09/02/2016 10:12 GMT | Updated 08/02/2017 05:12 GMT

How to Start a Business on a Shoestring

Many young people find the idea of starting their own business to be so daunting that they never give it a go. The number of people slaving away, doing jobs that make them deeply unhappy, when they clearly have the talent and discipline to successfully follow a career path that they actually enjoy, is something that saddens me.

I'm a 25-year-old designer from London and my eponymous brand, Tom Cridland, is best known for The 30 Year Sweatshirt, our campaign against fast fashion in the form of a luxury jumper that we guarantee will last for three decades. I started the business in 2014 with a £6,000 government StartUp loan, as a modern languages graduate from the University of Bristol. I spent half of my startup funds finding suppliers and making our first samples. Despite having only £3,000 left in the bank and no stock, website or experience in fashion or business, it never occurred to me that I might not press on.

With no further investment, we turned over £250,000 in our first year through organic growth and, this year, we have just opened our first shop in the King's Road in London. We have made clothing for the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Grant, Rod Stewart, the Elton John Band, Ben Stiller and Daniel Craig.


Based on what I've learned over the past couple of years, here are my five tips to running a startup with severely limited resources:

1. Don't outsource anything you can easily do yourself

Be extremely careful with your funds and don't outsource any work unless absolutely necessary. While you're building up sales and turnover, you should be packing and dispatching all your orders yourself, even if it means you're working late and getting up early. Most importantly of all, be very wary of PR agencies, who often quote exorbitantly expensive monthly fees, tie you into long contracts and, ultimately, don't secure you any press.

2. Prioritise ruthlessly

Your time is one of your most valuable resources and the growth of the business must be your absolute priority. If you find yourself dealing with an excessively difficult customer who is taking up too much of your time, just refund them. If you're spending hours agonising over social media but press and word of mouth promotion is what drives traffic to your site, just post less to your Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Always remember the Pareto principle that 80% of your achievements are the result of 20% of your actions.

3. Don't pay fees to stock anywhere

In an age when retail is in decline and high street stores are struggling, it's madness to be sucked in by the allure of "serviced retail" like I was. I was stocked by a London boutique who charge me an expensive monthly fee for the dubious privilege of putting my brand's trousers on sale in their basement. Luckily, e-commerce sales were rising at the same time as word of my brand spread, so the loss I made on the venture didn't affect the fortunes of my business. The lesson firmly learnt here, however, is never pay anyone to stock your product. A shop should be happy to buy your good wholesale or take commission on sales, otherwise it's clear they don't really have faith that they'll be able to sell it.

4. Pay attention to the boring details

The chance to often be creative is one of the best things about being an entrepreneur but it's equally important to focus on the less exciting details. Maintaining accurate records, book-keeping, managing stock and logistics, and generally being well organised is crucial. Coming up with a great idea is half the battle. Executing it well requires discipline.

5. Think outside the box

I wanted to grow and scale my business at the end of last year with a bigger stock order, but didn't want to take out a risky loan. Instead, I founded a PR boutique two months ago, which I run alongside my clothing brand, and have signed my first 15 clients already. I was nearly bankrupted by PR agencies and serviced retailers as a young entrepreneur just starting out and this is what inspired me to do this. My menswear brand has always sought to innovate and I want to do the same in fashion PR.


Above all, entrepreneurs should be working on their ideas because they love what they do. If what you do is a labour of love and you genuinely enjoy it, you are more likely to do it better.