How to set up your own business

Do you have a business idea and are you interested in developing it further?

Denise Chilton, executive and career coach, guides you through some of the things you might want to consider when starting on this journey.

  • Research your idea
  • Develop a business plan
  • Choose a structure
  • Branding and networking

Working for yourself - starting a business [p.1]

The Big Why?

(min. 6:05)

  • This may seem a simple question, but can you articulate in a clear and concise way why you want to do this?  
  • What are you hoping working for yourself will give you?  
  • Does this align with your values?  
  • What will keep you going when things get tough? 

It is also important to remember that your ‘what next’ might not be your final step, but it might meet some of your values. 

Researching your business idea

(min. 13:06)

In researching your idea, you also need to research who your competitors are, how you are different, and what your strengths and weaknesses are. This knowledge will help you to understand what your unique selling point is, and what you need to do to retain your market niche.

Tips on commercial awareness: 

The business plan

(min. 15:27)

A business plan template can be a helpful starting point in clarifying your business idea and defining your objectives. This will aid in not only securing funding and support but also to focus your mind. Various templates are available including the lean canvas business template created by Ash Maurya and adapted from the business model canvas by Alexander Osterwalder. It is a one-page document, that prompts you to consider and articulate nine key components of your business plan. You can learn the basics of writing a business plan, in the video by Simon Hall here or download a business plan template.

Financial planning

(min. 25:49)

To help you focus set yourself a financial goal which is a bit of a stretch. Consider how to value your product or service, both in time and money. Gain a clear understanding of your cash flow, including having a reserve for unanticipated costs or slower months.  

  • Complete a personal survival budget template, that will aid in calculating how much money you really need to get by each month.
  • Research start-up funds, enterprise organisations and information on the government website to get you started. Whilst financial support may be limited, they can also offer advice and support, contacts and sometimes start-up loans.  

Name your business

(min. 33:22)

  • A business name benefits from being short and memorable, as well as easy to spell and say.  
  • It could include your name or indicate something about your product. 
  • Once you have chosen a name, check if the domain name is available, and that it has not already been registered with Companies House.  
  • Consider if it leaves room for growth rather than limiting the future direction of your business. 

Company structure

(min. 35:14)

The simpler structure is to set up as a sole trader, however, you are then personally responsible for your business’s debts.  As a limited company, its finances are separate from your personal finances but there are more reporting and management responsibilities, and you will incur additional costs. Think about your clients and their perception of your service based on the company structure. Alternative structures include partnerships and social enterprise.  

Working for yourself - starting a business [p.2]

A practical postdoc set up story

(min. 02:29)

In the recording a postdoc explains the evolution of their business idea, drawing upon what they had learnt throughout their postdoc journey to provide consultancy services and share some key learning.  

Branding your business

(min. 18:08)

Branding is much more than a logo or the look of your business, it also communicates your values and (hopefully) attracts clients.  

  • Think about what do you want to be known for? 
  • What words would you use to describe your brand?  
  • What do you want your products to say?

Create a matching look and message which is consistent every time you make contact with your customer. This includes your online presence, your personal presentation and behaviour, premises, packaging, and where you advertise. Pinning down your brand will help to give you direction.

Knowing your customers

(min. 22:51)

You need to understand your target market, so spend time identifying your customers. If you identify your niche and understand who your product or service will appeal to, you’ll have a clearer idea of how to price and market to your customer.


(min. 25:02)

  • Use your existing networks to gain customers, and who else do they know?   
  • Make sure people in your network know you are starting a business, and identify who else could be useful to have in your network.  
  • Your immediate contacts may not be your target customer but they may well have people in their own networks who could be. 

Learn more about how to make the most of your network:

Marketing your business

(min. 33:48)

The purpose of marketing is to raise awareness. It can be costly, so a targeted and considered approach is best. Create a digital marketing plan based upon the media channels your target market engages with and set a realistic budget from the outset as marketing costs can rapidly mount.

Top tips from day one

(min. 40:54)

  • Prioritise your HPAs – high pay off activities 
  • Create a sales pipeline 
  • Collect client stories 
  • Ask for referrals 

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