Starting a business in 2021: five things that will help you succeed

We all have ideas for potential businesses, but taking that idea and making it a reality is where the exciting challenge often lies. Creating a successful business isn’t easy at any time, and the pandemic has meant the rulebook for starting out on your own has been rewritten.

The good news is, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s become more difficult. Although there have been considerable challenges for small businesses during this time, the huge changes we’ve all seen have led to big opportunities for entrepreneurs, especially ones willing to embrace the right technology.

The availability of tech has revolutionised the way small businesses interact with customers, grow and compete with larger businesses — levelling the playing field. According to Google’s 2020 Impact report, 280,000 businesses started selling online for the first time as a result of the pandemic.

Businesses of every size are having to adapt to a more dynamic market environment as consumer attitudes and practices evolve — but small, agile businesses are often best-placed to do it. Simply put: if you have a good idea, there are more opportunities than ever to create your own path and build something great from the ground up.

A great example of one such business that impressed me during the pandemic with its approach to digital and ability to pivot is The Stack World. It is a brand-new platform by entrepreneur Sharmadean Reid, built to equip women with the tools they need to excel in their field. As beauty spaces/services were closed down, it was great to watch how the business innovated and pivoted from a beauty app to a networking app with its aim to build the biggest global network of millennial women. This progression and new business model happened off the back of the pandemic and now has a growing and engaged user community.

So, if you’re inspired and are thinking about starting a business, here are five key things to remember.

1 Find your ‘why’Your “why” is what will keep you going when things don’t necessarily go to plan and you want to give up. Starting a business is challenging and inevitably your commitment will be tested, so you’re more likely to commit and be motivated to stick it out if it has its roots in something you’re passionate about. I’m driven by my “why”, which comes down to being able to bring diverse perspectives together to challenge conventions, tell new stories and redefine the status quo.

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You’re more likely to be motivated if you find your ‘why’. Photograph: Maskot/Getty Images

2 Find a mentor Mentors are a great way to avoid costly mistakes. Gain from others’ skills and experiences and use that to help you grow in business. They’ll be there when you need guidance, advice and help solving problems. But you don’t have to just have one mentor, and it doesn’t need to be a formal arrangement.

I’ve never had one formal mentor throughout the years, but instead a tribe of people along the way who have filled in the role of mentor depending on the specific challenge I was experiencing. I’ve had people such as advertising supremo Karen Blackett, broadcaster June Sarpong, business leader Ann Francke, and computer scientist Anne-Marie Imafidon offer great advice in my career. These relationships have been built over the years through the work I do, meeting them at events and reaching out over email.

The reality is successful people tend to be very busy people, so it’s often hard to pin them down for long chats and meetings. However, due to the growth of podcasting and digital platforms, it’s become easier to delve into the minds of the people I admire the most.

For an informal mentoring session, search the name of the person you admire on your podcasting platform and listen to all the interviews they’ve done. I especially like to do this for entrepreneurs, as it’s inspiring to hear how they’ve built their businesses, what motivated them and their plans for the future. They always drop helpful tips.

3 Leverage the power of digital The pandemic taught small and microbusiness owners many lessons about the importance of having an online presence. Because of the limited opportunities to meet people during lockdowns, many solely relied on digital means to sell and market their product.

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This is one of the biggest lessons fashion rental app By Rotation learned. Eshita Kabra-Davies started it as a side hustle in 2019 because she wanted to build an inclusive community that democratises fashion and doesn’t harm the planet. It’s now one of the largest fashion rental platforms in the UK with a social media following of about 100k, which was gained predominantly during the pandemic. It has more than 45,000 active users and more than 1.5m listing views on the app. It capitalised on the pandemic and started to use social media to build a community. It’s become a standard playbook of how to leverage digital when you don’t have big marketing budgets and it’s an advantage small businesses have over the big ones, as they can be much more agile in their activity.

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4 Be adaptable and open to changeAny entrepreneur wants the initial stages of their business to run as smoothly as possible, but as the pandemic has illustrated, being able to adapt and be open to change is essential for survival. Many businesses had to pivot at a moment’s notice, so be prepared to be agile. Having an open mindset that things could change will stand you in good stead for whatever is to come.

It’s been amazing to watch the Black Young Professionals (BYP) Network app grow over the past few years. Described by many as “LinkedIn for black professionals”​, it helps to connect ambitious future leaders with each other for networking purposes and with corporations for job opportunities. Founded by entrepreneur Kike Oniwinde, the business is a lesson in seizing every opportunity as it now offers events, coaching, recruitment and social outreach.

5 Do your researchA recent US study found that up to 82% of small businesses that failed within five years did so because of a lack of understanding about cashflow. So, if you want to build a business, knowing how much things will cost, your expenses and profit margins, is the difference between a successful and unsuccessful business. The more you know, the more in control you will be about how to drive your business forward, or if unexpected costs arise. You may need some funding to get it off the ground, so before committing your money to anything, pull up a spreadsheet and do the research on how much you’ll realistically need. There is a lot of funding and free support available, so explore the options and see what help you can get to bring your idea to life.

Discover the tools, training and support Google provides to help businesses across Britain grow at grow.google/intl/uk

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