Start & Grow, Small Business Advice by Square Merchants: Starting Off Right

Coffee cup

From years working with a range of diverse and amazing entrepreneurs, Square has had the opportunity to hear some of the best tips and advice to help get you off to a great start. In our Square Seller Tips, we share some of the best advice from business owners and managers across Ireland. These businesses, ranging from food and beverage to health and beauty are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to starting, running and growing a company.

In this first series, we focus on tips to start your business off on the right foot.

Foam. Shop Front
Photo: Foam.

Invest more upfront

Gerald Arbuckle is the co-owner of Foam., a café in Bundoran which was established in 2019 with his two friends, Noa Lane and Adam Cross. As newcomers in the food & beverage industry at the time, Gerald, Noa and Adam didn’t have much experience and had to learn on the job. “I think we made things harder for ourselves by not investing more upfront,” Gerald shared.

Sometimes when setting up, Gerald explained, it might seem easier to go for the most obvious, easiest or cheapest option at the beginning, when it comes to equipment, materials, or even furniture. Over time however, this can end up being more costly financially as well as time consuming. For instance, you might go for a cheaper coffee machine that you then need to keep paying to fix over time, or even replace once you realise it’s not a long term solution. The same goes for technology, and your point of sale.

“I wish we’d used a POS like Square from the beginning. With the till system we had in place before Square, we used to lose track of sales, make more manual mistakes, and then have trouble. You save money and time by putting more research upfront and making that initial investment of better quality equipment.”

Leslie Quigley, founder of Killiney Barbers in Dublin, couldn’t agree more. Having operated her own businesses for several years, she sees the importance in investing into hardware and software tools from the get go. “It shows you care about the customer, and adds to the business. It ties in with the customer service you offer, and only is going to come back to you financially by investing upfront.”

Leslie of Killiney Barbers
Photo: Conor Mulhern

Surround yourself with the right people

“You’re only as good as the next person on your team” Leslie, as a veteran business owner, has learned this from experience. Having previously opened and run a beauty salon in the same location as her current business, Leslie found that surrounding yourself with the right people is the key to success. Creating a team of people that complement your skills and knowledge, who share the same passion for the business you’re in and work ethic will be essential.

“You really need to surround yourself with a great team. Sean & Ken are our barbers, they are really talented and customers love to banter with them. Mark is an IT expert, I wouldn’t have discovered Square without him, and I’m really glad I did.”

Frank Keane, founder of Koko Kinsale, a chocolate shop in Kinsale, shares a similar sentiment. “When you start a business, be prepared to work harder than you’ve ever worked your entire life.”

In 2008, at the age of 50, Frank had to close his ceramics business during the recession, and pivoted to become a chocolatier. Starting this new business on his own was challenging, and while he’s now operating the business with his family, he certainly could have done with a helping hand in the early days of his chocolate shop. “Had I known this, I would have changed my approach, because I was working almost entirely alone initially, I might have gotten help earlier.”

Koko Kinsale
Photo: Koko Kinsale

Provide a great customer experience

Providing a great customer experience is just as important as the quality of your core product or service. “It will always come back to you.” Leslie shares. “Even if they’re wrong, they’re right. If something ever goes wrong, make sure you make it up to them, like with an online voucher.” Emily Keane, Marketing manager of Koko Kinsale, shares a similar sentiment:

“Talking to customers, being friendly and building a relationship is so important. Sometimes we bring fresh chocolate down to give them a free sample, and ask for feedback. These conversations go a really long way in making a good impression.”

Creating a welcoming environment and friendly experience for customers ultimately means repeat business from a loyal customer base, and helps businesses grow through word of mouth and referrals. As Gerald put it, “customers really buy into the lifestyle more than just the coffee”.