Start-ups – how to get help when you make the leap

You’ve found a gap in the market that’s you-shaped. You’re convinced you can execute that idea far better yourself. You know that your blend of skills is unique and your offer is priceless. If now is the time to start your own business, here are some helping hands…

This is the last post in a three-part series about getting back to work after a career break. There’s no shortage of articles online about the practicalities of starting-up. Instead, this focuses on seven steps for shaping your mindset and skillset to get you fit for the journey ahead.

Check out the rest of the series for more ideas and support: part one is aimed at you if you want to return to work and have a clear idea of the role you’re targeting, part two is for you if you want to find a new direction.

1. What do you need from your start-up?

Before you leap into the business of business, think very hard about your personal goals. What do you want from being your own boss? Julie Morgan of Another Mother suggests visualising your life in 5 years time: what are you doing, whom are you working with, what are you driving and wearing, etc.?

Julie points out that at least some of your identity is rooted in your old job and career, so you’re likely to have the occasional panic where you want to run back to the familiar status and networks you enjoyed. If you’re clear about what your business is going to deliver you and your family, that panic will be easier to weather.

I have a framed, 28-word mission statement on my desk that reminds me why I’m breaking free of payroll. When I’m overwhelmed, tired or confused about what to do next, those words are simple to come back to. That statement has also given me the courage to turn down things that are hugely tempting but don’t align with my goals.

Get clear, get a bunch of picture frames and get some quotes together in Canva that will keep your focus laser sharp.

2. Write a super-simple business plan

Once upon a time, this was the point you would write a business plan. A weighty document, it could take weeks or even months to pull together.

But then came “bootstrapping” and the “minimum viable product” and keeping things “lean”. Your goal now is to articulate your idea in a way that you can share and begin testing quickly.

Cue the Lean Canvas: a one-page document that you can find introductions to all over the web and was adapted by Ash Maurya from the Business Model Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder. The idea is that you spend about 20 minutes filling it in and then start challenging it and getting feedback.

You can save your formal business plan writing for when you’re ready to look for investors…

3. Test, test and test again

Maybe you’ve already started to build your own tribe via a blog, Facebook group, Instagram account… Here’s the perfect place to trial your ideas and see what your followers love and don’t. Hurrah For Gin and Fowl Language Comics are great examples of this in action.

If you’re not there yet, make social media your new best friend. No more painful networking events – find exactly who you want to speak with and join in their conversation. Search the various channels for groups that fit with your target audience and see if you really can solve their problems.

Volunteer to help friends and family, set up your Etsy shop or a pop-up stall. What sells well? Will people pay a price that reflects the time and energy you need to commit? Validate early and often – check out Kissmetrics for an in-depth view…

And for community that understands your challenges and can ping you just the right advice at the right time, try the Facebook groups of Mums Enterprise, Talented Ladies Club, The Guilty Mothers’ Club, Doing It For The Kids and Another Mother.

4. Are you short some business skills?

You’ve probably gathered this already, but you’re not actually going to spend a lot of time doing whatever the thing is that your business does… Your talent for cake baking led you to set up your party cake company, but your ability to market yourself and convince people to buy from you, rather than M&S, will keep you afloat.

The great news is that there is a ton of support available to get you the other skills you’ll need in your arsenal. Start with the government business support portal and see what’s available from your local council. And take a look at their Women in Enterprise page for more advice.

Follow the government’s Business Support Helpline on Facebook, and you can see upcoming topics and a wealth of links for new small businesses. You can message them directly, ask questions live or call them on 0300 456 3565. They also offer free, one-hour telephone appointments with their Business Support Advisers.

The British Library might be a surprising stop, but their Business and IP Centre at St Pancras has a host of workshops and events to help you start, run and grow a business. And there are plenty of webinars if you can’t get there in person.

If Shoreditch works for you, Google is another destination to consider. Their campus offers events, meetups and mentoring. Residents tend to be tech start ups but “everyone who wants to start a company is welcome”. Their cafe is said to be a great space to network across the board – from founders to investors.

Finally, search Eventbrite for events near you that will help you get started (and help you make some like-minded friends of course).

5. Get a business coach

As Hannah Martin of Talented Ladies Club points out, when you go it alone, there’s no one to set your strategy but you. However senior you were at work, you were almost certainly setting goals for yourself and your team that would deliver on your piece of the company’s plan.

It’s now all up to you. Deciding how to divide your time between doing the work, keeping the customer pipeline full, developing your skills and ticking off admin duties is all down to you. Hannah believes the (large) sum they spend on coaching each month gives them the focus that has been fundamental to their success.

Whatever your business idea, find yourself a coach who can help you start-up and put your focus where it’s going to get you results. Julie Morgan offers individual and group coaching that will help you avoid overwhelm, or go and ask one of your social media groups and see who they love.

If your budget won’t stretch to a coach, Talented Ladies Club offers “Kickstart” – a £25 monthly membership that offers resources for every conceivable activity you’ll need to understand, plus mini-courses and monthly challenges.

6. Learn from a master

Another source of support is mentorship. You might want a mentor to bounce ideas off as you start your business or you may want someone who has deep technical knowledge in your field. Either way, having someone who has done it before can help you skip the pitfalls. Again, there’s a government site where you can start searching for a mentorship scheme.

I’ve joined the waiting list for international creative network SheSays’ ‘Who’s Yr Momma’ mentorship scheme. Free and open to all women in the advertising and marketing industry, their goal is to see more women at the top. Don’t forget: being a mentor is a big commitment and you’ll need to work hard when you ask someone to make that commitment to you.

7. The practicalities of starting-up

The web is jam-packed with advice on steps to starting up so I’ve only included a handful here of things that didn’t feature widely. If you want to get a good overview of how to stay on the right side of HMRC and what you’ll need to consider in structuring your business, visit the business set up page.

The lovely Zoe of is quick to point out the importance of trademarking anything fundamental to your brand. You may be small today but don’t pour your heart and soul into a business and then find yourself handing all your money to a lawyer down the line. See Apple Corps versus Apple Computer for a headache you don’t need…

Zoe also suggests checking with your existing home insurer to see if you have cover for working at home. You might find you can avoid doubling up on insurance costs.

If you’re setting your business up from home and you rent your house, check the terms of your lease. You might need your landlord’s permission to do so. And if you’re trading to people from home or making any kind of difference to your neighbour’s quality of life, you might need planning permission. Check with your local council.

I hope you’ve found some fresh ideas and sources of support here. You may be going it alone, but you’re far from alone. If there’s something that you couldn’t have been without on your journey, please share in the comments below. And if you’re just starting out and want to tell the world about your business, I’d love to help you find the right words…