Posted: Mon 25th May 2020
Whether you've been inspired by a challenge that needs solving or finally have the time to work on an existing idea, there are plenty of reasons to start a business right now.
Some of the most successful businesses in recent years have been created during tough conditions. Crowdcube co-founder Luke Lang believes that difficult economic times are a breeding ground for innovation, after launching the crowdfunding platform in the midst of the 2008 recession.
A crisis gives you the chance to think outside of the box and find valuable gaps in the market. Ready to get started?
We've put together a step-by-step guide on how to launch a business during the crisis. You'll learn how to research your market, write a business plan, test your idea on a budget and more. Plus, find out how other founders are making the most of new opportunities during the crisis.
1. Get inspired to start your own business
You might already have an idea or simply want the challenge of building something from the ground up. Either way, it's a good idea to start by thinking about the problems you've experienced.
Every business should have a problem it's trying to solve, whether it's filling a niche or improving an existing service. The crisis has exposed plenty of weaknesses in current systems and how we shop - think of problems that have affected people on a large scale.
The lockdown panic made Alice Bird realise how much we rely on supermarkets. Shops were selling out of essentials and zero waste food stores had closed. She tries to shop plastic-free as much as possible, but it became almost impossible overnight.
Alice came up with an idea to solve both of these problems: plastic-free meal kits that could be delivered to your doorstep. After speaking to friends and realising there was demand in her local area, she assembled and distributed the first meal kits last week.
It's a great example of how you can capitalise on a current problem while factoring in a prominent trend like sustainability.
When you're coming up with your idea, think about what customers will be buying in six months' time. How might their approach to shopping have changed?
Key opportunities and areas of growth include:
Mental health and wellness
Home fitness and comfort clothing
Read more in our article about seven businesses you can start from home during the coronavirus crisis.
2. Research your idea
Market research is crucial. It allows you to get feedback from potential customers, test your hypothesis and work out whether your business idea has legs.
Start by reaching out to your friends and extended network to find out what they think. Talk about the challenge and their experience of it. How big an issue is it? If it takes up a considerable amount of time or money, it's a good sign that people might consider paying for a service that solves the problem for them. Don't start by talking about your idea because everyone will just tell you it's great!
People are spending more time online at the moment and there are platforms and tools that will help you to get a variety of feedback. Research and test your idea by:
Posting in relevant Facebook groups or community forums
Analysing popular search terms on Google Trends
Setting up a pilot programme with a handful of customers
This 30-minute video explains how to put together an effective market research plan and analyse the results.
3. Write a business plan
Filling out a business plan encourages you to think through each major facet of your business, from your mission statement to the equipment you'll need to get started.
There's nothing wrong with getting swept up in an idea and being keen to get going. But writing a business plan can help to reduce risk and check your understanding of how your business will work.
Enterprise Nation founder Emma Jones put together a useful business plan template that's free to download. You can also learn more about why you need a business plan and whether you should register as a sole trader or limited company in the seven-minute video below.
4. Build your online presence
Your website will act as your main shop window, particularly while everything is online-only during lockdown. This website building checklist is a great place to start, covering the options around for using website builders and templates.
While your website doesn't need to be comprehensive initially, make sure you have the basic building blocks in place:
A home page that clearly explains your product or service.
An about or contact page that shows who is behind the business.
A call to action that funnels users towards a goal. For example, you might direct them towards your product page on Amazon or encourage them to sign up to your email list.
You'll also need to set up social media accounts. If you aren't sure which social media platforms you want to use, find out what's popular with your prospective customers. It's worth making an account on several so you can reserve the name. Try to keep the name as consistent as possible to make it easier for customers to find you.
Bootstrapping your business
Building your online presence will take time, but it's best to bootstrap early on. That means taking a minimalist approach and being cautious about your expenses.
Websites, in particular, can become expensive quickly. Don't invest heavily in a custom-built website until you're sure your business idea works and you really need the extra features.
5. Set targets and a long-term goal
Setting business targets is essential to keep you focused and on track. It's hard to envision a return to normality at the moment, but you need to have a plan for what happens after the lockdown ends. What do you want your business to become? How will it survive once lockdown measures are lifted and things start returning to normal?
Snack company Healthy Nibbles pivoted from supplying offices to online deliveries when coronavirus hit. While it's been necessary to adjust the business to the current climate, founder Sara Roberts urged other founders to stay true to their long-term goal and values.
Ultimately, she said, the current situation will pass. You don't want to end up running a business that you're not passionate about. Think about what you want your business to be in future and don't stray too far from your goal.
6. Create a marketing strategy
Once you've set up the basics and understand what you want to achieve, you need a plan to reach customers.
Working with little-to-no budget forces you to be creative, which is a good thing! Creativity is what will make you stand out from the competition. Bootstrapping your marketing activity will also get you into the habit of testing your campaigns and making data-driven decisions.
Work on your customer personas
"The first thing I say to everyone is 'you have to know who your customer is'. If you don't know who they are, you don't know how to reach them" said Oh So Social managing director and Enterprise Nation member Katherine George.
Your market research and business plan should give you an idea of who your target customers are. But creating detailed customer personas can provide you with valuable insight into what motivates and engages them.
Demographic data, like age range, income and location
Their preferred communication channels
Their challenges, ambitions and needs
Read more about how customer personas can make your marketing more effective.
Test, test, test
Once you've got a clear picture of who your customers are, run marketing tests.
Social media platforms like Facebook allow you to allocate a small amount of budget (say, £5) and run a number of different adverts at once. Once your budget is used up, you can see which messaging performed the best. Then, you can refine and test again.
EcoStardust founder and Enterprise Nation member Kath Senior used Google Ads early on and quickly scaled the amount she spent. She learned how to use the platform by watching YouTube videos, reading articles and taking advantage of Google's resources.
"I have daily limits on everything. You learn from it all, even the mistakes. Just try and make those mistakes fairly cheap," she said.
Offer value through content marketing
Engagement with content has grown during the coronavirus crisis. People are always looking for expert advice and insights, but it matters now more than ever. Think about creating a content marketing strategy for your business.
The Little Black and White Book Project founder and Enterprise Nation member Ruth Bradford has been using her spare time to create useful content for her customers. The main benefit of this approach is that people will remember the effort you put in to help them once lockdown ends.
"There has to be a good fit and content has to add value," said Ruth. "I've seen a lot of people spewing out stuff because they want to be part of the conversation.
"The big thing I believe in at the moment is being kind and generous and that it will leave everyone in good stead," she said.
7. Look after your health and wellbeing
Starting a business is exciting, but it can also feel overwhelming and stressful. Combine that with the current difficulties of life under lockdown and you risk running yourself down.
It's important to develop the right mindset when you start a business. At the moment, you might want to pour all your time and energy into your project. However, as life gets busier, it'll be increasingly difficult to maintain that balance.
Try to set work hours if possible and give yourself enough time to rest and recharge. Small rules like banning yourself from working after 7pm or taking a small break every hour will help you to build a healthy work-life balance.
Interested in being more productive? Watch a 30-minute interview with Mindsetup founder and productivity expert Emma Mills-Sheffield below. She talks about working effectively, how to prioritise your to-do list and more.
Healthy Nibbles' Sara is trying to look after herself by eating well, exercising and getting plenty of sleep, though she admits it's not always easy.
"Sometimes you'll have nights where you wake up at 2am and can't get back to sleep. When that happens, make sure you listen to your body and take breaks when you need it," she said.