It seems to me that everyone and their dog wants to be an entrepreneur these days. Perhaps it’s that I live in Cape Town and that the Government of the Western Cape and other corporates here are really doing their best to encourage entrepreneurial thinking, which is a good thing.
There are tons of organisations focused on helping entrepreneurs succeed… so why is it that so many still fail?
I recently hosted a business breakfast and met with over thirty established small and medium-sized entrepreneurs, each a success in their own right, each carving out their space in their highly competitive and over traded industries… and so I asked myself, why is it that some businesses succeed and others fail?
So, after much thought and chatting to those who are succeeding, I’ve listed ten points I think are critical for you to get started on your first million.
- Stick to What you Know. If you’ve spent years in the hospitality industry, don’t launch a product in the education industry. You can, but you will have a massive learning curve and might misjudge the opportunity. The best place to start is with a need. When did you last think this thought: ‘I know I can do this better than the way it’s currently being done’, because that is the beginning of your business idea right there.
- Share your Idea with a Start-up Guru. South Africans are notorious for not wanting to share their big idea in case someone steals it. To me this just shows our ignorance. It takes real effort to make any idea succeed, and even if someone does copy it, the business that implements the idea best will win in the long run, and hopefully that’s you! Spending some time and money with a professional mentor can help you move in the right direction instead of running down your resources by following the wrong path. Consider hiring a mentor like Neil Hinrichsen, who has two highly successful start-ups under his belt and lots of experience working with entrepreneurs across South Africa. You could save yourself a lot of wasted hours, money and tears.
- Do your Research. Find out who your competitors are and what they’re doing well, what they’re doing badly, what customer’s think of them, what they charge, etc. The more information you have on the industry, your customers and the market, the better your chances of positioning yourself accurately and succeeding in your business. One serial entrepreneur in America first studies new markets and researches new ideas for up to one year before even putting his toe in the water. And he’s sold a few companies for over a million dollars each time. So believe me when I say that this is one step you can’t afford to skip. Need research done and don’t want to or have time to do it yourself? Email me and our team of researchers will get the low-down on your industry for you.
- Launch as Quickly as Possible. Don’t spend months or years developing the all singing, all dancing product. Rather go to market quickly with a beta version that is rough and ready, and test the product update. Having ten paying customers is priceless compared to a pie-in-the-sky idea that might take so long to develop that you run out of funding and interest. Use WordPress for your website as it’s free and you can set it up yourself with minimal learning curve, or get a WordPress and SEO ecommerce expert to help you with this like Vasso from VaSEO.
- Keep your Costs to a Minimum. Please don’t rent fancy offices and buy a Nesspresso until you’ve got at least 100 paying customers (or whatever the amount). Resist the urge to buy the red leather couch and designer carpet before you’ve got sales in the bank. Hire staff who will work part time or try your hand with interns (not for the faint of heart) until you are able to hire full time. Unless you’re lucky enough to get funding, in which case, go wild! Working from home is the cheapest but can be depressing and demotivating. Best thing to do is share an office or rent from a studio like Studio 41 or TheBarn.
- Get a Business Mentor. It’s impossible to know everything, and when you’re deep in the trenches you can catch a bad case of navel gazing. Make sure you’ve got someone in your life who has ‘made it’ out there and who is wise, insightful and can serve as a sounding board for your ideas. Selecting a mentor or coach is a very personal thing and you might need to try a few out before you find the right match. Peter Moss is an excellent mentor for established businesses and will help you navigate any challenge be it personal, financial or strategic with diplomacy and wisdom.
- Don’t Ignore the Paperwork. Accounting and admin are not my forte! Marketing, sales and advertising I can do with my eyes closed, but don’t ask me to capture slips into a spreadsheet. If you’re anything like me you will need someone to come in and set up your paper systems for you, so let an expert show you how it’s done and then you can decide whether you want to take it over yourself, or carry on letting them do it for you. Try Sheri Cumings from Back Office or get someone in your family or a friend to help set up your systems for you.
- Your People are your Brand. As important as your product is your people. Do not neglect them or you will find yourself flying solo just as the storm is about to break. Have weekly one-on-ones with your team, make sure they have targets, job descriptions and performance evaluations. Reward them for a job well done with time off, compliments or financial rewards, depending on their personality and what motivates them. Have a Monday morning status meeting where you go through everything that’s being done and what’s been done, and make sure you attend the morning Scrum sessions so you’re on top of the issues as they’re raised. If you have energized and dynamic staff, it will rub off on your brand. Anyone who has shopped at Hirsch’s in Milnerton will tell you the same thing, that’s one company who understands this principle and is reaping the reward with customers who are so loyal they refuse to shop elsewhere.
- Don’t Partner With Anyone. When you start becoming successful potential partners start climbing out of the woodwork second to none. Resist the urge to partner or give away equity unless that person is bringing in a lot of capital or a lot of business. Also, the only people you can partner with are ones you would be happy to marry. Partnerships are like marriages, so don’t sign anything until you know everything about them, and that includes everything. Many businesses that fail site poor partnerships as the reason; their partner either ripped them off or didn’t deliver on their end of the bargain. Before inviting anyone in make sure you’ve spoke to a few experts and a few lawyers to get their input. Try Bertram Richards from Kulea Consulting for advice on mergers or partnerships.
- Get help with Marketing. ‘If you build it, they will come’ is a line from a movie that a lot of people think is true, however it is rarely the case in my experience. Getting customers to your website takes a lot of time and effort and expertise so why don’t you rope in an expert to help drive traffic (customers) to your website or store. You can’t be expected to be all things to all people, so while you focus on stocking the shelves, they can start filling the sales pipeline with leads or get customers in through the front door. Don’t neglect your marketing whatever you do. Just having a store or ecommerce website sin’t enough to guarantee sales. Get active on social media like blogging, Twitter, Google+, Facebook and Pinterest at a minimum. Plus try your hand at article writing or write a white paper. You can also chat to me and we’ll go through who you are targeting and whether you price, product and positioning are aligned for maximum uptake plus we can fulfill on your PR, Email, Social Media, Blogging and general go-to-market strategy for you at rates targeted at enrepreneurs.
Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of hard work, but it is the most exciting thing you can do with your life. I encourage every South African to have an idea that they develop on the side, and that way learn about what it takes to take your idea from paper to kah-pow!
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Entrepreneurs Need Certain Traits. Do You Have the Right Kind of Confidence?
4 Entry-Level Jobs That Will Prep You For Entrepreneurial Success
Success is a journey, not a destination, so think hard about where to start.
Entrepreneurship might look like an unruly beast, especially when larger corporations are involved. However, those in the daily grind of entry-level positions are already developing the necessary skills to bring this wayward creature to heel.
“One of the first truths you’ll learn about entrepreneurship is that you’re 100 percent responsible for your success or failure,” says fellow Entrepreneur columnist Mike Monroe.
Entry-level positions in many different areas – including sales, marketing, development, project management and customer service – provide the perfect environment for future entrepreneurs to learn that truth and hone their skills.
Learning to fly from the ground up
While the average entrepreneur is 40 years old, younger people eager to make their own way have plenty of developmental opportunities that can help them hit the ground running. According to a 2017 survey from Heidrick & Struggles, nearly 15 percent of CEOs at Fortune 500 companies started in the sales department. These high-powered executives didn’t waltz into the C-suite on day one; they learned the tricks of the trade on the front lines with everyone else.
If you crave the life of an entrepreneur, don’t let the barriers to entry get you down. Take one of the following entry-level jobs and use your time in the workforce to get the experience you need to launch your own business.
Inbound or outbound, sales experience can give any would-be entrepreneur a leg up. Not only do you learn how to communicate effectively in a sales position; you must also understand the products you sell (and the brand behind them).
A job in sales will teach you to stop trying to convince people that they need what you have and start listening to what they want. Once you recognise that the market dictates what you sell, and not the other way around, you’ll be prepared to run a successful start-up.
2. Human resources
HR pros keep businesses running. If you work as one, you will quickly learn how much things like timely payment, accurate sick-day counts and health insurance matter to workers. To keep your team happy, you’ll need to know what employees consider to be important. What better way to learn that than to take a job where they let you know?
Jobs in HR also provide crash courses in communication skills and legal compliance. For example, it’s much better to learn that a manager can’t force an employee with folliculitis to shave his beard before the decision affects your pocketbook.
3. Customer service
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in: If you deal directly with customers, you learn how to handle tasks quickly while keeping a friendly face.
Customers range from the kindest people you will ever meet to those who become enraged when they can’t double their coupons. As an entrepreneur, you and your team will deal with all of them. Learn how to respond to customer complaints on someone else’s dime, so that when it’s your turn to do so, your learning experiences won’t have a negative impact on your bottom line.
To be a truly successful entrepreneur, you must learn how to lead a team. Leaders invariably learn some tough lessons at the helm, but if you wait until you are running the whole operation, those lessons could cost you some of your best workers.
This may seem like an odd suggestion for an article on entry-level positions, but note that you don’t need to be in a leadership position to learn leadership skills. From your first day on a job, your supervisors will be sizing up your initiative-taking ability and your critical-thinking and time-management skills to determine whether you have the capabilities necessary to take on more complicated projects. Look for opportunities to listen effectively and motivate those around you – this will help you hone your leadership craft until you get the opportunity to take on the role for yourself.
These positions and skill sets provide invaluable lessons for entrepreneurs, but they’re hardly the only ones. Reporters, insurance adjusters, accountants, teachers and consultants – these jobs and many others are full of learning opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs.
If you have to work for someone else before you found your own company, don’t treat the opportunity with disdain. Learn everything you can on the job, so that when your time comes you can use those lessons to lead your company to success.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Youthful Entrepreneurs Light The Way
If there’s one thing these go-getters have in common, it’s a determination to succeed. As we celebrate Youth Month, let’s learn from their example.
South Africa is already a very young country with 45.88 percent of the population under 24; by 2050, this proportion will have increased as the youth population is expected to double to 830 million. Already, 50 percent of the youth are unemployed, so it’s very clear that young people can’t sit around waiting for jobs to come their way – if they want a satisfying life, they will have to take charge of their own destinies.
This is just what these four inspirational young people have done
1. Imke de Villiers
All of them started young. Imke de Villiers, the youngest of the four, is only eleven, but her first book, The mouse hole, is available on Kindle and in online stores. It is evident that a big part of her success is the lead given by her parents.
“At the beginning of the year, we all had to write down three goals for the year, and the book was one of those,” Imke says.
“I have very supportive parents. My sister and I are challenged frequently to think outside of the box. We tell stories, think of money-making ideas and always use our creativity.”
2. Ingrid Moruane
Ingrid Moruane was also an early starter. “Since I was in high school, I’ve always seen myself as the boss. I’m a very driven person, and love working under pressure,” she says. Ingrid was fortunate to get some work experience as a project manager and optical assistant before following the advice of her then-boss to go out on her own, which she did in 2015. Now, aged 24, she will be moving out of her home office to premises in Joburg’s trendy Melrose Arch.
Ingrid’s business is Ing Management, and her concept is a unique one: she provides a portfolio of non-core services to government entities or corporates – event management, team-building events, catering, stationery and even office furniture. She uses trusted subcontractors to get the work done – what she provides is the vision and management. It is a turnkey service designed to remove a lot of detail off the to-do list of a corporate employee.
She sees funding as one of the biggest hurdles she has faced – and this is something one hears a lot about when talking to entrepreneurs. However, she pays tribute to the innovative approach taken by her bank, which stretches to introducing her to potential clients.
“More banks should do the same kind of thing,” she believes.
Believe in yourself
3. Sheldon Crabtree
Sheldon Crabtree has a similar drive to succeed on his own terms. Although his parents sent him and his siblings to good schools – he is an alumnus of Pretoria Boys’ High School, which also produced Elon Musk – there was little spare money. “If we wanted personal things, we had to work for the money,” he says. As early as Grade 5, he would save his pocket money to buy sweets to sell at school; he also refurbished items for resale.
No surprise, then, that he decided not to go the route of getting a degree and a “safe” job, but rather took responsibility for his own life. He likes the idea of benefitting from his efforts.
Now aged 24, Sheldon is the proud owner of a woodworking business and the Deep Roots Night Market, which is held on the first Friday of each month in Groenkloof, Pretoria. The market provides not only gourmet food but also entertainment in a beautiful setting. Around 3 000 people attend each event.
Like Ingrid, he found start-up capital a major challenge – his solution was to take a part-time job that gave him some seed money and spare time. The woodworking, which began as a hobby, also provided some initial funding.
4. Zwelakhe Khuzwayo
Zwelakhe Khuzwayo, 26, is a great example of somebody who saw entrepreneurship as a way to make lemonade out of the lemons that life gave him! He lost his job but, nothing daunted, drew on the inspiration of his friend, Thulane Maestro Mathebula, to set up his own business making promotional videos and producing music.
“I’m one of the few people doing this kind of thing in the north-eastern areas of Pretoria, where I live,” he says. “I hope to gain recognition for the work that I do and hopefully my company will grow and expand.”
What all these inspiring young people agree on is the need for entrepreneurs to start young, and to believe in themselves.
Zwelakhe says that if you put in the work and effort, you will never go wrong.
For Imke, it is all about daring to be who you authentically are – you will always find a way to achieve what you want. “There are always other ways, other options,” she says.
Ingrid has stayed true to her childhood ideal of being the boss.
Sheldon (like Imke) says that parents have a big part to play. Being supportive is part of it, but it is also important to get their children on the right path. “Let your kids understand the power of creating their own wealth. On top of the set chores, let your kids do extra chores for money,” he advises. “Ask the school if they will be able to sell anything during break time, and make sure they get to grips with the social, financial and planning aspects of business.”
As the old saying has it, the child is the father or mother of the man or woman. That is very true – but it also helps if there is an adult helping the process along! As adults, let’s make sure we fulfill this role in the lives of our youth.
MiWay is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (Licence no: 33970)
The Kindling Of The Entrepreneur Spirit
The principle of entrepreneurship is to observe challenges and find ways to improve them while simultaneously weighing up the relevant costs and benefits.
Many university students are funnelled into a conservative career such as a lawyer, engineer, actuary or accountant. This is often the popular choice and has the advantages of receiving stable income and benefit packages – it is a “safety net” career and offers the prestige of the title and security of the degree.
That being said, there are a lot of insights that you may miss if you use the narrow definition of what entrepreneurship means in the traditional sense – “starting your own business.” Entrepreneurship is more than that and, in my view, should be looked at using a three-principles based approach. The principle of entrepreneurship is to observe challenges and find ways to improve them while simultaneously weighing up the relevant costs and benefits.
Principle 1 – Adding Value Within Organisations
In my field, being an actuary with a data science background, you always need to find a better way of doing things. We need to use our resources, skills, and systems in a manner that would support our organisations to ensure that we add value to society.
In essence, we need to use statistical or modelling techniques responsibly to ensure that three key focal points are met, which is easily adapted to becoming a viable entrepreneur, with a trusted reputation:
- We do not mistreat or take advantage of consumers;
- The results of initiatives or strategies are measured appropriately; and
- There are no biases based on torturing data to get the results you want.
In addition to doing a good job, we needed to ensure that the work we do can be repeated, with ease and automated where relevant. This will ensure that our influence is long lasting and scalable, which is also critical to starting your own business or initiative. Most long-term solutions should also be flexible enough to add value to society, in whatever touch-points they are impacting.
Principle 2 – Benefitting Society
This is not about how much you give but rather what impact you have. We need to be honest with ourselves and determine appropriate measures to monitor success and what our ROI is aimed at becoming. This is often a challenge and is oversimplified or overlooked by many. For example, we may celebrate success metrics by reviewing how many scholars we fund or how much money was given to upcoming entrepreneurs.
This measure will have little benefit if all the scholars drop out or all entrepreneurial initiatives fail, we will essentially be celebrating an empty figure. The impact we have needs to be long-lasting and setting up society for success, with or without your continual influence.
Responsible and appropriate ways of measuring benefit will help add value to many initiatives. It’s a significant risk starting an initiative without any key performance indicators or measures of success, as you will have nothing to benchmark against and no measure to celebrate or punt as transparent and real success measures.
Principle 3 – Starting an Entrepreneurial Initiative
Some skills are necessary to start your initiative and working for a large organisation may help you build these skills or refine them. Key performance indicators are often used within larger organisations, and these companies may have proper structures in place to learn communication skills, the importance of planning, setting up budgets, pitching ideas or tracking results over time.
As such, some young adults prefer entering the world of work as a first step and then using what they learn to start something new in the years to come. Whichever approach you take, ensure you are learning as much as you can and are open to mentorship, guidance and constructive criticism, we can’t possibly know everything, and there is always more we can learn and improve on.
Bringing It All Together
Starting an entrepreneurial initiative will require a lot of bravery and resilience, an open mind, a good idea, relevant skills and support (financial and social).
What I admire, is that a foundation such as the Make A Difference Leadership Foundation has robust structures in place to support and encourage their scholars, should they wish to start an initiative in the future. And despite the prestige or the safety in obtaining a degree, the foundation inspires the scholars to follow their dreams, no matter how audacious they might be.
With the vision of the Make A Difference in mind, we believe that our scholars and fellows will be able to contribute and add value to organisations. Some may start their own initiatives and those who don’t will still use the principles of entrepreneurship in their daily lives. We all aim to continuously identify solutions that will add value to those around us.
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