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How To Interview Prospective Customers

If you plan on starting your entrepreneurial journey by way of a customer discovery process (and you should always start by way of a customer discovery process), here’s how to go about it.

GG van Rooyen

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customer-relationship

We’re normally all quite rushed and stressed. During this time of the year, however, we slow down. Some of us even get bored. So it’s the perfect opportunity for you to swoop in and ask a few questions.

Search out the bored parents who are being dragged to the beach at the crack of dawn by their kids.

‘Can I ask you a few questions?’

Look out for those couples who, having been in each other’s company non-stop for three weeks, have nothing left to say and are sitting wordlessly at a café table. These are the people who will help you build your business.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: How Zelda Arnott Turned Fans Into Customers With Zellyco

If you happen to be travelling by air, you are truly fortunate. Few places on earth offer a greater concentration of bored people than an airport. In fact, even if you aren’t flying yourself, grab an empty suitcase and visit your closest airport.

By masquerading as a traveller you can strike up an idle conversation, and then turn it into a discovery interview.

The interview process

How, you might ask, does one go about conducting a discovery interview?

“You need to start off by looking at exactly what it is you are trying to achieve,” says Ignitor’s Paul Smith.

“Your aim should be to try to identify who the early adopters of your offering might be. You also want to identify what their biggest problems related to your particular offering are, and whether any solutions already exist. Lastly, you want them to articulate what the limitations of the current offerings are.”

“A lot of entrepreneurs make the mistake of trying to create a one-size-fits-all solution that will appeal to a broad spectrum of customers. That’s the wrong approach. As Google’s Paul Buchheit famously said: ‘Start out by making 100 users really happy, rather than a lot more users only a little happy.’ Scaling the business comes at a later stage. Initially, you want to identify a small market of early adopters, and then own that market,” says Coetsee.

Don’t talk, listen

“Don’t pitch too aggressively,” says Smith. “Your aim is not to sell your idea, but to gain a proper understanding of your ideal customer. You need to listen, not talk.

“Be friendly. Start with some small talk, and then explain that you plan on launching a new product, and are therefore busy trying to get advice from potential customers.”

It’s important to give context. Tell a story about the problem you’re trying to solve for customers. Set the scene, and then let them talk. As you continue to interview people, a portrait of your early adopter customer will slowly begin to emerge.

Pay close attention to the people who are eager to buy what you’re selling.

  • How old are they?
  • Are they male or female?
  • What sort of work do they do?

The more commonalities you can find between the people who are interested in your solution, the better.

It is also important to ask probing questions.

  • How often do they need to deal with the problem you’re trying to solve?
  • What do they find particularly frustrating about the problem?
  • How have they tried to solve the problem themselves?
  • Why are current solutions not satisfying their needs?

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: 11 Ways to Double Your Customers in 4 Weeks

“Once you have done all of this, you can end the interview by asking if they would like to be contacted if and when you come up with a solution. This is a great way to generate solid leads before you even have a viable product,” says Smith.

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How The Sanlam Enterprise And Supplier Development Programme Is Helping Start-up Businesses

The balance between funding, business development and mentorship can make or break an enterprise development programme

Francois Adriaan

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Sanlam Enterprise and Supplier Development

165 new employment opportunities, 172 SMEs developed and 1046 jobs sustained. These are some of the numbers recorded by Sanlam as the company prepares to wrap up the fourth year of its Sanlam Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) programme.

The flagship incubation scheme has turned around loss-making enterprises, helped some participants get critical accreditation and funding, but most importantly, R12.6 million was spent procuring goods and services from the participating businesses by the end of 2016.

Related: Enterprise Development Programmes For Black Entrepreneurs

Receiving funding isn’t the secret to start-up success

Francois Adriaan, head of Sanlam Foundation says the secret to a successful enterprise development programme is not the amount of funding big corporates can give SMEs: “It’s having the right mix of mentorship; business intervention and procurement spend flowing from your corporate to small businesses.

You have to show the entrepreneur you are mentoring that you trust them enough to do business and walk the journey with them instead of giving them a once-off grant and leaving them to their own devices,” says Adriaan.

Financial support that’s timed to business need

Like in many other ESD programmes, participants in the Sanlam ESD programme also have access to funding. But what sets the programme apart from others, says Adriaan is that the amount of funds disbursed to each participating businesses is directly linked to its need, its commitment and progress record.

“Financial support is timed according to the specific needs of each SME. Those who qualify for funding are then provided with a further seven years of SME growth support through the ASISA Enterprise Development Fund.”

The Sanlam ESD programme

The Sanlam ESD programme was launched in July 2013 in collaboration with the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA) to empower SMEs, create jobs and contribute to economic growth in South Africa. An independent evaluation shows that participating enterprises have grown their annual revenue by 19% on average.

D&P Auto participants

One of the programme participants is D&P Auto, a panel beating business based in Retreat. For two decades, the owners of the business (husband and wife) poured their life savings, bank loans and even pension policy pay-outs into the business to keep it afloat because it was not making profit. Three years of focused business incubation and mentoring under the Sanlam ESD programme resolved D&P Auto’s 20-year loss-making battle.

“Our business has grown from a non-profitable business to the extent that we now have to pay provisional taxes to SARS for the first time in 24 years,” said Pam Douglas on their business maiden profit.

Successes of the incubation programme

The incubation from the programme has helped other participants brush up their bookkeeping skills, file successfully for tenders and get accreditation that took their businesses to the next level.

G&T Auto, the only fully accredited Major Structural Repairer in the programme, bagged Mazda accreditation last year, a rare accolade that will see the enterprise repair Mazdas that are still under warranty. The owner, Thembi Sithole says the programme has given her confidence to approach bigger clients as she now understands the requirements to get big contracts. She has also become more knowledgeable about financial statements and their impact on obtaining funding.

Related: Why Employee Engagement Programmes Backfire And What You Can Do About It

Adriaan says enterprise development initiatives of this nature give big corporates an opportunity not only achieve their business objectives, but also impact broader South African society.

“This commitment is around impacting issues of inter-generational poverty, unemployment and inequality. It is also about aligning around public-private-civil society partnerships in sustainable ways,” concludes Adriaans.

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Are You Ready For A Side Hustle? Here’s How To Know

We talk to side hustle pro Susie Moore about who should jump into entrepreneurship and when is a good time to take the leap.

Andrea Huspeni

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It seems like everyone has a side hustle. Indeed, 1 in 4 millennials have a side hustle, part of the  54 million Americans making money outside of their pay cheque.

But are you ready to get your hustle on?

According to Susie Moore, a life coach and the founder of Side Hustle Made Simple, you are always ready to begin a side hustle. You just need to know where to begin.

Related: 3 Ways To Set Your Side Hustle Up For Success

Moore has helped thousands of people take the leap from concept to creation in making their entrepreneurial dreams a living, breathing reality by launching a risk-free side hustle. She left her $500,000 job after her own side hustle took off within just 18 months.

She’s also the author of What if it DOES Work Out? How a Side Hustle Can Change Your Life released this fall, speaker and adviser to startups. Her work has been featured on the Today Show, Marie Claire and more.

To help aspiring entrepreneurs understand what it takes to be a side hustler, Moore is joining us for this week’s episode of Tough Love Tuesday, our Facebook Live series that connects experts with side hustlers for real-time advice and support.

Related: 50 Jobs, Gigs And Side Hustles You Can Do From Home

Specifically, she’ll share:

  1. The qualities all side hustlers need
  2. Advice that turns great ideas into action
  3. Strategies for making money right away
  4. Ideas for perfect side hustles
  5. Productivity hacks that prevent burnout.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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(Video) Why Your ‘Great Idea’ Actually Sucks

Don’t get caught up in coming up with the next big idea.

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Everyone wants to come up with the next Uber, Facebook or Tesla. But, if Entrepreneur Network partner Patrick Bet-David has to choose between someone with a great idea and someone with great sales skills, he’s taking the salesperson every time. Why?

Related: The 3-Step Approach For Testing Out Your Business Idea

Well, look at the history of great businesses. Ray Kroc didn’t start McDonald’s, but he learned how to sell the fast food restaurant and made far more in his life than the actual McDonalds brothers. Steve Jobs couldn’t code like Steve Wozniack, but he knew how to sell Apple, and his estate is worth far more now than Wozniack’s.

Facebook, Tesla and more. Each time, it seems like the great salesperson ends up earning more than the person who created the great idea to start with.

Watch the video to learn more about the relationship between great ideas and great sales techniques.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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