How to Start a Successful Business in the UK

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Entrepreneurship is in my blood. I have started and run everything from selling honey online to a highly successful accountancy firm in London.

If there’s one thing I know about, it’s how to run a successful business in the UK, and how to keep it going.

Here are my top 8 tips.

1. Ensure the business idea is viable

Merriam Webster defines viable as:

Viable (adjective)

(1): having a reasonable chance of succeeding

(2): financially sustainable

Determining if your idea is viable is a multifaceted task in itself. It isn’t merely a case of establishing if your product or service will sell. Ascertaining viability includes the following three elements:

a. Your knowledge

How much knowledge do you have of the industry? Do you have sufficient knowledge of elements surrounding the industry such as marketing knowledge, knowledge of suppliers, knowledge of the public you will be selling to, etc.?

Without a thorough grounding and understanding of the industry you’ll be starting a business in, your viability will be questionable.

If, however, you are an expert in your field, your chances are immediately much higher.

b. Your connections

It’s not only what you know, but it’s also who you know.

And if you don’t know anyone, your analysis of viability must include how to get to know them.

If your product is aimed at C-suite executives but you don’t know any C-suite execs, it’s unlikely you’ll find enough of them through, say, Google Ads to make your business idea viable.

c. Your willpower

And, of course, none of the above matters if you have enough sheer resilience to push through and finally make it.

Willpower is required for anyone who wants to succeed in UK business.

But never forget that willpower alone doesn’t pay the bills. Yes, you need to be tough-skinned and hard-to-keep-down. But you also need to be realistic.

2. Rough financial projections

You can’t find a single article online about starting a business that doesn’t talk about a “business plan”.

The problem with many of those articles, however, is that they talk about a business plan as if it is the business.

It isn’t.

A business is a living, breathing thing that usually has no hope of succeeding were it not for the sheer force of its CEO.

Yes, thorough and well-detailed business plans are required if you wish to secure funding — you simply won’t get a loan at the bank without a good business plan.

But, before you even get to that point, work out rough financial projections for your business idea. If the rough calculations show that you’ll be bankrupt in three weeks, why bother going to all the effort of doing a thorough business plan in the first place?

Work from a broad overview first, and only then get into details.

3. Protect the idea

Have you heard of Shane Chen? If you haven’t, you can’t be blamed.

Mr Chen should be one of the richest men in the world today, but he isn’t. When he invented the hoverboard, the idea was not sufficiently protected to prevent knockoff products from being developed in China and ruining Mr Chen’s chances for earning millions from his intellectual property.

Protect your idea! And do it long before the idea leaks. If your invention/idea is revolutionary, get everyone involved to sign ironbound NDAs. Hire lawyers if you have to.

If your business idea is centred around ingenuity, you must protect your intellectual property with every resource you have.

Related to this is the need to sign up for trademarks and service marks as necessary.

4. Decide on a business name

In the UK, you can’t just pick any old name and start doing business under it. There are certain rules to be followed.

But, in addition to the legalese around selecting a name, I have some of my own tips that I’ve found useful over the years:

  • When in doubt, choose a short name over a long name.
  • Make the name memorable but try and avoid over-originality.
  • Try to pick a name that you can get a domain name for, especially a .com and .co.uk domain.
  • Ideally, the name itself explains what the product or service is about. Unless you have several million pounds to market your brand, rather choose Superdrug instead of Boots if you’re starting a pharmacy! (And even if you do have millions to spend, Superdrug would still be a better name, because the name itself markets what the service is about.)

5. Tax- and cost-efficiency

No matter the business you choose, you’re going to have to deal with costs-of-business and taxes.

If you’re going to have a lot of local expenses, it might be a good idea to register for VAT, even if you’re below the threshold. That will allow you to save 20 per cent on your purchases right off the bat.

The problem gets more complicated if you’re going to be dealing in foreign currencies. Many of our clients utilised endless spreadsheets and formulas and manually-entered Forex rates before discovering the likes of Wise and Revolut. 

6. Good accounting saves time

Investing in an accountant is worth both your time and money if the accountant is efficient and cost-effective. There are plenty of ways to increase efficiency in accounting so that the cost-to-client is reduced. If the accountant’s fees are too high, or if they don’t offer the full gamut of accountancy services, find an accountancy firm that does.

7. Shop-front and website/app

Whether your store will be brick-and-mortar or only online, your “shop-front” must be designed to result in conversions.

If your business model revolves around a user-app, the app needs to be thoroughly tested before release. But it must also look good.

Good design is crucial to grabbing people’s interest.

Entrepreneurs are often so busy looking at their own services that they forget that other people don’t even know about them. Good design is what will initially grab people’s attention so that they can discover who you are.

8. Promotion: Social media? Flyers? Email?

Yes, all of the above. A business does not promote itself — at least not initially.

In an ideal world, a product is so spectacular that it will be promoted by itself. But it rarely happens.

So you need to think of all the ways you can promote your product and service until it hits critical mass and starts rolling on its own.

Your promotional efforts could include:

  • Social media posts and interaction
  • Flyers/leaflets
  • Email (newsletter or cold email)
  • Cold calls
  • Online advertising
  • Setting up a stand at trade fairs (although this can be quite costly)
  • And so on

The ideas are endless. But this last point cannot be ignored. You must promote your product to have any hopes of getting over that initial inertia which so many new businesses don’t ever make it through.

Summary

So, that’s it — my top 8 tips.

Sure, there are more — hundreds more — which you can find online. As an entrepreneur, you’ll never stop learning.

Shoaib Aslam ACA is the Founder of Pearl Chartered Accountants, a UK-based chartered accountancy firm that has multiple locations across London. They are experts in helping startups and established businesses with all aspects of growth, strategy, scaling up, accounting and tax planning.

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