You started your business a few years ago, it’s going well, you’re paying yourself a decent salary but what now?
Do you want your business to remain all about you or do you want it to grow? Are you turning down lucrative pieces of work due to time pressures?
When you get to the end of your working life in ten or twenty years what will become of your business – will it retire with you?
Now is the time to consider your exit strategy, however many years ahead it is. Building your business and planning with the help of your accountant, will mean your company will be worth selling when the time is right for you.
You may not want to manage a team. However, there are other ways of expanding your business that will provide you with the income you deserve for building up a sustainable business. A company which has value for someone interested in buying.
Working out how to expand your business can be lonely, so finding yourself a trustworthy person with business acumen who can be a sounding board for your thoughts, concerns and ideas can help. You may have to pay for a mentor, but it could well prove worthwhile. Just remember that you know your business and clients best – all decisions remain yours.
Be honest with yourself as to what size of business you want. Are you going to hire office space and employ staff or continue as you are? Would you prefer to use freelancers and contractors to provide the services you need? Consider how you will grow the visibility of your brand and business too.
A marketing strategy and plan will help you pull ideas together and set targets. You may require a marketing or salesperson to fulfil this role if this isn’t your forte.
Now may be the time to refresh your website (most are out of date after two years). Ensure you use professionally produced images and text that is written with Google and Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) in mind.
A user experience (UX) company could provide you with live market research giving you a clear idea of what potential clients love and loathe about your present site. This way you’ll avoid making costly, ineffectual updates to your present website when it might make more sense to have a new one designed.
Make sure you own your website, as it’s often a valuable part of the business. If you used an off the shelf website template, it’s likely to belong to the provider and not to you. Consider what the website looks like to a potential employee. Do the content and imagery reflect your ethics, brand and mission statement?
Whether you set up your business four or 14 years ago, social media cannot be ignored or ‘dabbled’ with. If you aren’t using it, you’re missing out on most potential clients under the age of 35. Gain a basic understanding of it and appoint a freelancer to cover this area of your business, supplying them with regular material to post. You may find a great blogger in your midst or someone who with the right support can become your social media ‘guru’.
Consider apprentices and internships. Don’t discount this way of growing your business as there are plenty of ambitious young people out there – your job is to find them.
Use the wide number of apprenticeship companies which find and place people, and provide the training required too.
Ask friends and family for recommendations of young people and once you’ve found them, place them on an apprenticeship scheme to help them gain further qualifications whilst they work for you. Remember by going down this route, you not only have staff, trained your way from the start (and not joining you from other firms with ‘bad habits’) but your monthly salary costs will be lower too.
Which leads us rather nicely onto HR (human resources) and possibly service level agreements (SLA’s). Find yourself a freelance HR person who can help you to recruit and manage your new staff. They’ll help you look at job roles and descriptions – a difficult thing when up to now it’s all been you. It’s hard to let go of aspects of your business and it is essential you plan a strong reporting structure to ensure you remain in overall control.
Finding, recruiting and retaining loyal, knowledgeable staff is not all about the pay structure. What else will you be able to provide for your employees? A fun workspace, pizza Friday’s; paid training days, coffee and cake team meetings, a cycle to work scheme – are all ways of adding value to your offer.
You may decide employing staff is not for you but using contractors and outsourcing the mundane and administrative processes of your company could be the way forward.
There are excellent, virtual assistants available who will work on a regular basis, dealing with everything from PAYE, MTD (Making Tax Digital) and remote phone answering to invoicing, sales and marketing.
Your contractors will be your ambassadors, representing you as they deliver services to your clients. Ensure you have watertight service level agreements (SLA’s) in place to protect your company. For instance, you want to protect your business from clients being ‘stolen’ by your contractors. Use a solicitor to draw up the necessary documents or, if you belong to a professional trading body, they may have paperwork you can use.
You may be wondering how you will fund this growth? This is where sitting down with an accountant is useful. Most accountants will give you an initial hour of their time for free, so take the opportunity to ‘interview’ a few, as it’s imperative that you trust and respect them.
Tell them your plans, what you are trying to achieve and why, then ask for their help with how to achieve realistic cash flow forecasts. They may ask you for additional information, which may feel is more work, however, building up this data will help you to better understand what turnover (sales) will need to be achieved to meet ongoing business costs.
Once you have these working documents and a strong marketing plan, you’re in a position to look at funding routes. Dependent on your sector and location there may be grants available to support growth, though typically these are for 20% of the sum required and you’ll have to find the remaining amount.
Other options include finance houses, mainstream banks, funding circles, angel investors and crowdfunding. Do talk to your accountant and financial adviser about raising capital against your personal assets and whether this is the right option for you to explore. They may have contacts and experience of good routes to funding and introductions they can make.
Once you have everything in place, how do you actually take the leap? Sometimes it’s a case of finding the premises, appointing staff and finding the work. But it is scary and that’s why you have to be honest with yourself as to whether it’s a world you’re ambitious enough to enter.
Good bosses know their strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with people who have the necessary skills they lack, but sometimes it’s hard to admit, even to oneself, what your bad ones are.
Consider using a cost-effective personality profiling system to understand yourself better. They can also prove a fantastic tool when appointing new team members, saving your company from costly errors and time wasting.
Advice and Information
Some useful government-backed business organisations exist that are worth checking out.
In England, local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) help lead economic growth and job creation within a local area. LEP’s are worth speaking with when you want to grow your company, as they may have grants available and oversee angel investor schemes.
Check out your local Chamber of Commerce or Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) as they provide advice and information too. Whilst some larger libraries can give you access to useful business information such as marketing and business plans.
There are many independent enterprise agencies too, these not for profit business organisations provide a wealth of independent, local business knowledge and advice. Mentoring services, business skills training; social media and marketing support, personality profiling services and financing growth fall within their remit.
The National Enterprise Network has a directory of enterprise agencies which you can locate at
www.nationalenterprisenetwork.org. If you are based in the Cambridgeshire, Norfolk or Suffolk areas, take a look at MENTA www.menta.org.uk.
There is plenty of advice and information out there – the question is, are you cut out to be an entrepreneur? Only you can answer that.