This is a step-by-step guide produced from my own experience of starting a successful business during maternity leave. After 3 years of developing the business and mainly making a lot of mistakes, here’s how I’d do it if I were starting over.
Step 1: What is your business going to do?
Write a list of all your skills and everything you are good at, what you are qualified to do and what you have been up to professionally for the last few years. Also write a list of all your passions. If any of these cross over then you’ve got your business. If not then you may need to do a bit more soul-searching.
Step 2: Get real
Note down the different types of company that you may want to start and work out which one fits best with your skills (See Step 1) and ambitions (both professional and lifestyle).
Be aware that each type of company will require different inputs in terms of time, money, general commitment in order to be successful. Do not think that you can, for example, build a high growth profitable business which is VC-backed whilst working part time and doing school runs etc. That may be something to do once kids are older and you have more time. Of course do your own research but here are some business types to get you started:
Be a business unto yourself. Skills such as design, coding, social media, real estate, legal services, secretarial services or even Tutoring (make money from all that homework you have helped with!) can all be turned into freelancing businesses.
Set yourself up as a freelancer and sell your services to the highest bidder.
b. Small Business
- Kids activity class. You can either start your own like Baby Broadway did and connect it to work you have done in the past, or become part of a franchise. If you like music you could try Monkey Music, good at art? Do Creation Station
- A shop
- If you are craftly set up an Etsy shop and bring your craft to the world.
- Online business: second hand clothes store, kids clothes store. The idea is to build up a following, get them engaged and sell them your stock.
- Product: think about your experience as a parent. Is there a problem that you absolutely would like to solve? Perhaps you found a way to do something as a parent that could be “productized” and sold. Take it slow – there are many ways to pre-launch products these days (eg. Kickstarter) so that you can prove concept and make sure people want to buy your stuff before diving in.
c. VC-backed high growth start up
Not for the faint-hearted this one involves you finding the next “big thing”, building a team, proving concept, getting funding and growing fast, preferably to be bought out in 3-5 years. It’s a tall order for most 28 year old full timers with no kids. So if you have an itch to scratch, let it linger – if it develops into a passion that you absolutely have to do something about then you know it may be time to start something like this.
But if you do want to start this kind of business start from the end point. What is it that you want to achieve and what is your vision, to end sleepless nights for all parents? To make breastfeeding easier? To tackle post natal depression using technology? Then work back in steps til you get to where you are today. That should be a good start.
Step 3: Stop, don’t start
Now you’ve decided what type of business you want to start. Next you need to stop, don’t start. Plan. Write a business canvas. You need business goals to keep you motivated and on track, and your business needs to make money!
Even though your overall goals and vision may be something much more lofty this is an essential step in the process. Write a business plan so you know where you are going and have milestones to benchmark yourself against.
Step 4: Speak to potential customers
Lots of them. Do market research, quick phone calls with friends and family to find out if they might buy what you are offering. If you are lucky these people will become your first customers. This applies to any kind of business, whether you are a one-man band accounting operation or building a team to launch a global e-commerce brand.
Step 5: Find your customers
- Define your ideal customer. Eg. If you are a web designer perhaps it’s people starting a business. If you are starting a Monkey Music franchise it’s parents with small kids.
- Make a list of 100 people you could speak to. Don’t have that list? Ok so here are ways to begin to find them. If it’s business owners you need look on Facebook Groups or Linkedin Groups for business owners. If you have a local business find Groups in your area. If it’s parents you need to speak to go along to a local class or rhyme time and try to speak to parents at the end. Or ping Bubele – we know 100k parents on hand and we love helping parent entrepreneurs.
- Have your list of questions prepared and then shoot!
Step 6: Prove your concept
Ever heard of the phrase Minimal Viable Product? The idea is that you put together the bare bones of your product or service (because you have not been able to refine it yet into something launchable), see who is willing to pay for it and get feedback from the marketplace. That could be a Squarespace website that you put together yourself, or a pilot kids activity class, or simply a web landing page where you offer your services.
Of course noone will be your customer without you asking so once you have asked your market research prospects try to find others who might trial your product and give you feedback. Try everyone: friends, family, school parents, Facebook groups
Step 7: Take on board feedback and make changes
This is one of the hardest parts, because everyone will have their own ideas of what you should do, and deciding whose feedback to take on board and whose to leave is tough. As a general rule if you are getting the same feedback from a few people then making the change is probably justified.
If you are working on online products there are of course ways to track how people are using the products via analytics so that you can also use this data to make choices on what to work on next.
Step 8: Positioning and differentiation. How will you stand out from the crowd?
This should have been part of your business plan, and if not it’s essential to think about it now! Take time to research the industry that you are operating in and where you think you could impact the industry. There are many frameworks to use for this, one is Porter’s five forces.
Once you have understood how the industry operates think about what your unique proposition is. It is often said that people do not buy products they buy people, meaning that your story and what you represent will go a long way to attracting customers. So spend time thinking hard and developing a narrative about how and why you started the business and what your particular circumstances were. There is noone like you so let that provide a good initial basis for differentiation.
My advice then would be to push it as extreme as you want to go in terms of delivering your message. There is so much content out there these days that in order to “cut through” you need to be crystal clear with what you say.
Step 9: How will you build your customer base and team?
Growth is a huge area (and the topic of my next article). It requires you to grow all aspects of the business at the same time, to keep your eye on all areas of the business, and still increase your activity. There are many people who have spent time thinking about how to grow business whether it’s B2B or consumer. Take what they say and use it to help your business. For example for online businesses these people are eg. Neil Patel for content, Ahrefs Blog for SEO. But know that you will never get from them the exact roadmap for how to grow your business. That part you need to do yourself.
To do that my tips are to:
- Start with building an email list.
- Or if you decide to start with social media just pick one channel initially and excel in that channel before trying others.
- You do not need to be present everywhere (and it’s impossible to be so)
- Ask for money using these channels. About 20% of the time. And rest of the time provide really valuable content.
There are a lot of tools these days that can help you grow your business, from helping you to find leads, to automating your email marketing, to scraping Linkedin emails. Don’t get lost in them but do use them!
Team: my initial advice is initially that trust is a really important factor when hiring your first and subsequent initial employees. They are likely to screw up in a big way (as will you) so there needs to be a dose of mutual respect and trust to be able to carry on a working relationship on the back of that.
Also aim high, if you have passion about your business do not settle for second rate employees. Even though the hiring processs can be a pain, and you’d prefer to spend the time running the business it’s important to find the best that you can. It’s much more costly to have to fire someone you have spent 6 months training up.
Step 10: Financing
So your idea is validated. You have customers. Well done!
You see more potential out there for your business but you’d need to hire several more people and build product in order to do it. Unless you have private funding you’ll need to raise finance for this. The options range from bank loans, to more contemporary approaches to financing such as crowdfunding. And of course there are always angel investors and venture capitalists.
Given the low interest rate environment in the UK for the last few years, many of the institutions (and HNW individuals) have strong access to cash so this could be a good time to go down that route. Crowdfunding has also seen many successes in recent months, so if your business has something to please the crowd (craft breweries seem to do well on these platforms!) then it could be a great way to go.
There is no one way to start a business, and all entrepreneurs go through ups, downs and in-betweens. The brave ones battle on to reach their goals. No one said it would be easy, but the adventure is still worth it. Best of luck!