The golden age of start-ups
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Richard Prime, founder of Sonovate, looks at how barriers to entry have dropped for today's entrepreneurs and why simpler times were not necessarily better.
You may be one of the many business owners who still yearn for the late 1980s and early 1990s, when entrepreneurial avenues were limited, and paths to profit more obvious. Back then computer programs were simple and contact could only be made via post, landline, or in person. It was also a time when the number of sectors was loosely limited to retail trade or service (technology was also an option, but required hefty start-up capital).
However, if you are looking fondly upon this uncomplicated time, you may very well be forgetting what a daunting proposition launching a new business could be, and underestimating how advancing technology has now made it a relatively straightforward task.
In recent decades the task of business growth has developed from a manual undertaking to one which can (to an extent) be run on autopilot. The ideas, direction and guidance of able, media-savvy business owners are still essential, but many labour-intensive administrative tasks can now be performed using simple software applications. This is making the role of the entrepreneur both easier and more attractive.
To substantiate this claim you only need to look at publicly accessible data. Our recent Freedom of Information request on start-up recruitment businesses, for example, revealed that the number of newly established agencies has been increasing year on year. In 2008 there were 1,080 start-ups, rising to 1,710 by – an increase of 58 per cent.
In 2012 there is software available to fulfil your every need. Gone are the days when meticulous handwritten account ledgers had to be kept and stored away in a dusty cupboard for decades to come. Now online accounting software such as Crunch can tell you your tax bill in real time.
Furthermore, rather than building files of correspondence, CRM software like Bullhorn can store and organise all interactions with customers, clients and sales leads – fantastic for recording business prospects and facilitating sales activities.
Businesses can now conference call an entire team at the touch of a button, and generating customer feedback doesn’t rely on people completing a written evaluation and sending it in the post.
The paperless office environment has now become a reality. Cost-effective software has automated most of the nitty-gritty processes that entrepreneurs are burdened with, freeing up more time for those aspects of the business which really matter, such as sales, recruitment or R&D.
Moving away from administrative processes, knowing and understanding your market has always been vital to the process of starting and growing a company. Years of experience, networking, conferences and textbooks used to act as the main supports for business owners in this area.
However, the continual development of the internet has opened the door to more information than could ever have been accessed previously. Online magazines, blogs and websites divulge the advice and experience of the industry’s most successful businesses, and Google can answer questions in a matter of seconds. Online you will find not only best practice case studies, but worst practice ones too. Remember, a lot can be learnt from someone else’s failure.
But it is social media, specifically Twitter, that has recently come to form the modern entrepreneur’s largest support network. Entering the search term #startup or #entrepreneur will lead to hundreds of articles on relevant topics, while contacting industry experts and receiving answers to burning questions has never been easier.
Technology, communication and this level of support simply didn’t exist in the 1990s and emerging technologies have completely changed the way business owners discover, absorb and utilise business expertise.
The everyday management of start-up and growing businesses has changed beyond recognition. So, while some business owners may look back on the ‘old days’ with rose-tinted spectacles, there can be no denying that the modern entrepreneur is operating in a golden age, when technology is available to support your every business move.