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Starting your own business - live webchat with Robert Ashton Weds 20 June 1-2pm

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CariGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 07-Jun-12 16:55:50

You may have seen our taster course on setting up your own enterprise - and we are delighted that expert Robert Ashton will be coming along to GNHQ so you can find out more about this and ask any other questions you may have about starting and running a business.

Robert, best known as "the barefoot entrepreneur" has set up and sold many businesses, written 12 books and started a successful charity.

So whether you'd like to know how to set up an empire - or run a cottage industry from your front room, he'll be able to tell you how to get going.

ChrisMW Thu 07-Jun-12 17:59:34

Message deleted by Gransnet.

JosieGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 08-Jun-12 09:47:54

Great news - Pearson are giving away three courses on Starting Your Own Business on this thread.

If you post a question for Robert you could win the whole Starting Your Own Business course on Pearson's Love To Learn. We'll pick three questions at random to win.

RobertAshton Sat 09-Jun-12 09:38:17

Come on folks, I'm really looking forward to the online webchat on 20th June - especially the lovely Gransnet sandwiches I've been promised. But seriously, you know starting your own business is not just for the young.

I know many people who ditched the day job, the unreasonable boss and all the hassle of commuting to do exactly what they want, with people they like, when it suits them.

In fact even pensioners are starting businesses now . . . . . . so it really is never too late!

I'll try to answer any urgent questions here, and the rest live on the day - looking forward to it!

More stuff on my website www.robertashton.co.uk

whenim64 Sat 09-Jun-12 10:26:25

I'd be interested to know more about turning a hobby or interest into a business, without it running away with me. I've seen so many people who have started selling things like cupcakes, craft jellery or hair ornaments, but the tail has ended up wagging the dog - they get stressed and feel they have to expand to keep competitive. A manageable part-time job from home would be ideal, so what are the strategies for keeping it just that? Thanks.

ChrisMW Sun 10-Jun-12 13:11:00

I registered my new business as a Limited Company to protect the name and have left it dormant while I operate as a sole trader. My business is a consultancy for older people and their relatives who do not have access to social services. I want to become a Social Enterprise because Social Services and the NHS won't do business with a private company. Does this sound worth doing and what are the first steps I need to take?

bikergran Mon 11-Jun-12 09:59:04

A business via a website would be ideal for me (perhaps not right at this moment) any tips on building or producing a web site without it looking like my 5 yr old grandson had put it together? thanks Sue

gillybob Sat 16-Jun-12 10:00:07

Hi Robert. My husband and I have had our own business for around 20 years. Recently due to economic downturn (and successive governments not supporting small manufacturing businesses ) things have gotten so bad that we no longer have a life outside of work. We are both either at work (at work) or at work (at home) if you understand what I mean. We are struggling financially and have quite literally put everything we have into keeping going as we have people relying on us for their jobs. I really miss having a "life" and a weekend away or dare I say a holiday would be impossible. How can we get our life back? Do you make sure people fully understand the serious pitfalls of running their own business before they go into it? I would seriously never encourage my children to have their own businesses and given how they see us I doubt by ever will. Sorry I know this thread was about starting a business but I thought it was relevant to point out that it isn't always a bed of roses.

rosiemus Mon 18-Jun-12 20:08:58

I enjoy baking celebration cakes for family and friends and they have gone down so well that I've been asked on numerous occasions to bake them for other people who are happy to pay. I'm thinking (after several requests) about making this a regular thing.But, if it's ok, I have two questions. Firstly - I never know what to charge. Obviously I cover the cost of ingredients etc but am not sure what I should charge for my time etc. Secondly if I continue to do this as an ad hoc thing do I need to set up a company or anything or can I continue to do it more informally? Oh (sorry - three questions) - and if I am only charging for ingredients at cost and therefore not making anything do I need to declare this as income? I assume I do if I start adding my time onto the cost. Very many thanks

kittyp Mon 18-Jun-12 20:32:27

Hello Robert

I work two days a week (as an employee) and am thinking of using some of my spare time to start a small business from home. But what will happen to me in terms of tax if I am PAYE for work and self employed the rest of the time? It's been putting me off getting going. Many thanks

FeeTee Mon 18-Jun-12 20:34:07

Hoping you can settle an argument a discussion I have been having with a friend. How important is social media these days when it comes to setting up a business. I can't be doing with twitter

effblinder Tue 19-Jun-12 10:26:20

I can see that lots of things in my life would be improved if I could work for myself, and I think I'd be good at it.

I would be worried about the legal and accountancy issues - is this something that is a lot of work? Legally, what would an absolute starter need to start selling?

flopsybunny Tue 19-Jun-12 13:56:43

Hi Robert,

I would really like to reinvent myself and also do something useful and I think I have lots of energy and enthusiasm - but I struggle with finding the killer idea.

Can you give me a sense of how to think of the right business? All the advice I read assumes that you've already got a fantastic business idea.

northerngran Tue 19-Jun-12 14:14:05

I'm interested to know what proportion of small businesses fail within the first year? And what tips you have for making sure that mine wouldn't grin

marthamuffin Tue 19-Jun-12 14:17:32

Hello Robert

Can you tell me - how important is it to have a business plan and where do you start with one?

Thank you

Martha

buspass Tue 19-Jun-12 14:20:09

I have an idea for a small business. What steps can I take to stop someone else copying it?

FeeTee Tue 19-Jun-12 14:25:31

Am I allowed another???

If so - how important is the name of your business? Any tips?

praxis Tue 19-Jun-12 16:22:35

My friends think my biz idea is brilliant, but they're probably just being kind! What's the best - and simplest - way to test out whether there really is a market? Any advice gratefully received!

Grannyruth Tue 19-Jun-12 16:28:04

My ambition is to set up a business making simple crafts - mosaics, rag-rugs etc - using the skills of homeless and unemployed people I've met through a local project. Is this totally unrealistic and idealistic? Would it be best to get the business started (in a modest way) before involving other people?

distaffgran Wed 20-Jun-12 08:37:41

Sorry, thought I was going to be around for this later but now realise I'm not, so I shall ask my question now....is now really a good time to be starting a business? We keep hearing stories about banks not lending.

And, related to this - I have what I think is a brilliant idea but it is quite capital intensive. What would be the best sources of investment to look into?

sofasogood Wed 20-Jun-12 08:40:35

I am ashamed to say I have never seen a business plan. What are the rules for writing one? Is it always necessary to have one, even if you're not looking for investment at the outset - and what information needs to be in there?

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 20-Jun-12 13:00:28

Robert is here and ready to answer your questions...so welcome Robert and over to you!

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:06:15

rosiemus

I enjoy baking celebration cakes for family and friends and they have gone down so well that I've been asked on numerous occasions to bake them for other people who are happy to pay. I'm thinking (after several requests) about making this a regular thing.But, if it's ok, I have two questions. Firstly - I never know what to charge. Obviously I cover the cost of ingredients etc but am not sure what I should charge for my time etc. Secondly if I continue to do this as an ad hoc thing do I need to set up a company or anything or can I continue to do it more informally? Oh (sorry - three questions) - and if I am only charging for ingredients at cost and therefore not making anything do I need to declare this as income? I assume I do if I start adding my time onto the cost. Very many thanks

The first question is easy to answer, all you have to do is go shopping! Go looking for your cakes in shops and see what other people are charging for them, then see how yours are different, add in for the convenience of you delivering or people collecting from you and pitch your price.

The second question is about when to set up a company. The answer depends on if you have other income. So you probably don't need to do anything involving tax or companies until you are earning more than the basic personal tax allowance. Even then, you can be self-employed, which just means keeping records and filling in a tax return each year. Best advice: take one step at a time.

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:08:24

praxis

My friends think my biz idea is brilliant, but they're probably just being kind! What's the best - and simplest - way to test out whether there really is a market? Any advice gratefully received!

The best way is by networking. Your friends are supportive but perhaps would be embarrassed if you tried to sell to them, so get your friends to introduce you to their friends and try to sell your business idea to them. If they say yes, you have a business and if they say no, you need to find out more before being sure it's going to work.

There is no substitute for talking to the people who would be your customers, you have to give them what they want to buy at a price they are willing to pay. It is that simple!

sneetch Wed 20-Jun-12 13:08:46

I have been thinking about setting up a consultancy in the field I've worked in all my life. What is the best structure for this? - Is a limited company better than a sole trader? Would I be better off sharing the risks etc with a business partner? Thanks

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:10:14

bikergran

A business via a website would be ideal for me (perhaps not right at this moment) any tips on building or producing a web site without it looking like my 5 yr old grandson had put it together? thanks Sue

Go somewhere like Wordpress, who will give you templates and make it really easy for you to build a website. In fact, so easy, your 5 year old grandson probably could do a really good job on your behalf.

The other benefit to sites like Wordpress is that they enable your new site to be very quickly found by Google because they host such a lot of online activity.

forager Wed 20-Jun-12 13:10:22

I am not a trained book keeper. There seems to be online help for everything these days - are there any online tools that you can recommend that help you to keep day-to-day records?

timekeeper Wed 20-Jun-12 13:13:12

I have an idea for a social enterprise - which would be at least as much about meeting a need as making money (though I think we could make enough to cover our costs and reinvest eventually). Are there different rules for this? Where should I look for ideas on how to set up this sort of a business?

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:13:44

sneetch

I have been thinking about setting up a consultancy in the field I've worked in all my life. What is the best structure for this? - Is a limited company better than a sole trader? Would I be better off sharing the risks etc with a business partner? Thanks

The simplest way to do this is as a sole trader. If you are worried about risk, you need to make sure that
1. You have professional indemnity insurance, which should be easy to arrange, because you are working in a field which you have experience.
2. have a contract that you use with your customers that makes it clear that the risk sits with them, not you.

Business partners can be a great comfort, like any other kind of partner, but equally when the relationship goes wrong, business partners can be a nightmare. I have been there!

Valentine Wed 20-Jun-12 13:16:29

Hello Robert, I have also a business idea but having been employed all my life, I'm a bit worried to make the jump. When you started as an entrepreneur the first time, what was the time frame you allowed yourself between the concept to the actual 'jump' (if you remember...) and the best lesson learned? Thanks

partnerincrime Wed 20-Jun-12 13:16:43

Is it realistic to think of starting a business while you're still in paid employment - or is this a definite no no?

And what are the ethics of this? Should you tell your boss?

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:16:53

whenim64

I'd be interested to know more about turning a hobby or interest into a business, without it running away with me. I've seen so many people who have started selling things like cupcakes, craft jellery or hair ornaments, but the tail has ended up wagging the dog - they get stressed and feel they have to expand to keep competitive. A manageable part-time job from home would be ideal, so what are the strategies for keeping it just that? Thanks.

Morgan Cars maintain high profit margins by refusing to increase capacity to make more cars. If your business is about doing the things you like in the time you want to spend to make the money you want to earn, there is nothing wrong with building a waiting list of customers, or even saying no.

A good way to manage demand is to offer premium-priced products and services. You don't want to be cheap, because you don't want to sell lots.

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:19:36

marthamuffin

Hello Robert

Can you tell me - how important is it to have a business plan and where do you start with one?

Thank you

Martha

A business plan is really important, because it should tell you on one piece of paper what you do, why you're different, how much you are going to earn and how busy you are going to be. My online course has a workbook which, as you complete it, cunningly becomes a ready-to-print business plan.

Writing a business plan is only complicated if you make it too big and try to describe things that frankly don't matter.

stuffnonsense Wed 20-Jun-12 13:19:36

All the guides to setting up a business say 'do market research'. But what if you're not a trained market researcher and you're on a tight budget?

coldwork Wed 20-Jun-12 13:21:02

Is it a good idea to get a mentor? And how do you go about that?

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:24:12

distaffgran

Sorry, thought I was going to be around for this later but now realise I'm not, so I shall ask my question now....is now really a good time to be starting a business? We keep hearing stories about banks not lending.

And, related to this - I have what I think is a brilliant idea but it is quite capital intensive. What would be the best sources of investment to look into?

Now is a fantastic time to start a business. That's because when the pressure is on people's budgets, they will be far more receptive to a new supplier who offers something different.

The internet and in particular social media have reached a point where the smallest business can make the loudest noise about what they do. Previous generations of business starters had to spend lots of money on expensive marketing.

There are also some very useful crowd-sourcing funding platforms that will allow you to recruit customers, get them to invest up front and therefore fund your business start up. My favourite of these is called Buzzbnk.

If you are really worried about your business idea being capital-intensive, maybe you need to find a company that has the expensive stuff you need already who can sell you spare capacity.

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:28:43

northerngran

I'm interested to know what proportion of small businesses fail within the first year? And what tips you have for making sure that mine wouldn't grin

If you have a good idea, keep your ambition within realistic proportion and listen to your customers, your business will not fail. Then remember a lot of people when made redundant have business cards printed and say they have a business, but really they are looking for another job, so those would count as business failures.

Nationally, the business birth rate is usually equal to the business death rate, but, as I have said, businesses close for many reasons, some of them actually quite positive.

The biggest factor that will determine your success is your ability to maintain your enthusiasm and energy and keep doing what your experience shows you works.

topdog Wed 20-Jun-12 13:28:47

What is the commonest mistake people make at the beginning of a business?

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:32:47

coldwork

Is it a good idea to get a mentor? And how do you go about that?

Mentors are really important. But be sure to choose somebody who has already succeeded in the field you are entering. It's important to make sure that your mentor is really doing it for the right reasons.

Good mentors will encourage you to reflect, think, and act objectively. Bad mentors will tell you they know the answers and get you to live out the dream they lack the courage to realise for themselves.

The best way to find a good mentor is to ask around your marketplace and see who the most respected players are. There are also some national mentor brokering schemes you can look at, but make sure, if you find someone this way, that the chemistry works between you. Mentors Me is a good starting point.

scribblegranny Wed 20-Jun-12 13:35:25

Can you give any tips on establishing and building a brand? What are the key things to bear in mind in terms of creating a positive impression?

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:37:14

partnerincrime

Is it realistic to think of starting a business while you're still in paid employment - or is this a definite no no?

And what are the ethics of this? Should you tell your boss?

It all depends on what the business is going to do. If you plan to start supplying your employer's customers in your own time (moonlighting) then the answer is a definite no.

If, however, you have a great idea but it doesn't quite fit with what your employer is all about, then with their consent and approval, it should be ok to develop the idea in your own time.

You would not be the first person to do this and find your employer willing to invest their money and even your time in a good idea.

If the business is really small simple and not time consuming then my advice would be just do it!

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:39:09

kittyp

Hello Robert

I work two days a week (as an employee) and am thinking of using some of my spare time to start a small business from home. But what will happen to me in terms of tax if I am PAYE for work and self employed the rest of the time? It's been putting me off getting going. Many thanks

This is really easy. Your employer will continue to deal with your PAYE and you will account for your self employed income via your annual tax return. You then pay any tax due on your self-employed income in arrears in January and July of the following year.

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:41:31

stuffnonsense

All the guides to setting up a business say 'do market research'. But what if you're not a trained market researcher and you're on a tight budget?

There are two kinds of market research
1. Professional, extensive and also expensive
2. Common sense, customer feedback and intuition

People usually invest in 1 to justify what they believe as a result of 2. My advice is go for 2 because it's you, your business, your marketplace and your instinct will probably serve you pretty well.

suffolklass Wed 20-Jun-12 13:43:11

Hi Robert

All this sounds really great and I think I have a good business idea. Where can I find this online course you mention?

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:45:56

timekeeper

I have an idea for a social enterprise - which would be at least as much about meeting a need as making money (though I think we could make enough to cover our costs and reinvest eventually). Are there different rules for this? Where should I look for ideas on how to set up this sort of a business?

There is a lot of hot air spoken about social enterprise. You have an idea for a business which has a strong social purpose as well as the ability to make money. The only rule you need to worry about is that you can only make a difference when you are also making money. So make sure you follow your head and your heart in equal amounts.

In terms of structure, if you want to seek grants to help establish a social enterprise or give peace of mind to public sector organisations who might contract with you, it would make sense to set up as either a community interest company or a company limited by guarantee. There's more on this here

clodhopper Wed 20-Jun-12 13:46:24

I am not very good at keeping my domestic costs under control. Can you give me any tips for keeping business costs to a minimum - general principles, obviously!

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:47:19

suffolklass

Hi Robert

All this sounds really great and I think I have a good business idea. Where can I find this online course you mention?

The Gransnet taster is here www.gransnet.com/learning/starting-a-business/ - do take a look!

tidymind Wed 20-Jun-12 13:49:59

I am addicted to Dragons' Den. I love watching people pitching their business ideas and seeing the responses. But it's so scary it's put me off actually trying to do anything myself. Have you got any reassurance - or is it really as tough as that?

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:50:22

gillybob

Hi Robert. My husband and I have had our own business for around 20 years. Recently due to economic downturn (and successive governments not supporting small manufacturing businesses ) things have gotten so bad that we no longer have a life outside of work. We are both either at work (at work) or at work (at home) if you understand what I mean. We are struggling financially and have quite literally put everything we have into keeping going as we have people relying on us for their jobs. I really miss having a "life" and a weekend away or dare I say a holiday would be impossible. How can we get our life back? Do you make sure people fully understand the serious pitfalls of running their own business before they go into it? I would seriously never encourage my children to have their own businesses and given how they see us I doubt by ever will. Sorry I know this thread was about starting a business but I thought it was relevant to point out that it isn't always a bed of roses.

Clearly, I don't know the specific circumstances about your business. But as a rule of thumb, when times get tough, the people who make hard decisions quickly and without regret are those that survive the turbulence.

I also believe that a business is like a human being. It is born, it grows, it learns, it matures and in time, inevitably, either reinvents, merges with another or simply dies.

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:54:32

ChrisMW

I registered my new business as a Limited Company to protect the name and have left it dormant while I operate as a sole trader. My business is a consultancy for older people and their relatives who do not have access to social services. I want to become a Social Enterprise because Social Services and the NHS won't do business with a private company. Does this sound worth doing and what are the first steps I need to take?

Firstly, pass my congratulations to your local social services for being so supportive of the social enterprise movement. They could have simply contracted everything out to SERCO and left you high and dry.

There is no clear legal definition of a social enterprise, just interpretations and assumptions. You could, however, change your limited company into a community interest company by adding the relevant bits and pieces into the Memo and Arts.

The most important document to look at first is CIC 36, this is the form you use to define your community of interest, filling it in is in itself a really useful exercise. You can download this and more information from the CIC regulator.

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:58:06

tidymind

I am addicted to Dragons' Den. I love watching people pitching their business ideas and seeing the responses. But it's so scary it's put me off actually trying to do anything myself. Have you got any reassurance - or is it really as tough as that?

I too enjoy watching Dragons Den. Not because it is about typical business starters, but because it is great, entertaining "reality" television. I am convinced that the people selected for the programme are those most likely to boost the viewer figures and not because they are representative of people seeking investment.

Look around your local business community and you'll find there are business angels around who invest in good ideas. I know quite a few of them and they are almost always really nice people and not at all like those fire-breathing dragons.

The fact is that nice people do better in business than aggressive people and that's why most investors are nice people!

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 13:59:57

scribblegranny

Can you give any tips on establishing and building a brand? What are the key things to bear in mind in terms of creating a positive impression?

To start with, your brand is you. People will buy what you do because of you. So building a brand can mean nothing more than being out and about and consistent in how you describe your business.

The other key point about brand is to give your business and its products names and identities that clearly project what you do and what benefits you bring to your customers.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 20-Jun-12 14:00:37

A huge thank you to Robert for all his advice - certainly a great deal of food for thought.

RobertAshton Wed 20-Jun-12 14:04:13

Well folks, I've really enjoyed 'meeting' you here on gransnet. Brilliant questions and clear evidence that maturity can be a real boost to entrepreneurial ambition!

I'm off now o meet some more interesting people this afternoon,but do follow the link to my website and sign up to my monthly newsletter if you'd like to keep in touch. I'll also keep an eye on this forum and try to answer any questions that leap out and grab my attention.

Good luck!

RobertAshton Thu 21-Jun-12 08:41:32

Hi, sorry I miised you yesterday.

You don;t need to do any legal/compliance stuff before you start selling. Just keep records of income and costs and if things start to grow, do the basics like open a second bank account to keep biz dealings seperate from your own.

RobertAshton Thu 21-Jun-12 08:44:34

I hated Twitter until last Jan - then I made time to explore, understand and become confident.

You can run a biz without using social media- but it's there and it works so why wouldn't you?

JosieGransnet (GNHQ) Fri 27-Jul-12 12:01:14

Sorry it's taken us so long to announce this - the winners of the free Starting Your Own Business Pearson courses are whenim64, ChrisMW and bikergran. Congrats!

I've sent you all an email to confirm.

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