Starting a business from scratch (or doing anything for the first time) can be really daunting. So in the hope you might find them helpful, we've compiled a few things we've learned along the way, from the design stage, through to manufacture and marketing.
Tip one - research, delve and discover
Research the manufacturing industry, don’t be afraid to ask questions about how things work or hunt around for better pricing. We found most of the people we dealt we (although very lovely) assumed we knew exactly what they were talking about, assumptions were made on both sides and let's just say, it was a learning curve. And you usually have to buy in very large quantities which obviously means a considerable initial financial outlay, tricky when you've got a new product and you need to see how it will go at market before putting in your life savings. Not just for this reason we decided to manufacture in the UK.Even though, due to lower quantities, it worked out more costly per item because we were able to produce fewer and see how it went before committing to thousands.
Tip 2 - Protect your designs
Be aware that manufacturing abroad can be a whole different ball game and you'll need to go in with your eyes wide open. Once your designs are out there they could be snapped up and being sold on in an instant, and there isn’t a huge amount you can do about it unless you've got pots of cash behind you.
If you’re sharing your designs with anyone get them to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement and keep the signed copy as a record. You can find plenty of templates for these on the internet.Don’t feel uncomfortable about asking people to do this – manufacturers should be familiar with this process.
You can find lots of useful information at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/non-disclosure-agreements/non-disclosure-agreements.
Consider whether you need to patent or register your product designs. Registering a patent can be a lengthy, expensive and complicated process. And if someone copies your idea you'll probably still need a far bit of experience and financial backing behind you to push back any copycats. You'll also need to consider applying for patents in multiple countries, which again can bring the cost up considerably.
However, registering your design with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) can give you a little bit of protection, it's not a hugely complicated process, and it doesn’t always cost the earth either.
Tip 3 - Plan it out
Write a business plan, even if it just sets out your goals and some general guidance, it’s a useful tool to check against to see if you’re still on track. It will continuously evolve as your business and knowledge grows so be prepared to have a big and in-depth document.
Write a marketing plan with a year’s worth of campaigns – even if you just focus on the messaging to start with. And figure out how each campaign will run across your website and social media. It's handy to create templates for key social media channel adverts and profile pictures, so when you change a campaign you can easily adapt it across all channels.
Make sure your messaging and pricing is clear and consistent across everything you do. And proof read everything two or three times before you post it - it's always useful to read copy out loud to check it makes sense, or ask someone else to have a read through it.
Tip 4 - Be clear about your costs and margins
Create a spreadsheet that details exactly how much each product costs to make. Then look at how tight you are prepared to squeeze your margins. You need to go into this with a clear idea of what you need to charge to make money and you can’t keep chopping and changing your prices. Make sure you factor in manufacture and shipping costs, labels (washing and brand tags), tax, packaging and postage costs, credit card/PayPal fees, fees if you're selling through a third party, such as Amazon.
Just to let you know, there are lots of rules around how you advertise prices - the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) regulate advertising. There are two 'rule books', one for broadcast and one for non-broadcast. You can download the books of code here https://www.asa.org.uk/codes-and-rulings/advertising-codes.html.
You'll also need a budget spreadsheet (profit and loss) to log any money coming in and (mostly) out, and a spreadsheet detailing sales so you know what your stock levels are at all times.
Tip 5 - Protect your customers' data
Get clued up about data protection rules and how you should and shouldn’t store your customers' data. There are new rules coming in May 2018 that every business must be aware of.
Tip 6 - Build your brand
Think of a brand name and research it with friends and family. Check you can get it trademarked on the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) website. It can also be helpful to check Companies House website to see if that name has already been taken by another company.
And make sure you can buy the domain names and relating email addresses, otherwise you'll need to go back to square one with ideas for brand names.
Start writing your brand guidelines – even if you simply start with details about your logo, fonts, font sizes and colours. And make sure these all work online as well as on printed material, it can be frustrating if you find the perfect look for your brand then start to build your website and find the font doesn't come across as well on a computer screen - you need a font that has a web version or use standard fonts such as Arial and Helvetica, but it's not to say you have to use exactly the same fonts online and offline if you don't want to. You can find the brand guidelines for many large brands online to get a feel for how they've approached theirs.
Consider what your brand stands for and what your tone of voice should be. Tone of voice is how you sound when you talk to your customers or potential customers (in writing or verbally). However you choose to write it must sound consistent across everything you do. Once you've decided on a tone you should outline it in your brand guidelines so you can continuously sense check everything you write against your brand standards. Choose three key words (or very brief descriptions) that you feel sum up what you stand for and sound like. For example, as a brand we try to sound upbeat, honest and speak from the heart (our tone of voice). Make sure whatever you decide is simple and easy to follow, and it's used wherever you communicate with your customers.
Tip 7 - Photography and video
You'll probably need to arrange a photo shoot so you can show your product off from as many angles as possible on your website and on printed material.
When you find a photographer make sure you are both clear as to the agreement you are entering into. For example some will ask for a day rate for a shoot and that may cover you using the photos on certain types of marketing for a limited amount of time. Remember it's very rare that you'll be able to buy the copyright of the images from the photographer. The Association of Photographers is a great place to start if you want to find out more about fees and what they might cover, and there's a really useful piece about copyright too.
Ask the photographer to shoot close up as well as wide, so you can add writing on top of any uncluttered areas of images if you need to.
Shoot your product with and without people if possible. Plan ahead of the shoot how you want each product shot and what sizes the models will need to wear if you're taking photos of clothing (don't forget to iron it!)
Think about props and the background - the photographer should be able to help you with ideas, but you'll need to make sure this is agreed ahead of the shoot so you don't waste time on the shoot day. You'll also need to agree whether you're shooting indoors or outdoors too.
Ask your photographer if he or she is happy for you to take photos 'behind the scenes ' as these type of shots can be great to use on social media as an interesting talking point.
Be aware little models tire after a very short time and you can't ask too much of them. It's ideal to have a number of different models available to make the most of the photographer's day rate. Remember to bring lots of baby-friendly snacks, adult snacks for parents, and water too.
Video is also a brilliant asset to add to your website since it helps explain less than straightforward products really well. It can also help with getting across emotions and showing lots of different angles.
Tip 8 - Create your website and shop
Find someone to build a website for you or have a go yourself with one of the free providers – you’ll most likely need to upgrade at some point (at a monthly or annual cost) to be able to have an online shop so you can take payments. The good thing about doing it yourself with a template website is that you can make small changes and tweaks when it suits you, rather than having to pay someone to make changes for you each time.
Research which provider could work best for you. Be aware that there are different elements included in different packages but the key bits you'll need are:
Domain name registration is where you reserve a domain name on the internet for a certain period of time - usually for at least a year. Think about which domain name extensions you will want for example .co.uk or .com etc.
Hosting costs where a provider hosts your website on their servers for a monthly or annual subscription fee.
Email addresses. Most of us have a John.Smith@yahoo.co.uk type email address but it does add credibility to your brand if you have brand specific email addresses such as firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
You'll also need to consider how much storage space they give you, what support is included, how many email addresses are included (if any) etc.
And make sure your website is built to be responsive so people can easily view it on different size devices. Responsive websites are created once and should automatically resize the content to work correctly on different devices. If you don't have a mobile responsive website you'll have to build separate websites to work on different devices, for example on desktop and on mobile, which is obviously very time consuming and you also risk inconsistency across your websites.
Tip 9 - Social Media
Decide which social media suits your product and business best. Remember you need to be able to update all of them regularly so don’t bite off more than you can chew by registering with all of them. Each one has slightly different specifications for uploading assets, so for each campaign you do you'll need to create different assets to suit each social media choice.
For profile images - https://www.facebook.com/help/125379114252045
Creating ads - https://www.facebook.com/business/help/898399293584952?helpref=faq_content
For profile images - https://support.twitter.com/articles/127871
Creating ads - https://business.twitter.com/en/help/campaign-setup/advertiser-card-specifications.html
And make sure the content is interesting and varied across everything - the last thing people want to see is exactly the same content across everything of yours that they follow.
Tip 10 - It's stationery time
And the really fun bit – choose all your stationary – business cards, packaging, compliment slips, headed paper, and email signatures etc. and get it printed (or coded!)
Tip 11 - And if you don't have enough to do...
If you have any spare time (that’s the stuff dreams are made of!) brush up on some new skills – you’ll need to have an understanding of most aspects of a business, all the way from accounting and copy writing to web design and marketing. Or you might even need to learn how to sew...