The Times: tips for startups wanted

ended 09. June 2021

A journalist at The Times is writing an article focused on what it takes to be a successful startup. It's angled on the fact that more and more people are launching their own businesses because they have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, or as a side hustle. We want to know what the best advice is that you've been given, or would give, to make a startup successful. 

As ever, be short and punchy in your alert_responses: 1-2 sentences max will do. Journalists want soundbites not essays.

If you're a Premium user, your alert_responses will be edited to ensure they are as strong as possible and grammatically tight. 


71 responses from the Newspage community

"Get clear on what the problem you are solving is, and make sure that anyone who lands on your website or social media channels knows within five seconds what it is you do and how you can solve their problems. "Become a student of marketing as it doesn't matter how good you are at your job, or how great the product is, if no one knows about it. "Finally, don't underestimate the role that luck can play in starting a business."
“Banish any self-limiting beliefs, have a plan, nurture relationships, know your worth, treat customer feedback as gold dust, be nimble, listen to your gut, make tough calls decisively, build a great team and never EVER give up."
"The main tips I can give to anyone starting in business is being disciplined and knowing where or how you will generate enquiries for your business to make it a success. Sourcing business is everything, as almost 1 in 5 new businesses fail in the UK each year."
Get social and use your personal network, the easiest and fastest way is to enagage on social media, focus on people getting to know you, enlsit your personal network, family, friends, facebook groups. Keep consistant, post an abosloute minimum once a day and keep it going!
"As co-founder of a business that launched during the pandemic, but has gone on to turn over over £1million and sold 100,00 gift boxes, I'd say the best piece of advice for new startups is be ready to adapt. The world is ever-changing, all the more so at the moment, so if you're too rigid in what you're trying to achieve, your dream could die. Keep tabs on change, whether in your sector or the broader economy, and evolve your business in line with that change."
With the steep increase in startups, a level of resilience is required as building business momentum usually takes both focused effort for a sustained period of time. It's vital that you know how you bring value to those who serve and find where they can become aware of what you do. Collaborating with those who can amplify and add to your value is both great to avoid startup isolation and aid the continuous learning that is needed to keep agile in an increasingly dynamic landscape.
"As a startup 25 years ago, and then becoming a startup again when Covid-19 hit and we lost our whole business, I would say forget about money when you are business planning at the beginning. Dream big and plan what you would do if money was no object and then go back through to see what is realistic with the budget you actually have. This encourages strong creativity and it's surprising how much you find you can do."
I co-found Talk Staff in 2009, during a worldwide recession, and learnt very quickly that if you truly believe in what you’re doing and know that it’ll make a difference then you should never give up. We’re celebrating our 12th birthday this year and the difficult but important lessons we learnt during the first few years of business have helped build foundations that continue to help us thrive in hard times, especially during the recent COVID-19 pandemic.
"When you start, say 'YES' to everything! Every networking event, meet up, showcase, pitch, award. It will build confidence, get your name out there and help you find your tribe who will champion you. The worst thing that can happen is you never go back for a second meeting, so jump in and say yes as much as possible."
"My best piece of advice is that it's OK to not have all the answers! Thinking you have to know the answer to everything all the time is bad for business. Admitting you don't know the answer but you do know someone who will and asking them for help, now that's a smart move. "It's OK to not know the answer or what to do. We are in an uncertain world, and most of us don't know which way things will go. But if you do nothing for fear of the consequences of getting it wrong, it won't help you or your idea. "At the start, we feel like we're supposed to be able to get everything right, that we're meant to know all the answers and then, for fear of getting things wrong, we spend time trying to learn - or we stall or procrastinate and do nothing. Both come at the cost of the business."
"Accept that you are never going to be perfect, and that good is good enough. Otherwise, you'll never get anything done. Also know your strengths and spend your time doing what you are good at. Find experts for the areas you are not so confident in, such as finance or marketing."
"The first customers are the hardest. No matter how innovative the product or service is, customers can’t buy it unless they know about it. A viable go-to-market marketing strategy is key. "You want a small and niche target market, as mass marketing is for large wallets. Find your target audience and focus on them unceasingly."
"Be prepared to put in those extra hours, as working for yourself means that, in addition to your main body of work, you will have extra responsibilities that need to be fulfilled as you become more successful. These will include, for example, marketing, IT, health and safety, data protection, bookkeeping and HR. Oh, and for some, holidays may become a distant memory."
"If you have read The Secret, you will know what the law of attraction is. Visualise who you want to be and what you want in life and eventually it will become your reality."
"Be agile. If the past 18 months has taught us anything, it is the need to be open to changing direction and to acknowledge that what seemed like the right path may need to be changed to adapt to circumstances out of your control."
"There is loads of content 'on the interweb' for startups to ensure you have the right product or service idea, that you understand the market and your growth plans mapped out, all of which is super important. However, it is easy to lose sight of yourself in the whole process. The pressure for founders to become CEOs or MDs is always there, but so many times founders or entrepreneurs are not the people for those roles, they're shoehorned into them. "Map out where you see your business in three years, of course, but don't forget to map out where you see yourself in that business as it grows. It will help you focus on your strengths, influence how you build your team and ensure it's a business you still want to be part of as it grows."
"A successful start-up aims to solve a problem for which there is a big enough group of people who are willing and able to pay. As the co-founder of a business that helps people aged over 50, many of whom have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, we see lots of people with great ideas but lacking the confidence to execute them. It's important to take action, even if it means you might fail."
"Use it as an opportunity to do something you really enjoy, not something you have to do. I was made redundant after a 26-year career at Rolls Royce and set up my business seven years ago. Although it didn't feel it at the time, it was the best thing that could have happened."
"You have to be prepared to be uncomfortable. Not everything will be perfect or go as planned but that’s OK. Remember to take the time to stop, look back and realise how far you have come. It’s too easy to get distracted in the day to day and caught up in the doing and running of a business to lose sight of where you are going and how far you have already come. Find similar and likeminded people to surround yourself with. Allow them to be critical of you and be an ear when you need them. Finally, accept that things go wrong and that it’s OK to fail as long as you learn from it."
Now as an accountant you’d expect me to say this, but genuinely, businesses fail because they run out of cash! Cash is king, and not forecasting, and making sure you’re aware of any surprises on the horizon (big payments, payments to the tax man, or even getting your pricing wrong) can cause a business to buckle. The best businesses can fail if they are cash starved. So, get yourself familiar with your numbers, forecast your cash, and if you can’t or don’t have the time to do it, then invest in the right person to do if for you. I’m also going to be controversial here and say that whilst it takes grit, determination and persistence, make sure that you also get enough down time! Burnout is one of the reasons why businesses fail. Losing your spark, or the passion for your business isn’t going to see you through those darker days! Wearing the fact that you haven’t had a holiday or taken a breath in a working week shouldn’t be worn as a badge of honour, no-one can sustain that, and whilst we need to dig deep when its needed it can’t be sustained, look after yourself. Looking at the reasons why businesses succeed, get the right mindset although 1 in 5 might fail, that’s 4 in 5 that make it through the first year, and you can definitely be one of those with the right attitude, ensuring that you’ve nailed your offering and getting the right advice! To ensure you’re nailing your offering, make sure you’re listening to exactly what your customers want, request continual feedback, and continue to adjust and change. Don’t rest on your laurels, if you’re not moving forwards, you may be going backwards and may just be outcompeted. Remember the importance of your network too - seek out, build, and use your network. Take advice and ask questions and surround yourself with likeminded people! What are you waiting for?
Star Quote
"In order to be successful, you have to define what ‘success’ means to you. It’s not just about setting ambitious sales targets, hustling away and chasing some arbitrary vision of what it means to be an entrepreneur. What are your personal income targets, and why? What kind of work would be fulfilling and enjoyable for you? How do you want to fit the business around your personal and family life? Only once you have defined success can you work out how to get there."
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"Be tenacious and dogged. Remember that economic downturns, recessions and pandemics happen to everyone, but some people still find a way to be successful. It's down to you and your determination."
"My advice to anyone launching a startup is to get a demonstrable product market fit. This usually involves strong metrics throughout your customer acquisition funnel and customers who are vocal about how much they love your product — and how upset they would be if your product disappeared, or no longer existed."
"Develop a support network and always accept that you will face rejection or failure at some point. Whether it's losing a client or encountering negative views, my motto is always 'Some will, some won't, so what... next!"
"Be as stubborn and determined as humanly possible. You'll get always get knock-backs, but always keep going. That way you'll find what works and have a raft of experience to draw on."
"Starting a business is like having a baby: there's never a 'right time'. Lots of people have ideas for products and services that they never act on and are then disappointed years later when they see that someone else has managed to launch it instead. If you have an idea, do your research but don't be afraid to act. There's plenty of support out there for new businesses, along with funding and advice. Just go for it!"
"Self-care and being in the present are key. I wish I had lightened up a little bit at the start and enjoyed some nights out with friends or simply had some chilled time. I am always juggling a million things and it's just become my nature to continually make sure that my plate is not only full but overflowing. This does get overwhelming and a bit of self-care and downtime is frequently required. "My second tip is love what you're doing and don't give up. Running a business is no mean feat. There are lots of ups and downs, twists and turns and an incredible amount of learning to do. It's even more challenging when you're balancing work life and bringing up a family. "Having led a full-on corporate life for over 12 years, running a business was very new to me but I am very passionate about it all. I enjoy the adrenaline it gives me when I see our educational products making a significant difference in children's development. "Burnout is almost inevitable in an entrepreneur's life. You need to find your coping mechanisms. For me it's surrounding myself with like-minded people and, most importantly, writing my thoughts down so I can tick things off the list. My brain's always in overdrive thinking about new learning themes I can develop to cater to different subject needs, what new marketing ideas I can implement, finding content for social media, newsletters, creating artwork, emails, admin, customer service, keeping on top of communication with existing and potential customers, reaching out to new retailers, educational institutions, filing taxes and returns; the list is endless. "Celebrating both small and big successes is not only important but really vital to keep your sanity and motivation levels up! "Make lists, set time slots for dedicated activities and find the balance between the fun and the not-so-fun business tasks. Celebrate big and small wins and try and end your day with some relaxing music or a hobby. Life moves at a fast pace so take the time to be in the moment to appreciate the things and people you love — and look after your health."
"Innovate, innovate, and then innovate some more. You have to give customers a reason to do business with you over a well-known brand. If you can't offer something unique, or offer a truly superior service, don't bother."
"Stick to what you know and are passionate about. Don't be tempted to jump on a trend if it isn't something you know or understand well. People buy from people, and your passion is the best selling point, and key to a long, successful business."
"To launch a business, you need to have the hide of a rhino, determination of a squirrel and harness the supportive network of an excitable pack of hounds. Oh, and an idea that people will pay for!"
"For most, going from full hustle to side hustle is a pretty big deal. But, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to startup life. Just rip up the rulebook, steer clear of business books and focus on creating a healthy company culture."
"The best advice that I would give is to start a side hustle online. Think about what transferable skills you have. Can you write? Then look at blogging. Can you knit? Then sell on Esty. Do you have manufacturing contacts? Then dropship on eBay. Whatever skill you have, you can make money from it."
Davide Fiorentino
"Aim to be the best, use the MVP (minimum viable product) approach and do not over-engineer. Oh, and learn to delegate."
"Your business needs to be something you’re passionate about. As a startup, you will go through some incredibly difficult times in the first couple of years with cash flow, expansion and employees among other things. If you have a true passion for what you do then that will carry you through those difficult times, but if it’s a business you don’t absolutely love then you’ll find it a lot harder to plough through. At Buildabundle, we believe so much in our mission to reduce fashion waste from kids clothes and bring bargains to parents like us. We have certainly had our share of dark and difficult times in our first three years but the fact we believe so strongly in what we do has got us through them all."
"As a small business that has experienced substantial growth recently, there are several tips I would share with anyone starting a business. Firstly, let people know you are there and what you do. Don't be invisible. It may seem obvious but it's amazing how many people start a business but are not making themselves visible. Customers are not mind readers, they need to be told they can buy what you're selling. Secondly, when there are so many new businesses, make sure the customers see the person behind the product/service. People don't just buy the product, they buy the person behind the product."
"Just put one foot in front of the other, over and over again. Starting a business isn't about executing huge ideas from Day One. Instead, aim to achieve something small and continue to build your goals based on both your and your startup's ability to achieve them. The big lofty goals will come round at some point."
Be honest with yourself. The world has changed in the last 15 months so make sure your idea has traction in this new reality. Don't be afraid to pivot to make sure you are still valid.
The most important thing is to know your business sector before you start. If you jump into something, and don't really know the industry, it won't work. All the other things like marketing, social media, web optimisation, etc you can learn, but if you're not confident or experienced in the basic job you're looking to do, you will find it very difficult. I'd also suggest spending a day registering your business with all online directories. Reach out to friends and family for recommendations. Ask for reviews if you do a good job. Get feedback on your website design and marketing campaigns and make sure you are visible on social media and search engines.
"Make sure you know your ideal client inside out, who they are and what they really want. Next up, niche down so you are targeting them and not just guessing and hoping for the best. Also be passionate about what you are doing, as customers and clients have lots of options. You need to give them a reason to come to you."
"Resourcefulness and the ability to magic work and resources out of nowhere. Also, it's a good idea for your startup not to be your main source of income if you want to eat for the first few months."
"Know your market, know your competitors' pricing, don’t be afraid to be different and always deliver."
To make a successful start-up, it's tempting to try and do everything yourself – but the best advice I can give is; learn to delegate responsibility, lean on your accountant and other experts, get support from your local authority (there's plenty of free support including financial grants available) and look for a mentor in your industry – they will be invaluable.
"Fly in the face of your fear and have the courage to take the first step. There will always be a reason not to do this, but consider how you'll feel 10 years from now if you don't take the leap. Ready? Okay, now you need to find a solution to a problem and learn the most important skill in business, which is marketing."
"The best advice I was given is "imperfect action is better than perfect inaction". That way you are always moving forward and learning during the process. I think about this everyday when I am hesitating about doing something or waiting for it to be exactly right."
"Never be afraid to ask for help. There’s always someone better equipped to do something for you, whether it’s an accountant, HR or PR. Whatever you’re struggling with, Google it and find someone that can make your life a little easier."
"To be successful, keep in mind that "YOU are your business". Everything you 'do' and 'say' online or offline, is a reflection of YOU and your business."
"Be willing to spend time building relationships with as many people as you can. One-to-ones are essential because a) people buy from people (even in the digital age), and b) it's not who you're talking to, it's who they might know."
"Knowing your numbers is crucial to a startup. A simple spreadsheet is more than enough to track when you expect cash to land in your bank account and when your expenses are due to be paid. It is also well worth paying for an hour's consultation with an accountant or tax specialist to ensure you are setting your business up in the best and most appropriate way possible so that you don't cause yourself problems later on."
"Have a plan, have a unique angle for your target market and always be determined to succeed. Only hard work across all areas of your business will see successful results. Be resolute, don't give up and have a positive mindset."
As the CEO and Founder of a Social Enterprise, my advice is Just Do It! You can spend so much time worrying and obsessing over every little detail but, at the end of the day, you can't make a difference if you don't start!
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Definitely know your own beliefs & values and more importantly know your target customer inside out!
Ross Boyd
CEO at
"The best advice I've ever received is that things are never as good, or as bad, as they seem. It's something to remember when you're celebrating a milestone or facing a crisis. Above all else, the number one quality you need is determination, and the main factor in creating a successful business is hiring the right people. "Furthermore, just keep going! Beyond parenting, startups are the most exciting, thrilling and rewarding experience. It's amazing to think that an idea you had in the shower or on the train is responsible for creating jobs and making positive changes. But it is every bit as much of a rollercoaster as you're led to believe. So when the chips are down, remember why you are doing what you are doing."
"Drive and determination to see through your business idea will be what keeps momentum going as you set up in business. Good self-organisation is key to succeeding beyond Year One. Keep meticulous records of just about everything as you are on your journey. Doing this as things come in will save you a lot of time looking for the evidence needed when the time comes a little later down the line. So, save all your receipts and organise a way of issuing invoices and accounting for income and expenditure. Record all the various things you need to register for such as Companies House, HMRC, VAT, insurances, business directories and membership organisations. You will find you need to add your company registration and VAT numbers to a surprising number of documents so having these to hand saves a lot of time looking them up each time. "Write into your diary all the key dates needed for things like rent, VAT returns, payroll runs, pension contributions and end-of-year accounting so that you can see them coming. Make sure you make good 'how to' notes to refer to as you carry out these tasks, too. Even if you think you will remember each process, invariably you will find yourself "Googling it", so make it easier for yourself. "And finally, it goes without saying that a good idea is mandatory to successfully starting up a business. You need to be able to service a need with your venture, or it will fall on stony ground. So take an honest and critical look at your business venture, as you are about to commit a huge amount of time and effort in getting things off the ground."
"Ignore The Apprentice and Dragons Den: business is hard, soul- crushingly hard at times. Anyone can call themselves an entrepreneur but you'll achieve more if you are a grafter. "Control your overheads from Day 1, assume you will fail but believe that you won't and celebrate the bad days more than the good ones."
Startups come with an incredible pressure to hustle and make things happen - but it’s also crucial to practice patience and accept that many aspects of building a successful business simply take time. You may be disappointed when the work you put in early on doesn’t yield the immediate results you were hoping for. However, you’ll likely realise later on just how much this early work pays off in the long run as the momentum of your business grows.
"You don't need to borrow money to start up your own business. Believe in your idea and your passion for it will shine through, resulting in more sales."
"A true startup business is an expression of the founder's personality and values, which make it unique and are its natural USP. Make your business stand out from the crowd by being yourself or, in the words of Oscar Wilde, 'Be yourself, everyone else is taken'."
"It might seem obvious, but make sure there is a need for your product or service. Schools and parents have really engaged with our second-hand school uniform marketplace because, throughout lockdown, children kept growing but uniform wasn’t being worn and affordability became even more important. Be flexible, make changes if you need to and do something each day to push your business forward as, no matter how small, it all helps."
"Have a business plan and don't inflate your numbers to make it work. Be rational and realistic about what you want to to achieve and what you need to do in order to get there."
"We started about six months before the pandemic and have endured probably one of the most challenging times in economic history. My advice to anyone starting any business is, keep your costs to a minimum where you can and make sure you have enough cash in the bank to cope with the unexpected. Lack of cashflow kills startups. Oh, and it WILL always cost more than you think!"
"Use your network, ask for help and build in time outside the business to remember who you are. Startup journeys are arduous and tumultuous, so to weather the storm you need bucket loads of self-belief and resilience. You also need to know your weaknesses so that you can get the support you need. Fortune favours the bold."
My advise, do your research on the potential business. Find your niche and ideal customer as this is key to all marketing and vital if entering what could be a saturated market. Stay true to your beliefs.
Think Hybrid! It’s no good having a sole revenue stream anymore, as the pandemic has shown us things can change rapidly and by creating more than one way your customers can access your service or products will help future proof your business. Having a hybrid e-commerce and market business allows adaptability and resilience.
"We started a live entertainment consultancy and realised that we needed to better understand which part of our skillset that others valued the most. This continual learning process involving talking to people to get all-important feedback has worked out well for us as we are about to open a New York Office this summer."
"First and foremost, startup success doesn't happen overnight. Find your core values, understand exactly what you are offering and set small, attainable goals to meet daily and weekly. Small steps add up to big strides. Your mindset needs to be determined and in it for the long haul; don't let imposter syndrome bring doubts in, and always believe in yourself and your idea."
"The best tip I've been given since starting my small business is to 'follow your own path'. It it so easy to get distracted by what other entrepreneurs around you are doing and compare your business to others, but success looks different for everyone, so focus on your own plan, celebrate your wins and learn from your mistakes."
Mindfulness. You're going to get a lot of setbacks, being able to stop in the moment and say "Okay, I didn't want that to happen, but now it has happened, what should I do?" is going to help you navigate problems and get creative with solutions. You'll probably find the problem is an opportunity.
"Be clear on who your target audience is. It's not enough to adopt the attitude that your goods or services will appeal to everyone. They won't. But, once you have clarity on who you serve, you can laser-target your marketing and your website to attract that segment. It also doesn't follow that you won't attract anyone outside of this target, but you need that initial focus to be able to "tap in" to the wants and needs of your audience. After all, as consumers, we all approach purchases with the one thought: 'What's in it for me?'."
"Understand yourself first. Know why you're doing something, what you want out of your new venture and consider what success might look like for you before you start. For me that was about creating a business that fulfilled my passion to help others while still putting food on my family's table and giving me the space to watch my kids grow up. I didnt get that right first time round and it took me a long time to work out that was my "need", but what it's taught me is that without that alignment the sacrifices are often too great to allow a startup to succeed. Get that right and you'll have the wind in your sails."
"Write up your processes as early as you can. As you expand your team, this will cut down the time needed to get them up to speed. Turn your car into a travelling university. Audiobooks and podcasts are a great way to learn on the go."
"Focus on something that you have a passion for. Keep strong and consistent because getting your business off the ground will not be as easy as you think."