Finance · 2 August 2018

Shoestring startups: These founders built their business on less than £500

Cathy White started CEW Communications with less than £100

Many people dream of starting their own business, but only some are bold enough to take the plunge. What usually stops people is the financial barrier of starting up, however, these brave business owners founded their businesses on a budget.

Systemyzed

Founder: Lucy Hutchings Hunt
Company: Systemyzed
Website: www.systemyzed.com
Founded: 2014
Employees: 7 + 5 outsourced consultants.
Turnover: £250k

What made you want to start your business?

“I started my digital marketing agency firstly as a sole trading business with just me alone. I started it because I had to. Initially because I needed money and it fitted around being a mum of three (I could work flexibly from home).”

What challenges did you face when starting out?

“The biggest challenge was dealing with naysayers and people close to me who made me feel like I was wasting my time and it would never go anywhere staying on the path when people who are close to you are trying to knock you off it is really tough. Luckily I managed to stay the course.”

Any advice for wannabe entrepreneurs?

“My best advice would be to seek out varied advice from people who are experienced in business and have faced entrepreneurial challenges themselves (not from people who have only ever been employed in corporate roles or who are traditional professionals).

“My experience is that people who aren’t running their own businesses just don’t get what it takes to be crazy enough to whether those entrepreneurial storms.

“Also surround yourself with likeminded business peers. Try not to see people in your industry is competition but more as people you can collaborate with. There is enough business to go around for everyone!”

Baby Moo’s

Founder: Anna-Lee Kewley
Company: Baby Moo’s
Website: www.babymoos.com
Founded: 2010
Turnover: £100k – £200k for the year

What made you want to start your business?

“The business was started with just a tiny £230, which I scraped together from selling unneeded items on eBay. This was then used to import two very small batches of ready-made stock whilst I taught myself to build a website.”

What challenges did you face when starting out?

“As a single-mother of three years, I come up against plenty of prejudice and assumptions. People are always surprised when I tell them I own my own business.”

“I choose to keep my single-mother status under wraps when doing business, and as a result, found that I’ve come up against fewer obstacles in business than I in my day-to-day life.

“For the first 18 months, business was slow, with not selling off my own designs but importing in others and selling them on, turning over approximately £500 – £600 a month. I realised that I needed to take the plunge into putting my designs onto paper and use my own creativity. Today, I’m looking at an expected turnover of £100 – £120k for the year.”

Dusk Lighting

Founder: Richard Taylor
Company: Dusk Lighting
Website: www.dusklights.co.uk
Founded: 2009
Employees: 5
Turnover: £1m

How did you start up your business?

“I set up my business on less than £500. When I started my online business selling domestic lighting products, it was from necessity rather than a planned business decision or career path.

“This is primarily due to a back injury which prevented me from continuing as a self-employed electrician. To begin with, I started with a computer and a few hundred pounds.

“Setting up the business from my bedroom, using freeware which was the only way that I could afford to develop the business. I had to ensure that I only used the resources I already had, to make the most out of them.”

Biggest challenges?

“Making sales and cost money! It was tough in the beginning. My first order was for £70 and I had to find £200 to pay the minimum order. Also with finding a courier that would take infrequent and varying quantities.

“You must do your research and find the most economical route without compromising the customer experience and service, always evaluate and practice effective cost management.”

Advice for other wannabe founders on shoestring budget:

“Be very aware of potential threats to your business. Remember you are at your most vulnerable at this initial stage – be personable and helpful.

“Provide a great service to your customers and a positive relationship with your suppliers will pay dividends – they will remain loyal to you and will be the best ambassadors to your business.”

Lynn Ward Artist

Founder: Lynn Ward
Company: Lynn Ward Artist
Website: www.lynnwardartist.com
Founded: 1999
Employees: 1

What made you want to start your business?

“I became self-employed in 1999 and worked on my own. I didn’t need a huge investment because my main product was my time.

“I worked from home, unless I was on site. I only bought materials as I needed them, to start with but soon found that the more work you do, the more you need to pay for materials in advance.”

What challenges did you face when starting out?

“Being based at home was handy with no overheads, but not convenient. Lacking storage, and always had work around you.

“The first few years the turnover was apx £19,000. Once family arrived hours and income reduced, but my job allowed me to be flexible around the children which may not be ambitious but was very important to me.

“More recently I have a studio that I rent so I now have regular bills to pay whether I’m busy with customers or not, but also have a place customers can call in and somewhere that I can lock up and leave to go home. The drop in profit is worth having a separate special place to work.

“So whilst managing without huge investment, if had a larger investment I may consider improving the studio or finding somewhere different or bigger.”

CEW Communications

Founder: Cathy White
Company: CEW Communications
Website: www.cewcomms.com
Year founded: 2016
Employees: 4 (6 by close of 2018)
Turnover: £116,000 (2017) – expected £240,000+ turnover for 2018.

What made you want to start your business?

“I started CEW Communications as a solo founder in 2016 with less than £100. It was what I needed to get the website going and set the company up through Companies House.

“The rest was down to my existing network which probably came down to the cost of a few coffees!”

What challenges did you face when starting out?

“The most challenging thing about starting my business so far was to do it alone. From the very beginning, I wanted to grow a team and be considered a business.

“The vision of what I want to achieve isn’t just limited to London and was definitely beyond the walls of my flat. But being alone meant that I was often put into the freelancer bracket, rather than taken seriously as someone who was also trying to build something of value and scale.

“We have never taken funding, which means that all the scale we have achieved in the past year has come from the work we have done. Being alone and wanting to grow has meant that the first year was incredibly challenging, to meet the goal of building the founding team and doing so without further support or financing. It’s tough but worth it!”

Literally PR Ltd

Founder: Helen Lewis
Company: Literally PR Ltd
Website: www.literallypr.com
Founded: 2013
Employees: 1 (me) everything is outsourced on a freelance/temp basis
Turnover: £80,000

What made you want to start your business?

“I have never had a budget to start my businesses. I am very proud to have won an award for Inspirational Achievement at the Kent Women In Business Awards in 2017 and have been a Great British Entrepreneur of the Year Award finalist two years running.”

What challenges did you face when starting out?

“The biggest costs for my business was the website design and set up of domain names and email accounts.

“It’s a massive challenge as you have to work way more hours than the typical full time day job and you don’t get a very good hourly rate when you work it out, but after a few years of hard graft and if you’re still passionate about it, I have found that the extra graft pays off.

“Of course if you had an investor you could hire staff straight away etc but I’ve never done that and I have no regrets.”

We Get Digital

Founder: Carol Mann
Company: We Get Digital
Websitewww.wegetdigital.co.uk
Founded: 2009
Employees: 3
Turnover: £80,000

What made you want to start your business?

“It all started with a Tweet.”

“Most websites 2008/9 were shocking. As I have a degree in visual communications some of these were seriously offensive – so I wanted help and to do something about this.

“I had been made redundant in November 2008 and all who knew me told me to start my own business. So I went with my gut and created a small digital agency called We Get Digital.

“It started off as Smart Website Planning but that was a mouthful and I wanted a shorter twitter handle so I went for ‘@wegetdigital’ because we did and do, ‘get digital’.

“Everyone loved that so I change the company name and grew to cover planning, production and promotion and become a small digital marketing agency.

“My partner, now husband, joined me in the venture and suggested that we grow by networking locally and offline. So it was about growing our reputation and stepping up to the mark.”

Sign up to our newsletter to get the latest from Business Advice.


 
TAGS:

ABOUT THE EXPERT

Carly Hacon is a reporter for Business Advice. She has a BA in journalism from Kingston University, and has previously worked as a features editor for a local newspaper.

Q&A

If you’ve found the article above useful, but have a more detailed and bespoke question, then please feel free to submit a query to our expert. We at Business Advice will get in contact with them on your behalf and arrange for a personalised response. These questions and answers will then be collated on the site for any other readers who have similar queries.

Ask a question

Finance