Erica Wolfe-Murray returns to Female First today (November 30) to answer some questions on how to start up your own business, refinding your spark after a major life event, and more. Read on to find out what she had to say...

Erica Wolfe-Murray has some incredible advice for readers!

Erica Wolfe-Murray has some incredible advice for readers!

I’m really creative, would love to start my own business but haven’t got a clue where to start. What do you suggest?

One of the great things about running your own business is the many ways to earn money. But that is also part of the problem – there are so many great ideas out there, how do you find out which is right for you?

Firstly sit down to draw up a map of your life. Remember what you enjoyed at school, what qualifications you have, what different aspects there are to your family, your group of friends, hobbies, qualifications and skills that you have got. Write down what you really dislike too. Now try to narrow down your list. Is there anything there you would love to wake up every day to do – for the next few years?

If you have some lead ideas, you now need to research, research, research. The more you do, the better your chances of success. Are other companies in your area are doing something similar? Is there a market/audience for your offer? Is your business online or in the real world? Ask all sorts of questions, talk to friends, your family. Look up a wide range of people or companies that could be clients, then ask their advice. No-one minds having a chat about new start-up ideas over a coffee.

As you begin to hone your ideas – ask yourself if you have the right skills to develop it further. Do you need more training? Would attending a local start-up programme give you a head’s start on how to start a business? There’s lots of help online but sitting chatting to others in the same pre-start-up position gives you a support group.

Continually thrash out your ideas, tightening the concept the whole time, until you feel ready to do some test runs to see if people want to pay for what you are offering. Keep tweaking the service or the product until you get it right. This iterative process ensures when you do launch properly you will have tested your concept fully and will be more confident about your offer. Have fun and good luck.

(Don’t forget – James Dyson, the vacuum designer, made over 5,000 prototypes over 15 years before he launched his first commercial model!)

I’ve just come through a divorce and it’s left me feeling rock-bottom. My old high-powered career seems a life-time ago. Can I ever get back up there?

Deep emotional upset like a divorce or a bereavement impacts us all in a variety of ways, and each person totally differently. So please don’t beat yourself up about it. Rest, relax and spend time with friends who care for you and will help you move forward.

But be assured, the person who had that amazing role, albeit some time ago, is still there inside you. You’ve done it once, you can do it again. However it might be that after the experience you’ve been through you want to do something different, or harness the skills you have recently acquired helping others. Going back to the same old, same old may not be the answer. I suggest you take time to have a quiet look at the old role to see if it fits the new you. Aspects of it might, whilst other parts less so. Look out your cv – how would you update it now?

Then think through what it is you’d really like to be doing, why, how, where and with who. Draw up a hit list of what those roles, companies or whatever look like. Do you still have past contacts you can reach out to? Are friends working in associated fields? If you have worked in a pressured environment – you need to bring all those great attributes you used in your work, to bear on yourself, clearly and thoroughly devising a plan to get you to where you want to be. And the only person that can do this is you!

A friend mentioned the other day that she’d ‘trade-marked her company name’. Should I do this too or is just another expense?

When you secure a trademark, you are ensuring that no-one can offer goods or services using the same name so preventing customers buying from someone else thinking it was you.

You can apply for a trademark using words, a logo which can be an image or typestyle, or a combination of words and logo. And a trademark can cover a company name, a service, a product.

Your question about whether a trademark is a worthwhile expense for you is a good one. Many people apply for trademarks without thinking through the commercial reason for their decision. Do you need to protect your business name? What would happen if someone else launched a business with the same name – would it have any impact on you? If it happened at the other end of the country in a different sector – probably not. However if you have a snappy name that you feel is worth protecting – then go ahead.

When you apply for a trademark, you can choose to do it in the UK, the EU or various countries around the world. This choice is yours and will depend on where you are trading. If you are purely UK based, then it makes little sense to spend money on EU registration. But if you are exporting then this might be a wise investment.

The other aspect of trademarks you need to focus on is what classes you want your trademark to cover. There are 45 internationally agreed classes of goods and services, covering everything from metal-working to patient care. You can apply to have your trade-mark in one or several classes depending on what is right for your business. Adding a class adds a little more to the cost.

You can read up on all aspects of registering a trademark at the government-run Intellectual Property Office website. It has lots of information about the classes, how to apply, help and support. You can also find a local trademark attorney by looking on line or asking in a solicitor’s office.

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