let’s get quizzical … how to ask the right questions in business

According to The Mack, I am truly gifted at asking the right questions.  The questions that other people don’t even think of.  He thinks it may be because I ask soooooo many goddamn questions that a few of them end up being on the money.  Still, he did say that he thought it was my greatest single weapon in my quest for world domination, ahem, starting a business.  And so I thought I’d better write that down for posterity.  And then prove it.

Question Mark Graffiti

Question Mark Graffiti (Photo credit: Bilal Kamoon)

critical thinking

As a lawyer, you are (if you’re any good), pretty accomplished at taking a whole load of information – most of which has been babbled at you by a client whose method of expressing themselves most closely resembles a neural pinball game – and corralling that information into some semblance of order.

You then have to extract the relevant issues from the information you’ve assimilated, analyse those issues, apply the legal knowledge and expertise that you’re supposed to have to those issues, and come up with a solution for your client.

The way you do all of that?  Questions, questions and more questions.  And I’ve discovered it helps if you write the answers down.

The same rules apply when it comes to your business.  Learn to ask the right questions of the right people and the whole start up process will suddenly seem so much less daunting.

Q.  when should I ask questions and when should I pretend that I already know everything?

A.  I don’t really have a fear of asking questions (quizophobia??), nor of looking stupid (statistical probability).  I’m one of those superficially knowledgeable people.  You know, a bit like Henry’s Cat.  I know lots and lots about nothing, and not too much about that…  So I can come across as worldly and clued up, but actually I’m pretty darn ignorant.

Which means that, if I’m in a situation where I’m lucky enough to be talking to someone who actually has real, genuine, actual, honest-to-god knowledge about a topic, I will happily quiz them till I run out of questions (or they run out the door, whichever comes first).  My mantra – if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

My thinking is, most people like to share their knowledge.  It gives them the gentle glow of superiority.  Asking questions of someone demonstrates that you are interested in what they have to say.  And that is precious salve to the average human ego.  Don’t waste an opportunity to get your hands on some expertise, just because you’re worried what the “expert” will think of you.  Most times they won’t remember you anyway…

Q.  what questions should I be asking?

A.  Good question, you’re getting the hang of this!  It’s going to depend on the context.  The way I formulate questions is to break down my problem into logical segments based on what I know already, so that I can identify the gaps in my knowledge (‘cos that’s where the questions are hiding).

Let’s take the scenario where you have an idea for a product, but you need someone to help you with the design and development of that product.  You’ve found a few potential developers, but you’re unsure who to go with.  You’ve asked a few basic questions, like how much will it cost and what the initial steps would be.  But what else?

Here I adopt a Johari’s Window* style analysis (ooh, fancy).  Between you and the developer there are four possible combinations of shared knowledge:

1.  known knowns:  these are facts about the product/development process that are known to both you and the developer.  So these answers are already in the bag.  Right now, these might only be the basic description of your idea and the cost and initial steps of the development process.

2.  known unknowns:  (also called your “blind spot”) this is information that is known by the developer but which is not known by you.  This is where you should be formulating your questions.  Ask the developer what experience they have in working with people in your situation and with similar ideas to yours.  How does the development process work?  What input will they need from you and what form will this take (e.g. meetings, telephone calls, emails?).  How long will the process take?  What problems have they encountered on previous projects and what have they done to resolve them?  Do they envisage any problems here?  What do the quoted costs specifically include? Are there any hidden/extra costs?

3.  unknown knowns:  this is information that you have squirrelled away in your head, but that the developer might need in order to do the job or even accurately to quote for it.  Don’t hold back information (if you’re worried about confidentiality, get the developer to sign an NDA).  Try to give the developer as much info as you can think of.  Then ask the developer what other information they need from you now and ongoing on the project.

4.  unknown unknowns:  in this context, these will be things that neither you nor the developer have thought of.  Don’t worry about that.  I’ve never once come across a project that didn’t bring up some unknown unknowns (also called WTFs).  If you’ve asked the right questions in the earlier stages, then it shouldn’t be anything that you two can’t handle.  You’ll be fine.

Q.  who should I ask?

A.  Generally, someone with more knowledge than you on the subject.  Or Stephen Fry.  Probably.

But seriously, I’m a practical problem solver.  I don’t often go in for conceptual debates on hypothetical issues of the day.  I want straightforward, pragmatic, relevant advice.  Preferably from someone who’s been there, done that, got it right (or better, got it wrong and figured out how to get it right next time) and written the book.

That doesn’t mean that I expect other people to fix my problems and give me all the answers.  But it does mean that I seek out people with specific experience in dealing with my particular issue (and I’ll interrogate them mercilessly to pinpoint the relevance of that experience).

I’m also prepared to pay for that expertise.  Scrimping on real expertise is a massive false economy.  I’m not suggesting being overawed by their brilliance and telling them to name their price.  I am saying that if by paying for their advice it enables you to skip forward 3 steps on your business plan, then that’s money well spent.  And, in my world, it entitles you to tap them for some free follow-up advice should you need it in the future.

Q.  so I should just follow their advice to the letter, then?

A.  Err, no.  Have you been listening to a word I’ve said?  What is the topic of this post?  That’s right, questions… Keep up.

Check that the advice or proposal given actually solves your problem.  It’s a bit like exam essay writing at school.  You remember?  When the teachers drummed it into you to ANSWER THE QUESTION.  Yet it’s amazing how common it is for someone to think they’ve given you the perfect answer, but actually they’ve turned sharp left and embarked on an utterly irrelevant tangent.  On your time and money.

If you don’t feel that you’ve got your answer (and you’re paying for it), then go back and ask for clarification.  Don’t be scared that you’ll look foolish – there is nothing more foolish than paying for a service that you haven’t received.  It’s a bit trickier if you’re asking for free advice – you’ll probably be told to jog on – but you never know your luck!

A quick final word on that last point.  By all means, take full advantage of any expertise you can draw on for free amongst friends and family, but be aware that this comes at a price to them (their time and energy), so be considerate, very grateful and prepared to do something for them in return.

*Nerd note: Johari’s Window is usually used for self-awareness and character analysis.  But I think it works just fine for this purpose too.

karma drama

Apparently, the karmic trade-off for trying to create a new lifestyle where you head off to India for a month when the weather gets too brrrrr in London goes a little something like this:

Friday night: T -4 days:  Begin packing your suitcase.  Notice that your passport isn’t where it normally lives.  Start to feel a little hot and twitchy.  Look in all the places where you might have put it for “safety”.  Nada.  Feel sick but head out to dinner anyway, trusting that it will turn up tomorrow.

Saturday morning: T -3.5 days:  Wake up at 7am having had anxiety dreams all night.  Try desperately to remember what the hell might have happened to your passport.  Curse your utterly useless memory.  Curse everything.  Curse your boyfriend for not getting out of bed immediately to help you look for the passport.  Call Southern Trains, Brighton station and a succession of pubs in Brighton to see if they have it, cos naturally you went to a mate’s comedy gig straight after picking up your Indian visa. Nothing’s been handed in.  Call the passport advice line to find out what can be done.  Book an appointment at the Peterborough passport office for 8am on Monday morning.  Call the Indian High Commission about your visa.  Curse them for being closed.

Saturday afternoon: T -3 days:  Turn your entire flat upside down.  Look inside your knee high boots, pillowcases, food cupboards and some rucksacks that you haven’t used since 1993.  Just in case.  Call your mum in panic.  Call your sister and let her know she might be flying out on Tuesday without you.  Feel terrible.

Curl up in a ball under the covers and vow not to wake up until it’s all better. Then realise that the post-office might shut early on a Sat, so race down there on your bike and get a passport application form.  Actually make that two, because you’re bloody useless at filling in forms.  You need passport photos too, but you have filthy, matted hair and puffy eyes from crying.  Somehow, you don’t think that look will help persuade the authorities to issue you with an emergency passport.

Sunday morning T -2.5 days:  Survey the futile wreckage of your bedroom. Resign yourself to breaking your neck as you try to navigate the obstacle course you’ve created by taking everything you own out of the 3 loft spaces in your room. At least that would be one solution to the passport problem.

Accept your mum’s offer to join in the hunt-the-passport game that afternoon. Mums have a spidey-sense when it comes to finding lost stuff. Try really hard not to get your hopes up that your mum will spot it instantly she gets there and say, “oh darling, here it is, how could you have missed that?”.

Sunday afternoon: T -2 days:

Go along with your mum’s suggestion and start praying fervently to St Anthony and St Jude.  Leave your mum to her search whilst you make outlandish promises to various deities in return for your passport revealing itself.  After a few hours, admit defeat and console your mum in her disappointment that the saints let her down this time.

Get new passport photos. Sulk that your boyfriend made you accept the first shots the man took. Grudgingly admit that otherwise you would have been in Snappy Snaps all night and that maybe that is just how you look. Secretly decide to get them done again at Euston.  Meet your ex at Euston and have him countersign your passport application.  Try and get an early night in prep for your new passport and visa mission tomorrow.  Finally fall asleep at 1am and then wake up every half hour, terrified you’ll sleep through your alarm.

Monday morning T-1.5 days:  Drag yourself out of bed at 5am.  Go the tube only to find that there are no trains via Kings Cross.  Run to the nearest minicab office.  They’ve got nothing for half an hour.  Have a little cry at the ridiculousness of it all.  Sprint the 10 mins down to Kentish Town.  Get a bus to Kings Cross just in time for your train.  Calm yourself with some soothing Bon Iver on the hour-long train journey to Peterborough.  Put some make-up on to improve your chances of the passport office processing your application quickly.

Make it to the passport office dead on time at 8am.  Marvel once again at how everyone outside of London is always so much more friendly and helpful.  Feel that your crack-of-dawn start was worth it when the nice lady agrees to issue you with a new passport on the 4-hour service, “even though they don’t normally do that for lost passports”.  Loiter in the shopping centre for warmth whilst waiting for the shops to open.  Text your mum to ask her to contact the Indian High Commission to find out what you have to do to get a same day replacement visa.

She tells you that in order to get a replacement visa, you must undertake a quest that will test your strength of character, your physical endurance and most of all, your sanity.  Despair at the lunacy of a system that will not accept the production of a brand new passport as evidence of the loss of an old passport, but also requires a receipt from the police confirming that you have reported the loss.  Stumble upon the Peterborough constabulary HQ.  Report the loss to them and get your receipt.

Monday afternoon T-1 day:  Pick up your new passport at midday.  Sprint to the train station to get the next train back to London.  Arrive to find that all trains are delayed by a couple of hours.  Call your boyfriend from the far end of the platform where your fellow passengers can’t hear your frustrated sobs.  Declare it all pointless and that you can’t go on.  Put the phone down on your boyfriend as he tells you to pull yourself together and compares your situation to Challenge Anneka.

Get on the train which magically speeds you to London on time.  Find the nearest internet cafe and print off your new Indian visa application.  Wonder how many internet cafes in London now have your passport and personal details stored on their systems.  Take the tube to Holborn and run down Kingsway to the Indian High Commission at Aldwych.  Arrive dead on 2pm – just in time for the afternoon session of the emergency visa counter.  Dare to believe that maybe this will all come good after all.

Stand 4th in line in the queue.  Watch as the people in front of you address the visa official as “Sir” and behave very deferentially.  Make a mental note to do the same.  Notice that the woman behind you appears distressed.  She tells you that her mother passed away last night and she is trying to get a visa to fly to India that evening to be with her family.  Tell her to take your place in the queue and offer your condolences for her loss.  Chat to her about her children, her job and why you are going to India.  Reassure her that she will get her visa and that it will all be ok.

When it’s your turn at the counter, look the man in the eyes and explain that you spoke to another official this morning who told you to come to the High Commission to obtain a replacement visa.  Explain that you had a visa issued in October, but lost your passport on Friday and you have a flight booked tomorrow which you will lose if you cannot get a new visa.  Explain that you have travelled to Peterborough at 5am to get a new passport.  Show him all your documents, including the all-elusive police receipt.

Start to tremble as the man tells you that they will not issue you a new visa today.  And dismisses your assertion that one of his colleagues said that you would get one.  He looks perplexed at why you would hand him a police report of the loss.  He goes on to say that they will not accept the application at the High Commission and that you have to go to the nearest visa office at Victoria.  He says the very best they can do is to expedite your application, but it will take 24 hours to process.

Normally that would be ok, because you don’t fly until 9pm tomorrow.  So, normally, you would have time to pick up your new visa and head straight to the airport.  Except that tomorrow is Diwali, the biggest religious festival in India and both the visa office and High Commission are closed.  So your luck’s run out and all of that rushing around and trying so hard and wishing so strongly have come to nothing.

Try to remain coherent and respectful as the tears start to fall and you try to beseech them to do something more to help you.  Explain that it’s not for you that you’re doing this – you’re going to India with your sister who has been recently bereaved and you don’t want her to have to travel alone.  Totally impassive reaction.  Force a “thank you” as they mark your papers “urgent”, so that you can collect your new visa at 11am on Wednesday morning.  14 hours too late for your flight.

Make your way to the bus stop on the Strand feeling utterly desolate.  Cry openly and loudly as you walk down the street and get on the bus.  Ignore the curious stares of the other passengers.  It’s just a typical bus journey in London, people.  Nothing to see here.  Deliver your paperwork to the visa office and explain your story.  They find it all rather amusing.  Particularly the part where they get to tell you that, if it weren’t for Diwali, you’d have been fine.  Quite the punchline.

Call your travel agency to find out what can be done about your flight.  They promise to call you back with options.  They don’t, but you decide to speak to them in the morning, since there’s nothing you can do to change the situation tonight.

Call your mum and sister and tell them the bad news.  Offer to put your sis up in a hotel near the airport in Goa until you can fly out.  Tell her the latest you’ll be there will be Sunday, cos you can take a friend’s unwanted direct flight out on Saturday night.

Tuesday morning: T-0.5:  Go to your sister’s house and start looking for hotels.  Realise quickly that they are all booked up because of Diwali.  Experience the now familiar surge of adrenalin and cortisol which is what you’ve been running on for the past few days.  Spend 3 hours looking for a hotel that (a) doesn’t cost same as India’s annual GDP and (b) doesn’t have reviews on Trip Advisor written by cockroaches who’ve had a lovely stay there.  Find one and quickly book it.  Then receive an email that says that the room isn’t booked until you receive a confirmation email from the hotel, which can take 12 hours.  Only there aren’t 12 hours before your sister is due to check in.  Brilliant.

Email your travel agent.  Ask them how much a single flight to Goa would be on Weds or Thurs.  Explain that you will use the return portion of your existing flight for the way back.  Receive an email back saying that if you don’t make your outbound flight then you will automatically forfeit your return leg.  Immediately start crying again.  Call Jet Airways who tell you that this is not true, that it is only a travel agency policy.  Call the travel agency and go absolutely ballistic.  They’re sticking to their guns.  It’s not their policy, it’s the airline’s policy.  And no, they won’t do a conference call with you and the airline to resolve it.  Why would they – this way they get to keep the money from your original booking and get more from you to book a replacement flight.  Utter bloody scam.

Call Jet again.  Speak to several people, including a manager.  Now they’ve changed their tune.  The first person you spoke to gave you wrong information.  You can’t use your return leg even though you’ve paid for it.  You’ll have to book a whole new flight.  No, they won’t put you through to their lawyers.  No, they can’t tell you where this is in your ticket’s terms and conditions.  End the call, seething.

Call your boyfriend.  He tells you that you will be issuing a claim in the small claims’ court tomorrow and delivering it personally to your travel agent.  He reassures you that you will “get this sorted”.  He means business and sounds worryingly enthused at the prospect of door-stepping the travel agents.

Tuesday afternoon: T-0:  Accompany your sister to the airport.  Buy champagne in Cafe Rouge in a last-ditch attempt to distract her from the fact that she has to fly out alone.  Tell her that you’ll get her hotel room confirmed by the time she lands, or you’ll find her another.

Travel back from Heathrow to central London, watching the Diwali fireworks from the tube window….

Wednesday morning:  Get up at 6am to confirm your sister’s room with the hotel and arrange a taxi pick-up for her at the airport.  Feel absurdly grateful when this turns out to be easy.  Decide that you don’t have the appetite to “go f*** some people up” today, as your boyfriend suggests.  Buy a one way ticket from Goa to London on the same flight that you forfeited.  Work out that you are approximately £750 down on the trip before you’ve even left.  Cry again – it’s what you do best now.  Go to pick up your visa, terrified that something will have gone wrong and it won’t be ready.  Guard your passport with your life, checking it obsessively all the way home.

Thursday and Friday:  Try to get some perspective back in your life and calm the hell down.

Saturday afternoon:  Have a delicious meal with your boyfriend at Crystal kebabs on Holloway Road.  Your guvech stew could easily feed four, so you won’t need to eat on the plane.  Relax at home with a last cup of tea before heading to the airport.  Your boyfriend’s meeting his sister-in-law later for a drink.  She tells him that the Northern line is down this weekend.  You’d meant to check it, but forgotten.  Mildly panic.  Call a minicab to Euston.  Tube to Victoria.  Spend an extortionate amount of money on a single ticket on the Gatwick Express.  Hear footsteps behind you as you board and your boyfriend’s voice telling you that the guard on the gate let him through “because he’s Italian and they love a bit of romance”.  Allow your boyfriend to nearly break your skull on the platform by dipping you for a Hollywood kiss.

Breeze through empty check-in desks and security lanes at Gatwick.  Get picked as always for the 360 body scan.  Do your twirl.  Down some melatonin with a glass of wine (sancerre rose – in the Wetherspoons – fancy!) and head to your gate.  It really would be the final straw if you were to fall asleep before you made it onto the plane.  Find yourself sitting in an aisle seat at the back of the plane next to a nice older man.  Make polite small talk till you’ve taken off.  Then put your hoodie up, your eye-mask on, your headphones in and drift in and out of sleep for almost the entire flight.

Arrive in Goa.  See your sister waiting for you at the airport exit.  Whoop whoop. And she’s not even got too much of a head-start tan.  Get a taxi down to Agonda beach.  Receive a warm welcome from the staff at Jardim a Mar, who remember you from last year.  Dump your bags in your beach hut.  Run down to the sea.

And relax.

the laws of consumer attraction … 4 steps to winning and keeping customers

I was sad to see the other day that cop.copine had closed* on Upper Street.  It used to be one of my favourite French boutiques. Its rue Rambuteau store in Paris is definitely one of my ex’s orientation landmarks for the city. Poor boy.

But I felt partly responsible for that store closure. Because, although I loved the clothing, I never once bought anything. Not one thing. Back in the days when I lived in Paris, I was too poor to afford their clothes. Then by the time I could afford them, there were newer, more exciting brands on the market. I forgot all about their existence.  I’m such a terrible customer. I’ll worship many beautiful things, but always from afar. I rarely purchase.  I even get my books from the library…

All of which made me think about the inherent challenge in attracting and retaining customers.  Although I believe that it’s an art rather than a science, with a hefty dose of luck involved, there are some fundamentals that you should focus on when building out your business from idea to reality.

1. who’s buying?

Who is your customer?  No, really, I mean it: who is your customer?  I’ll ask you again: WHO. IS. YOUR. CUSTOMER???

Don’t give me that “universal demographic”, “oh, it can appeal to everyone” b.s.   The bottom line is that we, the consumer, have more choice than we know how to deal with.  And I speak on behalf of all of us when I say we are totally overwhelmed.

So you’d better be specific about who you’re targeting. And get to know them. Intimately. What do they buy now?  Where do they buy it? How do they transact? What’s their average spend and how often do they purchase?  What are their likes, dislikes, habits and foibles?  What are they saying about your competitors?

Sure, your product or service may have broad appeal, but in start-up nirvana biggest-bang-for-your-buck terms, your best bet is to target a niche demographic where you can pretty much guarantee take-up of your product.

If you’ve followed the Lean Startup Machine process, then you’ll already have drilled down to find your ideal customer.  If not, then I suggest that you use some of the LSM techniques to engage with your target customers and check that your product or service turns them on.

clever brand positioning: cat people are chocolate people

2. stickiness

In VC-world (and yes, I’m singing it in the style of the PC World jingle), when those capitalists look at a fledgling business to see if it’s worth investing in, one of the key things they’re looking for is evidence of customer stickiness.

How much repeat business do you generate? How loyal is your customer base?  Do you get recommendations from existing customers?  How engaged are your customers with your brand?

Their reasoning? It’s generally much harder to attract new customers than to keep those you’ve got.  This particularly applies where you’ve been first to market for a product. If you have retained customers when rivals have surfaced, that demonstrates the strength of your brand/product and makes a good case for the long-term viability of your business.

So how do you keep your customers sweet?  Think of it in relationship terms.  You have to work to keep the spark alive.  Don’t become complacent or neglectful: reward loyalty, do a little something special for those who have been with you for the longhaul.  If you do something wrong, apologise and make it up to them.  Above all, keep talking to them.  Don’t be one of those couples in a restaurant who sit there in silence praying for the food to arrive, to give them something to do.  Have a deep and meaningful conversation with them from time to time to make sure that their dreams, hopes and aspirations match yours.

3. don’t believe your own hype.  

You may be hotter than Felix Baumgartner’s space pants, but you are only there because of your customers.  By all means, be enamoured of your product or service – if you’ve created something amazing then you can rightly be proud of your achievement.  But beware of being sucked in by your own marketing spiel.  Try to stay a little bit humble.  No-one likes a boaster.

Humility and integrity are difficult traits to find nowadays.  Life seems to encourage bragging and brashness.  I think this will shift as people grow tired of all the empty shouting.  I believe that businesses that stay true to their values have more staying power.  This is not to be confused with staying static in the market – over your business lifetime, you will doubtless have to be flexible, to change your product in line with the shifting needs of its audience – but what you stand for shouldn’t change.

So before you get swept away on the tide of marketing and sales, give some thought to what your business stands for.  Think about those brands in your space that stand out for you and identify what it is that their brand captures.  Before any big decision, ask yourself “is this really us? Is this what we do?  Is this what we stand for?”

4. make your customers work for you

I feel as though social media has brought us right back around to the days where everyone lived in small villages and knew everyone else’s business.  The means of sharing, gossiping, reviewing and influencing may have moved on from over the fence, but the effect is the same:  the success of your business depends on what your customers do and say about you.

Those who see this as a modern facebook and twitter-driven phenomenon are missing the point.  It has always been this way.  The only difference now is the scale and speed at which opinion spreads.

If you’ve targeted the right customers, then they will be so excited about your product that they will spread the word for you.  Harness that collective energy and you have the most effective sales team you could hope for.  Apple may be the masters of the universe at this in modern terms, but Avon built its entire 120 year old business on the back of peer-to-peer sales.

So actively encourage your customers to talk about you.  Offer discounts or value-adds for referrals.  If they say nice things, thank them with rewards (or an old-fashioned “thank you” will do).  If they are less than complimentary, find out why, apologise and use the feedback to do better next time.  They are your people.  Put them to work for you.


*I was wrong! It had only closed for a refurb and to change from a full range to a diffusion collection.  Interesting pivot for their business.  I still can’t afford any of their clothes though…

business planning 101

Business plans have a bad rep these days.  I’m not sure what happened.  Maybe they let themselves go, piled on a few pounds and stopped returning calls…

I suspect that the issue lies with the idea of what a business plan should be (dense and serious) and what it should contain (lots of dry facts and figures, a liberal sprinkling of pie charts).

Whatever the reason, whenever I talk to someone about their fledgling business, nothing gets me stonewalled quicker than asking them how they put their business plan together.  Particularly in the tech or creative sectors.  Business plans are seen as old-school, flabby and a waste of time that could be spent creating an amazing viral campaign.

Well, call me old-fashioned and pour me a sherry, but I’m pretty certain that they still have their place.  I’ve yet to be in an investor meeting where the money guys have said “we’re not interested in your business plan, just show us that cool remote-controlled egg timer app again”.  (If you do know money guys like that, please send them my way.  Especially if they want to invest in egg timer apps.  I sense a real opportunity in emerging markets).

I actually think that if you were to ask most people running a business what’s the one thing they wished they’d done better at the beginning – the response would be: planning how to manage their business and make money from it.

So in the immortal words of Tag Team – Whoomp There It Is… I’m takin’ it back to the old school…’Cause I’m an old fool who’s so cool (they said it, not me)… and below are some suggested questions to help you generate your very first business plan.



  • What products / services are you planning to offer to customers?  Describe in detail.
  • What differentiates your products / services from similar products / services in the market?
  • Who are your competitors? List categories and specific businesses.
  • What does your business stand for (e.g. value-for-money, quality, craftsmanship, innovation, philanthropy)?
  • What testing have you done to ensure that there is a market for your product / services?


  • Who are your target customers? Describe demographic and customer characteristics.
  • What are your customers’ needs and expectations and how will you service these?
  • How will you attract new customers? (e.g. word of mouth, advertising, discount marketing – groupon, wowcher etc.)
  • How will you encourage customer retention / repeat custom? (e.g. loyalty programmes, refer-a-friend discounts, package deals)


  • What existing marketing tools/materials do you have? (e.g. current customers who can give testimonials)
  • What are the best marketing tools to reach your target customer audience? (e.g. website, flyers, word of mouth, social media)
  • What experience do you have in marketing and / or what budget have you allocated for marketing?


  • How many hours per week can you devote to your business? If part-time, draw up a realistic schedule of available hours.
  • How / where will you provide the services/products (e.g. online, via a shop, at home, mail-order) and what type of costs are associated with your delivery method (e.g. travel, heating, lighting, electricity etc)?
  • Do you foresee any problems with your delivery method:
    • for you?
    • for your customers?
  • Do you have everything in place to begin providing the services or products?  If not, what preparation, money and time is required on your part to get you to this point?
  • What is your capacity (the maximum number of customers you can service)?  What would enable you to increase that capacity?
  • Do you need anyone else to help you deliver your product / service to your customers?  If so, how do you intend to work with that person / service provider (e.g. employee, contractor etc.)?
  • Do you have all the necessary licenses and business permits you need to operate your business?


  • What is your current monthly income?
  • How many hours do you currently work to generate that income?
  • How much of that income are you looking to replace with the income from your new business?
  • Is there any deadline for replacing some / all of that income (e.g. because your job is being made redundant, your company has cut back on your hours etc.)?
  • What is your proposed pricing schedule for your product / service? Make sure you list out any one-off fees, discounts, bulk-pricing etc.  How does this compare against your competitors’ prices?
  • What are your monthly costs of providing the services? For each cost on your list above, try to get as accurate an estimate of amounts as possible.
  • What capital expenditure (if any) will you need to spend in order to provide the services (e.g. on equipment, premises etc.) and when will you need to spend this?
  • How long will it be before you start to break even?  How long before you generate enough money to pay yourself a salary?
  • Who will manage your accounts for you?


  • Why do you want to start this business?  What are your drivers and goals?
  • What obstacles do you see to making this business a success?  How might you overcome these obstacles?
  • What help is available to your type of business (e.g. government grants, local enterprise schemes, mentor assistance, crowd funding)?
  • What are your current plans / timetable for expanding the business?  What capital would you need in order to achieve this?  Where will you obtain this investment?
  • If you had unlimited capital investment, what would you do with it to expand the business?


*DISCLAIMER: the above is not intended for you if you are pitching for capital investment.  You’re gonna need some pie charts for that…