There is debate over what you really need in order to start your own business – for example, do you really need a business plan? Some argue it’s quite simple to forge ahead with it, while others prefer to take a more academic, thought-out approach.
“I’ve met too many entrepreneurs who haven’t thought about all the issues that will impact their business and decide if it will be successful or not,” explains Neil Infield, manager of the British Library’s Business & IP Centre.
“It helps to have your mind in order and check things off to ensure you don’t miss anything. My chief piece of advice is to look at who your customer will be: who will buy your product or service, where do they live, what will they look like? And then how can you track them down to check your assumptions?”
Researching your idea and putting together a plan for your business is, therefore, key. Here are the top free resources that you shouldn’t start your business without.
One of the best resources available to people starting a business is the British Library’s Business & IP Centre (BIPC). Launched in 2006, and located next to St Pancras station in London, the BIPC offers a range of free tools and workshops – around 20 workshops and events are held every month, many of them free or for a nominal amount.
A key resource accessible at the BIPC is its collection of databases and publications. Chief among these are the COBRA services, which offer business opportunity profiles for specific sectors, information factsheets and local area profiles. The BIPC also offers free industry guides written by experts about the most popular industries. These list the most useful databases, reports and websites for you to research. (The COBRA services are usually available from any local public library, too.)
When you start your own business, you need to know who you’re up against: who is your competition and who else is playing in the space? One resource that can help you find out more about the sector is DueDil, a free-to-access database that brings together a wide range of company information.
The DueDil platform aggregates data from sources including Companies House and credit ratings, and allows you to search for a business’s latest accounts, shareholder structure and the background of company directors.
If you’re looking for uncluttered advice from people who have been there and done it, Smarta is the place. In particular the Smarta Business Builder is a great all-in-one piece of software for anyone starting and growing a business.
Smarta was set up by entrepreneur Shaa Wasmund and is backed by heavyweight entrepreneurs including Bebo founder Michael Birch and Dragons’ Den investors Theo Paphitis and Deborah Meaden.
The site’s aim is simple: to offer real business advice from other business people as well as live professional advice from lawyers, accountants and other service providers free of charge. Smarta is also delivery partner for the Start-Up Loans Company.
StartUp Britain and StartUp Loans
StartUp Britain was founded by eight entrepreneurs and launched in 2011 with support from the Prime Minister and the government. It is a national campaign to drive entrepreneurship in Britain.
StartUp Loans, which was initiated by the same group, is a gateway to getting seed funding for startup entrepreneurs.
Together, these two platforms are funded by government and private-sector sponsors such as BT, Dell, Intel, Intuit, PayPal and others – this also means you can access unique deals from these sponsors through the site.
Startup Britain also has an enterprise calendar on its website that lists events for entrepreneurs around the country – great for networking and learning.
All of Britain’s high street banks offer free resources for customers looking to start their own business. Whether it’s a meeting with your bank manager to discuss your business plan or just free information on starting up, your bank is a good port of call.
The Prince’s Trust
The Prince’s Trust is a charity that supports those aged 13 to 30 who are unemployed or struggling at school. Its enterprise programme is excellent, offering top-notch advice on business plans, including free templates.
Promoting your business is a key part of starting up, so you’ll need a website. Once you’ve acquired a domain name (for a nominal fee), you can build a fancy website for nothing using online website builders such as Moonfruit.com or Basekit.com
You can then use your website to promote your business through free social networks such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
British Chambers of Commerce
Your local Chambers of Commerce is another easy port of call for gathering information on starting a business.
In addition to offering training workshops where you can boost your business skills, the British Chambers have great ties with local businesses, which can help you meet other likeminded entrepreneurs and businesses to network with.
Starting a business can feel lonely, so having a mentor who can help guide you and provide tailored advice for your business can be incredibly useful. MentorsMe is a national platform specifically for small- and medium-sized businesses there are looking for mentoring services.
The site is free to use, offering a list of quality-assured business mentoring organisations across Britain. You can also refine your search according to your location or sector. But beware that many of the mentors listed on the site are paid-for – make sure you find the right person for your business, and find someone who is happy to give you occasional advice for free!
Once you’re committed to starting your own business, source any equipment you might need through free recycling platforms such as Freecycle or the freebie sections of listings sites such as Gumtree or Craigslist.
Jason Hesse is a business journalist specialising in entrepreneurship and small business. His work has appeared in The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Forbes and Real Business among other publications.
Jason Hesse is a journalist who specialises in writing about entrepreneurship and small business.