James Poyser's business is 10 years old. That's 10 years of building, refining and breaking to create a success story. Here's how he would approach the task if he had to do it all over again.
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Ten year’s ago, I hit on a business idea with two friends. It was an idea born out of frustration - finding a better way for contractors and freelancers to file their accounts and manage their tax.
It was the part of being a freelancer I hated with a passion. An endless paper trail with no real understanding of what my earnings were, and certainly what sized slice HMRC would be helping itself to.
I started to become fixated by the notion that technology could make accounting a breeze. Turns out I was right, but it took three years of evenings and weekends while holding down a day job to find out.
Lots of people ask ‘what was the recipe for our success?’. Really it’s quite simple, good idea and hard work. But you have to work smart. So if I were to write a book on setting up a business these would be my chapters.
Chapter 1. Research it
Become a geek on the industry you want to get into. Having established by a long chalk that we weren’t alone in our quest for an easier life, I immersed myself in accounting, something I never thought I would do.
But it was the only way to understand the other side of the fence - were my frustrations pie in the sky or the result of centuries of immovable accounting best practice?
Needless to say the result of the research prompted me to morph into a software development geek. I like to lift the bonnet on things but this really was taking me to new heights.
"You need to be the expert, so make damned sure you are"
Looking back now I underestimated the importance of this immersion. It is fundamentally at the heart of our brand. A classic case of problem-solution that’s been so well researched that we went on to build a product that delivers on its promise brilliantly and consistently. We are very clear on our market position - we know exactly who it is for, what it delivers and we know why we are doing it.
Chapter 2. Find your route to market
Once you’ve found the problem to solve, and thought about your positioning, validate your route to market. There’s no point in building a product if you can’t find customers easily and cheaply.
Try and find common online and offline touch points where your target market can be found. For example influential social media users, blogs, portals, networking or social groups, and through partnerships with complementary businesses.
If you can, consider building an audience whilst building your business – even if it’s just a case of building your own social network. I speak from experience when I say that knowing you’ve got a captive audience will help maintain your motivation and focus.
Chapter 3. Build in efficiency from the start
The whole premise of our product was to cut the red tape for freelancers and speed up managing income, tax, invoicing and filing accounts so they can get on with serving their clients. So naturally you’d expect all our processes to be efficient.
It wasn’t until we really started to scale up and employ people that we realised just how powerful this founding notion had been. Our team now has the space to innovate and problem solve because the way we do the day-to-day things isn’t time consuming.
It’s become a part of our culture, if we find a process is becoming arduous we look to automate it so we free up expensive resource. That’s helped us manage our cost base and gives our clients great value, and added value when they need it. I’m sure it’s an ingredient for success whether you’re a delicatessen or a manufacturer of folding bikes.
Chapter 4. Test the hell out of it, and then do it again
Of course, it’s a given that you have to be 110% sure your product will work but don’t overlook how your team performs through testing. There is so much you can learn from the people around you and how they deal with problems and finding solutions.
Above all make sure the team can think on its feet and doesn’t crumble under pressure. Your brand depends on it. The best businesses work on referrals and failure to test and fix before launch is like shooting yourself in the foot.
You can’t find these weaknesses if you don’t have great people who are passionate and engaged. It doesn’t matter if you’re an accountancy or a hipster food joint, people are your glue.
It's important to assemble a strong team of people who are enthusiastic about getting things right
Chapter 5. Use your network
To test your product, your service and your ideas you need a network of people. We learnt this early on when we needed help on the things we had no idea about, mostly legal or technical. I bought a lot of coffee in exchange for help from experts in my network, and it was money well spent.
Don’t be afraid to look up people you’ve not spoken to for ages either, if my experience is anything to go by you’ll be surprised at the reaction you get, and really the worst that can happen is that they say no.
Chapter 6. Do your homework
You need to be the expert, so make damned sure you are. Invest in yourself as much as you can, and if you’re canny you’ll use the same money you spend on coffee to do this.
I know more about application development than I ever thought I would, but if I didn’t we would not have created an online tool that works so brilliantly today. And it’s this sort of thing that stands you in good stead when you need to interview and employ someone to do it for you.
Chapter 7. Have an ideas box
As your business idea develops there will be things you would love to do, launch and showcase. If it’s not core to your original product then capture the idea using one of the many online tools like Evernote.
When you’ve launched, and you have customer feedback to hand, open up the ‘box’ and do a cross check. You’ll then be developing a product people want, not one you think they want.
Having said that don’t be afraid to try new things, sometimes the customer doesn’t know what they want, but my advice is bide your time and get the fundamentals right first so they trust you.
Chapter 8. Invest time in finding a business partner
This is rapidly becoming my top tip when people talk to me about starting a business. It’s difficult finding the right business partner, but when you do it makes a huge amount of difference to your business.
I’ve worked without partners and also with terrible partners, both of which have cost me. But working with the right business partners – people who can complement your skills – really helps your business fly.
They can bring either vision or grounding, ideas or details, and they keep you motivated when you’re burning the midnight oil and questioning ‘why?’. inniAccounts would not have become the success that it is without combined talents of the partners.