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Golden Rules


The Golden Rules of Starting a Small Business

Have you ever dreamed of starting your own business? Do you want to know what it's like? I mean, what it`s really like?  The Golden Rules are drawn from The White Ladder Diaries by Ros Jay, an account of setting up a small publishing company which has attracted a certain amount of attention in publishing circles and is full of robust good sense.


Get your ideas down on paper. That way you can see them clearly. And you can always adapt them later; indeed you almost certainly will.

Don’t just think about it – do something. Talk to people, check out some facts and figures. This activity is what gives you the momentum to turn your idea from a pipe-dream into a reality.

Talk to everyone you can. This is one big reason why it’s an enormous help to start a business in an industry you already know about. But even if you have no contacts at all, you’ll still find helpful people if you ask around.

Write your mission statement. Do this early on because it will help you focus your mind on what exactly your new business is there for.

Write a business plan. Even if you don’t need to raise any funds and no one but you will ever see it, this process is invaluable for drawing your attention to all sorts of issues you need to think about. Over 90% of businesses that fail had no business plan.

Get your hands dirty. No one but you can do your market research. It’s your direct involvement in the details of researching and launching the business which will ensure its success.

Remember that your website is a big part of how you promote your brand. If you need a website, build it into your initial design thinking. Don’t add it later as an afterthought. Even if you can’t afford to set it up now, you can still plan it.

You can’t start a business without a proper cash flow forecast.

Learn everything you can about your industry.

Listen to your gut feeling. It may not be right every time, but it often is. So you need to follow through your gut ideas and find out if they’re really as unworkable as they may seem at first.

The smaller you are, the more professional you have to look.

Keep it simple. Don’t waste money on fancy stationery and the like. Put what money you have into the product or your customer service, where it will actively encourage sales.

Set up and integrate your database right from the start. If you’re starting the kind of business where you’re ever going to need a database, you need to find the money to get it in place from the start.

Beg or borrow if it saves you money. If it doesn’t affect the product and service you give your customers, don’t spend money you don’t have to.

Think hard about discounts, because you can’t reduce them later. If your business is going to sell to wholesalers or retailers, you’ll need to get the discounts right from the start.

When it comes to website design, keep it simple. It’s that ‘keep it simple’ rule again. Unless you’re in an industry where it’s de rigeur, don’t use fancy graphics and animations – they cost too much and people get fed up waiting for them to download.

Plan your PR well in advance.

Contact journalists by phone as well as in writing.

Think creatively about who your customers might be.

Look ahead. You have to juggle your current demands with the future demands of the business. If you focus entirely on the present, in a few weeks or months you’ll suddenly find your business starting to fail.

Read everything relevant you can get your hands on.

Get everything right from the start. Even when it hardly shows – from branding to databases to your website – you can start small, but you must be on the right road from the outset.

Look after the details. A brand is largely built on detail – as is good customer service, a high quality product and all the other things that matter.

Make contingency plans. You have no idea at this stage what might happen, so think through the worst – or best – scenario and make sure you’re prepared for coping with it.

You’re not selling, you’re offering a partnership. If you find the prospect of hard selling daunting, remind yourself you’re simply offering people a deal which will benefit them as well as you.

Keep your printing simple. If you only pay for something simple, you can afford to do it smartly and well. Don’t spend your budget on unnecessary colours or quantities, and then have to economise on quality.

Don’t be afraid to ask. You can’t possibly know everything. If you’re stumped, think who you know who can give you the answer, or at least point you in the right direction, and ask them.

Where all else is equal, aim to use smaller suppliers. There may be other factors here but, if you have a choice of good suppliers, you’ll get more empathy from fellow small businesses, and you’ll be more important to them.

Don’t be afraid to ask for endorsements. The right person can add immense credibility to your product and people don’t mind being asked. The worst they can do is politely decline, and you’d be surprised how many will say yes.

When you have to deal with bureaucracy, you can’t beat persistence. It’s a matter of being dogged, finding the right person or system, and just sticking at it. It’s worth it in the end.

When time is limited, work out the most cost-effective way to spend what time you have.




Ros Jay, a business writer specialising in marketing and communications, has written several books on marketing specifically for small businesses. Her advice is just what you need up front if you're planning on starting a small business.

From The White Ladder Diaries, published by the White Ladder Press, which says 'if any writer wants to submit we are always happy just so long as they check out our submission guidelines at but we are always on the look out for top notch material relevant to our sort of publishing.'

© Ros Jay 2003. Reprinted by kind permission of White Ladder Press.