3 tips for starting up a new business during COVID-19

Article by Dr Harveen Chugh, a senior teaching fellow in entrepreneurship at Imperial College Business School.

Startup Smarts: Getting your business rolling on a budgetIn the midst of a global pandemic, many of us have been presented with the gift of newly found time such as the hour saved getting ready for work every day and the hour’s commute to work each way.

We are finally finding time for the things we were too busy for before, like baking, mediation or gardening. When I meet new people and they learn what I do, they often say ‘I’ve always thought about starting up my own business, but I don’t have the time,’ or ‘I’d love to start my own business, but I’m not quite sure what to do.’ Well now you have a little more time, here are my top three tips to help you get started:

  • Search for the opportunity – in just a short space of time, consumer needs have changed dramatically. Aside from ‘toilet-paper-gate’, we have seen the sales of many products rise since the start of COVID-19 such as leisurewear, baking goods and gaming. While many of these needs may already be met in the market, it’s possible that some niches are being overlooked. There may be items that you could be making at home, sourcing locally or online, or meeting a service need. To find out what the needs may be, there are a few things you can do such as ask around – speak to friends, family or work colleagues, and spend some time reading through the comments in forums or on social media posts to gain a broader view. They may just spark an idea, or you may begin to pick up on a recurring theme, which could be the start of your entrepreneurial journey.
  • Centre the customer – once you have a business opportunity that you choose to focus on, be aware of falling into the common trap of getting caught up on developing an idea or product by yourself or just with your team. It is more important now than it’s ever been to ensure potential customers are at the centre of your business idea and that what you are developing is something they would want to use and A good way to do this would be to create or join an online community such as a Facebook Group and then arrange a focus group on Zoom so you are able to get feedback and start to build a connection with your target customers. Keeping the customer at the centre of the business idea is a good way to increase the likelihood of getting sales.
  • Share what you stand for – some well-known businesses have come under fire for their behaviour under COVID-19, such as for the working conditions they have provided for their employees or their refund policies for bookings. There’s a good chance these businesses will lose many customers because of this. When you’re starting up, it’s worth taking some time to think about your values, what you stand for as a business and how you can communicate that with potential customers, given that it may leave a mark with them for some time. Sharing values such as kindness, community and positivity would leave an impression and help to build engagement. This can be done through social media of course, or you can also think of ways that you can add a personal touch such as through a note or phone call.

Keep safe and well, and I wish you all the best for your startup journey!

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