Notice: Happycry is no longer in operation. Paul & Will are now working as freelancers but can still be contacted on Happycry emails. Read more about the change here »

In this first post of our ‘start a business’ series we talk about getting started with a business idea. Transforming an idea into a business is a big step, but it's not out of reach. Find out how we got started and the help we got along the way.

Introduction - Start a Business Series

Starting a design business (or any type of business) can be a long and daunting process. We had the idea to form a design partnership over a year ago and I’d say we’re still very much in the start-up phase. In this ‘start a business’ series, we’re going to discuss the trials and tribulations we’ve experienced starting Happycry which will hopefully be of use to others who have – or are thinking of – starting a design business.

We’re not proclaiming to be masters of starting a business. This is our first experience starting any type of business and we’re still a long way from being successful. On the way we’ve made plenty of mistakes, had a few successes and have learnt many things we think are worth sharing. Some upcoming subjects in this series of posts will be:

This isn’t a set list and the posts won’t necessarily be in that order - We’re leaving it open to anything we feel is worth sharing. In this first post we’re going to talk about kick-starting an idea into a fully-fledged business.

So you have an idea for a business

Everyone has some form of entrepreneurial spirit in them somewhere. They perhaps just don’t think they’re ready, or feel they haven’t gained enough experience, to start a business. But why wait? Life moves so fast that if you sit around waiting for the right time, when you finally do something about it, the boat will have left.

The Idea

IdeaIf you have an idea that you think could be viable as a business, then at least do yourself the justice of looking into the possibility of getting it off the ground. Our business came about through two uni mates meeting for a coffee and a catch up.

At the time, I was working full-time at a local digital media agency and Paul was freelancing for various clients in Liverpool. We both felt we had more to offer and we started bouncing some ideas around about combining our skills and starting some form of freelance partnership: It eventually became a business.

Pros and Cons

That’s all it takes! Well, that’s all it takes to get an idea moving anyway. Next, you need to weigh up the pros and cons of running your own business. On paper it seems like a dream job – Your own boss, your own hours, your own clients. But it’s rarely that rosy.

It’s a stressful experience. In a standard job, when you finish work at 5.30pm you go home and don’t have to worry about work till 9am the next morning. When you’re the boss, it never stops. You might get confused clients ringing to find out why their email isn’t working on a saturday afternoon. You might have a few sleepless nights over those make-or-break meetings the next day. It’s not sounding so much like a dream job now.

Yet it’s not all bad and to get the benefits you need to put in the hard work. On the upside you get to be in full control of the work you do. There will be no middlemen having their say on how a design should look or what colour some text should be. If you don’t like a particular client you don’t have to work with them. In my opinion, that freedom is well worth the exchange of stress, hassle and hard-work required to start a business.

What are you in it for?

So now you’ve weighed up the pros and cons you need to ask yourself a really tough question: What are you in it for? If it’s to be regarded as a suave money-making entrepreneur then move on. If it’s because you feel you have something of value to offer, that other people and businesses would pay for, then keep at it.

This is the main reason we started Happycry. We felt that what we could offer was of a better standard then what other local businesses were offering. We had little experience, hardly any business knowledge and no reputation, but we thought: “if we stick to producing quality work, then we can get by and learn the other bits along the way”. So far its worked. If in the long run it doesn’t, we’ll let you know.

Get a plan together

Now you have the idea in place and you’ve thought about how viable it is as a business, it’s time to make a plan.


Planning is a tough one. It takes time, involves a lot of (calculated) guess work and isn’t easy on your own. So get help. We have been amazed by the individuals and organisations who were willing to help us get our business off the ground. There are plenty out there and you more than likely already have some form of connection with them.


The Business Link website is a good place to start. Also, have a quick Google of business support and communities in your area. Universities can be very handy for start-up business support, even if you didn’t attend there. What you’re looking for is an adviser of some sort and if you talk about your idea and make noises in the right places you’re bound to find one. Our adviser is an accountant as well, so he can give us advice on the financial side of things too.

Talk to friends and family as well. If you let them know your world-conquering idea of a business they might be willing to help and get a family member or friend of theirs involved who has business experience.

Do be aware of getting too much advice though. If you have lots of people all preaching their version of how best to build your business, it can become confusing. So choose someone who can help you and who you get on with and stick with them.

Money, Money, Money…

This is fairly important. Money is key to a business, so you need to make sure you’re going to have enough to keep you afloat while you get started and a steady stream of money comes in from clients. In a standard job, you’re guaranteed a monthly wage but when you run your own business paying yourself is much more erratic. To cover this, ensure you have money set aside that can tide you over before you start.

We we’re only a year out of university when we decided to start a business, so there were no life savings to tap into. Having a full-time job, I certainly felt scared giving up the day job and sacrificing a guaranteed wage. But we found there is more support out there in the form of funding. There are many different types of funding and it requires work on your half to get it, but if you do secure funding then you don’t have to (like a loan) pay it back.

You might think that with the economy so bad that there would be little funding available. Actually, there is plenty. Local government and organisations are pushing hard to get businesses (and consequently the economy) moving again, so there are a lot of financial support schemes on offer.

Funding for start-up businesses is not that difficult to come across, getting your hands on it can be the tricky part. Some of it is based on luck – you might need to live in a certain area or be moving into a certain industry – but there is money out there and why shouldn’t it be you who gets it? You’ll have to do a lot of convincing and make people believe in your idea, but if you’re enthusiastic about your potential venture and have a well-rounded plan, then go for it!

The Business Plan

This bit scared us the most. We hadn’t even read a business plan, never mind written one before! It’s a key part of planning a business however so there is no point hiding from it. It’s also generally a requirement to get any type of funding or business support. This is quite a big subject on its own so we’ll be doing a separate post about our experiences on writing a business plan. To get a head start while planning however, have a think about the following areas:

Ready? Time To Get the ball rolling

Crunch time then, but before you make the plunge make sure that:

Full Steam AheadWell… you best get out there and make it happen! If you have a job, hand in your notice, tell everyone the exciting news and get to work straight away. If you haven’t already, think up a name and brand your business.

It’s a scary world out there but you’re not alone and there’s plenty of help and support. If you have an idea for a business we’d love to here it in the comments (we won’t steal it, we promise). Maybe you’re just thinking about getting started? No matter what, it’s a perfect time for opportunity. Why not make the most of it and give it a shot?

Recommended design & business related links

Here’s a selection of blogs and websites I often check out. They’re full of useful business advice for anyone thinking of starting a business:

I also save business related links on my Delicious every now and again.

Posted on 30 November 2009

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