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Alan Knott-Craig’s Answers On Selling Internationally And Researching Your Idea

There is no ‘one size fits all’ secret to start-up success. But there is a recipe that can be followed. It starts with being willing to go the extra mile: To know more about your business, customers and their needs than anyone else.

Alan Knott-Craig

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What is the secret to success? — Anonymous

Success is not about winning. It’s about not losing. In other words, being successful is not about increasing the odds of winning. It’s about reducing the odds of losing. There is one simple way to reduce the probability of failure. Go the extra mile.

In everything you do, do a little more than expected. Need to prepare a proposal? Format it, add page numbers, spellcheck, PDF. Need to instal a router? Arrive early. Finish early. Dress neatly. Smile. Need to refund a customer? Be polite. Don’t delay. Apologise. Follow up. Need to provide 5MBs? Provide 10MBs. Need to be at work at 6am? Be at work at 5.30am.

Go the extra mile. Over-deliver. Blow away everyone in every little thing you do. If you do that, from the littlest things to the biggest things, you will have the lowest odds of failure.

In other words, you will not lose. As an entrepreneur, not losing is winning. Go the extra mile. It’s less crowded.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig Answers Your Burning Start-up Questions On Ideas And Partnerships

I’m a virtual business on Johannesburg’s East Rand and I want to expand my target market to the US. I unfortunately don’t have any international network that I can tap into.

I’m investigating Fiverr, Reddit and Upwork as potential avenues of work and market research tools. I have also made contact with an international VA agency. What else do you recommend I do to break into the international market?  — Jade

Selling internationally is no different to selling locally. It’s all about growing your network, sweating your network, and putting yourself out there.

Everything you’re doing is right. Chase all potential channels to market. Tell family and friends. Ask clients for references or leads. Don’t forget the magic of Google AdWords. And a LinkedIn Premium subscription.

Make it easy for your potential customer to find you. If you’re going to use an agency, remember this: Make the agency rich. Don’t begrudge your ‘sales arm’ making money off your sweat. The more money the agency makes, the more business it will send your way.

I’m based in a small town where people are accustomed to what they know as opposed to adapting to something new. I’ve advertised in the newspaper, sent out fliers and have a Facebook page with over 500 likes. So far, the response to my tutoring service business has been slow. How can I improve? — Stephanie

You’ve made a big assumption: That there is demand for paid-for tutoring. Generally speaking, you should sell your product before you start your business. Sell it, then build it. It’s safer.

But maybe you’re on the right track. In addition to paid-for marketing, consider channel partner and referral programmes. Go to your local high school, meet the maths teacher, offer a commission for every student she sends to you for tutoring. The maths teacher becomes a channel partner, allowing you to put up posters at the school, and referring clients.

Even better than channel partners is a referral programme: For every new client referred by a client, give the client a 10% discount, or a month free.

At the end of the day there is no shortcut to getting more customers. Start with one. Make her happy. Let her tell a friend. Tutor the friend. Rinse, repeat. Over time your service reputation will grow and word of mouth will bring customers to your door.

Related: Alan Knott-Craig Answers Your Burning Start-Up Questions

I have an idea to build a mobile platform to connect all informal artisans in SA to potential customers. Uber for artisans. Will you invest? — Neo

Great idea. Some questions: How do you displace the other informal platforms in SA, such as Gumtree? How do you de-risk your business before raising capital? Can you secure funding without selling equity?

Before you give theoretical answers, remember this: The questions are not theoretical. No one should back you unless you have the above solved in reality, not just in theory.

In other words, raising capital is only realistic once the risk is so low you almost don’t need to raise capital.


Listen to this

Alan’s audible book Be a Hero: Make Life an Adventure is now available on amazon.com and Audible.com

Read by Alan himself, Be a Hero is a collection of stories on how to make your life an adventure by changing your mindset and tackling adversity.

Go to amazon.com or audible.com to download your copy. Be a Hero is also available in Kindle and paperback through Amazon.com.


Read ‘Be A Hero’ today

be-a-hero

Alan Knott-Craig is a successful entrepreneur and best selling author. Founder of over 20 companies in the tech space, he was named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2009. To find out more about Alan’s new book, The 13 Rules for Entrepreneurs, go to www.13rules.co.za.

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How to Guides

The 10 Commandments of Social Entrepreneurship

How does a business, with a definitive social drive, practically draw the tricky equilibrium and make a difference without sacrificing the bottom line? by Lisa Illingworth, CEO and co-founder of educational start-up Futureproof and Development Sector Consultant for Evolve, Silvia De Jager.

Silvia De Jager

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The emergence of social enterprises on to the business landscape of the South African economy is often a point of contention due to the seemingly conflicting driving factors of philanthropy versus profit. However, there are many businesses that are underpinned by solving problems for the benefit of society at large and out of this has arisen this area of entrepreneurship.

The Gibbs Social Enterprises in South Africa Report released in 2018, give interesting insight into the growing application of this business model in the South African context but they note, as most social entrepreneurs will have first hand experience of, there is a subtle but very real balance to be struck between purpose and profit. How does a business, with a definitive social drive, practically draw the tricky equilibrium and make a difference without sacrificing the bottom line?

1. Do your research

Ensure you know your market, understand their needs and don’t make assumptions. Social enterprises are much more complex than your regular business and require a lot more research. They have various customer sets, that are either direct or indirect and blending those in operations that meet those expectations is a delicate dance.

“In FutureProof,” comments Lisa Illingworth, CEO and co-founder of FutureProofSA. “We don’t define our customer sets based on what they are prepared to pay for, but rather on what problem we are solving and for whom. This means that the children, their parents, the schools and the management, our coaches as well as those in the corporate space all have various needs and expectations of how those are met. Thus, we have 5 different types of customers and we sell a variety of solutions to each of these, even though some are paying directly for our services.”

2. Remember it’s a business

You want to achieve social impact, but your priority is to ensure you make enough revenue to not only sustain the social enterprise, but to also allow for growth. As a business, you should instil good business practices such as processes, financial planning, legal structures and governance.

A social enterprise is a lot like the human body, if you feed it only enough to survive, growth will be stinted. Give the body more than what it needs to function for the day and growth will be proportional. Don’t sacrifice your profit at the altar of purpose.

3. Allow for flexibility

Have a flexible mindset. When the market is changing, you won’t survive staying the same. If your solution is no longer addressing the problem you are trying to solve, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. How you adapt is important and getting regular feedback from those you are serving as well as those who are paying- whether they are one in the same person or not.

Just because you are doing good work in your own mind, creating a transparent feedback loop, will prevent your business from being infatuated with the vision despite the market losing interest in your solution.

4. Take calculated risks

Be prepared to take risks but do your homework first. This is how you learn and grow both as a business and as an individual. Which means having the mechanisms and people in place to collect the data necessary to take informed steps towards opportunities aligned with the purpose of the business but not at the expense of still turning a profit.

You will never know every risk and it’s potential upsides or downsides, but having enough information that is unbiased can help make better business decisions and maintain both impact and shareholder value.

5. Focus on sustainability

sustainability

Keep your eye on remaining sustainable at all times. Keep in mind that sustainability is not only financial, it includes your operations and programmes. Socially minded entrepreneurs often make head decisions with their hearts and end up with an operationally capital-heavy structure. Hiring people based on contract positions and keeping overheads flexible will ensure that as your opportunities fluctuate, so the business can adapt accordingly and weather the famine times but grow in the seasons of abundance.

6. Have a clear mission

Have clarity on your purpose and how your business will achieve it. Ensure you have a strong Theory of Change for how you will create and deliver your social impact and develop an ability to clearly communicate it to everyone, both inside and outside of your business. This will also keep you, your team and your business from getting sucked into solving all the social sicknesses that exist in the area that you practice.

7. Network

Widen your circle. Support can include conferences, business networks, fellowships, mentorships, workshops, training, incubation and shared workspaces. Don’t focus on simply expanding your social circle into those in similar fields but look outside to those with varying perspectives, yet aligned in values and culture with your organisation.

8. Build a strong team

There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Don’t ever assume you can do it alone. Invest in a team that can support you, both on a personal and professional level and ensure that they are not only focused on the purpose of the business, but the way in which the purpose is achieved.

Ensure you are being coached in both a personal and professional capacity so as to maintain the momentum for yourself and your team.

9. No Grit – No Pearl

pearl

You have to possess grit — perseverance and passion is essential and will get you a very long way. The refining of this business model is more complicated as the numbers may not be the only measure of success. Know what good looks like for your business and be prepared to have the hard conversations to refine your offering to meet both an impact measure as well as a profit measure.

10. Enjoy the journey

You chose this journey because you wanted to make a positive difference in the world. It’s not going to be plain sailing, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun. Learn to enjoy the process and glean as many lessons as you can, from all sources, in the shortest time frame possible. Entrepreneurship is too hard, not to learn from the mistakes of others.

Finding that healthy tension between serving a purpose and making a profit is complicated and yet possible. One of the major benefits of running a social enterprise is that people are drawn to working in these types of businesses over those strictly increasing shareholder value. Employees feel as though they are serving something more than just making themselves and others rich, as long as the balance can be maintained with a constant activity of business introspection.

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How to Guides

How To Start A Car Dealership

Below are some tips on how to start.

Amy Galbraith

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If you are passionate about cars, then starting a car dealership might sound like the perfect business opportunity for you. You will be able to be your own boss and you can spend time around products that excite you, such as Nissan Qashai used cars, or luxury pre-owned cars, and used cars for business owners. But, you might not know where to start when planning your car dealership business.

If you want to open a franchise there are steps to follow. All car dealers need to have the correct documents in order when applying for buying and selling rights of cars, and you need to have the service history of all cars for sale on your lot. Interested in opening your own dealership or becoming part of a franchise?

Do your research

Before you jump right in to finding the perfect location for your car franchise or business, it is important to perform some market research into the industry. The first step is determining the demand for your particular service, which is providing used or second-hand cars for sale to the public.

Look at how many cars have been sold in your town recently, assuming that most people are willing to travel up to 16km to find a car. This might show you that in your area, up to 100 000 cars have been sold in a year. This is a significant demand, which will mean that your business model is a viable choice. Find out which people prefer used cars over the pre-owned vehicle options to further help your decisions.

Create a business plan

Once you have performed your research, it is time to create a business plan. You need a business plan to show any prospective franchisees and franchisors or for explaining to your lender exactly what you want to do with your car dealership business. It should include your initial and ongoing costs as well as what your working capital is.

The most important part of your business plan will be the cars themselves. For example, will you be selling new, used, or pre-owned vehicles? Will you be focusing on one brand or offering multiple brands? Answer these questions first and remember to include costing for salaries, lease agreements, and other business costs. Another important part of your business plan include how you will raise money to repay any loans or finance agreements you might have.

Have the right documents

After finalising your business plan, you should do some research into what documents you need to continue. In South Africa, this includes a dealer’s license which allows you to legally buy and sell cars to the public. It ensures that all of your business activities fall under the consumer rights and protection act.

You will also need to have documentation showing that you are leasing or own the property you will be operating from. You should look into a surety bond, which will protect you from any damages to the property. Speak to your lender about the other documents that you need for a franchise agreement, as these might be slightly different from what is required for a normal dealership. Also be sure to provide the correct documents to those you are purchasing used cars from.

Investigate inventory opportunities

The most important aspect of owning a car dealership is, of course, having cars to sell. This means that you will need investigate inventory opportunities, such as going to bank auctions to find cars that you can bid on and then resell at a fair price, or you could offer to purchase used cars from people who need to sell them and then resell these after much needed repairs and sprucing up.

You should always keep your budget in mind when purchasing inventory, as it can become costly if you are continuously running over-budget on purchases. This is when it is important to keep your business plan in mind as it will show you exactly how much you have to spend on inventory so that you can stick to this budget. If you would like to appeal to those who have discerning taste, you should remember that luxury vehicles might cost more than others.

Don’t forget about marketing

Once you have done your research, drawn up a business plan, and found all of your inventory, start working on marketing your business. Invest your money in a company that can help you to reach your audience by using modern digital tactics as well as traditional techniques of marketing. Remember to have the right documents together so that everything is legal and above board before you open your doors. Soon your car dealership will be booming and you will be helping people to find the cars of their dreams.

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How to Guides

Got An Awesome New Business Idea? Here’s What To Do Next

If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, the first step is to focus on two questions: ‘Why?’ and ‘Who?’

Syed Balkhi

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Do you constantly have great business ideas which fall to the wayside because you just don’t know how to turn those daydreams into reality? If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, that’s probably because you don’t know what to do next.

Around 550 000 people, according to the Kauffman start-up index, become entrepreneurs each month and you could be one of them. While there’s no guaranteed formula to starting a successful business, there are steps to take in the planning phase that will not only help you determine if your business idea has what it takes but help you get the ball rolling, too.

Sound like you? Here’s what to do next.

Determine the “why” and the “who”

The first step to take after you’ve come up with a new business idea is to concentrate on the “why” and “who” of it. You may think you’ve thought up an awesome idea, but your business won’t be successful if you don’t know the real reasons behind why it’s a good solution, and whom it would be a good solution for.

Start to really think about what problem your business idea solves. Your business may solve a problem for you, but does it solve a problem for others? If nobody else has the problem that your business proposes a solution for, then who will buy that solution?

After you’ve taken a deep dive into why your business is needed in the first place, determine who will be the target audience of your business. Think about the demographics of your target audience, what’s important to these people and how you will reach them. You can use a free tool like Hubspot’s Make My Persona to get detailed about who your ideal customers are. A business isn’t a business without customers, after all.

Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!

Search for similar solutions

No business idea is 100 percent unique; there will always be businesses out in the world that are similar to yours. So, don’t sweat it if there are companies doing what you do; in fact, that proves there’s a market for what you do. What you do have to think about is who your competition will be, what exactly they are providing and what you will do differently or better than they do.

To stand out from the competition, you will need to know what sets you apart. Start doing research on the companies that could become your competition. Look at how much they charge, who their target audience is and how they market to them, to name just a few research points. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but do look at what these companies are lacking in and how you can improve upon those areas in your business, so that you capture their customers.

Talk to your potential customers

Similar to your efforts to study your potential competition should be your effort to study potential customers. Get out there and start talking with your target audience. See if your product or service is something they would use, find out how much they would pay for it and ask what comparable product or business they’re using now to solve the problem.

You could even get super in-depth and ask people to fill out a survey providing answers that will help you get to know your audience even better. Even negative feedback about your business idea can help you refine your idea.

Lock down the details of your business

Coming up with a new business idea is exciting; your mind is probably buzzing with lots of plans and designs – maybe too many. So, sit back and lock down the finer details of your business. Will you be offering a product or a service? How much will it cost? How will you be marketing your business? You need to know your new business concept inside and out before you launch. A great and easy way to organise your thoughts is to use a business plan software like LivePlan.

Also, if you haven’t named your business yet, now’s the time to do it. Do some brainstorming and come up with a name that no one else has already taken.

Related: 20 Quick Money-Making Business Ideas

Determine the “how”

After you’ve worked out all the details of your future business, the next step is to figure out how to turn your dream into a reality. Obviously starting a business costs quite a bit of money, so that’s one of the major “how” factors you need to consider. Decide if you’ll talk to investors, take out a loan, or maybe even start a Kickstarter campaign.

Determine everything you’ll need to get your business up and running. For instance, if you’re offering a product, how will you build it and how much money will it cost? This last step is one of the most important in order to take your business from out of your head and into the real world.

Over to you

What are you waiting for? By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to starting your very own company. If you take the time to plan out your new business idea, you won’t just build a business, you’ll build a successful one.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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