5 things I've learnt in my first year of starting up: Dark Matters

Gemma Lewis is the founder of Dorset-based Dark Matters, making delectably inventive brownies - think peanut butter cheesecake brownies, crème egg brownies, and much much more. We gave Gemma £4700 a year ago and her business is going from strength to strength, with her brownies rapidly becoming a much-loved feature of coffee shops and events all over the county. Here she shares the five top lessons she's learnt in her first year of starting up.

Get to know your target market inside out

"Do as much research as physically possible on your chosen market, and then do some more!" advises Gemma. "The more you know, the better you'll be at finding where you fit in and how to target your product correctly and appropriately. Find out who your target customer is and build up a customer profile. This could be in a more general sense (for example, 'Couples living in the Bristol area with children 10 and under' is better than trying to target everyone in the country), but as you progress and begin to make more business decisions it really helps to have a clear and complete image of your target customer at the forefront of your mind. For example ours is a lovely (but imaginary) woman named Sadie!

Get used to working weird hours...

"Especially if you work from home! In the early days its really important to have a structure to your days and a strict 'switch off' time," says Gemma. "This might not always be practical and you'll soon find your own working rhythm that works best for you, but as you're starting out you can burn out very quickly if the only time you're not working is when you're asleep! I've found I'm at my most productive either early in the morning or late at night, so most days I take a mid-afternoon break to go outside for some fresh air, a walk and a coffee if possible - which leads me on to my next point..."

Start carrying a notepad and pen EVERYWHERE

"I know there are notepad apps and I'm often reminded of how old-fashioned this is, but you never know when you might have a great idea, and I know I'm not the only one who finds it incredibly helpful to write them down on paper," recommends Gemma. "Technology is incredible, but I get very distracted whilst using my laptop or smartphone, and know that if I picked up my phone to make a note I'd more likely end up checking my email and forgetting it. Going back to basics allows me to focus my attention on the task at hand, and also gives me an opportunity to flick back over ideas I may have scribbled down and forgotten."

Seize any opportunity you can to grow your business knowledge - but don't get too bogged down with details early on

"There are free half, day or two day business courses available across the country (your local authority should be able to point you in the right direction), but don't panic if you struggle in some areas," says Gemma. "Starting a business is as daunting as it is exciting, so whilst gaining a general knowledge of the ins-and-outs of business is crucial, most things will become clearer as your business moves forward, and there's lots of help out there if they don't!"

Network, talk to people, and use social media!

"Talking to friends and family is brilliant, but they often tell you what they think you want to hear and find it difficult to be impartial. Go out and chat to new people, use social media to gauge interest in your product, and meet other business owners whenever you can," says Gemma. "I could talk all day about how brilliant social media has been for the business (Twitter especially). Not only is it free marketing, it also allows customers to engage with you and build a positive brand image in their minds. Its also helped us by building an awesome support network of other small, like-minded businesses and food producers who can act as a sounding-board for ideas or offer advice on problems we might be having."

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