5 steps to starting a business in 2012

If you’ve been thinking about becoming your own boss, now is the time to take a step closer to that ambition as this will be a top year for starting and growing a business. Here are five steps you can take today.
Come up with an idea
You may already have your business idea; in which case you can move straight to step 2! If you’re still considering, ask yourself 3 questions:
  • What is your passion/hobby/skill and can this be turned into a way of making a living?
  • Have you spotted a gap in the market? If so, fill it!
  • Have you seen someone do something that you think you can improve upon?
The answers will provide you with the basis of a business idea. Aim to come up with an idea that focuses on a niche; ie creating a particular product or service for a well-defined audience such as payroll services for childcare professionals or a virtual PA for businesses in the food sector. That way, you’ll keep marketing costs low and customer loyalty high.
Write a business plan
This is not onerous to do and a business plan will act as your route map; guiding you towards business objectives. It’s easy to remember what to include as it spells I’M OFF:
I – what’s your Idea
M – who is the Market you will serve; include information on where your customers are/their key influences/buying habits etc
O – what Operations will you need to create your service or product; if you’re starting as a graphic designer, this may be just a laptop and some business cards, for a fashion designer, possibly a sewing machine and space
F – is for Financials; make a projection of sales you expect to make in the first 12 months, calculate costs (stock/equipment/marketing etc) and calculate the profit you expect to make. In the Financials section, you can also work out if you need funds to get started in business; that’s unlikely as most businesses can now be started on a shoestring of a budget. If you do need money, turn to friends and family/the bank/ Fund101
F – the final F is for Friends. Find yourself a mentor and/or technical experts to whom you can turn for help. At the outset, this may be someone in your family. It’s important to have a sound support network and that’s covered in the final point below.
Make a sale
With an idea and business plan in place, it’s time to make a sale. Do so from your own site or blog (if you have one) by plugging in an e-commerce tool or make the most of powerful sales platforms that attract customers on your behalf so you focus on production and promotion. Whether you’re selling handmade cushions or legal services, sites such as Alibaba.com, Elance.com, eBay.com, Etsy.com and Folksy.com can help you make sales.
Consider attending markets and shows, having goods displayed in local shops and individual approaches to friends and family who could become customers .. and tell their friends and family to do the same!
Promote yourself
With a successful sale, you’ll want to tell the world about it! Make the most of free social media tools and set yourself up on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Write a press release announcing your company and customers and make friends with journalists from the local and/or trade press as well as influential bloggers and small business sites such as ours who will be interested in profiling your story. Start to build yourself as the expert in your field and soon the media will be coming to you!
Surround yourself with support  
One of the reasons this is such a promising year to start a business is because there’s never been so much support on offer to help you succeed. The StartUp Britain campaign shines a spotlight on useful events/resources/Awards, sites such as Enterprise Nation, BusinessZone.co.uk, StartUp Donut  and of course here at Business Matters offer content and friendly forums, and events such as StartUp Saturday provide you with all the practical advice you need to get started and introductions to others treading the same path.
Make the most of this year; take that idea, talent, hobby or skill and start a business. You know you want to!
Emma Jones is founder of Enterprise Nation www.enterprisenation.com and co-founder of StartUp Britain www.startupbritain.org