By Richard Branson
Millennials are now the largest living generation on the planet, and this is a great thing for business. New technology, and a generation of customers who are ready to embrace it, have removed a lot of the barriers to entry for start-ups, making 2017 an incredibly exciting time to do business.
This generation of consumers connects directly with brands on social media – a space where businesses can advertise and market products and services for free, and build audiences on a small budget. In the past, companies had to capture people’s imagination through costly ad space or elaborate launches, but in 2017 that money can be used more effectively to target markets across different social platforms.
On social, a simple video or photo, shot using a smartphone, can be just as powerful as one created by a production crew. Most of the images on my Instagram have been taken using a smartphone, and many of them are more popular than those shot with expensive equipment. Communities today prefer to see authentic updates rather than carefully-orchestrated content.
Another great benefit of starting up in business in 2017 is that this generation is just as happy to buy from someone based at home as they are from a business on the high street. This brings the cost of doing business down dramatically. Rather than commit to pricey premises, you can set up online and start selling from your kitchen table.
When we first launched Virgin Records we couldn’t afford to pay the rent on our first store – at the cheap end of London’s Oxford Street – so we talked the landlord into taking us on by promising that we would attract new clientele to buy shoes from his store downstairs. I don’t recall him selling one pair of Doc Martens in the time we got away with free rent. With today’s high commercial rent prices, I can’t imagine young businesses getting this type of leg up in 2017.
Of course you will still need some seed capital to start a business, but in 2017 there will be more ways to fund ideas than ever before. Raising finance from a bank has gained a reputation for being difficult, but today you can bypass this altogether with schemes that are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs launch. Our team at Virgin StartUp deliver government-backed Start Up Loans ranging from £500 – £25,000. These loans offer a low interest-rate, business plan advice and mentoring – and are flexible alternatives to the one-size-fits-all approach offered by banks.
No doubt, this year will also see crowdfunding become even more common – meaning that more people will invest in new businesses and order products from companies that don’t even exist yet. As a result, more entrepreneurs will be able to validate their ideas before spending huge amounts of money, and this will also give people a way of growing a business on their own terms, rather than those put on them by banks. I imagine this would have been a huge help to us in the early days of running Virgin Atlantic, when we had the constant threat of a bank manager shutting us down.
So in 2017 there are more ways to raise money, more people to sell to, and more ways to sell – you can do it from your home in your dressing gown or anywhere where there’s an internet connection. You can realistically run a business from anywhere – even on a Caribbean island in between kite surfs!