MAKING CENTS: Thinking of starting a business online?

WHETHER the aim is to earn a side income from home or open up a whole new business career, many of us are drawn to the idea of starting our own business, writes Grainne McGuinness

And particularly with the growth of online commerce worldwide, it is now easier than ever to do from home. If you spot a niche in the market, or have a passion you would love to make a living from, there are supports available to you when starting out.

I asked two people who have started online businesses in the last few years where they had found the most help and both gave the same answer — their Local Enterprise Office (LEO). They are based on opposite sides of the country, but both gained valuable support from their local branch.

Sinead Sinnott had experience running her own business, but wanted guidance on online retailing when she set up www.weddingcandlesireland.com. “I did a good few day courses with the local enterprise board — good value at €50 per day with good trainers. They have a wide selection of courses and were very strong with all the online selling, social media promotion, etc.”

Mary MacSweeney, senior executive officer with the LEO Dublin City said they can provide assistance in many areas, depending on need. “The supports we provide range from training, access to experienced mentors, financial supports, and business networks. The financial supports are limited to certain sectors and types of businesses, and there is information about this on the website, www.localenterprise.ie.”

Judy O’Sullivan, MD of www.rowdyjewellery.com, also recommended the LEO.

"I used one of their mentors and she was brilliant. The office run a load of courses — everything from flushing out your business idea to helping you prepare for a grant.”

Funding is key in the early stages. Microfinance Ireland is a government-backed initiative that provides loans of up to €25,000 to small businesses, including start-ups. You can check eligibility and apply from microfinanceireland.ie.

There are other grants and state supports, such as tax relief, depending on the type of business and the stage of development. You can get detailed information on these at www.startups.ie.

If you are getting certain social welfare payments, there are other supports to help you become self-employed. You may be eligible for either the the Back to Work Enterprise Allowance or the Short-Term Enterprise Allowance — ask at your local social welfare office.

You might also be able to get extra assistance in starting your business under these schemes, such as grants for training, market research, and business plans.

I asked MacSweeney where she would recommend people start.

“Completing a ‘Start Your Own Business Course’ would be an excellent starting point,” she suggested. “Speaking to a mentor about your ideas can also assist in identifying gaps in knowledge or experience and can help in reducing the risk.

“Enterprise Ireland have an Innovation Voucher that people can apply for that allows them to work on the business idea with the help of third level students which can be of great assistance in developing an idea or product.”

And the most common mistakes she sees? “Assuming that they will be able to charge a fee for their service that will cover their costs and eventually be profitable. The best advice I could offer is that a person researches others providing a similar product, that they get feedback from potential customers, and that their limit their spending in the early stages.”

To limit costs around website design in the early days, Sinnott recommended Shopify.com.

“Shopify.com is a template-type, manage-yourself website which was very helpful. You can use an off-the-shelf template to test until you feel you have a good money-making idea or can afford to get a custom-made site.

“They have good discussion forums and are very helpful with any questions you may have.”

DEAL OF THE WEEK

If you are starting to get organised for your summer holidays and think your luggage needs an upgrade, look no further than Homestore and More.

They are currently running a half-price sale on luggage, including everything from weekend bags to large cases.

They are offering a Cloudnine Planes Weekend Bag, in a variety of patterns, for €25.99 — down from €49.99.

The lightweight wheeled case weighs just 1.9kg, perfect for staying under airline limits.

They also have hardshell options, with a small hard case reduced from €69.99 to €35.99 and larger options available for €40 and €50.

For longer trips or family packing they are selling a large Cloudnine Black & Red Lightweight for €45, down from €89.99.

The bag weighs just over three kilos but has a 112-litre capacity, and a recessed locking trolley handle.

The luggage is available both online, at www.homestoreandmore.ie, and in their 17 stores nationwide.


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