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The University of Southampton
Careers, Employability and Student Enterprise

Start-up Support

If you're considering setting up your own business these tips could be invaluable to get you on a path to success.

We offer support to help turn your idea into a business.
Business Planning

Self-employment is a growth area of the economy and is something that many people want to do at some point in their career, even if not immediately after graduation.

Factors to consider:

Many small businesses do not survive the first two years so you need to be confident that your ideas are marketable and that you have the business skills and backing. Your income may be more irregular, especially in the short term, and you will probably have to work long hours.

Skills needed:

You will need to be totally committed, energetic, dedicated and prepared to struggle financially. You have to have a high level of time management, planning and communication skills. You should be able to keep methodical records. You also need self-belief/confidence and have, or be able to develop, excellent networking skills.

It is easy to make a judgment about someone else's business idea, but so often coming up with your own idea isn't as simple.

A good way to start thinking about business ideas is by learning from other people, so attending events and sessions, like those run by the Fish on Toast, is a good start.

If you already have an idea, the first step is to understand whether there is a market for your product or service. This process includes:

  1. Understanding if there are people or businesses that will buy your service or product. Considering who your competitors will be.
  2. Considering whether you will need start-up capital to start your business.
  3. Setting yourself goals on making your start-up a success.

If you want a quick view of what a business plan would look like, then GOV.UK provides comprehensive information and examples that will walk you through the process of creating a business plan.

There are four main types of legal set-ups for any business:

  1. Self-Employed Sole Trader/Partnership - The easiest way to set up a business as there is little registration required.
  2. Limited Company - All limited companies need to be registered through Companies House, which will incur a charge. Limited companies offer enhanced legal security to an individual and greater tax breaks, but require a great deal of organisation and structure to run.
  3. Social Enterprise - A social enterprise is the same set-up as a limited company, however the business must be based on addressing a social need (such as making a local community safe) and define how the business itself will address this need.
  4. Co-operative - A co-operative set-up must meet the mutual needs of the members, who each own an equal share of the business. This will suit community businesses and mutual interest groups. To find out more, visit the International Cooperative Alliance.

Once you know the type of company you want to set up, you then need to decide what name to trade under and how to register the name. Below is a rough guide to ways in which you can register a name:

  1. Sole Trader/Partnership Name - A sole trader or partnership company can generally trade under their own name or choose a name that isn't being used by an existing company.
  2. Limited Company - Any name registered as a limited company must be done so through Companies House and adhere to their rules or sensitivity and similarity to other names.
  3. Trademark - To register a trademark, you must apply through the Intellectual Property Office, ensuring you choose a name that doesn't already exist and outline your core product and services. This can be time consuming and costly so make sure it's the right decision for your business.

So you have a great idea, but aren't too sure how much you can actually disclose? Although not comprehensive, here are a few tips on how to take your idea forward:

  • Don't get too paranoid - it is sensible to be wary, but no one is going to be able to help you if you won't talk about your idea.
  • Talk about the benefits - don't go into intricate details on how your product or service will work, rather focus on the benefit this will have on the end user. For example, if you've created a portable power device for small appliances, talk about how a person can use this and why it's better or different from anything already on the market.

Get a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in place - if a company, manufacturer or potential investor wants to know more about your product or service, it is beneficial to have an NDA in place. This WILL NOT provide complete protection from them using your idea, but it will provide some evidence of you discussing your idea with them.

Don't shout too loud - free publicity can be a tempting way to promote your idea, but be wary about the repercussion of making your idea public. If ever you want to patent or register a design, you will need to ensure your idea has not been in the public domain before, so any public viewing is a bad idea if you require legal protection in the future.

To find out more about patents, trademarks, designs and copyright, visit the IPO website.

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