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How to start your own business: a 9-step guide

10-minute read

Tradesperson measuring wood
Catriona Smith and Sam Bromley

Catriona Smith and Sam Bromley

11 March 2022

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So you’re thinking of starting a business? We’ve got some tips for getting started – from writing a business plan to understanding tax, benefits, and legal structures as a new business owner.

While it may seem overwhelming, with passion and dedication you could join one of the six million small and medium sized businesses in the UK.

Ready to go? Read our nine-step guide on how to start a small business in the UK.

Setting up a business – ideas and inspiration

Of course, the first thing you need to do is choose your business idea. It should be something you’re passionate about so you’re happy putting your time, money and energy into making it a success.

Start by checking if a product or service is viable by looking at Google Trends, conducting market research, or even building a blog or social page to test if there’s interest.

You’ll need to find a niche so you can stand out to customers – is there a gap in the market for something? Can you make use of specific skills and experience you have already? Do you have a unique perspective on something?

Next, think about whether you want to start an online business or if you need physical premises. If you're thinking of setting up an online shop then it could make more financial sense to start your business from home.

We have a range of guides if you already know the trade you’re interested in:

Still stuck for ideas? Check out the latest business trends for more inspiration.

How to start a business with no money

While starting a business inevitably comes with costs, there are some ideas that can be cheaper to get started than others.

For example, you could set up a YouTube channel or start making money on TikTok. Even dog walking or personal training could start out small. You just need to be aware of the risks, clearly define your niche, and look for free ways to get your brand out there.

Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • create a Google My Business page to help get you noticed
  • write a blog
  • build an email list of clients

Check out our guide to passive income for a few more ideas.

What do I need to start a business?

Aside from a great idea that you’re passionate about, you’ll also need:

  • courses and training – depending on your business, you might need specific training or want to complete a general business qualification – City & Guilds offer a range of vocational courses
  • licences – check the government website to see if you need a business licence, for example to sell food, play music, or trade on the street
  • specialist equipment – make sure you budget for any equipment or tools
  • products – if you’re setting up a shop or selling your own creations you’ll need to get your stock together

Level up your business skills

The list of business skills for entrepreneurs is endless. Beyond being an expert in your trade, you’ll also need to be a whiz at marketing, selling, and know your way around a spreadsheet.

Here’s an idea of some key skills and business training courses to help you upskill and prepare to be a small business owner:

Project management

From launching a website to developing a new product, all your business projects need to be managed effectively. That means keeping in budget and finishing on time.

Bookkeeping and accountancy

Tax, cash flow, and sales all need to be carefully tracked. Having basic bookkeeping skills will help you when it comes to filing your tax return and understanding the health of your business.

Management and leadership

As you grow and employ staff, you might want to look into management training so you can get the best out of your team. The government’s Help to Grow scheme could be useful if you’ve got at least five employees.

Pitching and presenting

At some point while starting up your business you’ll almost certainly have to give a presentation. That could be a pitch to potential investors, a presentation to new clients, or an update to staff.

Sales and marketing

Keep on top of trends, observe changing customer behaviour, and make sure your sales and marketing plan is bringing you business. Over a quarter of small business owners say marketing and finding customers is one of their biggest challenges, according to research in the SME Insights Report 2022. Watch a webinar with small business owner, Harpreet Kaur on how to grow your business for some tips.

You can find a whole range of business courses online. Start by browsing Reed courses to upskill in any area of business, from presenting and project management to finance and HR. FutureLearn and Open University are also useful resources for building your business skills. It's worth remembering that you'll want to keep your skills up to date as part of your continuing professional development too.

Get expert tips from other business owners

Mark Mciver, CEO and founder of a London barbershop SliderCuts, shared his three tips to being a successful entrepreneur:

  1. Study and work in your industry – know it inside out
  2. Be honest about your weaknesses – then hire in those areas and build a powerhouse team
  3. Invest into your idea – back your vision with some funding

But it's important not to focus too much on what other people are trying to tell you – you know your business better than anyone.

Lucy Hitchcock is owner of Partner in Wine and Sassy Digital. And as the founder of two small businesses, Lucy had this to say to people just starting out: "Lots of people are going to have lots of advice for you when you are first self-employed, and my advice would be not to take it all.

"It’s your career. And it’s your job to do your own research, listen to your gut, and work out what's best for your journey, your business, and ultimately the path you want to take."

9 steps to starting your own business

Follow our checklist below for how to start a small business in the UK.

1. Register business name

Coming up with a name for your business is an important step as it shows the personality of your brand and helps you stand out. Your name should be unique and appeal to your target audience – and it’s your chance to be creative.

It's also worth understanding:

If you’re looking for some light-hearted inspiration, try our Business Name Generator to get you started.

Next, you’ll need to choose a legal structure for your business:

  • sole trader – the simplest business structure, but with no legal distinction between you and your business
  • partnership – if you’re starting a business with a business partner or partners
  • limited company – a complex structure with plenty of admin, but your business is legally distinct from you as an individual

If you’re not sure, this guide explains the difference between a sole trader and a limited company.

3. Write your new business plan

A business plan is an important document for a business of any size. It helps you to get an idea of your strategic goals, financials, market research, and potential obstacles.

And as part of any new business strategy, you’ll need to create a budget. The cost to start a business can vary widely – it depends on things like whether you need to buy specialist equipment, rent a business premises, or if you’re running your business from home. Have a look at our budget calculator and cash flow forecast guides for help with planning your budget.

Our guide on how to write a business plan has a more complete overview of writing your plan – plus you can download a free business plan template there too.

4. Secure funding and finance

How much money do you need to start a business? It’ll vary depending on your product or service. But, as mentioned above, you’ll need to think about this question before getting your new venture started.

You might not need much initial investment if you’re starting small.

But if you’ve identified a number of costs in your budget, you should know how you’re going to fund your project. Will you use savings? Or will you ask for help with starting up a new business (for example, loans from friends, family, or a bank)?

Keep in mind you might be able to find grants for new businesses to help lighten the financial burden. The benefit of a small business grant rather than a loan is that you don’t usually have to pay the money back.

It’s worth checking for government funding for new businesses. Another government-backed scheme is the Start Up Loan, available from the British Business Bank. You can borrow up to £25,000 at a fixed interest rate of six per cent per year. You also get 12 months of free mentoring.

Read more about the small business loans available from different lenders.

Crowdfunding is another innovative source of finance. Plus, if you’re a young person looking to start a business, it’s worth checking out the Prince’s Trust, which offers mentoring – and sometimes, funding.

5. Plan your advertising strategy

Now you’ve sorted your finance, it’s time to think about how you’re going to attract customers and grow your business.

When it comes to advertising a new business, you’ll need to consider marketing, branding, and how you’ll balance online and offline promotion.

Here are a few of our top tips:

  • do competitor researchcompetitor analysis helps you understand the market, set your prices, and find a way to stand out
  • build a social media presence – social media is a great way to showcase your brand’s personality and tone of voice, connect with customers, and even sell your products with tools like Facebook Shops and Instagram
  • create a website with SEOoptimise your website for search engines so people can find your business and understand the products or service you offer
  • send emails and newsletters – a simple and cost-effective way to keep in touch with your customers and boost sales
  • use flyers and print marketing – a tangible way to reach potential customers
  • network at industry events – get to know your industry and make connections at virtual or in-person events

6. Buy your new business insurance

The type of business insurance you’ll need depends on your business. Whether you have an online shop or deliver a service, you can tailor your cover and protect yourself from the costs of everyday risks like accidents, damage and legal fees. You can also add specific covers if you need to protect stock or tools.

You can select from a range of covers:

7. Work out what you need to do for tax

Running a business comes with legal and accounting responsibilities, so it’s important you’re clear on what’s involved. There’s a £1,000 tax free allowance, but after that you’re legally required to register with HMRC or Companies House.

Sole traders need to:

Limited companies need to:

One of the benefits of registering as self-employed is you can claim back some of your expenses and reduce your tax bill. Our guide on self-employed tax deductible expenses goes into more detail on the expenses you can subtract from your business turnover when working out how much tax you need to pay.

And a good way to test your business venture without as much financial risk is to start a business alongside full-time employment – but make sure you understand everything about paying tax when you have a side hustle first.

You may also be able to recoup some of the tax you pay with new business tax relief, such as business rates relief and VAT relief.

Finally, be sure to keep up with all the self-employed tax changes that are introduced in April each year.

8. Create a system for keeping business records

After you’ve worked out what you need to do for tax, it’s important to stay organised so you can meet your tax obligations at various points throughout the tax year.

If you don’t have a record-keeping system, you’ll spend a lot of time sorting paperwork when you have to do your Self Assessment – valuable time that could be spent running your business, or on relaxing and recharging. Read more bookkeeping tips here.

Firstly, it’s a good idea to keep your business and personal finances separate. That’s because allowances like tax-deductible expenses can only be for business purposes – it’s much harder to separate money coming in and out when you’re using one account.

Many of the major providers offer a business bank account – here are some of the best.

What’s more, there’s lots of software available that can make record-keeping much easier. Software can do tasks like create and send invoices automatically, and monitor your income and outgoings:

Finally, you’re required to keep business records for a number of years. If HMRC asks for them, accurate and organised business records can help keep you out of trouble in the event of a tax investigation. Read more about how long to keep tax records.

9. Maintain your business with support guides and templates

For more resources on running your business, from conducting a business health check to hiring employees, explore the support guides and templates below.

Finally, our SME Insights Report has data on business confidence and optimism, so read that to understand the challenges that businesses are facing.

Are you starting your own business? Let us know how you get on in the comments.

Looking for self-employed insurance?

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Catriona Smith and Sam Bromley

Written by

Catriona Smith and Sam Bromley

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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