What advice did you seek?
I used Business Link – both the website and the local branch – and found their checklists and general guides to be useful starter points. The local Chamber of Commerce has also been helpful in providing a form of ‘mentoring’ scheme. But this has proved to be a bit too ‘reserved’ for my liking. I am still looking for a mentor who I can consider a real shoulder to lean on when I have ‘dumb’ questions to ask and want to sound out an idea with. This is something that I know things like the Princes Trust do well – but I’m too old to take advantage of. I found my bank very helpful with business plan formats and tips to consider for the financial planning side of the business plan and the Startups website was good to go to for inspiration and valuable guidance.
What other help did you get?
Overall I’ve had a lot of help from other areas. My friends and family have been invaluable to me when my motivation and confidence has flagged. One of the best tips I got from Business Link was how to find a good accountant. I now have a good relationship with a local firm who have been brilliant at providing guidance on all things financial and have also helped introduce my business to local financiers etc. Feeling that I’ve got an accountant who is happy to discuss business strategy with me as well as fiscal policy has been great.
Does the government need to provide more help to people trying to start a business? If so, what should they do?
There should definitely be a reduction on the amount of red-tape. Many of the government schemes to help small businesses out are brilliant when you first hear about them. But when you try to follow through and use them it quickly becomes clear that to get selected for them is a rather painful process. The Small Business Guarantee Loan Scheme is a particular case in point. Based upon my experience, I do believe that it is pretty near impossible to qualify for this scheme.
Talk us through the process of writing your business plan.
I used the template provided by my bank to build up all the financial spreadsheets – doing projected revenues, costs and cash flows plus balance sheets and calculating an expected break even point. But money matters are only half of a business plan. So I used some Business Link templates to plan the businesses long-term goals and objectives, the initial marketing strategy and operational requirements. I did find reading books such as ‘Anyone Can Do It’ by Sahar and Bobby Hashemi of Coffee Republic fame quite useful for tweaking the business plan.
How useful has your business plan been and do you think you’ll stick to it as your business begins to grow?
Given the effort put into this document I’d be mad never to use it again. The finance side has been very useful to go back to over and over again. The investment in building some fairly complex spreadsheets that model pricing plans and revenues has paid off because now it is quite easy for me to go back and re-model new ideas.
How much did it cost to start the business?
It has cost about £35,000 - the vast majority of which has been spent on building the website and IT systems that control the day to day operational functions.
How did you fund this?
As I’ve mentioned before the whole subject of raising finance through governments schemes or through banks was something I looked at closely and attempted. But they were either impossible to penetrate or brought with them conditions that I was not prepared to agree to. So after much soul-searching I did decide to gather private funds and savings to use.
Similarly, how are you funding your running costs until the business takes off?
The business had been specifically designed so that its monthly running costs are relatively low. So I’m happy to report that sales revenue covers the regular running costs. However, the breakeven point on the whole start-up investment is a long way off still.
Have you made any provisions for business not being as prosperous as expected? Please explain them.
My husband works full-time and I still have a part-time salaried job which is flexible enough to fit around my business commitments. Should the business not prosper, or worse, fail completely then I shall simply resume full-time employment albeit with a very heavy heart.
When did you stop working?
I’m still working part-time at the moment so the transition to owning my own business has been a gradual change of focus to my working days. The business is what motivates me and the salaried work is definitely just a means to an end now.
Are you working from home or from premises?
The business is based out of a converted outbuilding in the back garden. I intend to continue to work from home in this manner for as long as possible in order to facilitate as much balance between family life and work life as possible.
How many hours are you working at the moment?
It is dependent upon when customer rental orders come in and the regular operational requirements of the business. Some weeks I can spend upwards of 40 hours on the business, other weeks it can be just 4 hours. The most important bit is that I can manage the scheduling of these commitments and so far I have never felt out of control.