11 things I’ve learned from my first year in business

Guest article by Debbie Gallacher,
Owner of Love Your Planet

My name is Debbie Gallacher and I own and manage Love Your Planet in Broughty Ferry. Love Your Planet is a zero-waste shop where customers can bring in their containers or use paper bags provided and fill up on a large selection of dry goods such as flour, grains, cereals, dried fruit, herbs, spices and more. 

We also have a selection of household detergents to fill up on including washing up liquid and laundry detergent.

We also have a website, which I built myself, where customers can shop online for click and collect or delivery. This has been very popular in the current situation.

I left my job with Henderson Loggie just over a year ago and opened the shop 2 weeks later. However, the start of the journey was early January 2019 when I had the idea for the shop. So in total, it took me 9 months from initial idea to the shop opening. In this article, I am going to cover some of the lessons I’ve learned during my first year as a start-up business owner.

1. You have an idea for a new business venture, great! Now what?

I made a step-by-step plan. I needed funding to make the shop as fantastic as it is, so my first step was to prepare a business plan and projections, then apply for funding using these. Once the funding was approved I then began to seriously look for premises, whilst sourcing suppliers for goods to sell and equipment for in the shop. 

The thing I learned most about this process is it all takes time and patience.

I expected everything to fall into place easily and quickly, but this certainly wasn’t the case. 

There was a lot of hard work and lots of highs and lows. Projections take a lot of time to do properly, bank funding applications take time and you are not the only clients for solicitors or surveyors!

I think it’s important to understand this – not everyone is going to go at the same pace you want to, so you need to learn to be patient.

Although you also need to be persistent to chase what you what. I needed to do this to chase up a funding stream and to secure the premises I wanted. I think I pestered the landlord so much, he gave me the property just so I’d leave him alone!

2. Find out what help there is available.

I got help from lots of different sources – both formal and informal. One of the first people I contacted was Ann Kerr at Business Gateway who was a great help and Business Gateway have continued to be a source of help throughout my first year. I also got a lot of help from family, friends and colleagues. My advice would be to look for and accept all help offered – even if it is to help you paint your new premises, as every little helps!

3. You will have a few big decisions to make, so take your time to make these.

I was so desperate to open the shop I jumped at the first property I came across that I thought was suitable. In the end, that lease fell through and I was devastated at the time but it actually meant I am now in Broughty Ferry which I think is a way better move than being in town where the original premises were.

4. Use professionals when it comes to solicitors, surveyors and accountants.  

Advice early on from these professionals is definitely money well spent. It seems like a big expense at the time but it might save you money in the long term, especially when it comes to negotiating the lease of your premises, deciding the legal structure of your business, property surveys and getting accounting software advice.

5. Shop around for the best deals on your utilities, insurance and banking.

There are some great deals to be had so shop around. Be prepared to be bombarded with phone calls as soon as the details of the change of ownership for the lease becomes known to the utility providers. Because I was so busy working full time and working hard to get the shop open, I ended up being tied into a 4-year contract for my electricity, which wasn’t ideal and I wish I had shopped around.

Also, ensure your business insurance covers everything you need for your business – the insurance brokers really know their stuff so ask them for advice. The provider I use went through everything I had and even streamlined it for me as I didn’t need everything I thought I did.

6. Keep all paperwork and passwords somewhere safe.

You are issued this paperwork for a reason so keep it somewhere safe, you might not know you need it at the time but no doubt you will be asked for it at some point especially from your accountant when it comes to your year-end! In the early stages of starting and running your own business, you are dealing with so many different people and companies, it is important to keep track of who everyone is as well as your passwords, email addresses and policy and loan documents.

7. Keep on top of your paperwork.

File all invoices and bank statements at least monthly in folders on your computer but remember to take backups!

I am VAT registered and use Quickbooks, a cloud-based accounting software. I am lucky enough to be a Chartered Accountant, so I am fine with completing my accounting records. For my first VAT quarter, I didn’t do any preparation in advance, so it took me around two weeks to track down all my paperwork and emails with invoices to pull together my VAT return. I quickly learned that I needed to be more organised. I now save invoices as they come through (mainly by email) to a folder and add them to my software while I prepare my monthly bank reconciliation. 

It is still time-consuming but a lot less than when I left it all to build up! If you are not preparing your own accounts its important to keep all the paperwork organised to pass onto your accountant, so again do this at least once a month.

8. Listen to your customers!

I am really lucky to have such nice customers and they are always coming up with really good ideas for new products, or ideas for social media or your business in general. This happened to me with our very successful baking bags. A customer came in to weigh out all her ingredients for her Christmas cake and in the end, she said how amazing it was that everything was weighed out. There would be no food waste, no plastic packaging and I had saved her money! 

We launched the Christmas cake baking bag which was very successful and, now in our second year, they are already selling well. We also do a range of other bags, with the Chocolate brownie being the most popular. Ideas for new baking bags come from customers.

9. Understand your competition, but don’t obsess.

Keep an eye on what your competitors are doing through social media, however, don’t obsess about it. It’s important to see what they are doing but the most important thing you need to be focussed on is your business. If you make your business the best you can and run it the way you want to then it will be successful. You can’t change what your competition is doing but you can look to them for good stock ideas!

10. Enjoy what you do!

I think if you enjoy what you do then this will feed through your business and enhances your customer/client experience. I want every single one of my customers to feel special and enjoy shopping in my shop. 

We always offer to help them and give them some chat, which most customers enjoy. They look forward to coming into the shop to share what they have been up to or cooking.

11. Don’t underestimate how much hard work is involved.

I had visions of me opening the shop around 10am and leaving just after 5pm. This does not happen! Due to customer feedback, I increased the hours the shop was open. You end up being in early to fill stock, clean, make up orders, answer messages, order stock and prepare social media posts. When I do leave the shop I generally have things to do in the evening for the next day in the shop. We are closed on a Sunday but most weeks I am in on a Sunday with something needing to be done, even just for an hour or so!

But its all great fun and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Thank you very much for reading this and hopefully some of the things I’ve learned in business so far will help you on your start-up journey.

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If you would like to get in touch with Debbie directly about her start-up journey, please connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Visit the Love Your Planet website: loveyourplanet.uk