5 common mistakes by new small business owners

For years, startups and small business owners have come to us to help them manage their accounts.

Over that time, we’ve learned a lot about the issues that catch people out.

In this post, we’ll look at the 5 most common problems we see day-to-day, and how your small business can avoid them:

  1. Not preparing or planning
  2. Not paying attention to paperwork
  3. Not considering the business structure
  4. Not separating business from personal finances
  5. Not asking for help

Common mistake 1: not preparing or planning

Before you start trading, it’s important to get a solid business plan in place. This starts with asking yourself some basic questions about your business:

  • Does anyone need your product or service offering?
  • Is your business likely to be sustainable?
  • What is the value of your product or service?
  • How much will others be willing to pay for it?
  • How much will it cost for you to deliver the product or service?
  • What investment might be needed?
  • Will you need to borrow to get started?
  • How will you fund your business?
  • Will you need external help to deliver the product or service?
  • How will you market your business (via a website, social media or other routes)?

We often find that many new startups haven’t thought about these questions in detail. But the better prepared they are, the more likely they are to develop a sustainable, profitable business.

When we talk to our clients, we get them thinking about these and other questions to help give them the best chance to succeed.


Common mistake 2: not paying attention to paperwork

We know that managing your records isn’t the reason you got into business. That’s why there are people like us in the world – to help with the boring tasks while you get on with the interesting stuff.

But whether you get accountancy help or not, you still need to keep good records.

Business owners often make the common mistake of operating their business by looking at their bank account instead of maintaining proper records.

This can mean missing vital financial milestones such as when income reaches the threshold for mandatory VAT registration. Get this sort of thing wrong and you may be fined.

Keeping the right records means you’ll be best placed to pay the right amount of tax at the end of each year, while sidestepping fines and avoiding unnecessary scrutiny from HMRC.

On top of keeping financial paperwork, don’t forget the documentation that’s directly relevant to your products and services. For example, do you have terms and conditions? Are they up to date and compliant with current legislation (such as GDPR and VAT MOSS)?

There are also other related documents to keep up to date, such as refund policies and warranties.

Consider such issues upfront rather than waiting until after the fact. The last thing you want is a customer complaint to make you realise that you’re missing an essential document or process.

Don’t forget the other paperwork-type considerations, such as organising the right type of insurance and securing the protection of any relevant intellectual property. While we don’t specialise in such matters, we’re always able to make referrals to good service providers who can help.


Common mistake 3: not considering the business structure

It’s common to assume that going into business means being either a sole trader or a limited company. But it’s not quite that simple.

In fact, there are 5 possible structures for any business:

  • Sole Trader
  • Partnership
  • Limited Liability Partnership
  • Limited Company
  • Community Interest Company (social good, not for profit)

Your options depend on whether you’re working solo or in a business with others, but there’s more to it than that.

For example, you need to consider who your customers are. You might need to set up as a limited company in order to work with certain other companies. Consider also who your customers trade with.

Another common mistake in this area happens when new business owners go into business with friends. Have you considered what would happen if your professional or personal relationship were to go wrong? It’s risky to assume that things will never change. They can and they often do, so be prepared.  

To set up your business for success, put clear contracts in place and agree on the constitution of your business entity from the outset.


Common mistake 4: not separating business from personal finances

It’s essential to follow the golden rule for expenses: claim only for the expenses that are wholly, exclusively and necessary during the everyday running of your business.

There can be grey areas for expenses that relate to items that are used for business and non-business purposes. The most common examples are smartphones, tablets and laptops.

We’ve written another article that goes into the topic of expenses. Take a look at Startup expenses: what you can and can’t claim for the details.


Common mistake 5: not asking for help

It’s natural to wear lots of hats when you’re getting a new small business or startup off the ground. But there aren’t any medals for doing everything alone, and this approach can sometimes lead to early burnout.

Often, it’s best to hand the tasks that you’re not an expert in, to someone who could get it done faster, better or cheaper than you could do it yourself.

In the case of accounts, you could start by using cloud accounting software such as QuickBooks or Xero. These tools quickly simplify the task of keeping your financial records in order.

If you want further help with managing your money, an accountant could make a difference. Not only would they make sure you pay only what you owe but they would also help you free up more time to do the higher-value work needed to help your business grow.


Let’s sum up

Those were the 5 most common issues we see startups and small businesses struggle with.

If you need a hand avoiding these and other problems so that you can focus on earning more money in your business, get in touch and let’s have a chat.

MHA Henderson Loggie help oil & gas services business Alba Gaskets achieve successful MBO

Aberdeen-headquartered oil and gas integrity specialist Alba Gaskets has successfully completed a management buy-out (MBO), with the help of our corporate finance team.


MHA Henderson Loggie in Aberdeen has been working closely with the company, which manufactures gaskets for the oil and gas industry, over the past 18months in preparation for the deal, providing strategic advice as well as raising the funding required to deliver the transaction. 


Ian McDonald, Senior Manager – Corporate Finance, said: “Alba Gaskets has done exceptionally well to protect and indeed grow its position during the recent downturn and it is because of the clear opportunity that Gavin and Sigfrid now feel exists within the business to take it forward, that we were able to raise the funding required. 


“I have no doubt that Alba Gaskets will push on from here and continue to be an integral part of the supply chain both in the UK and abroad.  I very much look forward to working with the team going forward and wish them all the very best.”


Managing director, Gavin Sim and director, Sigfrid Ruz, will head up the new management structure.


Mr Sim is one of the business’ founders and has more than 21 years’ technical and management experience in the gasket sector. He said:


“The support and advice Sigfrid and I received from MHA Henderson Loggie was integral to getting the deal over the line. We are tremendously confident in the opportunity we have in front of us at Alba Gaskets and the relationship we have developed with MHA Henderson Loggie I have no doubt will aid in the delivery of this. Thanks to both Ian McDonald and Rod Mathers we felt we were as prepared as we could be for the deal closing and look forward to working with them in the coming years.


“With the new structure in place, we look forward to building upon the excellent relationships we have with our existing client base, developing products to meet their specific challenges, while also bringing new products to the market through our in-house manufacturing capability.


“The oil and gas industry has obviously faced some challenges over recent years, but we really feel like the business is in an exciting place and are already seeing increased opportunities both in the North Sea and internationally. We have a highly skilled team with a wealth of industry experience and look forward to building upon those capabilities going forward.”


The company, which manufactures gaskets for the oil and gas industry, made the announcement during a visit to its Altens premises by Scottish Trade Minister Ivan McKee MSP.


Mr McKee said: “It’s great to see businesses like Alba Gaskets demonstrating such innovation and ambition in the offshore sector.


“Scotland has such a fantastic track record when it comes to trading, both in the UK and overseas.


“The oil and gas sector is a key component of our economy and remains integral to a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition.


“I wish Gavin, Sigfrid and the team all the very best as they look ahead to this next chapter for the company.”


Funding to assist the deal was structured by MHA Henderson Loggie and provided by Barclays Bank. More information about the company can be found by visiting www.albagaskets.com

Where can I get funding for my startup business?

You have a great idea for a product or service that’s going to bring some value into the world. But you know you need money to help get your startup idea off the ground. Where do you look and how does this work in practice?

In this post, we’ll see how your startup can get funded.


What do I need to supply to get startup funding?

Because your new business has no background or credit history of its own, it’s essential that you put together a solid business plan that sets out the problem your business is going to solve and how you’re going to do it.

Potential investors will want to know how much money you need, how you intend to use it and how you can give them a return on their investment. You’ll increase the chances of an investor opening their wallet to you by clearly expressing:

  • why the investor should invest in you, and
  • what the investor will get out of it.

As the saying goes, “people invest in people”. Even though your plans should include figures to show that your business case that stacks up, your potential investors also need to build trust in you and your team. Investors will want to hear your clear take on the problem your business solves and why you came up with your idea. You and the plan both need to be credible.

Investors need to feel confident that their investment is going to be repaid, so paint a picture of a sales/exit strategy that benefits everyone involved.

All of this may seem unfamiliar territory. After all, you might be trying to build an app, create a popup restaurant or imagine some other new product or service. Your skills lie in doing that thing, not in writing business plans or considering finance options and exit strategies.

Rather than muddling your way through in the hope of convincing an investor to part with their cash, it’s often wise to seek help when putting together the plans for your startup.

We’re used to talking with startups and positioning their new businesses in a way that appeals to potential investors. We can make introductions to relevant finance providers and industry contacts. Get in touch if you need a hand.


Before you look for investment

Aside from building a solid business plan, what else should you do to give your startup the best chance of receiving funding?

Our best advice is to do as much as possible by using your own personal funds. That might also involve borrowing from family and friends. It’s never easy to ask for money, but this is a more realistic early route than approaching a bank and expecting them to support a new business with no credit history.

Self-funding, including earnings from work you do in separate jobs, will show investors your commitment to your idea. After all, why should they take a chance on you unless you’ve shown the willingness to take a risk first?

Those early funds can also be crucial in helping you build a prototype of your idea. If you can create something to show to potential investors, that will be far more convincing than an idea on paper.

If your plan is to sell a physical product, could you get a model built? If it’s an app, could you make a video showing what it might do? If you’re creating a restaurant, could you develop a menu and some sample dishes?

There’s another important point to consider while you’re getting ready to pitch your idea to the world. The last thing you want is to share your plan before you’ve protected your intellectual property (IP) and investigated any relevant copyright issues.

Failing to do this means that your idea could be used without you getting any of the credit. Take the necessary steps to protect your startup before seeking investment or go to market.


Where can startups look for investment?

Let’s say you’ve developed your business plan and have put your own funds into getting some form of prototype ready.

Having reached the limits of what you can do by yourself, you now want to secure some funding to grow your startup business. Here are some routes to investigate.

Business Gateway

Business Gateway is known for offering courses on how to get started and improve your business.

It can act as a stepping stone to accessing funds to help your startup. Though you won’t receive any money directly from Business Gateway, you can make connections with relevant organisations who may be able to help with investment.

For example, promising new companies in Scotland may pass through Business Gateway and be referred to Scottish Enterprise, who in turn can help with access to government-backed grants.

Business Gateway can also advise you about research and development grants and other routes to access funds to support your startup.

European funding

Startups can benefit from loans of up to £25,000 via the Scottish Growth Scheme, a £500 million package of financial support for Scottish businesses from the Scottish Government and the European Regional Development Fund. This fund isn’t tied to the UK’s status as a member of the EU (in other words, it’s not affected by Brexit).

At MHA Henderson Loggie, we’ve successfully helped clients raise debt finance through Business Loans Scotland (https://www.bls.scot/), but these funds can also be accessed through:

  • DSL Business Finance Ltd
  • Business & Enterprise Scotland Ltd
  • Techstart Ventures
  • Foresight Group

As you might expect, accessing funds like this isn’t just a simple case of filling in a form, so it’s best to talk to a competent professional partner who can help. We make introductions like this for many of our startup clients, so get in touch if you’d like to discuss this further.

Debt funding of up to £100,000 is available for more established businesses, so these loans aren’t just for startups.

Business angels

Most of the business angel networks in Scotland will be registered with LINC, the Scottish Angel Capital Association, and details of their investment preferences and appetites can be found on the LINC website (https://lincscot.co.uk/). Look up the “business angels” who are interested in your field. They have their own websites that allow you to submit your plans.

Such submissions generally go to a gatekeeper who then filters the applications and proposes the most relevant and interesting plans at the angel investor meetings. Your plan needs to be attractive enough to survive the selection process and be offered up in front of the investors.  It can help to have talked to one or more of the angels directly in advance and have them champion your plan. Meetings might take place every few weeks or months, so you may need to be patient. In most cases, significant investments are unlikely to be arranged quickly.

Business introductions

Your accountants are likely to have their own network of high-net worth individuals. In our case, we often make introductions between our startup clients and our network of clients who have expressed an interest in making such investments.

To give our startup clients the best chance of securing the funding they need, we help them brush up their business plans to make them “investor ready” before passing them on to their potential future business partners.

Also, our network includes bankers, lawyers and other professional service providers, so we can often make introductions that help startups with the other tasks associated with doing business.


Does my UK location affect my potential for startup funding?

Your location usually isn’t relevant to whether you can secure funding for your startup.

However, when it comes to local authority-backed grants, the funding process can differ a little across the UK.

Regional Selective Assistance grants, for example, depend on your postcode. In areas with low employment, Scottish Enterprise may offer a grant based on your business employing staff. The extent of such a grant depends on the area you’re in and number of employees you take on.

Schemes like this are based on your business making a financial outlay and then recouping some of your costs – so you still need the funds to spend in the first instance.


How true is the Dragons’ Den version of startup funding?

The good news is that the reality of dealing with investors is less adversarial than what we see on TV. What works on an entertainment show doesn’t always reflect the truth of business.

If you meet with a potential investor, it’s safe to say that they’re already interested in working with you. The difficult part is getting them into the room to begin with.

So, the challenge is to get on their radar. Getting a startup funding deal over the line is more about good research and preparation than it is about a face-to-face battle of wits.


How are startup funds paid?

Even if you’ve made a winning case, remember that any investors in your startup will need a legal agreement before a penny is exchanged.

Your business plan should include details on what you’re offering to investors and this will form the basis of negotiations over the investment structure such as how many shares their money gets them and how many seats they’ll occupy on your board.

With this information clear, agreed and legally binding, your investors will deposit money into your business bank account. Remember that there should be no doubt about what the money will be used for and how long it’s expected to last.

Investors don’t want surprises. Do everything you can to uphold your side of the agreement.


Let’s sum up

Running a startup isn’t easy and neither is securing funding to help it grow.

Potential investors need convincing before they loosen their purse strings. Our best advice is to build a robust business plan that stands up to their close inspection.

Start small and do what you can with your own funds first, including creating a prototype of your product or service to build your credibility and help give investors confidence in your work.

Be clear on what problem you’re going to fix and let the investors buy into you as much as they do the business itself. Approach Business Gateway and look for business angels who can make referrals to the right groups, and keep in mind that some startups may be able to access government-backed grants.

Finally, speak with the people who can put your plans in order and give you the best chance of connecting with the investors who can help make your startup a success.

To chat with us about how we help connect our startup clients with potential investors, get in touch now.


David Smith

David Smith is the Managing Partner of Henderson Loggie. As the firm’s business leader, David works closely with his fellow Partners and staff, supporting their delivery of services to meet clients’ needs across a range of sectors.

Driving growth and facilitating the implementation of the firm’s development strategy is a key role as Managing Partner, but David has also established a reputation as a respected advisor in the Professional Practice and the Healthcare sectors, amongst others.

David helps clients develop their businesses through Business Improvement Services, specifically strategic planning, sustainable competitive advantage, family business issues, leadership development, personal development, and lean management.

David also specialises in Corporate Finance, specifically investor readiness, business planning, financial modelling, fundraising, assistance with grant claims, company valuation, buying and selling businesses.

In addition, David is a Non-Executive Director for J&D Wilkie Limited, a privately owned global textile manufacturing company, and Henderson Loggie Financial Services Limited.

Greig Rowand

Greig has specialised in corporate finance and forensic accounting for over 25 years with senior positions within a Big 4 firm and then a specialist niche practice prior to joining Henderson Loggie in 2003.

He leads the forensic accounting team working with litigation lawyers and Counsel on all aspects of civil litigation and fraud related criminal proceedings where expert accounting input is required. He has given expert witness evidence in the Sheriff Court, High Court and Court of Session on complex and disputed financial matters.

Greig is a member of the corporate finance team taking business transactions from initiation to completion and focuses upon advising owner managed businesses on mergers and acquisitions, disposals, valuations and fund raising as well as reporting to banks, equity providers and acquisitive clients on financial due diligence investigations.

Greig is also a member of the Firm’s Professional Practice and Energy Sector Groups.

Stephen Bain

Stephen is Finance & IT Partner at MHA Henderson Loggie and is responsible for accounting and tax requirements for a wide variety of SME businesses.

He is head of our Games & Digital Sector group, with a particular focus on start-up games companies.

Stephen specialises in Accounting Systems, using technology to ensure that businesses receive good quality Management Information.

He has acted as non-executive or interim Finance Director for a number of businesses and is vastly experienced in equivalent type roles.

Rod Mathers

Rod is a respected figure in the Scottish financial services market with over twenty years corporate finance experience gained in both the professional services market and industry. He was previously a senior member of a big 4 firm and partner of a large independent firm where he established the firm’s corporate finance and Central Belt practice.

He has also held a number of senior executive positions in industry where he has executed a number of transactions on behalf of an investment syndicate and as principal in the UK and Australia.

Rod’s focus is on lead advisory assignments for clients, whether they are looking to grow by merger or acquisition, to secure additional bank or private equity funding or to realise an exit or succession plan. Rod also has extensive experience of working with companies going through a turnaround or restructuring phase and can advise on working capital and stakeholder management.

He has experience in a range of sectors including engineering services, manufacturing, energy, food & drink and life sciences and has an advanced diploma in Corporate Finance.

Alisdair McNaughton

Following training in both the UK and Ireland, Alisdair qualified as a Certified Accountant in 2006 and worked with Henderson Loggie as an Audit Senior. In 2009 he moved into industry to develop his commercial experience and has held finance roles in both the media and banking industries including financial systems project roles and management reporting.

Alisdair returned to Henderson Loggie in 2015 and his focus is managing Corporate Finance clients, including those seeking growth by merger or acquisition, securing additional bank or private equity funding and realising exit or succession plans.

Peter Graham

Peter has specialised in forensic accounting for over 20 years with senior positions within a Big 4 firm and a specialist practice prior to joining Henderson Loggie in 2017.

He has extensive fraud and accounting black hole investigation experience.  He has also done much work in the area of anti-money laundering compliance across the UK and Europe.

Peter is a well-known forensic accountant in all areas of civil litigation from valuation of assets to quantification of losses and also criminal proceedings. He has extensive experience of being an expert and giving expert evidence.

He has a wide experience of many industry sectors from financial services to farming and manufacturing to professional services and hospitality.

Peter is also a charity trustee and is a member of the firm’s charity sector group.

Where can I get funding to start my own games studio?

Are you thinking about starting your own games studio but are unsure about the types of funding that is available to you?

In this short video Alisdair McNaughton, Corporate Finance Manager here at MHA Henderson Loggie shares with you some of the routes that you could take to help get your games studio off the ground.

Covered in this video:

► The types of funding available to you
► Competitions & Grants
► Other sources of finance


*Edited video transcript*

A number of people of asked me, where do I get funding to start building my own computer games. Well, we’ve helped a number of computer game companies over the years, and this is great, this is the start of the process. But unfortunately, there’s no magic wand. There’s nobody giving out free money. In fact, a lot of the traditional lenders are unwilling to lend because there’s nothing physical to secure against. But there are options, there’s things that you can do.


How can I get help with funding?

Do you have any of your own money? Savings or borrowings? Do you have family or friends that you could ask to lend or invest? Can you get a job and work, full time or part time, to supplement the income? Can you do contract work, and keep that work in a similar sort of field?


Competitions & Grants

There are competitions and grants out there, such as Scottish Edge, UK Games Fund, or Innovate UK. Great sources of funding, but competition for these tends to be fierce, and there’s a lot of admin hoops to jump through. The key, particularly at the start, is to keep the costs down as low as you can. Do as much of the work as you can yourself. If there’s a skills gap, something you can’t do yourself, do you know somebody who’s willing to join the team at the start and bridge that gap for you?


Other sources of finance

As your games and your reputation grows, other sources of finance will open up to you. You might find the Sources of Finance for UK Games Companies report, published by TIGA last year, useful. It has examples of funders and people that have been through the funding process. It’s hard work, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There are funding options available to you.


Any questions about funding?

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us via the form below.

The information is this video is of a general nature and seeks to highlight some of the issues which could be affecting you and/or your business, including changes to financial regulation and legislation. Viewers should not rely on this information without seeking professional advice on its application in their circumstances.