Starting a Small Business

Building a business

Topics in this section
The capacity building framework (resources, knowledge, relationships, decision making)
Getting ideas?
A basic business model
Connecting to the community or finding customers
Retaining customers
Evaluating and sustaining your business activities

The Capacity Building Framework

(gifts, talents, interests)
(legal, case studies, technical knowledge)
(supports, services)
Decision Making
(how decisions are made and by whom?; what roles do support people have?; how is the enterprise structured?)

(Concetta Benn, Tony Kelly, and Ingrid Burkett)


This capacity building framework aims to explore and explain the way a business can be planned around a person. The starting point should be with the individual, ask questions like:

  • What are the interests, talents, abilities and gifts that I/the person I know have?
  • What do I/the person I know have to contribute to the community?

This framework also draws a distinction between internal and external resources as per the table below.

Internal resources External resources
  • Gifts
  • Talents
  • Personality
  • Attitude
  • Abilities
  • Passions
  • Informal supports (friends, family)
  • Formal supports (paid workers, organisations)
  • Financial resources
  • Network
  • Assets (e.g. car, house, property, tools, machinery)

This aspect of the framework encourages you to look at the significant relationships that you or the person you know has in the community, family, or services. It explores friendships and the people who care for you/them. In looking at the relationships, the aim is to find the people who are or may be committed to the success of the business venture or volunteer role. The ultimate goal is to have diversity in the support network. The close supporters may be great in number or may involve just a few people. This will vary and there should be no expectation of numbers placed on the support network. We consider quality over quantity, the key being to ensure that all members of the support network are true believers. In the example of Katalin, a few key people were involved in helping to establish her role; whereas, many people are involved in Cameron’s support crew.

Many people report that asking family, friends and other community members to get involved is very difficult; they say that this can be a barrier to moving forward with an idea. However, the experiences of those that have faced this fear demonstrate that family, friends and others are often very willing to be involved, they just need to be shown how. If you are still feeling unsure about asking others to be involved, try seeking out encouragement from those that have been on this journey before you.

While looking at existing relationships, the potential to develop new relationships should also be considered. Ask questions like:

  • Who is already in my/their life?
  • Where might I find people who share my/ their interests?
  • How can I/they meet people who can help me/them to succeed in my/their business venture or volunteer role?

This aspect of the framework explores what is needed to start a business, as well as possible structures for the business. It may be useful to look at case studies and other people with disabilities who have set up small businesses already. A lot can be learnt from case studies, such as what has been useful and successful, what has been difficult, and what hasn’t worked. It can also illuminate supports and funding available to help create the business. The following websites contain further information:

You may also wish to seek legal advice or link up with local small business owners to seek advice, which has the added benefit of building your network.

Decision Making
The next aspect of creating a business is the decision-making process. Here there is a need to think about the capacity of the person with a disability and who is there to help with other aspects of the business, such as taxation, etc. It may be useful to use the person’s close supporters to help with the decision-making process. In order to ensure accountability in the business, it may also be useful to have a number of people involved in decision-making. For example, Cameron’s support crew of 11 people are responsible for business decisions relating to Cam-Can and Associates (outlined earlier), and they have a system in place that ensures all people have an equal say and equal responsibility in the decision-making process. Clarity of how decisions are made and who makes them will avoid confusion and potential heartache. There needs to be good communication around decision-making processes in order for the business to run smoothly. Also, legal structures will impact the decision-making process as well as the business structure. It may be useful to create legal documents to help ensure accountability and to keep everything above board.
After finishing the initial planning and research stages you should have defined if you would like to begin a small business or search for a niche volunteer role. Please click on the appropriate link below for the next steps.

Some practical ideas to get you started

A Viable Business

The idea of setting up a small business may be daunting to some. The case studies included here address this concern. Many of them have commented that they had little or no experience in small business and, for the most part, have learnt how to run the business as they went. There is no requirement that people have small business knowledge when beginning this process.
The most important thing is enthusiasm, drive, and a clear vision. In the case of JACKmail, Jackson’s supporters were able to create alliances and network with people who had been involved in small business; this was where much of the formal knowledge of business came from. Also, when creating a business with a person with a disability, formal business models may not suit the venture; therefore, it is important to be creative and flexible in the business plan, and a lack of formal knowledge may even be an advantage.

Generating Ideas
This is one of the more difficult aspects of starting a small business, particularly if people have additional challenges. From the strengths and interests you have already identified you should have some general industries defined, but if you don’t that is ok, see a little further down for some strategies that can assist you. Some ideas that other people have used to stimulate business ideas are:

  • Get a group together over a meal and brainstorm – each person can talk about their own jobs and the roles at each of their businesses. This often gives others ideas that you would never have thought of. Make sure to record all ideas no matter how out of left field they may seem.
  • List down all the things that the person has done in their life – which things did they enjoy? Could there be a role that would incorporate that place or activity?
  • List down all the things that you have been involved in – could you see a role there for the person?

In Cameron’s case, it was the notion that he is good at waiting that sparked the business idea. In Jackson’s case, it was through networking and talking to people that the specifics of his business and how it might work were illuminated. The key to this part of a business is matching the support needs, interests, and abilities of a person with a disability and their support network with an identified need in the community (as you can see from the diagram at the top of this page).

Here are some strategies you might try if the persons passions and interests are difficult to define:

  • Google – “food related businesses” or “jobs where driving is required”
  • Get a group together to brain storm
  • Employ a professional facilitator to help stimulate ideas
  • Do some research on small businesses in your area and see what they need or where there is a gap in the market. Go to local places that you frequently visit and ask the managers, if there was one thing you needed what would it be?
  • Google, “small business trends” or “start up business trends” it might give you and idea of what people are buying at the current time (eg. between 2010 and 2012 people were loving cupcakes and cake pops!)

A Basic Business Model

Inputs - Product - Customers - Profit

In planning a business, it is important to consider the balance of labour, the product, the customer and profit.

The inputs relate to the resources, both human and material, that will be required to produce the goods or perform the services to be sold to the customer. In this stage, there needs to be some consideration of costing and the time required to run the business.

The product to be sold needs to be carefully considered. Asks questions like:

  • Am I offering goods or services?
  • What is my product or service?
  • Is the level of quality high enough to ask people to pay for it?
  • How will I ensure my product or service is and remains of high quality?

When thinking about the customer aspect of this model it is important to consider the following:

  • Where will I find my customers? (friends, neighbours, local people)
  • How will I find the niche which I am attempting to market, and how do I know that they exist?
  • How will I convince them to buy my product or use my service?
  • What is it that I offer that my competitors don’t?
  • How will I keep my customers and expand my business?

Committing to ensuring a high quality product or service is one way of keeping your customers happy. It is also very important to be reliable, approachable, and friendly in your interactions with your customers. This is an important lesson to be learnt from both Cameron and Jackson’s stories. If you have satisfied customers, there is a strong possibility that they will tell their friends about your product or service and your business can expand and grow.

In thinking about the profit of your business, it is important to consider your pricing system. How you set the prices of your goods and services and whether people are willing to pay the price you set will go a long way to ensuring the viability of your business venture. It is also important to consider how you will divide your profit. You will need to look at how much it is costing to run your business from day to day. Consider equipment, uniforms, transport and travel, materials, and administration tools when thinking about this. If you are making enough from your day-to-day work to just cover these costs, you are ‘breaking even’ and any money made on top of this could go directly into your business bank account as profit.

Some pricing models:

Model Description
Comparable business rate model Look at the rates offered by comparable businesses in the local area and set prices accordingly.
Minimum wage model Set your prices according to the minimum wage.
Supported wage system Often workers with a disability are paid according to their productivity. This rate of pay system looks at the productivity level of a person without a disability and compares it to the productivity of the person with a disability. The person with a disability charges a percentage of what a person without a disability charges for a comparable service.
Award wage model Set prices according to the award wage for the role/industry.
Cost covering model This model does not aim to explicitly earn a profit. It seeks only to cover the costs of running the business. This may be an appropriate model for hobby traders.
Barter system With this model, you may come to some arrangement with a customer where you offer your skills or product in return for goods or services of comparable value. You may provide X amount of work in return for lunch or engage in a direct skill swap (e.g., ‘I’ll wash your car 5 times if you can fix my broken fence’).

This brings us back to inputs where money you have earned goes back into the business to help you continue to offer your product (goods or service). This ensures your business can continue and/or grow.
Click here to view information on taxation and business structures in Australia

What will your business look like to your customers or clients? Will you need business cards, a logo, a name, a slogan and some flyers?
If budget is tight there are many free or very cheap logo design websites that offer simple logo’s for you to choose from. Just google “logo design online”.
There are also very cheap printing websites such as that can provide advertising material and business cards at a very low cost. If your not too good with computers and don’t know anyone who is, you may consider employing someone to help you with this. One option in Brisbane is Inspired Community a small business who specialises in assisting people with disabilities to utilise technology (see ), or alternately you can use traditional graphic or website designers.

Connecting to the community or finding customers
You have to connect with your customers, your suppliers and your community. This can be most successfully done by following these three steps.

Use the assets you have identified (in the planning stage)

  • People – What can these people contribute to the business? Knowledge, time, opportunities
  • Physical – How can these physical assets be used?
  • Financial – How much do we have to spend?
  • Community/other

Stay local, stay small
Small businesses are more effective and efficient, have a think about how big you want your business to get, particularly if one of the business goals are to get to know people in the community. Some good places to begin connecting might be community centres, values based businesses, businesses with five or less employees or places that you know/visit frequently.

Face to face is best then the rest
Get out there in your community and talk with people about the business. Introduce the person with a disability, get community members interested in the person, that is how you will sell the products. Email is the worst method of connecting with customers, followed by fax and then phone. Facebook has proven to be quite successful for people, in getting their businesses known in the community.

There are many different ways to advertise. Below are some of the most effective options.

  • Use your existing networks by asking 10 people to tell 10 people about your business. Give each person 10 business cards and 10 flyers and ask them to help you out
  • Use Twitter
  • Create an email list and regularly email your customers or contacts specials or updates on how the business is going
  • Letter box drop – ensure flyers are succinct and to the point, a picture on the flyer attracts attention
  • Leaving flyers at local places like doctors surgeries, local shops, dog parks or community centres
  • Advertise in the local paper or on community radio
  • Use Facebook

Top 5 tips for using Facebook

  1. Post updates or pictures everyday – This keeps you in touch with your customers regularly and encourages informal advertising from the customers that have liked your page
  2. Have a separate business page for your business, this is best for building your brand and ensures you keep your privacy
  3. Run specials or competitions which ask people to “share” the post in order to win
  4. Post photos with all of your text – people are more likely to look at a photo than read a post
  5. Answer comments and messages promptly, even complaints

Retaining customers
Here are some ideas:

  • Ask for feed back, listen to the feedback and act upon the advice your given. You may ask customers for feedback in person, via email or via phone. You may even want to design a survey or a set of questions to ask.
  • Reward your best customers – people who have been loyal to your business can be rewarded with things like free goods or services, a discounted rate or a small gift.
  • Offer promotions or specials – an example may be “20% off all products if ordered this Thursday”
  • Be professional by responding to complaints appropriately
  • Always be helpful, if you can please the customer then do it!
  • Customer service is always a businesses best asset so be friendly, remember people’s names and details about them. This ensures customers feel valued and will continue to buy your products or services.
  • Make it as easy as possible for your customers to buy your goods or service – use all forms of communication facebook, text, email and phone. This ensures you are not excluding anyone from accessing your business

Evaluating and sustaining your business activities

Sometimes people begin small businesses and they work well in the beginning, then they become problematic. Or sometimes people begin a business and do all the necessary planning but it doesn’t work out. One way to avoid this is to analyse and evaluate the business processes and outcomes. Some questions to consider when thinking about this are listed in the following sections.

Evaluating the viability of the business
The diagram below highlights 4 categories that should be at the forefront of thinking when evaluating your small business to make improvements. Is the business flexible, self managed and manageable, viable and suited to you/the person?


Here are some suggested questions to get you started:

  • Is it financially/socially viable?
  • Have a got the right amount of support?
  • Am I able to maintain energy and focus on the business?
  • Is the business owner doing as much as they possibly can?
  • How is the business owner being presented to customers? Is this helpful or a hindrance?
  • Is this working for me? Is this working for my supporters?
  • Do I enjoy it?
  • Is the business fulfilling the original goals?

Sustaining the viability of the business
After evaluating the success and failures of the business to date, it is then time to put improvements in place to ensure that the business can continue to be viable. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • What can we do to improve?
  • Who can help? Who has the energy and time to manage the business?
  • Do I need additional support or to rearrange my support?
  • How can I meet my goals?
  • What are some new goals to work on? Or how can I continue to strengthen my business?
  • What motivates me/the person? Is there enough motivation for the business to continue?