At the start of 2015 there were a record 5.4 million private sector businesses in the UK according to the government externallink – up 146,000 on the previous year, and almost two million more than at the turn of the millennium. In fact, it’s reckoned that both employing and non-employing businesses have increased by around 3% a year since we partied like it was 1999.

If you’ve ever contemplated adding to the tally then this new series could be just what you need to get the cogs turning. In the coming weeks we’ll be exploring all aspects of going it alone – from determining a clear proposition and plan, sourcing premises, sorting equipment, making decisions on hardware and software, marketing and promotion, finances and staying on the right side of employment law. Our aim being to help you consider what’s important before you realise in your enthusiasm you haven’t properly considered something or that the decisions you’ve made have boxed you into a corner.

This time, what’s your proposition?

Find your fun

What is it you really enjoy doing? Chances are you haven’t given it all that much thought since your school careers advisor asked the question all those years ago and advised that astronauts were not likely to be in heavy demand. It’s time to reappraise the question with some work experience under your belt. What are the projects you’ve really enjoyed working on? What aspects were particularly appealing to you and played to your own interests and strengths? What things do you want to spend your time doing?

Of course, the work day isn’t just about doing the ‘fun’ things. Even among the things we enjoy are likely to be things that bore us to tears or stretch our talents and abilities to breaking point and beyond. To make a firm sustainable you’ll inevitably have to do some things that are clearly placed in the ‘less fun’ column. Could you do them or do you need to rely on others with more suitable skills and abilities?

Don’t forget to factor in all the underpinning activities that are part and parcel of being your own boss – budgeting, planning, tendering and pitching, IT, marketing – all will require time and attention – time that won’t be spent doing the things that inspire and motivate you. Would this be tolerable? Who would you need to help?

Determining viability

What would a business built around what you find fun and engaging actually look like? What kind of things would you be doing and for what kind of clients? Perhaps you can find an example of exactly the kind of business you want to build that already exists. If not, it may be wise to explore reasons why not. Would broadening things out make things more viable?

Successful viable businesses provide benefits for their customers at prices that cover costs and generate a profit. You need to weigh up the things you can provide in terms of knowledge, experience and skills, with the demands of your potential customers. The key being – does anyone actually need your product and will they pay enough in sufficient quantities to keep you as an owner and/or investor happy?

With a clearer idea of what your business needs to do, it is perhaps wise to take a step back to determine its purpose, not only in terms of activities and customers but in terms of its inherent values, and reason for existing at all.

The purpose is ‘what the business does’ and should spur more detailed planning. At a basic level, your business will likely exist to make money for you and/ or your investors. On a more detailed level, you'll likely be doing activities that result in services or products delivered to customers and to do this may need to think about what staff will require. You may also wish to think about the ideology or values that drive the business before breaking these down into goals.

Constructing a plan

The goals and objectives of a business can be elaborated into a business plan together with the analysis of the market place, an indication of the resources that will be required and the way in which those resources will be used. Having a business plan is about ensuring that a range of activities will happen in a planned and considered way. It should not be restrictive or overly prescriptive - circumstances will change and opportunities present themselves. If much of what you do is planned then you have greater freedom to pursue the opportunities.

While a business plan will be useful when setting out, it is a living, breathing document that should be regularly revisited and used to determine if objectives are being met or if the bigger plan needs to be adjusted. We'll take a look at business planning in more detail later in this series.


Next: Starting out in practice: The business case

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