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Start up challenges (and how to overcome them)

Starting a business can feel like an exciting prospect, but it may suddenly feel daunting when it comes to taking the first step. From knowing where to get financial help and how to find out about an industry, to simply managing the day-to-day, starting a business isn’t without its challenges.

Luckily, our Start Up Loan ambassadors have been there and done that.

Faced with many of the same questions when they began their businesses, we asked them to share their challenges and – crucially – how they overcame them to bring their dreams to commercial reality. And the key to success? According to the International Journal of Business and Social ScienceOpens in new window, being proactive, confident and competitive – traits typical in entrepreneurs – may help you tackle many of the challenges that come your way.

Want to learn more about what it takes to launch a business?

Discover the personal aspects involved in starting a new business with our free Entrepreneurial behaviour courseOpens in new window. As part of our Learn with Start Up LoansOpens in new window partnership with The Open University, our online course is free to join, delivered by experts and includes a free statement of participation on completion.

Start-up challenges (and how to overcome them)

Challenge 1 – getting started

The first hurdle can sometimes be the hardest to overcome, and that’s getting your idea off the ground, taken seriously and understanding what customers need.

“One of the first challenges I encountered was finding information and knowing where to start in an industry that was unfamiliar to me. It’s quite challenging to make those connections and get going with things,” says Eleanor Howie, the founder of post-surgery underwear brand Valiant LingerieOpens in new window. “It took a lot of research and asking questions, and trying to do some networking, to get going and understand how to start in the industry.”

Sophie Rearden, co-founder of The Tide Climbing CentreOpens in new window in Cornwall, had experience in the leisure industry but still struggled with sparking initial interest in her business. “Our first challenge was getting people to believe in our idea early on. To overcome it, we just kept pushing; we kept our enthusiasm high.”

“I think the first challenge was that orders didn’t come to me as quickly as I thought they would,” adds Aoife Doherty, founder of the Cardiff-based sustainable stationery boutique FlorisOpens in new window. “When I started my business, I had it in my head as, ‘This is how many sales I want; this is where I want this to go.’ But that didn’t happen, and I think that’s when I had to take a step back.”

Challenge 2 – filling knowledge gaps

Caroline Potts, the founder of Ellison Gray BridalOpens in new window in Durham, didn’t let her lack of knowledge about the bridal industry stop her from setting up her business: “I spoke to industry professionals from the big bridal fairs. One was cancelled in March because of lockdown, so I reached out to some speakers. They gave me the time they would have given me at the events, which was invaluable because I had a big list of questions.”

This proactive approach allowed Caroline to hone her skills, helping to build her confidence: “What’s important is to acknowledge and accept your limitations,” she says.

Eleanor agrees: “I think it’s OK to ask yourself, ‘Where do I have gaps in my knowledge?’. Networking helped, and when I had my Start Up Loan that I took out via Virgin, they offered various business courses.”

A lack of knowledge needn’t stop you from taking the first step, says Aoife: “You always learn the most from just doing it. You can study as much as you want, but you’re never going learn as much as if you give it a go.”

Challenge 3 – creating a sustainable start-up

In the wake of COP26Opens in new window, some businesses are rethinking their approach to sustainability and prioritising eco-friendly business goals and commitments.

“Sustainability can, and should, be an integral part of your design thinking, but that’s not always easy,” says Eleanor, who uses recyclable materials in her designs. “It sometimes feels like a lot of the burden does fall on smaller businesses because we can make changes more easily. Having these conversations is a really important step in understanding where we are now and where we might need to be in the future.”

But as Aoife points out: “Anyone who runs a sustainable business wants more sustainable businesses around because we have a shared goal of trying to make the world a better place for everyone.”

However, these actions may have to wait due to factors such as financing and capacity, as co-founders Lamar and Reece of Northampton-based iPhone mobile repairs company 21st Century RepairsOpens in new window found: “Eventually we’ll go electric with our vans to do our bit for the environment. It’s definitely on the cards in the future.”

Challenge 4 – being too close to your start-up

It can be easy when launching a start-up to develop tunnel vision. This may make it challenging to identify flaws or issues in your business plan, which is why an outsider’s perspective can be invaluable.

“Perspective is great. There’s nothing better than someone not understanding what you’re doing completely and then getting on board with you,” says Sophie.

While it’s understandable to feel protective over your ideas, you may not always be the best judge of your work. “Don’t dismiss any feedback,” Sophie advises. “Taking constructive feedback and re-evaluating what you’re trying to do is crucial. If you’re given valuable info, adapting your plan to that is only going to make you more successful.”

Eleanor has some sound advice when the feedback isn’t what you’d hoped it would be: “Let yourself have some space to feel disheartened, but don’t let it take over. Have a wallow, then pick yourself up and dust yourself off.”

Challenge 5 – adapting to change

Many businesses face unexpected challenges, with the past two years providing an object lesson in adapting to change thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. While Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on some businesses, others have adapted to innovate or reach new markets.

“Innovation is very important. You’ve always got to take an opportunity when it comes,” say Lamar and Reece, who used their time during lockdown to re-evaluate 21st Century Repairs’ business plan.

In doing so, they’ve become more confident in their business and feel better prepared for whatever comes next. “You’ve got to be passionate and sure about what you’re doing because then you have less of the uncertainty in mind.”

For Aoife, lockdown provided her with the chance to rethink her brand awareness strategy and try something new, like selling at outdoor markets. “You have to give everything a go. For me, the first year was a lot of testing to see what’s good, what’s not good. If you can take those risks and try something different, you’ll come out much better.”

The Covid-19 pandemic may have discouraged many from starting their business journeys, but not Caroline, who opened her boutique in September 2021. “You’ve got to be cautious, but don’t let that crush your dreams. If you believe in yourself and go for it, you will be successful” she says.

Challenge 6 – financial support

Funding can be a challenge when setting up a business.

Having been unsuccessful in getting a bank loan, Sophie and her business partner discovered Start Up Loans: “Luckily, Start Up Loans saw us in a completely different way to how banks look at you. They see us more as individuals, and see our experience, rather than whether we had owned a company before and if we ticked all the right boxes.”

Even with some business education, Aoife was still unsure about what support options were on offer to her to launch Floris. She was encouraged to research government funding and found the right path through the Welsh government.

“As soon as I went on Business Wales, it took me to the British Business Bank and Start Up Loans websites. I did a little reading and thought, ‘Yeah, this is what I need.'”

Learn with Start Up Loans and help your business get off the ground

Thinking of starting a business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with The Open University on being an entrepreneur. Our free Learn with Start Up Loans coursesOpens in new window include:

Plus free courses on finance and accounting, career and leadership, marketing and commercial awareness.

This article and the content provided therein is exclusively for informative purposes. Nothing in this article or in its contents is intended to provide advice of any kind (including legal, financial, tax or other professional advice) and should not be relied on as such. You should get professional or specialist advice before doing anything on the basis of the content contained in this article.

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