Starting one’s own business is a desire that many people have. Some harbour the ambition from a very young age, while for others it is something that grows throughout their working lives; for some, the lure is the opportunity to be their own boss, for others there is a very clear issue or gap in the market that they have an idea of how to solve.
It will be curious, then, to see how COVID-19 impacts upon entrepreneurship both in the UK and globally. After all, it would seem that the pandemic has actually created a perfect storm to encourage people to take the plunge and start their own venture.
Early indications would suggest this is the case. Research from Startups.co.uk, for example, has shown that five new businesses were founded every day in April 2020 – representing a 60% jump on April 2019.
So, why are we likely to see a sudden uptick in business births? Where do the new opportunities lie? And what must hopeful entrepreneurs bear in mind when creating a new startup?
A perfect storm
For me, there are three clear factors that will contribute to more people starting their own business. The first is the rise in unemployment – all manner of professionals, young and old, junior and senior, have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus crisis. In fact, some 695,000 UK workers have disappeared from the payrolls of British companies since March 2020.
For those who already had a burning ambition to be an entrepreneur, redundancy (and a highly competitive job market) will likely act as a firm push to encourage them to act on it.
Secondly, the shift to working from home has given working adults a greater sense of autonomy. Free from commuting and travel, the rise of remote working in 2020 will also have afforded people more time. This time can be used to nurture ideas around starting one’s own business, whether that is intended to be a side-project to their existing work or an entirely new way of making a living.
And thirdly, the onset of COVID-19 has opened up a large number of new opportunities for would-be entrepreneurs. With social distancing measures in place and lockdowns being introduced – and re-introduced – across the country, both consumers and businesses are having to quickly adapt to the “new normal”.
Of all its intriguing features, the new normal has precipitated a notable shift from the physical world to a digital one; the way products are purchased, services are consumed, and experiences are enjoyed is all now happening in a largely digital landscape. And this accelerated digitisation will open up new opportunities for businesses who can best meet customers’ changing demands.
Ashdown Organics is a good example. When the pandemic hit, their founder’s job as a mountain tour guide quickly became defunct and, after briefly working as an Asda delivery driver, he realised the pressing needs of those who were struggling to get their food delivered. As such, he founded Ashdown Organics to deliver goods from farm shops, bakeries and florists; and now delivers over 70 food boxes a week across East Sussex.
Elsewhere, Gemma Perlin worked as a documentary filmmaker but, as the TV industry ground to a halt during lockdown, she acted on her longstanding ambition to set up her own business as a behavioural change coach. Using her qualification in Neuro Linguistic Programming, she launched her own WordPress website and began serving customers through online sessions, with a view to offer in-person meetings in the future.
It sounds clichéd, but entrepreneurs tend to be positive, proactive characters. This personality typically enables them to spot and seize opportunities when they arise – and as the above examples show, COVID-19 has presented plenty of opportunities for new businesses to emerge.
Having started several companies and advised many others, I know that no matter how much one reads about entrepreneurship, there can be no replacement for learning on the job. Founders will only properly hone their business skills through experience, and often more from failure than success. After all, that is all part of the joy of running your own business.
Nevertheless, there are several key pieces of advice that all would-be entrepreneurs should follow. Firstly, they must do research and establish a good market fit – that is to say, an individual might think they have a great idea for a product or service, but plenty of legwork is still requirement to establish if that is really the case. In doing so, a founder will also improve their understanding of prospective customers and how to best develop, then market, their new offering.
Thereafter, it is good to keep things simple at first. Focus on doing one or two things really well and excel at that. Over time a business can expand its service proposition, but the initial challenge is to develop a compelling business model and build a solid customer base.
Finally, those starting a new venture must think of both the customer-facing and back-office jobs. Put another way, one cannot only consider how to brand and market a product without also worrying about more technical issues, such as payments, accounting, logistics, supply chain and legalities. Whether they source partners for these key business tasks or go it alone, there is no sense trying to get a startup off the ground until the foundations are taken care of.
Ultimately, while plenty of challenges remain for both individual entrepreneurs at the start of their business journey as well as the UK’s private sector as a whole, there are many reasons for optimism. Britain is renowned for its entrepreneurial spirit, and there is every reason to believe that many exciting and prosperous new startups will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis; ones that could continue to thrive in the years to come.
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Atul Bhakta, CEO of One World Express, a position he has held for over 20 years. He also holds senior titles for other retail companies, underlining his vast experience and expertise in the world of eCommerce, trade and business management.