Starting your own business

Starting your own business can seem difficult; it looks like there is so much to do. Having a mentor will help by sorting out priorities, and by passing on ideas and experience.

A mentor isn’t your boss or your line manager. Look on your mentor in a different way than you would regard a stern parent or a strict schoolteacher. It`s better to think of your mentor as a favourite uncle or aunt, somebody who is enthusiastic about you, keen for you to do well, and not wanting to take any credit for your eventual success.
Your mentor probably won`t ever tell you what to do. They are much likely to say: “here are some things you can try, I’ve worked with other people before, and things turned out well for them when they tried some of the things that I`m about to tell you”

Your mentor will probably like to see you fairly regularly as you work towards starting your business, but actually you can contact them, by phone or e-mail, whenever you feel the need to do so. If you need a face-to-face meeting ask your line manager to arrange it, and remember that your mentor will get a buzz from your eventual success. Don`t be afraid to ask. Your contact with your mentor won`t stop when your business starts…..hang on to them, talk about practical problems as they arise, get help in finding solutions.

It’s time for you to think which skills and attitudes you need to bring to the task of setting up your business……..and then it will be time to think about the kind of help you need from your mentor.

The process of setting up and running a business comes down to a fairly simple sequence of events, and if you understand that sequence you can quickly work out how you and your mentor can create success. Think about seven steps.
• Find somebody who sounds as though they need your service
• Talk to them; question them carefully until you perfectly understand what it is that they want. It probably won`t be exactly the same as any of your other customers, but that doesn’t matter, provided you can do it.
• Work out a delivery method, and a price, and make an offer
• Win the order
• Deliver the work, to the very best of your ability
• Present the client with an invoice
• Follow up the invoice and collect the cash……`s not a business until you’ve done this.

Now let`s think about the five main personal qualities that you need to bring to the party, in order to get these steps completed successfully. If you can consistently bring in these qualities your mentor will be able to guide you into being a successful business owner

Selling Skills
This is the most fundamental thing of all. If you can`t get, and keep, loads of customers, then you won`t end up with loads of money.

Most of the sales and marketing that you’ve ever seen is in newspapers and on television. It consists of huge companies, spending vast sums of money, spreading a message which basically says…..”This is what we`ve got, and we want you to want it”. This is quite an efficient selling method, but only if you`ve got a vast advertising budget, and only if you can afford to send out repeat messages.

As the owner of a new small business you probably haven’t got an advertising budget at all. Your mentor will show you a selling method of a different kind. You will use Facebook, and your friendships, and personal networks, to sit face to face with a single potential client, to whom you will say….. “If I knew EXACTLY what you needed, I could probably re-design one of my products, or design a new one, so that it meets your needs. Now, may I ask you some detailed questions about what you need?”

This method of selling leads to success more often than you might think, AND, because the product has really been designed by the customer, it leads very often to a repeat order, which is the fastest way to make your business grow.

Number Awareness
You can’t keep all the numbers about your business in your head, but there`s one number that you must ALWAYS be aware of. This is the MINIMUM price that you would be prepared to do the job for at all. There’s no point in taking on a job if it`s going to reduce your profits. At the start-up of the business your mentor will arrange to get your accounts done for you, even though you will be taught this skill eventually. To start off with we want you to be out looking for customers, not hanging around in the office doing the accounts………but all the time your mentor will be using whatever figures are available to show you the prices that you need to charge in order to make a profit.

This is about seeing the point of view of your customers, or your suppliers, or your business partners, or eventually your employees.

There’s an idea or image that seems to say that people who set up their own business have to be tough and ruthless, taking advantage in every situation, looking for profit rather than customer care. In a small self-employed business this isn’t really true. Many of the real winners in the sector are quiet and thoughtful. They like to look at things from the point of view of their customers, understanding their needs, constantly looking for ways to improve their service, constantly looking for ways to enjoy the company of customers and colleagues

Self-critical and flexible
Don’t ever let yourself get relaxed and contented. Times change, people change, markets change, and suddenly your happy group of customers has moved on to a better way of doing things. A single example from another time will explain.

Canal boat companies used to make their owners very rich, because they had a perfect way of getting goods from the industrial North to the rich consumer towns in the South. Things went well until George Stephenson’s great invention touched off the railway revolution. Suddenly goods could be moved to market at 40 miles an hour instead of three miles an hour, and within ten years all the canal companies were bankrupt.

You can think of lots of examples from our own time. I-players have finished off the gramophone industry, the computer keyboard has largely re-written the printing industry, and when did you last see a glass milk bottle?
It’s when things are going well that you must be thoughtful, quick-witted and flexible, creative and brave, otherwise your customers will move on without you

Continuously energetic
When you start your own business you will suddenly find that you are working harder and longer than you have ever done before. There is a never-ending list of things to do. Your health and energy will become your greatest asset, but you must keep a good sense of priorities. It will always be the case that finding customers, and serving them, will be the most important things. Talk to your mentor frequently about keeping on track. Eat well, sleep well, and never give up.


Being self-employed is a fabulous adventure but it can be a lonely time. Make use of your mentor, who has seen the journey many times before, and will always have practical examples that can help you. Keep looking at these notes and remind yourself often of the key things:

  • Selling skills
  • Number awareness
  • Empathy
  • Self-critical and flexible
  • Continuously energetic

Don’t forget the key words of the programme


Kingsley / Collage Arts Business Advisor 

Book an appointment with Kingsley by emailing [email protected] or call Lauren on 020 8829 1315.