6 steps to startup success from UK business leaders

  1. Follow your passion… but make sure you have a well formulated plan

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee, balancing innovation and execution is an essential skill.

“Passion drives an entrepreneur,” says Michael Jacobsen, author and and co-producer of the highly successful Dirty Dancing musical. “Entrepreneurship is creativity but the lack of proper methodology and a well formulated plan can stunt your growth.”

Michael’s message is that to be successful you must be able to balance creative ideas with the ability to deliver to them. Without proper plans and processes, creative ideas can lay dormant, remain underdeveloped or spiral out of control. Similarly, without ongoing innovation, a company can fall behind and lose its competitive advantage.

Whatever business you’re in, it’s essential that the creative and the practical are appropriately balanced.

     2.  Don’t rely on banks to get funding

Since 2007, banks have tightened their lending criteria and it has become difficult for businesses to borrow money. Whether you’re looking for funding to start a business or you’re involved with an organisation that relies on access to funding to manage its balance sheet, it’s worth considering non-traditional sources of finance.

Businesses should explore the exciting Smarta Startup Loan funding platform to get the fight finance before or during trading. Other aspects are crowdfunding landscapes, with sites like CrowdcubeFunding Circle, and Kickstarter offering a plethora of alternative finance options for SMEs.


If you do rely on traditional finance remember that banks look more favourably on businesses with tangible assets that can be borrowed against, however they can still be reluctant to lend in areas where they are over exposed, such as property.

    3. Persuade the decision makers

Whether it’s convincing a financier to invest in your business, or trying to win support from the media, government or industry chiefs, the ability to persuade people is an essential skill.

Sonia Saxton, founder of Saxton Partners advises that you should first develop your listening skills to determine the values of the person you are trying to influence.

Once you know who you’re dealing with, you can begin to understand what motivates them. For example, a potential financier’s motives might simply be return on investment but there may be other significant deciding factors involved such as prestige or a personal interest in the industry.

Find out as much as you can about the people you want to influence. Do your research and if you get the opportunity to meet them, encourage them to open up, making sure you absorb yourself in what they have to say. Armed with this information you can then turn it to your advantage.

    4. Stress test your business

One of the biggest challenges small businesses face is simply staying alive. Indeed, half of businesses fail within their first five years according to data commissioned by insurers RSA.

Developing a long-term strategy for growth is essential. Is your product or service still going to be relevant five years from now? How will changes in legislation, the competitive landscape and innovation impact your business? Furthermore, what would happen if you lost your biggest client, your head office burnt down or you suddenly lost several key members of staff?

Former Royal Marine and now director of Quirk Solutions Chris Paton, conducts wargames with his clients to stress test their plans so they can react to the changing landscape. To deliver a good strategy he says, “we must honestly recognise the obstacles we face and develop a coherent and agile plan to overcome them.”

Ideally an organisation should not only have a ‘plan B’ but a full range of options that can be implemented should the landscape suddenly change. 

    5. Bombproof your business

Hackers have become increasingly sophisticated over the last few years and have begun to carefully select their targets. This approach is called ‘spearphishing’ where criminals will use sites like LinkedIn to identify wealthy and powerful victims. Staff at companies who work in finance roles are particularly attractive targets as they may regularly be involved in money transfers.

“It takes the average hacker a week to compromise a small business, whilst it takes approximately a year for companies to realise they’ve been infiltrated,” says Rik Fergusson, Cybercrime expert and Global VP of Security at Trend Micro. By the time businesses react it may already be too late. “Small businesses can be absolutely ruined by cybercrime and completely go under,” says Rik. So how can SMEs stay safe?

At the most basic level, it’s paramount that business stay up to date by installing the latest software and operating system updates. The three most compromised programs which hackers use to gain access to computers are Adobe Acrobat, Flash and Java, programs almost all desktop users are likely to have installed.

    6. Don’t be afraid to tell people how good you are

Kay Allen founder of Trading for Good encourages businesses to be socially responsible. Far from being a fluffy ‘nice to have’, Allen emphasises how having a positive impact in your community often results in tangible business benefits. “Working on a charity initiative can raise morale and add value to the bottom line of your company,” says Allen.

For example when one of the staff at Kalypsos’ Salon in Dorset was diagnosed with cancer, the staff rallied round to raise money for Cancer Research by donning pink wigs and serving rose wine. Aside from raising money and boosting staff morale, the initiative landed Kalypsos a double page spread in the local paper, something that would normally have cost thousands of pounds. The firm has since carried out initiatives to recycle shampoo bottles and raise awareness of the importance of disposing of bleaches and dyes responsibly.

“Let the world know about your charitable initiatives,” says Allen and “don’t be afraid to tell people how good you are.”

Read Kay's blog post on being socially responsible here.

If you missed AAT’s Annual Conference, you can read a round-up here and if you’d like to attend next year please email aat.conference@aat.org.uk for info on booking your tickets.


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