Everything you need to know to
get your idea off the ground

For a successful business, you need a viable business idea, the skills to make it work and the funding. Discover whether your idea has what it takes.

Forming your business correctly is essential to ensure you are protected and you comply with the rules. Learn how to set up your business.

It is likely you will need funding to start your business unless you have your own money. Discover some of the main sources of start up funding.

Businesses and individuals must account for and pay various taxes. Understand your tax obligations and how to file, account and pay any taxes you owe.

Businesses are required to comply with a wide range of business laws. We introduce the main rules and regulations you must comply with.

Learn why business planning is an essential exercise if your business is to start and grow successfully, attract funding or target new markets.

Marketing matters. It drives sales and helps promote your brand and products. Discover how to market your business and reach your target customers.

Some businesses need a high street location whilst others can be run from home. Understand the key factors from cost to location, size to security.

Your employees can your biggest asset. They can also be your biggest challenge. We explain how to recruitment and manage staff successfully.

It is likely your business could not function without some form of IT. Learn how to specify, buy, maintain and secure your business IT.

Few businesses manage the leap from start up to high-growth business. Learn what it takes to scale up and take your business to the next level.

Sales and marketing

If you think marketing isn't important for start-ups, think again. Marketing drives sales for businesses of all sizes by ensuring that customers think of their brand when they want to buy. Marketing helps a new business to become known, and to attract and retain customers so it can survive and grow.

Market research for start-ups

Effective marketing is underpinned by sound knowledge of the market. Only by knowing exactly what your customers want can you hope to lure them away from your competitors.

Market research for your start-up business doesn't need to be complex or expensive - a simple conversation with potential customers can be highly revealing. Find out what they think about your products and prices, and whether any of their needs are not currently being served. Ask also what they think of your brand.

Market research isn't complete unless you weigh up the competition. Start by searching online to find out who you are up against, what they offer and how. If possible, ask their customers what they really think about the service they receive from your rivals. Crucially - ask what you could do to be better than them.

Find your target market

Market research can enable you to spot a gap in the market ('niche'). Being the best supplier within a niche (or one of them) should be high up on your list of ambitions.

Trying to appeal to everyone can leave you appealing to no one. Better to focus on the needs of one or more specific groups of people ('segments') within a market. Broadly speaking, they share characteristics, aspiration, taste, buying habits, and so on. There are many ways to segment the mass market. Gender, age, social class, location, ethnicity, marital status, occupation, income and spending are all common methods.

If you identify a segment that isn't already being served - caution is advised. Others might have found it impossible to run a viable business serving that niche.

Marketing and promoting your business

Marketing success is underpinned by the Four Ps: Product; Price; Place (ie distribution channel); and Promotion. They form the 'marketing mix'. Get the right combination and you'll maximise your success. You also need strong messages and a unique selling proposition (USP) that convinces customers to buy from you and not another supplier.

Promotion is a never-ending task for businesses and online marketing is now at the heart of many business's efforts. When done well, it can help to attract and retain large numbers of customers, often for relatively modest investment.

Online marketing involves making best use of your website (including optimising it for search). Other options include:

  • email marketing;
  • online and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising;
  • affiliate marketing;
  • content marketing (including blogging);
  • mobile marketing and apps;
  • social networking on sites including Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Instagram and Google Plus.

Key offline marketing options include advertising, direct mail, leafleting, public relations (PR) and face-to-face networking, including at trade shows and exhibitions.

The most potent advertising of all comes from customers - so it pays to offer excellent customer service if you want word of mouth recommendations. Handle bad feedback and deal with complaints professionally to avoid negative publicity that could undermine your image.

Once you know which customers you're targeting and how, you can put together a marketing plan, which sets out your objectives and explains your approach (marketing strategy).

How to sell

The ability to convince people to spend their money is probably the most valuable skill in business. To some, it comes naturally. Others get better with time. There are numerous techniques that can be learned. Crucially, you need to be able to be able to convincingly explain the benefits of your products/services, overcome objections and fears, recognise customer buying signals and close the sale.

Marketing must be part of the everyday fabric of your business. You need to assess your sales and marketing activity continually, learn from your mistakes, build on your successes - and remain open to new methods.

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