Starting a business while still at school

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Andrew Dark started his business from his room at university, so if you think you're too young to become an entrepreneur, think again! Today, the founder of Custom Planet shares the basics on getting your venture off the ground.

It’s all about the product

The first and perhaps most important thing that you must establish before you begin your entrepreneurial journey is your product. Whether it’s a physical item, a service, or whatever else, having a good product is ultimately what will drive sales in your business.

While inventing something entirely original and breaching an untapped market is the entrepreneur’s dream, your product doesn’t necessarily have to be new or innovative – all it has to be is original. It could be a simple improvement on an already-existing product, or something that anyone could produce given the right skills.

Keeping it legal

If you believe your product is innovative, it is worth checking whether it already exists by searching for a patent (something that shows an idea belongs to you). The government website explains how you can do this and also provides guidance on how you could potentially get your own patent – given that your product meets the requirements.

There are all sorts of laws around intellectual property, which means you’ll need to find out about copyrights and trademarks, so it may be worth speaking to a lawyer somewhere down the line.

Speak to parents and teachers find out if they have used a solicitor or lawyer before. Accountants are great too – so if your friends or parents know one, they could be good for a bit of free advice and usually have contacts in lots of areas.

Before we hired an accountant we gained a lot of free advice from HSBC when we first setup our business bank account! Our bank manager had some very useful and trusted contacts.  Word of mouth is definitely a powerful tool for finding good suppliers as well as new sales opportunities.

Find your niche, practice it

You might have a great idea, but if you can’t make enough of your product for the people who want it, you will have a major problem with your business. You may be a fantastic artist, but if you can’t paint 100 portraits a week then you shouldn’t think about taking orders for this amount.

Your product must be something that you have access to and are good at producing. If it is hand-made, practice making it to within an inch of your sanity. Don’t sell a product that you are going to have problems reproducing.
Custom Planet started when we found a demand for personalised pin badges. We bought a badge-making machine after getting a grant from The Business Factory, a local funding group for new start-ups.

We got good at making these badges before we offered our services for hire, so we knew that we could keep up with orders and not let customers down. After finding that the orders for these badges were not enough to keep our business going, we expanded into custom t-shirts, which more people wanted.

While you may have a lot of faith in your product, you should always be looking for ways to tap into other markets.

The natural progression for us was to start offering custom printing on t-shirts, bags, hoodies, caps and so on, and that was all thanks to hand-pressing pin badges in my bedroom at university!

Find a reliable sales platform

Internet sales are everything in the 21st century, and having a decent website could be the make or break for your business.

While filling your website with great content should be a priority, the best way to get a product out on the market and make sales is to take advantage of established, tried and trusted sales platforms such as eBay, Amazon, or even Etsy, if your product is bespoke and quirky. Consumers will feel much more comfortable buying your product if they are purchasing it from a verified website.

Once you reach a stage where you can feasibly start taking orders through your website, you can think about taking payments online. Barclaycard offers a great service at a good price, with fees generally being taken as part of the purchase.

Be careful what you pay for

Don’t be fooled by any of these online business gurus – all they are interested in is your money! The same applies for digital marketing, especially as so much of your brand’s identity is communicated through digital channels, so you really should be overseeing your digital marketing in the early stages anyway.

Never pay for advice, as you can find the same, if not better, advice for free if you enrol onto some government-funded business courses in your local area. The Chamber of Commerce is a good place to start, as they could help you with a business grant/loan as well as access to free training.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

As a business owner, you’re expected to make important decisions on a daily basis. You will get some of these decisions wrong. It is inevitable. The key thing to remember is that every unsuccessful venture or wasted opportunity is a learning experience, so do not be discouraged if you feel like things aren’t going your way.

Thomas Edison is credited as saying "I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work." This is the best attitude to have, and you must continue to believe in your business even with the odds stacked against you.
Nobody else is going to make sure that you keep your enthusiasm and attitude in check, so this is entirely in your hands. Ultimately, if you don’t believe in your business, how can you expect others to do the same?

Entrepreneurship is by no means easy, but if you have a great product, take advantage of the support available to you, and continue to believe your own hype, there is no reason why you can’t succeed.

If Andrew's advice has inspired you to turn your big idea into a career, find out more about how you can become your own boss by setting up your own business.

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