Building your business from the ground up: How to reach your goal

By Kieran Jay Johnson

Building a future-proof business is important for all kinds of companies, particularly if you’re just starting out.

Innovative and agile start-ups are increasingly disrupting markets and are challenging long-established heritage brands. The FTSE (Financial Times Stock Exchange) giants are even competing with small but dynamic start-ups for talent as young people see greater value in working for forward-thinking businesses.

Recent success stories include Uber, AirBnb and Facebook – these start-ups were created by people just like you and me; they had an idea, they committed to it and then they gave the giants a run for their money.

How I built my own empire

With this in mind, I started IAM Castings 6 years ago. I noticed a gap in the market while I was working in the fashion industry, when it became apparent to me that most of the brands I was working with were reinforcing traditional ideas of beauty – and I wanted to challenge this. I wanted to cast the faces that were so often overlooked into big public campaigns, to celebrate their beauty.

Starting IAM Castings was not an easy decision. I had no knowledge of how to start a business, nor was I aware of the financial and legal obligations I was about to take on. Although there were hiccups along the way, I have learned some important lessons. Here are some points to consider when beginning to build your business:

Make a plan, but be flexible

Every business needs a business plan – this will give you a clear agenda, so make this the first thing you do.

Your plan should include these 3 nuggets:

your ‘what’ – the product or service you want to provide.

your ‘how’ – the way you will provide the product or service.

your ‘why’ – the reason behind your venture and the gap in the market you plan to fill.


A five-year plan is long enough for you to project some of your goals, but short enough so that you feel that it is achievable. Your goals should be tangible so that you can work back from them. This will enable you to set yourself specific annual and even monthly milestones.

Some things to consider in your 5-year plan would be: Will you increase your fees to reflect inflation and if so when? How will you fund research and development into your brand/product or service? Will you rebrand? And if so how and when? Are you planning on expanding in the future? Will you be taking on staff? Think about the issues that may arise from this? Within my first year of business, aside from registering the company and setting up a bank account, I knew that I needed a website and brand visibility, so I devised a marketing plan.

However, what gives start-ups the edge over larger organisations is the ability to adapt and be flexible. Make sure your business plan allows for this. After four years, IAM Castings diversified into event staffing as the brands that we had relationships with also hosted large events. So, move with your market and think about how you could transfer your existing skills to fill another niche.

Get your finances in order ( Be adult about the company's money)

Cashflow is an important consideration for all businesses. Be realistic about the amount of money you have to get the business off the ground and consider whether you need a small business loan to supplement any savings you have. To know more about this, here’s our guide on what business loan options are available.

Be meticulous in how you allocate funds to specific projects because in your first year of business you are likely to be finding out what works and what doesn’t. Don’t spend a fortune on a punt!

When your business is full swing and you’ve secured your first clients, make sure you are realistic with yourself and the company you are working with about how much things actually cost. It is easy to miscalculate what your time is worth and how much your materials or services might end up costing you. Do not rush to provide a quote because this could end up being a costly mistake.

You might also benefit from a business accounting program like Wave or Xero to help you create correct records. This will be beneficial when you are applying for finance in the future – lenders will want to see a full record of accounting.


Hold the phone, keep an eye out for this:

One more important point that I can’t stress enough – make sure you set up a separate bank account for any corporation tax you are due to pay! So many small businesses fold in the first few years because they underestimate their tax bill. Make sure you account for this.

Use the resources available to you

Setting up a business for the first time means that you will be dealing with things you’ve never had to before: accounting, company law, intellectual property and indemnity insurance are just some of the areas you should get clued up on! Seeking professional advice in your first few years can be expensive, so utilise the resources that are available to you.

How I did it on a tight budget

I spent endless days in the British Library seeking out information in their Business & IP Centre (which is free to use!)

HMRC also offers classes and free assistance on how to deal with VAT and payroll requirements, for example, which I found particularly useful:


This is, of course, all in addition to staying on top of specific trends within your industry. New laws come into force all the time which may require you to shift the way you work, so make sure you stay up-to-date with the very latest, or you could be in trouble. Do not underestimate the power of the internet – this is an invaluable resource which will give you most of the answers you need.

Bonus tip

You might also find it useful to attend free events that are aimed at a start-up audience – I am lucky to be based in London where a huge start-up community has emerged that is keen to share ideas. This can keep you motivated if your drive begins to wain – the energy from other business owners is infectious! Networking in this way could also secure you a mentor who can help you to keep moving your business forward. 

Do some homework on your market

Get an idea of what your competitors are offering and for what price. You can simply call similar businesses and ask, as if you were a client, for an estimate. If your prices are wildly different, you are unlikely to secure any business; and if you do, you are unlikely to get repeat clients. In your first few years, you might want to consider offering discounted rates for your services in order to build up your reputation and client base (although be careful not to miscalculate your baseline costs!).

Attending industry events where your competitors are will help you to boost your own brand. You’ll get a better feel for your market and get to know who you are competing for business with. People often buy into personality, especially if you’re leading a small business, so events like this will help you to develop your ‘elevator pitch’ and get you comfortable with marketing yourself.

Be persistent and be positive

It might sound like a cliché, but your mental attitude will make or break your business. There will be hurdles along the way, but if you keep going and keep up with your market, you WILL succeed!


Author bio: Kieran Jay Johnson is the CEO/Founder of IAM Castings (, a boutique casting agency based in London, specialising in placing unique faces into public advertising  & marketing campaigns. Kieran Jay founded IAM Castings in 2011 and is well-placed to provide insights for start-up businesses and the fashion industry.

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