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Young entrepreneurs: what I wish I’d known before starting up

Eleni Duke, young entrepreneur and owner and founder of the Curious Duke Gallery, started her business after university at the age of 24. Just two years out of university at the time, opening a business had long been a dream of hers: upon graduating, and faced with limited employment prospects in the arts, she decided to take matters into her own hands, and start up her dream business.

Now 27, her art gallery in East London has been going strong for three years. We spoke to her about the challenges she’s faced as a young business owner, how she’s overcome them, and what she wishes she’d known before starting out.

What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your first three years?

The biggest headache being a young entrepreneur has been managing the back-office and admin: things like the accounting. Unless you do a business or accounting degree, it’s not something they generally teach you at university.

It’s also hard to get a great deal of job experience managing business finances if you’re from a creative background. So accounting and finance, and probably some of the laws and regulations around business [have been the most challenging].

I felt there wasn’t enough help available, or support for young people who were setting up a business at that time, to make sure I knew everything I needed to do.

How have you overcome these challenges?

One of the main things that helped me was networking: talking to people already in, or starting up businesses.

There are some really good business support groups online, on sites like www.meetup.com, and lots of free networking groups you can go to that are geared towards start-ups. They’re good because they hook you up with people who are in the same positon as you, and you can swap or bounce ideas off them. Or there might be someone there who has knowledge in a specific field who can give you advice, or who can recommend someone.

Is there anything that younger people starting up a business might want to think about?

Yeah, I’d say getting some work experience: figuring out how other businesses are run by being part of someone else’s. I worked for someone for nearly two years helping run a small business, and that gave me really useful hands on experience. It helped me understand the basics of a running a business, and what each part involves.

So I’d say go out and get some work experience. Find out what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at, so that when you start your business, you’ll know what you can do yourself and what you need to learn more about (or hire someone else to do).

What do you wish you’d known before you started up in business?

That there are free seminars and lectures available that can help you learn about PR, branding, marketing, and business planning. London has loads of these on: I’m sure they’re available elsewhere in the UK as well. I went to some fantastic one and two hour long seminars at the City Business Library in Guildhall, and also at the British Library in Kings Cross.

MeetUp.com groups will offer a short 20 minute talk on entrepreneurial subjects, and you can find other business networking events on the GovUK website. Business Startup is also great for anyone thinking of starting up a business. It’s a free two-day annual exhibition with lots of seminars, lectures, advice and like-minded people: great for making contacts and getting help.

Invest in bookkeeping software to keep up-to-date with everything financially, and get a good accountant from the outset. Most start-ups are short of cash, and want to avoid unnecessary costs wherever possible – I know I certainly did. But getting your finances right from the beginning can save you a huge headache – as well as money – in the long run. When I started up for example, I used Excel and quickly found that it wasn’t supporting my business in the way I needed. I now use Sage One Accounting for all my bookkeeping, as it imports transactions straight from my bank statement, and matches them up to my accounting figures, so I don’t miss anything.

It would have been good to have a little more work experience. I only did two years after university, but there’s nothing to say you can’t run a business on the side online while having a job. It can be hard work, but it’s worth doing.

I would have started networking earlier, and built my contacts and client base up more before I opened. Before attending a networking event, make sure you can succinctly explain what your business does in one short sentence. For instance: ‘I run the Curious Duke Gallery and we specialise in urban and surrealist art from emerging artists’. This is key for getting across what you specialise in quickly and effectively. Networking is all about holding people’s attention. If you waffle on describing your business premise, the odds are no-one is going to remember it once you’ve left.

Being a young entrepreneur I would have liked to have a business mentor help me get set up, or someone to talk me through the legalities of setting up a business. There are actually free businesses mentoring programmes you can apply for, available through your bank, like the one I found recently through www.mentorsme.co.uk.

Are you thinking about starting up your own business in the near future? Or are you a young entrepreneur yourself? We’ve got a host of services designed to address some of the difficulties Eleni mentions in this article.

Things like accounting help, avoiding unnecessary costs, and getting your head around the legalities of it all: head to our help centre for everything you need to know!