Most people said it was a ‘mad’ idea but I was determined to prove them wrong. I made the leap and it worked!”


Early on, decide when your business will operate. Will yours be a full-time, part-time, spare-time or a seasonal business? Will you sell offline, online or both? To consumers, businesses or both? Should you buy an existing business or start from scratch? Will you be buying and selling or will you just be a resource center? There are many different pros and cons. 

Should you set up a business on your own or in partnership? You could use an extra hand or you may feel happier saying ‘I started my own business’. You should feel confident that you have the necessary knowledge, skills and personal qualities to run a successful business (although support is available). And you should know what the realities are because it can affect your life and that of others. (Business insurance is always a great start.) Reality checks are often important.

So, how can you get your new business off to a flying start? Here are some great steps to starting your journey.

Will my startup business idea make enough money?

Step One:

Successful businesses are built on great ideas, so devote enough time to coming up with a viable startup business idea. Essentially, that means enough people buying what you’re selling at the price you charge so you generate enough profit to survive and grow.

Inspiration for new business ideas can come from many places. Some startup business ideas are unique, but in truth, most are variations on existing business ideas. If your business idea isn’t unique, you must find ways to be special. Give people a clear reason to buy from you and not your competitors. Market yourself. You must sell your company.

Step Two:

Once you’ve come up with your business idea, carry out basic market research. Firstly, find out what competition you’ll face. Who are your competitors and what do they sell? How do they sell it and how much do they charge? How could your business be better? What are the business trends?

Now find out about potential customers; your target market. You need to know who is most likely to buy from you (i.e. your target customers). You need to know where they are (local, regional, or overseas?). Do you know what they want/need, when they buy, and how much they pay? What do they like and dislike about their existing suppliers? Do they shop online?

Have samples or anything you can use to show what you plan to sell and speak directly to potential customers. Ask them what they think of your business idea/products/service and – crucially – the prices you plan to charge. Record feedback and use it later to improve your business idea. This will all help your business startup.

Step Three:

Based on your market research, work out whether your business idea is viable. How much revenue (i.e. money from sales) will you make each month? Will you make enough money to cover all of your likely costs and generate enough profit to create a sufficient wage for yourself? Or, will you be borrowing more from business loans and your credit card?

Absolute honesty is advised. If your business idea isn’t viable – think of a new one. Alternatively, a few changes might do the trick.

By now you should know what you will sell, which customers you should target, and how much you should charge. These are all crucial questions when you start your own business. You must also work out roughly how much it will cost to start your new business and know where you’ll get the money to launch your new business.

Produce a startup business plan

Step Four:

You’re on your way to saying ‘I started my own business’. Now you should start producing your business plan. You can finesse and finalise before launch. Having to write a startup business plan means having to answer key questions about your market, your products/services, what your business is, where it fits in, and what it’s trying to achieve in the next few years (ie your strategy).

The figures (aka “financials”) are the most critical element of any sound startup business plan. Although actual costs, revenue and cash flow figures often differ from forecasts, if they’re based on reliable market research, they can show that your business is viable (on paper at least).

Having a sound business plan shows that you’ve considered your business and its market sufficiently. It also shows that you’ve thought about where you want to take your business and how – rather than just hoping it will develop in the right way.

Business plan financials can also help you to judge performance and progress (or lack of). A lender will expect to see a good business plan if you approach them for startup funding or finance. To ensure it remains relevant and useful, update your business plan regularly. An accountant can help you to prepare. 

Set up at home or find your ideal business premises

Step Five:

You now need to decide where your business will be based. Businesses you can start from home will really help you to minimise your costs – a key aim. 

It will also mean you’ll lose less money if your new business fails. Minimising costs means you’ll have to make fewer sales to break even and generate profit. And you can claim for certain expenses when running a business from your home.

Whatever your business, you’re still likely to need a basic home office or be able to work or do admin at home. List all of the items you’ll need. If you can use what you already have – fantastic. If not, borrow, swap, or buy second-hand. Only buy if there’s a genuine business need. An online business may require more costs and set up than a pet sitting or dog training business.

If your new business needs business premises, think carefully about location and space; shop around for the best value and negotiate firmly with landlords. Running your own business is tricky and you need all the help you can get. Seek legal advice before signing a commercial lease. Find out how much you’ll pay in business rates and insurance. 


“Two years ago the pop-up route was becoming a more and more viable option to get a business off the ground,” says Dan Place of Northern Soul Grilled Cheese. “We took a lease out on a market style building in the Northern Quarter, Manchester, and styled it on an inside-out NYC food spot.”


You’ll also need to source items for your premises, whether that’s machinery, equipment, or tools. You may also need to decorate or secure your new premises, as well as arrange a wifi and telephone connection. You’ll need business cards and a business bank account.

Step Six:

You might also need to buy stock or materials, so start sourcing your suppliers. Shop around for best value and negotiate firmly if your business needs a commercial vehicle (decide whether to buy or lease).

Step Seven:

If your new business needs to take on staff, leave enough time to recruit the right people. Make sure you understand your obligations under employment law. Human resources are important. Make sure they know their position in the company. More importantly, make sure you can trust them!

Step Eight:

Also, sort out insurance for your business – some types you need by law. Limited liability insurance would cover you for the amount you put into the business. You would have to look at business loans and business funds.

Branding and marketing

Step Nine:

You need to create a winning brand for your new business. Branding means the perception created in people’s minds when they think of your business. Your target market will think of this first. When creating your brand identity, first focus on what your business stands for – its values. What is your USP? Offering genuinely superior customer service in person and on social media can really set your business apart for little additional cost.

Step Ten:

How can your brand be best evoked by your business name? When choosing a name for your business, also be guided by the need to attract customers (as well as legal considerations). Also, consider where you’re likely to appear in search engine results and whether you can get your preferred website address (ie URL) when registering.

Your brand identity (eg choice of colours, typefaces, logos, marketing strap line) should also evoke your brand. If you have budget, using a branding consultant can prove wise. If you do it yourself, keep it simple. Take influence from brands you like, but don’t just copy them. Apply your branding consistently. Logo designs are one of the most important things you could miss out on.


“I hired a graphic designer to do my branding and I’m so glad that I made this investment,” says Sarah Empson of Geo Heaven. “It’s helped me to realise my brand identity and has made my brand much more cohesive.”


Step Eleven:

Creating a website is another crucial business startup task. Some new businesses or sole traders of a company create their own, while others with a higher budget pay someone else. Even if you don’t sell online, having an impressive website can really help you to attract customers, many of whom will want to check you out before enquiring or buying.

Step Twelve:

With your website complete, establish your presence on social media websites, because this can also help you to engage, attract and retain customers.

Explore other marketing options – online and offline – because if people don’t know you exist, they won’t buy from you. While postcards, leaflets and word of mouth work well for many small businesses, for others the answer lies in online content marketing, pay-per-click advertising or email marketing. A mix is likely to be a good solution for your new business.

Step Thirteen:

Explore no-cost and low-cost marketing options first; find out what works best. Based on your market knowledge/research, create a basic marketing plan for your new business. If you can engage customers before starting your new business, you’re more likely to make sales when you launch.

Setting up a startup bookkeeping system and bank account

Step Fifteen:

By law you must record all payments entering and leaving your business, so that you can pay the necessary tax. You’ll need to set up a basic bookkeeping system for your new business. 

Cloud-based bookkeeping software is very popular (manual systems less so) and many accountants who provide services to small businesses can advise you or provide readymade software accounting solutions. If you employ people, you’ll need one that calculates/records wage payments, tax deductions and National Insurance contributions.

Aim to maintain accurate, up-to-date financial records for your new business from the start. It can prevent serious problems. Even if money is tight, consider hiring an experienced accountant to help to fulfil your tax obligations. 

Step Sixteen:

The next challenge is to find the right bank account for your new business (shop around – they’re a supplier like all others), open up your business account and ask what support they provide to startups. All that remains now is to set a date and officially start your business.

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Anna BTS
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