I recently had a great conversation with someone looking to start their own catering business, and ended up providing some general business as well as website and digital-marketing advice. They already had a full-time job in the profession, and would ideally like to be running their own business, maybe renting a small kiosk somewhere locally and providing specialist food.

It's a similar dream for a lot of people, to run their own business doing what they truly love doing, and in actual fact there is such a great opportunity nowadays to begin this that there's no reason to not seriously consider. You just need the focus, and then the commitment to go for it.

However before running full steam ahead, here are 8 pieces of advice I gave in this instance which will help others in a similar business-start position. Four of these are just general business issues, whereas the other four are more to do with using the internet and digital marketing to do this.

The Four Business Tips

So here are the four more general business pieces of advice for business start-ups:

1. The Value of Off- and Online Worlds Coming Together

As the internet has evolved over the last few decades, people have increasingly joined the internet bandwagon although tended to treat it as a single interest. The trick nowadays is to marry the internet with real-life bricks-and-mortar businesses to see the best wins.

So large shops now have access online to buy and have delivered or collected, you can easily book an appointment with a 'real' business online beforehand, therefore a business may use a mixture of both on and offline marketing methods.

Therefore see these worlds working together, not an either-or situation. Look into how the internet can help with better leads and slicker product delivery whilst still producing a genuine product to sell

As an example, if you're selling special chocolates, you may well start selling them to shops direct at local fetes, but you could have a simple shop online and method to make contact with people looking for special chocolate treats.

2. Going Niche and Specialist

There's nothing wrong with becoming a specialist, in actual fact you need to nowadays in a world with so much choice and where people are actually looking for something different.

As an example, a typical way to start a pizza business would be to begin any old shop in a town and try to compete with others like Dominos through better service, prices, or location.

But if you went for a real specialist pizza, let's say for just vegetarians, vegans, and those going healthy – then this may open up a different untapped market that you can reach both in the real or online worlds. And even if there is an extra charge for longer distance travel, this could stack up.

3. Starting Small & Testing

Really simple, but often missed – just starting small and let things naturally grow.

So if you're beginning a special pizza-making business, look at literally cooking at home or a small kitchen area to basically start as a home business.

This means you need a lower start-up cost, more flexibility to tweak things, and simply less worry.

Going back to the above point about niche business as well, this often helps this principle as well to start small. So if you're looking into unusual toppings for pizzas, then you could start with very small samples and supply to local pizza providers as well as customers direct online or at special events.

4. Suss Out Genuine Partnerships

You then need to find out some genuine partners to team up with which is mutually beneficial. So your product will genuinely help their customers, and vice versa theirs will help yours.

This doesn't have to be rocket science, so if there's another caterer doing local events and you have a real novelty mini-pizza then you could see if there is room to fit you there as well.

Or maybe someone is already selling items online or through an eBay store, and you can easily offer a great deal to purchase your novelty item as well.

The Four Digital Tips

Now as we look at the digital world of the internet and websites, here are four more factors to consider:

5. The Email Database

This is probably one of the most important pieces of digital assets, and yet often not even thought of by business owners.

Basically, you need to build up a database list of all your actual and potential customers, because these are the ones you can re-sell and easily market back to time and time again.

So whenever they just come to your website or they actually buy something from you, get them to submit details. Or when they meet or buy from you 'offline', just get them to fill in a form and you can add them later.

A good example provider of this is MailChimp, which is actually free for low numbers and non-automated emails, and although primarily aimed for emails distribution you can use to store other customer information as well.

Once you have these details, you just need to look after them, and generally help them where you can do. So whether that's a regular newsletter of helpful tips, or going the extra mile with a birthday card on their birthday.

6. A Simple & Stupid Website

Now this piece of advice is doing myself out of a job, but that doesn't change the fact that it's right.

And that's to not invest in a fancy and expensive website (yet), but just start really small and cheap to get going with. It could even be a free one you create yourself online, or a few pages from a website designer – less is more, and quality over quantity (good example here at Able Accountants we helped advise).

You could even go simpler – just buy the domain name and re-direct this as a temporary measure to a holding page or even your Facebook page. You can always beef-up a website on that basic name in the future.

However, when you do have a simple form of website, the one thing I would say you need is a blog. This provides the ability for you to start creating helpful tips and information on what you're doing, which will pay off longer term with Google-SEO brownie-points, and starting to develop good communication with potential customers, for example through the above email newsletter method.

7. Genuine Social Media Stuff

The social media world can sound fancy, and a strange world if you're not into it. But really it should be as simple as real dialogue with people, after all it's meant to be a genuine form of social communication.

So just focus on one or two of the best ones that you're familiar with and your target-market of customers are using, maybe a Facebook page or Twitter, or for more formal businesses LinkedIn, or Instagram with image-based ones.

You can then always look into paid-advertising on these platforms as well if you want to get more focused, with Facebook being a good one where you can really narrow down the sort of person you want to see your adverts.

8. Simple Selling Online

So the last stage is actually a bit of selling something online, which can create fear and panic when you think of the cost and hassle of pulling this off and slick shopping carts on your website.

But start even simpler, with a good old eBay shop and account, or even Amazon. And just start selling what you have, maybe even with special bundled offers to get people's interest.

Even though you might not intend to sell directly to people online, which will probably take a lot of separate digital marketing, you could at least offer it to people you sell things to offline or through any above email database list.

The Focus for Business Start-Ups

So if you're looking to kick-start a business, whether brand spanking new or based upon a current hobby or form of trade, these above eight tips will help shape things up for you.

The first four plan out a general business landscape, whilst the later four then build on this to use the power of the still-evolving digital age that we live in. Both together are potent.

And remember that this primarily is all about some good old common sense and reality checks, and being able to home-in on a genuinely great products or services that you have an active market ready to pay for.

The rest can then gradually unravel to help bring this dream into a reality.