Hi, Malteser !
I have some concerns with your plan to work 8 to 5 at one job, then
?four or five hours? a day after that, plus all weekends, at your own
business, all the while studying for your MBA. This leaves no room at
all for living life. If you really intend to work such a demanding
schedule, then it is all the more important that the business you
choose should be something you love being involved with.
That said, one of the joys of running your own business is that you
can start and stop work when you want to in order to go shopping, or
phone a friend. Also, while the early preparation stages are time
consuming, they are just that - preparation stages - and have no real
deadlines other than those you impose on yourself.
While I was preparing this for you, I came across this Small Business
start-up guide at:
Although this is a US site, it is an excellent general resource and
includes a link to a free on-line Entrepreneur course at:
This guide takes you step by step through the process of setting up a
business and does so more clearly than I ever could ! I have included
some extracts from that site below my own suggestions.
Their first section covers choosing a business, and specifically
addresses ?moonlighting? and how to avoid conflict of interest if you
are running a business while still working for someone else.
Now, from personal experience, here are some ideas and tips.
You do NOT need a great deal of money to start a small business as
long as you are not selling stocked products. You certainly don't need
a business loan, although the banks and loan companies will tell you
otherwise. Stay debt free.
You WILL need:
a good specialised product or service, using your strongest skills,
that you can operate alone, - at least at first.
time and patience
great customer service
a small monthly budget
a good unique business name, registered in whatever way is appropriate
for your country
a domain name
a logo which is copyright to you
a phone line
a cell phone (mobile phone)
an entry in the phone book
Taken in order:
* A good specialised product or service, using your strongest skills,
that you can operate alone, - at least at first.
This is the hard one, of course, and it's why I've been asking all
those questions about what you enjoy doing. However, I think you are
wrong when you say you have no specialisations. Apart from the useful
experience in accounting, you have experience in administration and
organisation - and believe me, those are skills many people lack. That
immediately opens up opportunities as a "Virtual P.A." (personal
assistant) business, helping other small businesses deal with their
administration on a fee for service basis, that can be operated
entirely from home via computer.
I'm assuming your experience as an Employment Law Consultant is your
current employment? If so, it would obviously be unethical - as well
as probably illegal - to offer that knowledge through your own
business while still employed by them. But if you are able to cope
with the ramifications of Employment Law, is there another area of Law
with which you are familiar on which you could base your own
But the best advice by far - and you'll find this advice on-line and
elsewhere over and over again - is to make a business out of something
you really enjoy doing. Remember, unlike many people looking to start
a business, you have the administration skills already; you don't need
to learn how to keep accounts, how to format a document or how to keep
Getting out and meeting clients could be difficult on a
weekend+and+evenings+only schedule, so consider a business that maybe
taps into what most people do in those time-slots: eating out,
gardening, renovating their houses, playing with their kids, playing
with their pets, partying, house-hunting?
You like food? Offer a booking service for local restaurants.
You like looking around houses? Offer a search-and-shortlist service
for people relocating to your area.
You like gardens? Offer to locate rare and unusual plants, or landscaping items.
You don't have to have a great deal of prior knowledge for any of
those - just an interest and a desire to learn more.
Also don't forget the purely Internet based businesses: write an ebook
about something you know about (e.g. "How to do accounts for the
Travel Industry") and sell it either directly or through a service
such as Café Press (who will also market your art work or music on a
print-on-demand basis). Find them at:
* Great customer service
In a nutshell:
1, 2, 3 & 4 - answer the phone. Over and over again we've been told :
"You know why you got the job? You answered the phone."
5 & 6 - when you really can't answer the phone immediately, get back
to the client as soon as you pick up the message - even if all you do
is leave a message on their machine.!
7 - listen to the client. Really listen.
8 - modify and personalise your service to the client's needs.
9 - follow-up on enquiries. "Just checking to make sure you got the
information I emailed, and to see how your plans are going."
10 - listen to feedback. If it's negative, don't go with a knee-jerk
reaction, and either change everything, or get defensive. Make a note
of it, and see whether other clients make the same criticism. If so,
then change things.
* Time and patience:
These substitute for a big budget and splashy advertising. You are not
going to be able to launch your business with bill boards and a TV
campaign. On zero budget you're not going to be able to afford much
advertising at all. So you're going to have to rely on carefully
placed advertising and on talking to people. Your website will take
longer to get established in the directories and search engines - it
will still get there if it is well designed and has good content, but
it will take time.
The advantage of that is: you can ease your way into the business as
you study, and maintain your full-time job.
* A small monthly budget:
This will be necessary to cover such things as web-hosting and
additional phone expenses over and above what you are currently
paying. You may choose a paid phonebook listing, and there may be
insurances which you need to take out. However, these expenses are
probably tax deductible (check the law in your country). Also, a
percentage of your electricity bill may be deductible as it relates to
your home office area. As you have some accounting experience, it is
not probably unnecessary to bring in an accountant at this early
stage. Just keep clear, accurate records.
* A computer:
You already have one, of course, and you obviously have an internet
connection. You say your computer skills are good. I assume you also
have a printer, and fax capability within the computer. Don't be
tempted to upgrade just for the sake of it; you'll take a while to get
going and provided your current set-up will do the job, let it. I've
only just added a laptop to my set-up, which is linked by Wi-fi to the
desktop and synced. This allows me to:
sync to my business partner
work in the garden, in bed or by the fire (luxury).
But I did just fine without a laptop for the first seven years of our business.
* A good unique business name, registered in whatever way is
appropriate for your country:
This is where you are going to have to find some money up front,
because you need to be sure that no-one else in your local area has an
existing right to use the business name you're thinking of, and then
secure that right for yourself. It is subject to the law in your
country. This is NOT the same as a trademark.
The most important thing is to choose a name that says what you do,
and think about how people are going to search for it in the phone
book (see below) and on the Net. Then make it a name that offers
something. Using your own name is worse than useless unless you're
already extremely famous.
For example, a common mistake is to call a business, say: "Bob Jones
Plumbing." If I want a plumber, I am not going to look under "B" for
Bob. "Plumbing by Bob Jones" is better. "Plumbing in Hamburg" is
better still, since it suggests the locality reached by the business.
"Plumbing for Hamburg" is probably better again as it makes the
service seem more special and personal. "Plumbline Plumbing" is
catchy and suggests that the business gets things straight.
Avoid strange spelling, though eg "Plumline Plumming" and don't try
the cheap trick of putting AAA in front of the name to try and get a
higher Yellow Pages listing - it looks like what it is - a cheap
Try out your three preferred names on a few friends - and get them to
write them down. If they can't spell them correctly, don't use the
*A domain name
This really should be the same as your business name, not an
abbreviation, and please don't follow the current fashion for using a
string of unidentifiable initials. Verdi, Scarlatti and Schultz (say)
may be a very well-known Italian engineering firm, but when they
rebrand as VSS they run the risk of endless confusion with (say) VSS -
Verbruggen-Smith and Snopes the English advertising agency. (OK, I
made those up.)
Your domain name should either be a yourname.com or
yourname.com.yourcountrycode, since these are easily the most widely
used forms, and this is what someone will type into a browser on spec.
There are many sources for registering domain names, at various
prices, but I find DirectNic both efficient and affordable. They are
Or some web hosting services will include a free registration, such as
Smarty Host, noted under Website, below.
You could also register .biz domain names, but don't bother with the
more obscure ones. The important thing is to own the name that relates
to the area in which you market.
Check out the available domain names at the same time as you are
selecting your business name. Even Bob of "Bob Jones Plumbing" needs
to be sure that "bobjonesplumbing.com.uk" isn't owned by the plumber
up the road.
* A logo which is copyright to you:
Remember, the copyright resides with the artist, so if you pay an
agency or an artist to create a logo for you, the copyright is theirs,
unless you specifically buy it from them. The logo should have a good
strong design element which is not part of the business name itself.
This is not only part of your branding, but also so that should your
right to your business name ever be challenged - because, say, a major
US corporation with big dollars to spend on lawyers, suddenly decides
that "Plumbline Plumbing" is a name it just has to own - you still
have a readily identifiable logo which is indisputably yours. Draw it
yourself if you possibly can.
Registering a trademark is generally very expensive. Be aware that
using a logo consistently so that it becomes identified with your
product, gives it trademark status and you can use the TM mark to
assert your rights in it (though not the R mark, meaning Registered
For a good article on this, see Wikipedia:
The fact that a trademark is registered in the US does not
automatically mean it is registered worldwide, though that is a
popular misconception, particularly in the US. Check the Registration
in your own country. (Major companies, of course, register in every
country in which they trade.)
*A phone line:
This should have, at the very least, Voicemail capability and a divert capability.
*A cell phone (mobile phone):
This is what spells freedom from the office and is why it is possible
to run a small business out of regular hours and without sitting in
one room hoping the phone will ring. When you want to go out, divert
the incoming calls to your cell-phone. Set up the cell phone's
Voicemail to make it clear that the client has been diverted to a
mobile, and that you could be driving or out of range. Try not to take
calls in very noisy environments, and remember that you are paying for
the divert leg of the call. Often all you will need to do is take the
client's name and number and promise to get back to them as soon as
you are back in the office. Then make sure you do just that !
There are many very affordable webhosting services available, one of
which is Smarty Host at:
They start from AU$15.00 a month with a good range of included
services, including free domain name registration.
The ?For Dummies? series of books includes lots of help for building
your own website - which on zero budget, it?s well worth learning how
to do. Find their relevant books at:
It?s worth investing the time to learn to code your site yourself,
because somehow template sites always look just like template sites.
And time is one thing you have got on your side.
Once set up, you need to promote your site to the Directories and
Search Engines. An excellent site which will help with this, allowing
you to auto-promote to those directories which permit it, and advising
you on how to present to those sites which require manual promotion is
Self Promotion at:
The service is basically free, though Robert Woodhead, who runs it,
appreciates donations - he has to make a living running a small
business, after all!!!
* Business cards
There are lots of good websites where you can design and order your
cards at very reasonable prices. However, don?t discount your local
printer. Shop around. The cards need to use your logo, and they need
to feel good to the touch. They need to be standard size because
people file them in standard size folders.
You need cards, because when you are talking to someone about your
business, your card establishes you as serious about what you do.
Their cards, which they give you in return, make a great basis for
finding local resources.
If you buy your cards over the Net, what you see is what you will get.
Local printers, however, are justifiably proud of their skills, and
can seldom resist the temptation to ?improve? on the artwork that you
have given them. Make sure you see a sample before agreeing to the
* An entry in the phone book:
I don?t know where in Europe you live, so I don?t know if you get a
free entry just for being a subscriber, or what you pay for extras,
such as Bold Type. Yellow pages (business) entry is less important
than it was, as web presence takes over, but you will know your local
conditions better than I can. White pages business listings remain
important, since that is still where most people will start to look
when they want to speak to you directly.
Here is the information promised above about the small business site at:
?Take your time and wait for the business that is just right for you.
You will not be penalized for missing opportunities. The selection
process takes a lot of planning and your experience and complete
knowledge is vital for your success.
Try to identify a business that has long-term economic potential.
Follow Wayne Gretzky's advice, "Go to where the puck is going, not to
where it is."
A big mistake can be an error of omission. This means you may fail to
see an opportunity that is right in front of you.
Keep in mind that as a general rule specialists do better than
non-specialists. Wouldn't you be more inclined to take your sick cat
to a veterinarian whose practice is limited to cats rather than to a
Most service businesses have pricing power. Pricing power means that
you will not need to have the lowest price in order to secure
business. Your customers will be willing to pay a fair price for a
better product or service.?
This first section has a really useful exercise for generating ideas
for your business. The following section discusses business plans and
links to a step by step planning tool which you can download.
The best of luck !!