If you had asked me this time last year, whether I would co-found an events company for bloggers, alongside the multiple ventures I already run, I would have laughed and told you that I wouldn’t have ‘enough time’. But I was just saving face, because there was an ember within me that craved a chance to step outside of my comfort zone and start a business that would help others achieve their maximum potential, whether they were small or established. Ever since I started blogging two years ago, I had the firm belief that ‘all bloggers’ matter and that regardless of their following or ‘social standing’ they should be given the chance to ‘succeed’ because bloggers should not be defined by ‘stats or numbers’ but through sheer hard work, talent, drive and motivation. After all I see it all the time; attending blog events can often be a ‘hit and miss’, with many brands looking to work with bloggers who have a ‘certain amount of followers’ because they believe that following translates into a conversion of sales, when in many cases it just means ’empty exposure’. And what I mean by that is that the brand is so fixated on macro-influencers who only have a 5% engagement rate that they forget the smaller micro-influencers, who have a much more engaged following.
But what does ‘blog events’ have to do with learning how to start a business in 2018 I hear you ask? Well it is simple; me and my co-founder Giulia Smith, identified a ‘gap in the market’ for smaller, more intimate blog events that focused on giving ALL Bloggers A Voice, without taking their following into account and creating an inclusive community that is committed to ensuring that our clients i.e. the bloggers and brands have a mutual desire to create long lasting partnerships with brands, PR’s and other bloggers. In relation to learning how to start a business in 2018 that exists outside of the blogging world, you can apply the same model ‘by identifying a gap in the market’ and learning how you can differentiate yourself from your competitors, you too can set up the business that you have always dreamed of running. From learning how to create a business plan that works for you, to using the power of social media to ‘market’ your brand, here are ten top tips on how to start a business in 2018.
1.Conduct Market Research To Determine Whether There Is A Gap In The Market
While there is a multitude of ‘businesses out there’ that might bear similarities to your business, you need to develop strategies to determine how you can fit ‘into that business market’ and stand out from the crowd. Which is where market research comes in; before you start your business it pays to know important metrics about your target market including factors like, age and location demographic, strengths and weaknesses of similar businesses that you can use to ‘craft your business model’ and even research case studies of ‘popular companies’in the same industry who may have outlined the strategies they used to create a successful business model. For example when we were in pre-discussions about our event company we outlined what was missing from events we had attended i.e lack of personal interaction, focus on larger bloggers and brands who were not interested in long term collaborations with bloggers, and set out to create smaller,focus group events (at first) to create a truly immersive blogger community. But there are multiple ways that you can conduct market research and I have outlined the main options below.
Conduct Market Research Through Focus Groups
One of the best ways to guarantee ‘honest feedback’ about a product, brand or company idea is to create small or large focus groups- that cater to your demographic needs- and ask them a series of questions through small focus group interviews. For example last year I was invited to an ‘ice cream’ market research focus group and while I can’t go into the specifics of the questions they had asked me, the set up of the focus session worked through us being interviewed in groups of four, with a few researchers per table interviewing the entire room of attendees by asking us questions about their business proposal and our thoughts on it.
Use Social Media To Evaluate What You Can Bring To The Table That Differentiates You From Your Competitors
Tools like Twitter and Instagram are powerful social media platforms that can be very useful in determining whether your business proposal idea could really take off. For example Twitter is what I like to call my own personal ‘blogger approved search engine’ because by searching through certain hashtags I can apply for blogger opportunities, connect with bloggers and brands and market my own content through one fantastic platform. And it’s the same with blogging events, simply by using a few select keywords like ‘London bloggers’ and ‘London Blogging Events’ you can connect with potential clients and determine how you can make your ‘event company’ different to the thousands of event companies that are already out there. And to an extent Instagram is the ‘same’; now that you have the ability to follow specific hashtags, you have access to a whole pool of people that are within your specific target market i.e. #londonbloggers.
Use Google Doc Forms To Create Surveys That You Can Ask People In Your Target Market To Fill Out
PR’s use Google document forms to collect blogger details to add into their contact database or to select bloggers for ‘blog opportunities’ and it is a great method of conducting market research as well. For example lets say that you wanted to find out what bloggers ‘dislike’ and ‘like’ about blogger events, by getting bloggers to fill out your Google document form,you can hone your business proposal to reflect the needs of the bloggers who filled in your form.Remember though all market research is a small percentage of the population so use feedback to enhance your business model, as opposed to defining it.
2. Create A Business Plan Outlining The Main Goals And Targets That You Want To Achieve In 2018
All entrepreneurs will tell you that in order to start a business, you need to create a basic or intermediate business plan, that briefly outlines the main goals and targets you want to achieve in that business year. For example lets say, like us you start an events company in January and pick a date at the end of the month to create your first blog event, because you know that many people start a blog in the new year as part of their business plan for 2018.You can create a plan outlining key events and ideas that you want to undertake in the year i.e a summer ball and festival, a winter formal and smaller events like brunch meet ups. But alongside the ‘events you will be planning’, you also need a plan of action for your social media channels, creating meaningful connections with bloggers and brands, alongside the importance of truly getting to know your target audience. So what makes a business plan successful?
Set Goals Now. Don’t Wait For Opportunities To Come To You
Whether you are a blogger or a singer, sourcing your own opportunities and being in charge of your own business plan, is a major component that is needed to start a business, which is why it is so integral to start setting goals as soon as you set up your business. Besides in my eyes because it is never too soon to get a head start on your other competitors. After all by setting goals now, you can clearly outline where you would like your business to be in 3 months, 6 months and even a year ahead. After all I was speaking to a brand who said they were outlining their Christmas plans in January, because ‘looking ahead’ helps motivate them to succeed.
Above all when setting your goals, you should remember there are five key bullet points that can ascertain the success of your business which is A. make sure your goals are specific i.e if you are starting an events company,you are not going to create a business plan, with goals that talks about cats,as much as we like our furry friends. B. make sure that your goals are measurable i.e if you hired a small venue that only has capacity for 50 bloggers, don’t let 100 bloggers in, as it will become overcrowded and ‘ruin’ their experience. C. make sure that your goals are attainable. If you only have a small budget because you are sourcing everything yourself ‘don’t promise something you can’t commit to’. It’s better to start from the bottom and make room for improvement and gradually improve with the course of time. D. Make sure your goals are realistic. While it is possible to get 20,000 followers in a year, don’t set your goals so high. Work out how many hours you can put in and the different ways that you are able to promote yourself and settle for a number that might be challenging to reach i.e. 10 K but at the same time is more viable. E. finally remember that goals are time sensitive, so the sooner you plan,the more likely you are to achieve your goals i.e in three months time you might want to have 1,000 followers on Instagram and you are currently on 400, so you will work out strategies on how to get 600 more followers in that time.
How To Write A Business Plan
While goals are an integral part of creating a business plan that ‘works for you’ , there are also key points that you need to keep in mind when crafting a plan to get your ‘business off the ground’.
1. Keep It Short And Sweet
Granted I am the last person you should go to with advice on being ‘concise and short’ but it is true that a successful business plan is one that is brief i.e 1-2 pages long. After all you want your business plan to be ‘read by other people’ and not relegated to the dustbin, because you have sent them a 40 page report. This is something you are going to want to refer back to in the future too, so keeping it brief helps you decide what goals have and haven’t worked from your business model.
2. Knowing Your Audience
Learning who your target audience is can not only help you define key demographics i.e female, 25-34, London, Bloggers but it also teaches you to create a business plan that sells. For example lets say that are creating a draft proposal for a brand that is looking to partner with a sales and marketing team, knowing your audience can help you create a business plan that caters to them as opposed to a generalized plan, that will get you nowhere.
3. Don’t Be Intimidated By Other Competitors
OK sure the other companies might have 10 million followers and you have 5, but that doesn’t matter. As I said following really isn’t everything and creating a self-assured business plan can show that you are confident about your start up and are passionate about making it ‘succeed’ too.
3. Decide Whether You Want A Concrete Or Remote Location For Your Business Start Up
With more entrepreneurs choosing to work from home, the choice on whether to work from home or create a concrete location like an office is entirely down to you. For example when I was working in Journalism and Marketing I worked in offices and locations throughout London, while my blogging was done on a remote basis i..e working from home or on the go. But after quitting my job to blog full time five months ago, I now work from home, with events, meet ups and meetings across London, meaning I have the freedom to choose my own hours.For those who don’t know me or are new to the blog, alongside being a full time blogger, I am also the owner and admin of a social media group for bloggers which has 20.1 K members, with some help from my fabulous mod team and I just recently co-founded the events company, meaning that much of my work can be done from home. However if I was to create a ‘fashion line’ with a similar concept to ‘Pretty Little Thing’, which is something I have considered for a while, I would start at home at first and then if it became successful, would transfer into an office environment split into work and home.
Choosing your location can also determine your hours. For example in my full time Journalism and Marketing job,I was meant to work 8 hours, but would usually end up doing 12-15 hour days and then come home to work on the blog, even using breaks as time to catch up on ‘blogging work’. On weekends I would spend time drafting up blog posts for the week, shoot and work a few hours in a bar job to supplement my income. Now however I don’t have to be up at 5 AM, although I still tend to work 12-16 hour days, but at least know I can work from the comfort of my own home.
4. Secure Funding For Your Business Through ‘Sales’, Investors, Sponsorships And More
Say you decided to create a watch business but needed funding to start up your project, in order to source the materials and components needed to create a certain number of watches that would meet ‘supply and demand’.There would be a multitude of ways that you could secure funding to ‘start a successful watch business’, which include a kickstarter campaign, private investors and sponsorships.
How To Secure Funding
Create A Kickstarter Campaign
Many start up brands have used Kickstarter to ‘propose a potential business idea’ i.e a watch that tracks how many steps you take in a day and creates a certain financial goal i.e 10,000 and looks for backers, who would potentially be interested in supporting your start-up. When you have the required amount of investors, it means that your business plan can be put into use and you can turn your ‘idea’ into a brand. And the great thing about Kickstarter is that noone will be charged unless the pledge is filled with the required amount of investors.
Reach Out To Private Investors With Your Business Plan
Remember when I said that it was ‘important’ to know your audience, when creating a business plan? Well one of the reasons as to why you should ‘find out who your audience is’ can be due to being able to reach out to private investors, who might be a better fit for your business than a kickstarter campaign. This is especially true if your business proposal is a new ‘travel agent business’, and a team of private investors will allow you to secure the funding to make your start up dream a reality. So the key tip here is to make sure you personalize your business plan and research each investor, to determine whether they would be relevant to your business model.
Find Sponsors Or Obtain ‘Sponsorship’
Lets say you have started a new TV show called ‘The Secret Life Of Londoners’ on a channel like ‘Channel 4’, you will need to find a brand or company that sponsors your show, so that you can give each other exposure. For example a food brand like Iceland might sponsor your show, because each time your show comes on, they are mentioned and a big brand backing can often generate successful mentions, coverage and of course a larger audience.
Of course if you are creating something like an events company there are a number of other ways that you can secure funding which include the following:
Generate Sales Through Tickets, Events & More
Lets say you have started a new events company and are looking for ways to make an income throughout the year. You have three events a year so to start with you need to generate ticket sales which align with the capacity of the venue and remember to count the brands and speakers as part of the allocated number. But alongside the events you are looking for new ways to create income which can include planning holidays, parties and even workshops and e-courses that all relate to the functionality of your event.
Use Social Media To Find Brands & PR’s That Will Sponsor You
One of the greatest ways of finding ‘funding’ or sponsorship for your brand can actually be done through social media, especially Instagram and Twitter. For example by using relevant hashtags i.e if you are creating events for bloggers in London, relevant hashtags might include #fbloggersuk #bloggerstribe #bloggersrequired #london #bloggersinlondon #bloggerswanted #journorequest #prrequest you can find both bloggers and brands that will A. attend your event and B. help you get props, refreshments and other additional extras like goody bags.
And if you are a blogger you can secure funding through
Sponsored posts are a great way of creating an income and can enable you to either work with PR Agencies,or through the brand directly. The brand is more likely to pay a higher fee, but it is often more likely to get work through an agency because they have bloggers on a database that they reach out to.
While some brands have their own affiliate schemes, there are also platforms like Shopstyle Collective and Like To Know It, that work with select bloggers and influencers, meaning that when someone clicks on your link and purchases an item, you will receive a certain amount of commission.
While Google Ads might be a common way of getting a small amount of income, other popular sites include Media Vine, although many of these media ad sites are related to the amount of traffic that you get or the amount of times someone clicks through the ads.
5. Register Your Business With HMRC (Even If You Haven’t Made A Single Penny)
Even if you are a new company and haven’t made a single penny from your brand, it is important to register with HMRC or the ‘international equivalent’ to avoid interest and penalties. For example lets say you have started your blog and have only earned £2, you still have to register your business, to avoid being taxed for something you did not declare.In all cases you must tell HM Revenue and Customs about your new business by 5 October following the end of tax year in which you start trading. If you do not, HM Revenue and Customs can charge a penalty. You may also have to register for VAT but it is important that you speak to someone from the HMRC team who can help you set up an account for your small business.
You can do this by phoning HM Revenue and Customs’ Newly Self-employed helpline (0300 200 3504) or you may register on-line. Details can be found on the Gov.uk website at https://www.gov.uk/register-for-self-assessment.
If you have created a new business but have decided, after registering with HMRC that you need to change the legal structure of your business, then it is important to tell HMRC about a change to your business.
6. Hire A Business Consultant To Transform Your Business ‘Idea’ Into A Full Fledged Reality
With some businesses i.e creating a fashion line that caters to women in London, you might consider reaching out to a business consultant who can see beyond the numbers and work out what other factors are needed to elevate your business to the next level. For example you have a team of 3 but you need 5 members of staff to keep up with the supply and demand that your new business is generating. Someone like business consultant ‘Trevor McClintock‘ can interpret your vision, culture, staffing, IT, suppliers and systems and processes which will all come under the spotlight in order to evaluate what needs to change to take your business forward. This might mean,looking for ways to secure funding to employ members of staff, or working out what unnecessary cost you can cut down on, in order to implement the changes in your vision.
With the ability to tailor make bespoke packages that can be personalized to cater to YOUR brand, a business consultant can often be a key step to turning your business idea into a full fledged reality, especially if you are feeling tentative and want some support and guidance to gain confidence about your brand.
7. Be Prepared For A Fluctuation In Income Each Month (Savings Are Key)
When it comes to being a ‘freelancer’, I know that you are never going to get the same income each month, which can be both terrifying and exhilarating. For example in December you might find that you have earned a lot more money than previous months, because companies have a higher budget to promote Christmas activity, to generate sales, whereas you will find that January is quiet because brands and agencies blew their budget over the Christmas season. So what you will often find is that income is often in alignment to ‘season’.
If we use blogging as an example, you might find that looking at each month presents different opportunities and sources of income.
January- Is quiet due to brands heavy promotion during the Christmas period, although you might see some pre-activity for Valentines Day and London Fashion Week
February- Will be busier due to Valentines Day and LFW
March-April- Easter content might be in demand, especially for those with families and young children
May-June- Can be quite slow, although travel bloggers might find that it is a good two months to pitch summer holidays and get invited onto press trips.
July- Can often be a great month for finances as brands and PR’s want to promote themselves before they go away on their summer break.
August- Is often the worst month for finances due to school holidays and people being away for the summer break.
September- Picks up with brands creating back to school/ back to work campaigns
October- is a great month for Halloween/Thanksgiving Campaigns
November-December -Is key for Christmas and other religious holidays, although in my experience you tend to get more products as opposed to finances.
8. Review Your Progress Daily (But Don’t Get Yourself Down If You Don’t See Much Growth At First)
When you start a business, it is very important to review your progress from day one, but at the same time don’t be upset if you don’t reach your goals at first. We all know how crushing it can feel to put all your time and energy into something like a start up business, only to find that your expectations have not been met but that is ok. Remember how we spoke about creating attainable and realistic goals? Even if you set goals that you know you are able to achieve simply work out how you can learn from your progress by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses. For example you have to sell 50 tickets to reach event capacity but you have only sold 25 and have two weeks to sell the rest of the tickets. Work out what you are missing that could potentially elevate your ticket sales. Maybe you need to reach out to people personally with a link to your site or build up genuine interactions that can translate into sales.
Ways of reviewing your progress
Through Excel Spreadsheets– I use spreadsheets to keep track of earnings, blog events, expenses and more and have created a similar spreadsheet for our events company, which includes brands, PR’s, speakers, goody bags, giveaways and more. This is a great way of evaluating progress because it determines and highlights whether you are missing anything from your business plan or schedule and any components you need to put into your business in order to make it successful. For example you might have sorted brands and goody bags but what about the actual bags to put the goodies in? For any business make a list of brand or partners that you can reach out to, where you can mutually benefit each other.
Create monthly goals
For example you have decided that for your blog you are going to pitch to 15 new brands a week and out of the 60, aim to work with at least 20 of the brands. Creating monthly goals is a great way of tracking progress and the best thing is you have the freedom to choose your own monthly goals.You can either focus on one thing only i.e. clientele growth or you could have a number of goals like raising your social media stats, increasing your traffic or researching key brands that are looking to work with similar companies like yourself. Daily goals work too, but ultimately monthly goals gives you more time to work towards realistic numbers.
Create A Business Barometer
Like monthly goals, a barometer helps you quantify the results you’re after with a specific measurement — time, money, or a percentage. But the main difference between setting monthly goals and a barometer, is that a barometer is a more macro look into your progress with the business so far and can help you use or set specific metrics that can enable you to push your business to the next level. For example you need to work out your overall brand for the company. So for example I co-founded an events company, whose central aim was to bring bloggers and brands together in an intimate setting, so to measure our progress I have used the spreadsheets to determine what each event will need from both the bloggers and brands. But another way of reaching your goal is to dominate the events industry by calculating your market share and working out what other competitors have in comparison. Alternatively because we want to make the clients and customers happy, we can also track progress through referrals, satisfaction rate and more.
9. Prioritize Your Customers Or Clients In The First Year To Truly Get Your Business Off The Ground
In order to make your business a success it is so important to prioritize your customers, so that you can show them how much they mean to you and your business. By prioritizing your clients you show them that ‘they matter’ and this will quickly translate into word of mouth, which gradually over the course of time will convert into sales. For example being prompt with emails, sending thank you notes to your clients and putting them above other things like social functions will truly show your clients that they are your number one priority. And why is that important I hear you ask?
- You add value to the customers lives by making them your priority. For example lets say you run a entertainment agency which supplies balloons, props and more. It is important to create good customer service, even if it is just you running the company because that person will remember you and recommend you to others. Which leads me onto my next point.
- Prioritizing leads to more trust and a greater percentage of satisfaction, which is great for brands who want to see a case study of previous collaborations that you have created and how you managed to exceed their expectations.
- It creates a pipeline to valuable customer feedback and gives you strategies and ideas on how to improve your services. For example you are a VA for a blogger, but did not complete threads on time due to other commitments. When you prioritize the service you are proving you are more likely to pick up more clients.
10. Engage With Customers And Clients And Use Social Media As A Marketing Tool
Social media is one of the most powerful tools you can use to elevate your business,but it is important that you choose the right platform to suit you.Instead of focusing on too many platforms at once, focus your energy on two platforms that would benefit your audience the most. For example we have decided to use Twitter and Instagram to engage with customers and clients as we have found them to be the two most useful platforms in the media and blogging industry. We use Twitter to create chats with bloggers and brands, taking the time to get to know them and build up relationships, as well as promoting our events, what we can offer brands and bloggers but also as a way of creating an engaged and authentic community. On the other hand Instagram is a great tool because we can use stories to drive traffic to our website and ticket sales, use our feed as a visual medium to create an aesthetic that appeals to our chosen market but also scouts brands and bloggers who might be interested in coming. In contrast other companies might find that Youtube and Facebook might be more relevant but this is all dependent on your target audience so you do need to take this into consideration.
Why Should You Use Social Media As A Marketing Tool?
- Increased Brand Recognition. Every opportunity you have to syndicate your content and increase your visibility is valuable. For example tagging people in social media posts and using relevant hashtags helps people find your business.
- Increased Brand Loyalty. Lets say you have started a wedding cake business, the more weddings that you successfully work with, the more likely they are to recommend you to their guests who in turn will use you for their own functions.
- Low Cost With Proven Effectiveness- in order to sell our tickets, we used social media to promote our brand, through tweets, images and emails catered to our target audience. And it does work, granted you will have a lot of rejections but at the same time you might also have future partners who would like to work with you if they are given more time.
What Are Your Top Tips To Start A Business In 2018?