This section contains useful tools, techniques, articles, videos and other learning resources from around the internet. We've broken them down into different sections, each representing an aspect of launching an enterprise. We'll update them regularly. Feel free to explore, share and offer suggestions of new resources you've found useful to email@example.com.
Below are some general collections of learning resources. They're worth exploring as they underpin lots of what we do and offer a broad overview of the many skills that can help with launching businesses and other projects.
- Nesta's DIY Toolkit is fantastic, featuring a huge range of tools and techniques for getting organisations and other projects off the ground. You can find a complete PDF here, or a deeper overview of their most used techniques here. Many of the resources featured here come from Nesta’s toolkit. Nesta is the UK’s leading social-innovation think tank.
- The Lean Startup Methodology is an approach to launching startups that we follow in our incubator programmes and bootcamps.
- Harvard i-Lab’s Startup Secrets playlist is a series of really informative Youtube lectures and workshops around each stage of launching a company. It doesn’t perfectly map to the structure of this resource guide, but it it explores the different stages really clearly.
- Informi has a lot of useful and accessible content - from articles and guides through to a full e-book - on various aspects of getting your business off the ground.
Generating new ideas is just not a matter of random, lightning-bolt epiphanies. There are different processes and tools you can use to either develop totally new ideas or improve existing ones.
- The Fast Idea Generator allows you to take a particular idea or existing thing, and very quickly use different mechanisms to develop, flip, change and improve it.
- Thinking Hats are designed to help you think about a given idea or problem through different lenses - factual, emotional, logical, cautious, out of the box and management - to evaluate an idea from a wider range of perspectives.
Framing Your Idea
Before proceding to develop an idea into a business, it is valuable to understand the nature of your idea. Why is it important? Why do you want to pursue it? What is causing the problem you want to solve? What do the initial steps look like? The resources below all help contextualise your initial idea in this way.
- Why? What? How? Knowing the answers to these three questions is vital when understanding and explaining what it is your company or project does. This is why Simon Sinek developed the Golden Circle Method for helping you answer them. Sinek’s TED talk on finding your Why is also worth watching.
- The Innovation Flowchart. The Innovation Flowchart gives a detailed overview of the various stages in an innovation process, listing the activities, requirements and goals of each stage. These include an overview of the different people, skills, activities and finances that a project or an organisation might need in order to succeed. The structured overview that this tool provides helps you review where you are in the process and organise the next steps in your work.
- Causes Diagram. This tool allows you to map both the direct and underlying causes and symptoms of the problem you are trying to address. This helps ensure your proposed solution addresses the problems at hand.
- The Causes Diagram goes hand in hand with the Problem Definition tool, which helps you explore the context of a particular problem to ensure you have understood it correctly and not made incorrect assumptions.
Your business model is, essentially, a description of how your business works and fits together. It might seem daunting ar first, but the powerful resources below, revolving around the Lean Business Model Canvas, should help you break business modelling down into manageable parts. It's really not rocket science!
- The Lean Business Model Canvas is the main tool used in the Lean Startup Methodology. It’s one-page diagram outlining your business model. Steve Mullen offers a useful introductory guide, and Lean Stack has a deeper overview featuring case studies and examples.
- You can download the QMUL Business Model Canvas here.
Market research involves learning about your customers, competitors and the broader market in which both are operating. There are lots of useful resources online.
- Sally Hammady has written a useful article overviewing the importance of market research and what it entails.
- This Startups article by Shane Donnelly explains the steps required to work out how big your market is - a very similar question to who your customers are.
- Personas can be used to build a fictional but realistic idea of the different types of customer or service user you may work with (different customer segments).
- Similarly, the Target Group tool allows you to turn these personas into distinct target groups. The two tools are similar, and can be used in combination.
- Surveys are central to market research, because it’s vital you speak to your customers. Nick Freiling offers a snappy explanation of how to conduct a survey. Typeform, Google Forms or Survey Monkey are all useful tools for easily creating surveys.
- Other ways to get to know your customers are more in-depth interviews or actually shadowing or observing people. Nesta has quick modules on using both methods, in the links above.
Testing and Prototyping
Beyond speaking with customers, testing your idea is usually achieved using prototypes (simple, easy-to-build versions of your product or part of your product) and experiments (using your prototype to learn things).
- The Prototype Testing Plan gives a basic, but useful overview of the different ways in which you can test your work, as well as when to test it.
- Esther Gons’ article on experimenting is a useful overview of good experiment design.
- Timan Rebel gives 10 concrete examples of experiments using prototypes.
- Anant Jain has written a useful introduction to digital prototyping (apps and websites).
- The Experiment Grid is a handy tool for recording experiments you run.
Branding means developing an identity for your organisation or project. This means more than just a name, logo or general visual identity. Developing a brand means thinking about what you want to represent and mean to people.
- The Guardian have a simple but useful guide as a starting point.
- Be.MyDo have a more in-depth guide to what a brand is and how to develop one.
- Nate Butler has written a detailed article on creating a brand identity, focusing mostly on the technical and visual aspects and requirements.
- Creative Market also has a free ebook that serves as a useful guide.
If branding means creating your organisation’s identity, marketing is about how you reach people. How are you going to communicate your brand identity and product or service to your customers and other people? Answering this question means developing a marketing strategy that considers how you are going to use different marketing channels.
- Oberlo has a useful guide to using common marketing channels.
- Kickoff Labs also has a detailed and actionable article taking you through the process of building a marketing strategy.
- Partnerships can be an excellent way to market your enterprise and fill strategic gaps you’re unable to. The Building Partnerships Map breaks the process of building partnerships down into stages, helping you clearly identify the steps required to build effective partnerships.
Legalities may seem boring and/or complicated, but they are essential to consider, and there is lots of help at hand.
- Company Address, Startups and Unbiased all provide useful summaries of the main types of business structure in the UK.
- Gov.uk has all the info required about registering as a Sole Trader, Private Limited Company, Social Enterprise or Business Partnership in the UK (it’s actually very easy).
- QLegal is QMUL’s very own free legal advice service for startups. If you have any questions or concerns, you can book a free advice appointment with them here.
It's all well and good developing a business, but it's also vital to measure your success (or failure) in order to improve. This is especially true for social enterprises, but really is valuable for projects of all descriptions.
- A Theory of Change is a tool that helps you define the impact you want to have and the steps required to get there. There are different approaches to developing a Theory of Change. Nesta has a simple Theory of Change module, or NPC presents a more in-depth approach.
- Evidence Planning. The Evidence Planning tool is a quick way to help articulate and improve what you are trying to accomplish. It gives you an easy way to define and share what it is that you are trying to do, and the assumptions and evidence upon which this is based. By making you think more broadly about your work’s effect on target beneficiaries, society, other activities and organisations, Evidence Planning helps you construct an evidence-based case for the impact you want to have.
- SWOT Analysis. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. A SWOT analysis can be carried out for a specific project, organisation or even a whole sector. This analysis leads to a richer understanding of what the project or organisation can offer, the key weaknesses that need to be worked upon in order to succeed, and where to bring in external partners for assistance.
- The Learning Loop is a tool that helps you to define how the work you do now informs what you do next. It provides a high-level perspective on how implementing social change can be broken down into a gradual process of iterative cycles.
- The Blueprint tool helps you generate a broader understanding of how your project or business is working, and in turn helps identify areas for improvement.
Project management means being organised as you work. This means setting a clear project plan, knowing how your team will communicate, keeping track of tasks and progress, recording documents and information and meeting goals. It might sound a bit boring, but it is difficult to overstate the value of effective project management - of being organised and efficient in how you work. It’s easy to overthink approaches to project management, given there are so many different options. The goal isn’t to find perfection, but to find solutions that work well for your team. The resources below offer some ideas.
- Wrike’s in-depth overview to the aspects of effective project management is really useful. Don’t worry about exploring every consideration in depth, but do use the guide as an overview to identify important things to consider with your team.
- Developing SMART Goals is an approach to setting goals that will actually help you produce good work and stay on track (it’s easy to produce useless or even counterproductive goals).
- A Gantt Chart is a really useful way to visualise your project (including your general business activities over a certain time period) as a timeline. It’s really easy to create one in Excel or using any number of free software providers. Project Manager gives a useful overview.
Once you've validated your business, developed a business model and experienced some success, you probably want to start to grow (or scale) the business.
- Writing a business plan is something many students incorrectly think they have to do first. But we think it’s a much better idea to test and validate your idea before spending time writing a detailed plan. Then, when you’re ready to grow, you can use everything you’ve learned to write a business plan as part of taking your organisation to the next stage.
- Growing, or scaling, means lots of things to think about and potential problems. The Scaling Plan helps you to start thinking about what those might be as part of planning for sustainable growth.
- Quick Sprout have developed a really engaging, infographic-based Guide to Growth Hacking: a collection of methods, tools and best practices around accelerating growth.