According to the Government’s StartUp Britain campaign, almost 618,000 companies have been launched so far this year. However, according to the Telegraph, only half of these businesses are going to last more than five years. So, if you have ambitions of creating one of the next, then you should be sure to pay attention to any help you can find.
With that in mind, we sat down with John Armstrong, co-founder of Custom Planet, who shares his top tips for starting your own business.
How did Custom Planet get its start?
Custom Planet started from my co-founder’s spare bedroom with a handful of T-shirts, a heat press, and an advert in the yellow pages. We thought we could make some extra money during university making custom T-shirts for stag and hen dos, people going on holiday, and university clubs and societies. Slowly more and more people began ringing up, and eventually we had a viable business.
Did you receive any funding?
We didn’t receive any funding as a startup, but as we grew we did receive funding to design a full eCommerce site. This was in the form of a 35% grant from the Business Factory — I believe NBSL still provide this funding to North-East businesses.
From your experience, what are the best things about starting and owning a business?
The best thing without a doubt is being your own boss. As a business owner, you have the ability to create something you’re passionate about and grow it on your own terms.
However, it is a bit of a double-edged sword. When things are going well and running smoothly it’s great. When they aren’t, you can’t just walk away at the end of the day — it’s on you to sort it out and put it right. However, when things are going right, there’s nothing more rewarding.
What challenges have you faced since first setting Custom Planet up?
When you’re running your own business, you face new challenges every day one way or another — the key is to learn from each challenge and make sure you never make the same mistake twice.
I’m a strong believer that you must adapt and improve constantly, and the best way to do this is to frequently take an honest, objective view at what is going well and what isn’t within your business and have a frank discussion about what you need to do to improve.
One of our biggest challenges so far has been finding the time and resources to put into training staff without detracting from the overall business and product itself. When any employee is being trained in a new process, production inevitably slows down, and the challenge comes in dedicating the right amount of time to training. This is just one way in which you need to come to a decision over how much time you’re going to dedicate on the long-term development of your company without sacrificing short-term results.
What do you wish you had known at the beginning?
Where to start? I wish we’d known a lot more about online marketing and how search engines work. At the time, we somehow thought that because we built a great website, everyone would find us. We quickly realised this isn’t how it works — it’s like building a great shop but it being located in a desert!
What do you think has been the key to your success?
We have been very lucky to have had a lot of repeat customers, plenty of which have sent other companies our way after having such a positive experience with our brand. A lot of this comes down to good products and customer service, which we have put a lot of effort into.
However, I think another key to our success has been that my co-founder and I have very different skills sets, allowing us to focus on our own areas within the business. This means there is very little conflict between us and work in each area is completed as efficient as possible.
Finally, what are your three top tips for anyone thinking about starting their own business?
For me, the first thing would be timing. When we started off we were in our early twenties and just finishing university — we had no mortgage, spouses, or kids. With essentially no responsibilities, we had nothing to lose.
If you have an idea or a vision for a business at this stage in life you should definitely give it a go. If worst comes to worst and your business fails, you can always get a job working for someone else, and you’ll have only gained experience and connections by going out on your own.
My back-up plan was always to become a PE Teacher. However, I always think that if I had gone down that route straight out of uni, then it would be an extraordinary risk to leave and start a business.
Secondly, I would say that you should seek as much advice as possible from people who have already gone through the trials and tribulations of starting a business before you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same industry, but you should seek out as many opportunities as possible to ask people who currently own their own business for their guidance. Some basic networking is a very easy way to do this initially.
Finally, I would say that one of the most important things you should do when starting your own business is make sure that you enjoy running it. If it works, then you’ll be doing this for a long time to come, so make sure it’s something that makes you want to go to work and push it forward. Running a business definitely won’t always be easy, so if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll quickly lose enthusiasm in the venture.