7 things to do to start a business in the UK

Deciding to set up your own business is a big step. It’s important to think about how you’ll hit the ground running, and this checklist is designed to help you do just that – from registration and marketing to knowing your pipeline of work.

A checklist for UK startups

So often, it all comes back to the ‘to do list’. If you’re thinking about setting up your own business, you’ll already have a head full of ideas, information, advice, and priorities. Having them sorted into a physical list (call it ‘things to do to start my business’, if in doubt), preferably on a big sheet of paper pinned above your desk, can help you make sense of what’s important, and what needs to be done and when.

We’ve whittled it down to seven basic steps – here’s your ready-made business startup checklist.

1. What’s the big idea?

It might sound strange, but one of the earliest sticking points for many small businesses is getting clear on the ‘idea’ and what the business will actually be. Before you do anything else, take a fresh sheet of paper and jot down a couple of sentences that sum up what you’re going to be doing or selling. Add your three main products or services, if you know them, and your target market, or source of customers. Before you know it, you’ll be writing a rough business plan, and in a better place to start researching funding, competitors, and any of the six steps below.

2. Know your pipeline

Next on the checklist, your customer pipeline.

If you haven’t set up yet and you don’t know who your first customer will be, that’s fine. What’s important is knowing your target market, or who’s likely to buy your services and products, and doing some decent research. Make sure you’ve read our step five on marketing below, and if you have a website or Facebook page, start taking email addresses now from people who are interested in your products.

If your business is more of a services venture (accountancy, copywriting, legal work, childcare etc.), you can go one step further and do a bit of networking now, lining up a coffee or meeting to run through your services and perhaps agree on a short term contract.

Once you’re set up and working on those first contracts, try not to be complacent. As busy as you are, chatting to potential clients and developing a pipeline is essential for sustaining your business and (ironically) reducing stress.

3. HMRC, insurance, and staying legal

If there’s one thing you don’t want to be worrying about three months in, it’s whether you’re registered for tax, properly insured, or legally secure.

First things first: you need to be on Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC’s) radar. This is mainly to ensure you’re paying tax properly – use the HMRC website to get set up and registered – and you’ll also need to decide whether you’re going to be a sole trader, limited company, or something else. Read our article on company structure options and decide what’s right for you.

Also important to keep on your start-a-business-checklist – setting up a solid business insurance policy and getting organised with any licenses or permits you might need. From licenses for working with children to health and safety checks, you’ll need to research your industry thoroughly and keep an eye on any changing requirements.

4. Set up your billing

Apart from the thrill and the mission, it’s all about the billing. There’s nothing as satisfying as sending that first invoice, unless of course you have to spend a couple of hours going back through your calendar to figure out how many hours you’ve worked, or what you’ve sold, and when.

Even if it’s just a very simple spreadsheet, or grid, get into the habit of keeping clear records. It won’t just help you bill customers quickly and accurately, it’ll also be useful if you need to provide an audit trail, hand over to an accountant, or reconcile any queries from a customer.

5. Create a marketing plan

You don’t need a huge budget to create an effective marketing plan. And remember, not all platforms and methods work for every business. Instagram, flyers, and a bit of local PR might do the job for a small coffee shop, for example, whilst LinkedIn and word of mouth referrals might be the perfect blend for an IT consultant or accountant.

Whatever your mix, the first job is understanding where your customers are, how to reach them, and what their needs are. Even if you don’t have a super-duper website yet with all social media platforms established and professional business cards printed, there’s a lot you can do with a busy town square and a tray of free samples or introductory flyers.

Make sure you’ve looked at lots of options and picked a couple that really suit you and your customer base. Spreading yourself too thinly over every single marketing channel just dilutes your efforts.

6. Evaluate and review

All businesses need a reality check from time to time.

Once you’re through month one, block out some time to look through your sales or billing, check your biggest source of income, and investigate any stumbles or spikes in business. You could even ask clients or customers for a bit of feedback (their favourite product, preferred form of contact, aims for next month etc.) and use it to add some action points to your review.

Once you’ve got all the facts in front of you, create a quick list of goals or objectives for next month. Perhaps it’s working five hours more (or less!), signing up 20 more email addresses to your newsletter, or spending one evening a month at your local business networking group. Whatever it is, having performance-based objectives shouldn’t stop when you become your own boss. It’s this sort of structure that keeps you ticking into year two.

7. Take regular breaks

The early days of running a business are all about the work, the clients, and where the next sale is coming from. Remember though, you’re still entitled to a break. With no HR department or holiday allowance to lean on, you’ll need to monitor your own working patterns and intensity. So don’t just say you’ll book a couple of days’ holiday - block it out in your diary, book it, and do it.

Being your own boss can be all-consuming, but you’ll be much better use to your clients when you’re well-rested and full of energy, let alone your family and friends.

Check out our article on micro holiday ideas for busy small business owners, or just make a list of three things you’d like to do and build them into a long weekend. Most important, try not to feel guilty! You’re building a fantastic business, and you’ve earned some quality time off.

What would you add to our steps to starting a business checklist? Let us know in the comments below.

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