As an entrepreneur, investor and starter of many businesses, I have learned a lot of lessons over the years. Not everything works and it is easy to make mistakes, but the important thing is to learn from those mistakes and move on. Since appearing on Dragons Den, I get a lot of people asking for my advice and I am always happy to speak to people, but really, there are no set rules. Being your own boss and in control of your own destiny means that you hold the key to your own success. However, there are some rules that I always follow...........
1. JUST DO IT! If you have an idea and want to start your own business, then just do it! It is often better to start immediately when the inspiration hits and get things wrong, than never start at all! I took a huge gamble early in my career when I bought the Bombay Bicycle Club but I believed in myself and the business and just went for it and have never looked back!
2. Find a mentor or expert. I really believe that no matter what stage you are at in your business journey, there is always something to learn and finding a mentor to offer advice and assistance is really important. I still have people that I turn to for advice and I am always learning and developing because of those experts around me so don't be afraid to approach someone you admire (even if you don't know them) for their help. Try the government-backed free mentoring service www.mentorsme.co.uk
3. Find a co-founder. Don't start off your journey in isolation, find someone inspirational to partner with. Having a partner who brings different skills to the table can be so valuable. If you are an excellent marketer but don't know anything about building a website, then join forces with someone who does. My husband and I work well together because we have different skills and our differences allow us to bring fresh ideas to our businesses, which in turn helps them to grow. We are also there to provide a reality check (and sometimes brutal honesty) when something just isn't working!
4. Do your research. It is vital that you understand and know everything about the market you are entering, the customer you are targeting, who your competitors are, where your product or service will sit within that market, how to price correctly and competitively, how your business can stand out and what your USP can therefore be.
5. A great idea doesn't necessarily equal a great business so writing a business plan is a good way to see the realities of your idea in black and white. If you have seen the pitches in The Den, you'll know that lots of people come unstuck by not knowing the numbers. Writing a plan allows you to look at the detail and see whether your targets are realistic and genuinely achievable.
6. Start small and don't be in a rush to extend and expand. Take things step by step and be willing to work at home or in cafes to start with. Don't rush into large investments like offices and extra staff until you are truly ready.
7. When it comes to a name, it is often good to use something which tells people what you do but something fresh and funky (and new) can be just as effective. You need the name to create a website, Facebook page, twitter handle and everything in between so it should be the first port of call. You also need a logo that suits your business and seeking outside help from a designer is an investment usually well worth making.
8. Spend time on marketing. Self-promotion is SO important for a small business and social media is a must. Get to grips with how to use sites such as Facebook, twitter and Instagram. Write SEO-rich content for your website using popular or quirky search terms that google will recognise and begin the process of gathering subscribers so that you can email regular newsletters. This kind of email marketing is brilliant as you can directly target subscribers with your business message straight to their inbox. Try to take advantage of free marketing tools from companies like MizMoz who offer 'pay-as-you-grow' pricing so that you can send 12,000 emails for free if you have up to 2,000 subscribers. They also offer help and support in creating beautiful email templates and then support in growing your email lists with pop-ups, inline forms and social media integrations. It can be a really good starting point for any fledgling business.
I guess really the golden rule is simply to be confident. Jump in, work hard and enjoy the ride!