How to start a business in the middle of a pandemic

How to start a business in the middle of a pandemic

Ok, this might sound a little crazy, but hear me out.

Jobs aren’t necessarily in plentiful supply right now, especially in entry-level roles. There are some areas where jobs are increasing, but by and large there are more people looking for jobs than there are jobs going around.

So your options are to a. give up (not good) b. look for work elsewhere (pickers and packers or home delivery are in high demand), or c. start your own gig.

If you’ve ever thought about trying to start your own business, now could be the time.

It could start off as a side gig – something you do when you’re not studying or in the time you would normally be working. Down the track, you could find it becomes something bigger, morphs into another business idea, or gets put to one side when you find a job.

Starting a business may seem daunting, but don’t let that put you off – it’s actually not as difficult as it seems. Plus, if these girls can make $20mil a year off bath bombs, anything is possible.


Start with an idea

All good businesses start with an idea. It can either be a new product or service, or a new way to sell a product or service that already exists.

A new product or service would be something like an idea for the next big thing – like Uber was to the taxi industry.

A new way to sell something that already exists would be more like you starting your own local ride sharing business with your friends to ferry kids from your school into town and back on the weekend.

In order to make some money from your idea, it needs to solve a problem.

For example, right now, people need masks and they’re hard to find, so solve their problem and start making reusable masks. Or, if there are no buses in your area your local business could solve the problem of bored teens and parents who are sick of driving.

Don’t just copy someone else’s idea

You’ll make life harder for yourself, with instant competition from the moment you start operations. You can always put your own spin on someone else’s idea – if there’s a Year 12 student down the road offering maths tutoring then maybe you could offer tutoring for science or geography instead?

If you really want to do the same thing as someone else then be prepared to work hard and step on some toes.


How is your business going to make money?

This is important – you need to know if your business is viable. This means the product or service you will be offering will return more than you invest to offer it.

Sounds simple, right, but lots of people come unstuck because they forget that the business needs to be profitable to work.

For example, if you’re selling bath bombs then how much will each bath bomb cost you in raw materials?

If all the ingredients for 12 bath bombs cost $18, then each bath bomb costs you $1.50.

Packaging could cost you an additional 70c per bomb.

You’ve also got to take into account the amount you pay in advertising, for your website hosting each month, any fees you pay to be a stall-holder, any special equipment or moulds you need for the bombs… the list goes on.

If you work out that the total cost of each bomb is $2.80, then you need to charge at least that much to make any money. If you charge $3 per bath bomb then you’re making 20c each, which is not a very large margin. If it takes you an hour to make 20 then you could potentially make $4 per hour, not counting the time it takes you to sell them.

But, if you were able to sell the same bath bombs for $5 each, you’d be making $44 per hour. If you sell 100 bath bombs per week you’d be making around $220 for 5 hours work.

Which is not bad.

Once you have your idea the very next thing you need to do is work out exactly how much your product or service is going to cost you to produce, and what you are likely to make. If other people in your area are doing similar things then you can look to what they charge as a good place to start.

This is the only time I will ever tell you to be pessimistic, but you need to take a worst-case scenario to assess viability. If you think your idea can make you a decent income even in the worst case scenario then you are on the right track.


Set up the official stuff

Before you can start trading in Australia you need to get a TFN (tax file number) and an ABN (Australian business number). If you’re 13 or older you can do the paperwork yourself.

Apply for a TFN here, and once you have your TFN you can apply for an ABN here.

If you are working by yourself, and are operating your business using your own name then you don’t need to register a business name (this makes you a ‘sole trader’), but if you want to operate under a proper business name then you’ll need to register it as well. You can do this at the same time as you apply for an ABN.

There are some rules and restrictions around when you can work and how long you can work for, check them out here.

You’ll also need to keep track of your payments and invoices so you have all the details you need at tax time.

You’ll find a free step-by-step guide to setting up the legal and tax aspects of your business here.


Will you be operating online?

Creating an online presence for your business can make a world of difference. There are loads of ways to promote your business and connect with customers without having to fork out for Google or Facebook ads, and if you’re planning on selling products or taking bookings you can create a website with ecommerce built in.

There are loads of website builders you can use if you’re not into coding your own, and many of them will handle the payments securely on your behalf. They’ll walk you through the process of collecting and tracking payments, and can even help with things like shipping and the inevitable refunds.

Some of the more popular ones are Weebly, Squarespace, and GoDaddy.


Work out how you’ll connect with customers

Unfortunately, we’re still in a pandemic, so you need a plan to keep your customers safe, and a contingency plan for if restrictions are tightened in your area.

Consider things you can do to make your customers feel more comfortable about working with you. For example, if you’re selling masks you could state that you follow COVID best practices and sanitise each mask before packaging it. You could offer to post or deliver items, or offer contactless pick-up.

If you’re offering a service such as tutoring and can offer it online (e.g. via zoom) then do so for now.

Safe Work Australia have put together a COVID-19 Resource Kit to help you stay safe.


Start making money

Once you’ve tested your idea and set up the official stuff, it’s time to start earning your own income.

The key thing is to get your message out there.

Tell people you’ve gone into business for yourself, and that you can help them solve their problem. How you spread the message is up to you, and start with the methods you feel most comfortable with:

  • Share your business on social media
  • Put up flyers at your local shops (most grocery stores still have old-school message boards you can post on for free)
  • Hold a stall at the local markets if they’re still on
  • Drop flyers into letterboxes in your target areas
  • Post into local resident groups on social media
  • Let your local newspaper or news outlet know what you’re up to in case they want a good news story

If you’re looking for more ideas on how to market your business check out HubSpot’s Guide here, Quicksprout have some tips, and some government organisations also offer free advice (just check it’s up to date as things change all the time online).


Some businesses take off quickly, but if yours doesn’t, don’t panic

Just reassess how you’re getting your message out there and listen to any feedback.

Writing a Business Plan is a great first step for anyone (young or old) who wants to start making money for themselves. It helps you stay in control of your business and keeps you on track to meet your goals. have a free Business Plan Template and some tips to help you put it together.

There are hundreds of local groups (like this one from Adelaide, or this one from Cairns) all across Australia who help young entrepreneurs get their business up and running – they can offer you everything from business advice and mentoring, through to free workshops and help applying for funding.

Next week, we’ll be looking at some ways you could make money even during the pandemic and give you some options you can try even while you’re working from home.

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