THE BLOG

New Year, New Challenge, New Business

29/01/2014 10:20 GMT | Updated 30/03/2014 10:59 BST

For many, January marks the first month of a fresh start and it is the ideal time to decide what we want to get out of the year ahead by taking on new challenges. Whether it's making the decision to get and stay fit, or taking on a new hobby you've always planned on doing, there's always something new to try.

For those who want to take it one step further, 2014 can be the year you turn your hobby, passion or interest into a business. The concept of Dragon's Den, which sees ordinary people pitch business ideas to successful business owners in the hope of securing investment, makes the seemingly impossible dream a reality. The Prince's Trust , an organisation that helps young people get business ideas off the ground, has seen calls to their helpline increase by 75% since October 2011 - demonstrating people are becoming more courageous when it comes to starting a business.

Success stories such as The Cambridge Satchel Company can spur people on. Founded by Julie Deane in 2008, the company has gone from making satchels in a kitchen to generating a turnover of over £8 million. The idea came after Julie discovered her daughter was being bullied at school. She decided she needed to come up with enough money to afford to move her daughter to a new school.

Spotting an opportunity to turn her passion for satchels into a business idea while supporting her daughter, The Cambridge Satchel Company was born. What began as a means to an end became a hugely successful brand featured on fashion websites across the world and stocked by influential retailers such as ASOS and Harrods. Whilst Julie's story certainly relied on a bit of luck, she also had drive, willingness and courage. She secured the right contacts, stock and factory partner to make it happen, and then secured one of the best shop locations available - the Internet.

The Internet is a great leveller in terms of providing access to a customer base and making a success of a business idea. However, some businesses are still not getting all they can get out of their Internet presence with many small businesses still intimidated by the computer and communications technology . Putting your business online doesn't have to be scary and horribly time consuming, especially with the availability of online marketplaces like Rakuten's Play.com that can make it easy for you supporting you along the way.

If you want 2014 to be the year that your business idea gets off the ground, the following tips should help you to succeed in your New Year challenge of setting up a successful business online.

Find a gap in the market - the Internet is a competitive market, so if you're going to enter it you need to either assess what to do different or what you can do to improve on an existing product or service. If not, you run the risk of entering a saturated market and will find it very hard to get noticed.

Take time to hone what you're offering - it can be difficult to resist rushing into your business. It's important to take your time to make sure your offering is of its best quality. If your business idea is product based for example, make sure you find the right materials and plan for demand. If it is a service based business, ensure you have the right resources available. There is nothing worse than launching your business, to then find you are held back by issues that forward planning could have prevented.

Find a place to sell - if this is the first time you're setting up a business, an ideal place to sell is on an online marketplace. There are multiple benefits to this as it means you'll have a readymade website to showcase your business. Not only will you have access to its customer base, but you'll benefit from its reputation too. Rakuten's Play.com has over 15 million customers with a loyalty scheme in place meaning other stores' customers will benefit from dropping by your store.

Use a mentor - having a mentor available to support you along your business journey is every young business owner's dream. Rakuten's Play.com provides an e-commerce consultant who is available to guide you along your business journey. From simple questions about general set up to asking for advice around previous experiences, this consultant is your very own personal mentor.

Use social to promote - an inexpensive way to promote your new business is to use social media. Set up a Twitter account and start following people related to your industry as well as influential media. It's a great way to widen the circle of people who know about your business and gain a greater online presence. Try using relevant hashtags to push your messages to the desired audience too.

For information about how to sell on Rakuten's Play.com, check out its site here: http://www.play.com/information/why-join.