BBC News

Top business tips for 2015

By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News

image copyrightThinkstock

As one calendar year draws to a close, and another is set to be begin, many business leaders are thinking about their challenges for the next 12 months.

They are weighing up any number of potential choices and factors; from expansion plans, to new products, whether to change suppliers, and how everything fits into the economic backdrop.

It is the time of year when forward planning comes to the forefront of people's minds.

Here, 10 business leaders profiled in 2014 for the BBC's The Boss slot, share their top tips on running or setting up a company in 2015.

James Watt, co-founder of Scottish beer firm Brewdog

image copyrightBrewdog

Work like a demon, work stupid, stupid hours. So make sure you are enjoying yourself. Running your business shouldn't feel like work, it should feel like a hobby. This is what sustains you if things are ever difficult.

And only employ amazing people. You need to get the most out of your staff, so don't employ anyone you aren't sure about.

Don't be scared to take risks [in growing your business], as the biggest risk to your company is when you stop.

Yet at the same time, you need to be forensic with your finances. This is something that a lot of small firms don't pay enough attention to, and therefore risk failing. It isn't the fun or sexy part of running a company, but it is vital, and you need to be clued up about it.

Rob Baines, co-founder of frozen yoghurt chain Snog

Never spend more than you are making, and invite friends into your business life with caution. When I started my first chain of coffee bars, I went from selling coffee from a little cart in Hammersmith bus station to being granted permission to trade within three locations at Westminster Abbey.

My business sky rocketed overnight, with many £1,000s crossing over the counters each day. Based on the success of Westminster, St Pauls invited me to replicate operations there.

Many people I know came out of the woodwork for jobs, cars, bonuses, work dinners at five star restaurants, and holiday trips, etc. Very quickly I went from being cash rich to owing suppliers and the VAT man unmanageable amounts, generating severe cash-flow problems.

Fortunately, I managed to restructure the business, get rid of the people who perhaps did not have my best interests at heart, and continued trading. I still ended up being the bad guy, and lost most of the "friendships", even though I never did draw a salary the whole time.

Danae Ringelmann, crowdfunding website Indiegogo

image copyrightIndiegogo

As Gandhi once said, "be the change you want to see in the world". I whole-heartedly agree.

As a leader, I believe actions speak far louder than words. People follow what they see, not hear.

So whether it's greater workforce diversity, faster innovation, or more accountability, change starts with you.

Paul Lindley, founder, Ella's Kitchen

As an entrepreneur, the people you work with both inside and outside your organisation will help shape and influence your actions.

The Ella's team has been inspirational, and crucial to our success, but I am also fortunate to have forged a great personal friendship with Neil Grimmer, co-founder and chief executive at Plum Organics - one of our main US competitors.

Our friendship has been borne out of a shared respect and vision to help babies and young kids be healthier.

My tip for any entrepreneur would be to inspire your team with purpose and leadership and to foster strong working relationships with those beyond your own organisation. Collaboration is key for achieving success with a more purpose driven and socially responsible business.

Angus Thirlwell, founder of Hotel Chocolat

How your customers view your business is the only view that counts. I always find it useful to try to zone out from my usual view to obtain this perspective. It seems to be a easiest when on a long haul flight.

When you have good people with you, anything is possible. Most of the regrets I have in business are around the theme of keeping the wrong people on for too long.

It's the honest thing to do on both sides to tackle the issue as soon as you know it is there. When you get the right person, it's such a fresh breath of air.

Sophi Tranchell, managing director of Divine Chocolate

image copyrightRichard Nicholson

My top tip for anyone running a new business, or thinking of starting one, is to utilise all the support and advice available.

As the UK Social Enterprise of the Year, Divine Chocolate couldn't have got to where it is today without consulting with specialists, and training staff to prepare for the challenges each year holds.

I suggest planning what you want to achieve within the next year, and work out what external support and internal skills are needed to get you there.

My first port of call is the government's Business is Great Britain website. This provides insight from other small business owners, and highlights the variety of support that the government can offer.

Charles Rolls, chairman of soft drinks firm Fever Tree

image copyrightFeverTree

My advice is directed to any owner of a successful small firm who is thinking of selling up. What I would say is, stay with a good business.

I understand that it may be tempting for an entrepreneur to take an early offer for all the company, to bank the cash, and unwind from what may have been uncomfortable levels of financial risk and stress.

Yet, if it is a good business, and one potential buyer sees value in the company, then there may be ways to stay with it, releasing some cash while still keeping a significant stake in the future of the business.

Nick Hungerford, founder of investment company Nutmeg

Any business should go back to basics. Don't over-complicate, and instead think about what your customers genuinely need. What will make their lives easier, richer and more convenient?

When it comes to assembling your team, create one that is built for the future. The better your team you have, the more likely your business will exceed its objectives. So take maximum care when hiring, and don't be afraid to double and triple check references.

For your business to grow, trust is essential. Be open and honest about your business and team weaknesses. Trust your employees and customers. And accept feedback, even if the feedback hurts your feelings, as it can be a positive chance to improve.

And finally, don't fool yourself that as the owner or boss that you can do everything. Even if you desperately want to make all the decisions, allow those who are specialists to guide you. Sometimes you have to learn to let go.

Simon Woodruffe, founder of restaurant group Yo! Sushi

If you dream of setting up a business, then do it. I have never met the person who went out to do what they really dreamed of, and then regretted it, regardless of whether they later succeeded or failed.

But I have met many people in later life who wished they had taken more risks to follow their dreams.

In running a business, figure out what you are good at, and what you are not good at. Then spend 90% of your time doing what you are good at.

And be willing to fail - only by putting yourself on the line can you achieve success.

When picking your team, work with people you like, and give them massive respect. Finally - as a general rule, reduce the number of meetings you take.

Edwina Dunn, chief executive of social media firm Starcount

image copyrightMARK MACKENZIE

The key for any small business is to keep your original big idea front of mind. It's so easy to be distracted and take an easier or low-risk route.

Throughout the journey, people will offer their insights and tell you what they think your business should be.

Of course, it's important to be opportunistic, adaptive and to take on board good advice. But it's easy to be diverted and your proposition diluted.

Maintaining your passion and vision through all the ups and downs will take courage and stamina.

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