Entrepreneur Alice Benham shares what she wishes she’d known when she first became self-employed, aged 17.

"University isn’t for everyone," says Alice Benham, a business and marketing coach. Alice, 22, left school before completing her A-Levels. Shortly afterwards, she secured her first freelance contract to help a client with social media.

Five years on, she’s worked 1:1 with 150 small business owners. She has four part-time employees and recently pushed her revenue into six figures - testament to her hard work and success in diversifying her income through courses and programmes on digital marketing and business strategy, and also thanks to referrals from loyal clients.

"Many people tried to talk me out of leaving school and starting a business. I was quite academic but I didn’t want to do exams anymore. I wanted to have an impact," she says.

"When you’re young, you often have less to lose - you don’t have a reputation to uphold or lots of bills to pay. The difficulty is that it’s easy to be swayed by other people’s opinions and criticism, which is why it’s important to take action as soon as you can."

Open a bank account

Before you open a business bank account, you need to decide whether you want to be a sole trader or a limited company.

"Being a sole trader involves less admin - you don’t need a registered business address or to report full meeting notes," says Alice. She began as a sole trader and moved to being a limited company last year, a mark of her business growth.

She has been a Starling business customer since 2018. "Before Starling, I was so out of touch with money. I now have a much more conscious relationship with money."

Join an entrepreneur community

Starting a business can be lonely. "Find a community of other business owners and make sure those connections become meaningful - set up a Zoom lunch break where you can sit and chat about your days and build a connection."

Build your audience

You can also connect with people by growing your own audience of clients or customers. Alice runs an interview-based podcast Starting the Conversation and writes regular blog content.

"Growing an engaged and relevant audience by sharing valuable content and creating a personal brand has been fundamental to the success of the business."

Set boundaries for your working day

If you’re starting a business as a teenager, you may be able to keep living with your familiy. This can take the pressure off financially, provided they don’t charge rent, but it can also blur the boundaries between home and work - something many people have had to navigate since the start of the pandemic.

Alice says: "Think about how you signify that it’s the beginning and end of work. I’ve got friends who change their clothes at the end of the day, or light a candle - it can feel silly but it’s really important."

Save for tax

Alice recommends setting money aside for tax as you go. "Starling Spaces makes it 100 times easier," she says.

Spaces is the feature that enables Starling customers to separate money from their main balance. "If £100 comes into my Starling business account, I use Spaces to set aside 20% for tax, 20% for profit and 5% for equipment."

Set up a pension

Alice set up a pension with Penfold two years ago. "I wish I’d done it sooner," she says. "I assumed you had to make massive contributions but I’ve got friends who are just starting a business and set aside a tenner a month."

Starling customers can join Penfold or connect an existing account by going to the Starling Marketplace, the section of the app for third-party products and services. As with all investments, capital is at risk and the value of your investments can go both up and down.

Entrepreneur Alice Benham, photo credit: Stories by Chloe

Keep learning

"Confidence and arrogance are two different things," she says. "You need to believe in yourself but you also need to be really willing to learn."

Alice encourages others starting businesses straight out of school to share their stories. "Businesses often want to hear from young people, especially for digital marketing," she says. "Being young is a pro not a con."

The above article is intended as general information and does not constitute advice in any way. You should take independent legal advice if you have any questions about your specific circumstances. Remember, with all investments, capital is at risk and the value of your investments can go both up and down.

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