So you want to start your own business? Nicolas Roope has some advice

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Plumen’s co-founders Michael George Hemus (on left, also MD) and Nicolas Roope (also Creative Director)

You’re sitting on a shit-hot idea. You’ve spoken to a few good friends about it, the type not afraid to openly critique you. And they said they believe in it. You see a twinkle in their eye.

You’ve let the idea sit in your head for a few weeks, or better, a few months. And the excitement and belief hasn’t gone away, in fact it’s only got stronger. The idea isn’t riding high on that giddy feeling that tends to cloud judgement, but by a steady questioning and testing, a steady chipping away at the idea to test its solidity.

Planning the ‘how’

Whilst we all hear that execution is a greater definer of success than the idea itself, the beginning is the best moment to really lay down the DNA of your proposition before the entanglement of execution. To try and understand where the power really lies and to build your concept on top of the strongest of foundations. The world is full of stuff, so if your thing lacks power, it will never cut through.

Once you have this core proposition, you need to start planning the ‘how?’ Creative people are great at creating concepts and spawning identities, but most businesses need a degree of operational prowess and financial acumen to stand any chance of success. This might be about you discovering you can do a great job yourself, or more often than not, finding some help. In my case this has always been about bringing in partners to work with, to share the burden, to complement my skill-set and to share the business with.

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Plumen Drop Hat Lamp Shade colour combination

Minimum viable business

You generally need money to start something, although the bar to entry is lowering all the time. First off, it’s getting easier and easier to reach markets because of digital and social media. You don’t need millions to create a trading business any more, just set up a storefront and marketplace in any one of the thousands of options on the web and the growing app ecosystem. You can start with a few hundred quid and build it from there. A minimum, viable business if you like.

But if you still need a small pile of capital to kickstart, then money is easier to come by too. You have the usual Angel and VC, government grants and traditional banking routes, but crowdfunding is emerging to fill a hole that these facilities can’t cover. By organising small investors into a significant funding muscle, platforms like Crowdcube are creating a completely new kind of community that will back the kind of business others wouldn’t touch. This is particularly pertinent to creative businesses that can’t always be judged on traditional metrics and where their growth potential can sometimes be better discerned by gut rather than by the law of the calculator.

When you start a business you need to start thinking about value, rather than just money. £100 from a passionate, supporter of your idea will go a lot further than £100 from an indifferent banker who’ll call it in with the first whiff of storm clouds ahead. This is true for so many issues that arise in a business. Always think about what creates (or retains) the most value.

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No posh offices

You have to empty your head of all the clichés about how business should look and feel, fantasies that have been planted in our heads since we were born. If you throw money at posh offices, staff and lifestyles that create the right image, but that you really don’t need from the start, you’ll run out of money rather quickly. Again, you need to think hard about value. How can you do the most with the least? If you can tip the balance in your favour, you have a business, if you don’t, you won’t. It’s not about being stingy, because sometimes you also have to invest unreservedly. But keeping things really tight and productive is critical to growth and health because the fundamentals of a business are about making more money than you spend ; ). So much of what has happened in digital means you can buy services in smaller and lighter, cheaper and more flexible chunks. Warehousing, production, distribution etc etc are all being overhauled by the forces of digital and globalisation and many of them offer new, more efficient means for doing business, especially for resource-constrained new-starts.

If you throw money at posh offices…you’ll run out of money rather quickly.

And finally, when your skills, capital, your plan and your logistics are all in place, plough into it with open eyes. You need momentum more than anything, but you also need to be ready to change course at any time. Ideas that live in your head cannot predict the forces imposed by reality. The most accurate way to test markets is to operate, so as soon as you’re out there in the field, this is the moment when the feedback is most accurate and most valuable. So this is the moment when it’s both the best time to read the signs but also a tough moment to shift direction. But that’s exactly what you need to do. With digital and social particularly, we now have the means to read market response with a great deal of sensitivity and in real time. A great advantage to anyone listening with a fresh new idea that can shape itself around what’s happening right now.

Nicolas Roope is co-founder and Creative Director of Plumen and Creative Partner/co-founder of Poke. He is also one of CR’s Creative Leaders 50. Read more about him here.

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