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Start-up Advice

10 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Started

Shoot for goals that are 10 times bigger, and actually believe in them.

Richard Lorenzen

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When I started my company eight years ago, back when I was a student, I had no idea of the learning curve I would face before I might actually make it.

Today, as I continue to run my firm as well as speak to and advise other startups, I continually go back to some of the lessons I learned through direct experience (many times, the hard way) and through helping other companies avoid the same mistakes.

From all the years I’ve been an entrepreneur, a few of those lessons stand out as defining moments in my career.

They also represent moments in the trenches when I had to make a significant change, to either my business infrastructure or my personal mindset, in order to advance to the next stage in my company’s growth.

Related: 4 Types Of Business Models

Here are 10 of those lessons from my personal experience:

1. If you don’t start delegating as soon as your budget allows it, you will burn out fast

One of the most important lessons for me as a founder was that you need to spend as much time as possible, as soon as possible, in building teams.

You may be able to last a year or so as a one-man show. But if you’re seriously growing your business, you will not be able to wear all of those hats on your own. You can only hoard your cash and keep your overhead low for so long. Start reinvesting into team building and the dividends will multiply.

2. Shoot for goals that are 10 times bigger, and actually believe in them

A lot of times, it takes just as much effort to close a small deal as a big one. The only barrier is your own thinking. Further, if you build your business plan around a goal that’s ten times larger, and take that much more action, it’s a lot more likely that you will hit and surpass your original goal anyway.

3. Do the stuff you don’t want to do

In almost every case, the stuff that you least want to do is the stuff that is most important to do. I learned very early on that I needed to suck it up and do those boring/hard/not-fun tasks if I was ever going to move the needle.

Even when you delegate what you’re weak at, you still end up with something on your to-do list you don’t want to do. This is what separates the best from the rest.

Related: How To Create Founding Documents

4. There are some things you shouldn’t do

I spent a lot of time in the beginning doing tasks that I shouldn’t have been doing simply because I tend to be a taskmaster and perfectionist.

Now, each morning, I review my to-do list; and if there is something there that ultimately isn’t necessary and consequential, I either delegate it or eliminate it altogether. Focus on the top two-to-three areas where you can make the most impact on your business.

5. Watch out for information overload

library

I love to read, and I read a book per week. But I’ve also learned to be careful about overloading myself with too much information.

There are a thousand books about everything out there. Find a few really high-quality sources of information that serve you and drill down on them. Read them over and over and immerse yourself in them.

Implement what you learn and then move on to your next source. Don’t get lost in the bog of information out there to the point that it keeps you from taking action.

6. Know your ‘why’

You’ve got to know why you’re doing this, and it can’t just be money. There needs to be a reason beyond financial goals that pushes you to get up and do this every day.

Building a company is hard, and lots of obstacles will make you want to give up. You need to have a reason for hanging in there that is much bigger than the problems you are going to face every day.

Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!

7. Recognise that many wins were originally far-fetched ideas

Oftentimes, the idea that you think is least likely to work or is too far-fetched is the idea that becomes your next home run. Whether it’s that potential client that you are unsure about contacting because he or she is out of your league, or that marketing campaign you never thought could work, just do it (while managing your downside) and let results dictate what’s a good idea or not.

8. Measure everything

measuring-tape

The only way to improve anything is to measure it every single day. Why? Measurement brings clarity and awareness.

9. You need only one service/product

When you are a fledgling company (and especially if you’re an agency), don’t waste time, money and effort trying to offer 20 different services. Sell one service and become the best at it. Down the road, an expansion will be much easier when you have the cash.

10. Keep in touch with everybody

Always look at every contact as a relationship, and not just a transaction. Keep in touch with as many contacts as possible on a regular basis. Send personal notes, articles you think they’ll enjoy (such as this one!) and holiday greetings. Relationships are critical to long-term success.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

Richard Lorenzen is CEO of Fifth Avenue Brands, a public-relations firm in New York. He speaks nationally on entrepreneurship and has been featured on Fox News, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post and more. Lorenzen sits on the Young Entrepreneur Council, is a board member of Friends of the Children NY and is on the leadership council of the Clinton Foundation 20/30 Initiative.

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Start-up Advice

(Podcast) Playing To An Audience Of One

When you’re starting out, you’re often playing to an audience of one.

Nicholas Haralambous

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When you’re starting out, you’re often playing to an audience of one. No one knows who you are. No one understands what you can give them. You need to really, really believe enough in what you’re doing to play to an audience of one until you can build up traction. Don’t give up too soon.

Listening time: 3.25 minutes

Related: (Podcast) What You Buy May Not Be What You Need

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Your Questions Answered With Alan Knott-Craig

Which comes first, customers or revenue? To make revenue, you need customers. Here’s how you build a business that people will care about.

Alan Knott-Craig

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How can I start a small Internet service provider ISP business? — Tonderai

This is similar to the hoary chestnut, “How can I take over the world?” The answer is the same. Sit at the knee of a master for two years (at least) and learn the game. When you have a sufficient network of contacts, and understanding of the business, head off on your own. How do you find a ‘master’? Identify an ISP that appeals to you. Get your foot in the door somehow, even if it’s just making coffee. Work your way to as close to the CEO’s door as possible by continuously over-delivering. Learn like a sponge.

The possible alternative to ‘find knee of master’ is to find a technical guy with zero sales inclination. Make him your partner. You become the front office (sales — find customers). He becomes your back office (tech — product delivery). If you can’t find a master or a tech partner, you can’t start an ISP.

Related: Want To Leave Customers Grinning And Vowing To Return? Do The Following

How do I find a co-founder? How do I find a development team? — Kirsten

For a technical co-founder, Tinder is best. Jokes. In fact, Tinder is the last place on earth to find a technical co-founder. Rather try family and friends. Conferences. University. Milk your networks by letting everyone know that you’re looking for a technical co-founder. Failing that, you must hire a development team.

The days of compensating software developers with equity in lieu of cash are long gone. Absent a technical co-founder, there is only one way to develop software: Pay for it. How do you find the right dev-house?

Word of mouth is best. The rules of thumb are:

  • Maximum project duration = three months.
  • Scope it once. Don’t change the scope.
  • Keep it simple.

For your first iteration, it usually makes sense to go with a young and relatively inexperienced crew (try www.avochoc.com). Yes, the product will not be future-proof, but your first version need not be future-proof. You just need something to start signing up customers and getting market feedback.

If you get traction, then you can start worrying about scalability and consider engaging with more experienced (and expensive) dev-houses.

I have invented a hamburger roll that ensures the patty and toppings cannot escape. Would you suggest I patent it?  — Albert

Interesting idea. From the photos, it seems your solution is a variation of a pita bread. It may be worthwhile reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel.

He argues that consumers will always resist change, even change that is very obviously good for them, ie: non-leaking hamburger rolls. The only way to introduce innovation into an established market is if it represents a minimum of 10x improvement over the status quo. Only such a quantum improvement will induce people to change behaviour.

Although undoubtedly a big improvement, I’m not sure the non-leaking hamburger roll qualifies as 10x innovation. And so it probably will not succeed in the market place.

Before patenting, I suggest you try sell some rolls to establish whether you can get traction and prove revenue potential.

Related: Direct Marketing: Go Where Your Customers Are

I’d like to launch an app with an advertising revenue model. What do you think? — Mvelo

I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but advertising is an insufficient revenue model in South Africa. You need to figure out another way to make money. Most times, the paths to non-advertising revenue streams only reveal themselves once you have users.

You should work on the assumption that it will take you at least two years to get sufficient traction, therefore you need to have two years’ worth of runway before plunging into your entrepreneurial adventure. In those two years, you should be growing your users as much as possible.

The size of your user base will determine your negotiating power with potential investors and/or customers, and will determine the odds of success in finding a non-advertising revenue stream.

Okay, forget advertising. I’m going to charge my users a monthly subscription of R20. — Mvelo

I realise that it’s a chicken and egg situation, but it’s very hard to find backing until you have proof of your theory working in the real world. On other hand, it’s hard to get proof without first finding backing. That’s the entrepreneurial quandary.

Generally speaking, the egg comes before the chicken. The egg is users. The chicken is revenue. Before you can test your revenue theories, you need users. Refer to previous answer.


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How The Black Umbrellas Programme Can Boost Your Local Black Business

Going it alone and succeeding isn’t unheard of in entrepreneurial circles – but getting the right backing can accelerate your success. South African SMEs have a ‘big brother’ in Black Umbrellas, explains CEO Seapei Mafoyane.

Shanduka Black Umbrellas

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Vital Stats

Going it alone and succeeding isn’t unheard of in entrepreneurial circles – but getting the right backing can accelerate your success. South African SMEs have a ‘big brother’ in Black Umbrellas, explains CEO Seapei Mafoyane.

The networks that the programme has are extensive. Along with mentorship, when these building blocks come together, they do something really majestic for the outlook of SMEs.

The Challenge

“The perception of SMEs in corporate South Africa is that they’re risky, unreliable and incompetent,” says Seapei. This results in a lack of opportunities for SMEs because large corporates still view them as potentially risky.

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs Who Built Their Businesses From Nothing

Joining Black Umbrellas offers the following:

1. Cameraderie

Belonging to a group of people who are going through the same challenges that they are. I think it’s extremely encouraging to find people who understand the challenges in the environment you’re going through.

2. Entrepreneurial spirit

You find businesses in different sectors and at different maturity levels in their business lifecycle. It’s very encouraging for someone starting out in their business to find a more mature business, perhaps in their second or third year, that has banked some projects.

3. Relying on a big brother

Black Umbrellas has been able to build a brand that is recognised for understanding the needs of corporate South Africa and being able to empathise with the requirements and support structures of SMEs. What entrepreneurs look for in the programme is that big brother that helps them weather the storm.

The Solution

“In a market where there’s quite a visceral relationship between corporate South Africa — where the majority of markets are — and smaller, medium enterprises trying to locate those opportunities, Black Umbrellas really is a meeting place,” says Seapei.

“We provide a marketplace for corporate buyers and SMEs to come together in an environment that is trusted. Some of the opportunities our businesses are able to access would not have been accessible to them if they were flying solo.”

SMEs abound, but it’s not always easy for larger corporations to find, vet and mentor them.

SMEs that join the Black Umbrellas programme have reported reaching levels they never saw themselves achieving outside of the programme.

“It sounds overly-simplistic, but I think the change is tremendous when SMEs join Black Umbrellas,” says Seapei. “It’s quite a thing to watch: A business trying to do this on their own and how their outcomes change when they join the programme.” Black Umbrellas opens them up to a network of help that is as wide as it is deep.

Related: Attention Black Entrepreneurs: Start-Up Funding From Government Grants & Funds

partnershipThe Power of Partnership

“We’d never be able to do anything we do without relying on collaboration,” emphasizes Seapei. “We rely very heavily on corporate partnerships to avail those opportunities to us and those markets for SMEs to be able to do what they do.”

Black Umbrellas has an extensive network of funders and donors that is expanding continuously and prides itself on being the custodian of SME development in South Africa. She says the programme aims to ensure high-impact SMEs produce incredible results to turn the outlook of the economy around.

One of Black Umbrellas’ longest-standing partnerships is with Transnet:

  • Transnet understands the mandate set out by Black Umbrellas and the need to invest in entrepreneurs.
  • We’re able to support their supply chain through the development of these dynamic businesses that go on to transform their supply chain and respective communities
  • Transnet has an incredible impact on the economy — through just two small incubators in Richard’s Bay and Port Elizabeth, with almost 500 jobs, which is a huge social return on investment.

BECOME A BLACK UMBRELLAS SME

Black Umbrellas’ mandate

Many start-ups don’t make it beyond the first two years because of inadequate planning, lack of support, financial or knowledge resources. Yet the growth of the SME sector in South Africa is vital for economic development of our country and in solving the unemployment crisis.

Black Umbrellas offers a platform through which to develop a business from its start-up phase to full independence. Because the programme addresses the multidimensional components required to develop an emerging business into a sustainable one, entrepreneurs are 100% supported on their business journey, which gives them the leverage to succeed. This support includes access to markets, networks and finance.

Programme benefits

Emerging businesses are supported with infrastructure, mentorship and collaboration, to assist their transition from incubation to viable, independent businesses.

For committed, hardworking and dedicated entrepreneurs, this multi-tiered business support programme is an important catalyst in enterprise development.

Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs

Black Umbrellas’ contribution to the economy

  • In seven years 1 000 SMEs have achieved a collective turnover of over R2 billion
  • The programme has contributed a combined R118 million in taxes back to the fiscus
  • Over 10 000 jobs have been created through our SMEs
  • R436 million in salaries has been contributed as a result of the programme.

Mistakes to avoid when establishing your SME within a large supply chain

Focus on a specific area where you can add real value. You’ll never be able to maximise every opportunity by trying to be all things to all people, says Seapei. “As an SME you want to find a particular niche that you can fill successfully, thereby maximising your unique value proposition.” 

Who should apply?

  • Entrepreneurs with a business enterprise at its start-up phase
  • The business should be registered with the Companies & Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC), and for small business tax
  • You must have the passion to succeed and be willing to work to achieve your business goals
  • You must be South African and black according to the BEE definition.

The 2017 National Enterprise Development Awards

Top performing small and medium enterprises have been recognised at the Black Umbrellas National Development Awards. Black Umbrellas established the National Enterprise Development Awards (NEDA) in recognition of the achievements of the entrepreneurs in their business incubation programme. These awards highlight the hard work and dedication required to establish and sustain a successful business that creates jobs and contributes to the economy.

The finalists were selected from regional enterprise development awards ceremonies held at each of the Black Umbrellas incubators across the country. The businesses in the incubators have altogether created and preserved over 10 000 jobs across key economic sectors, which include mining, construction, engineering, security services and project management.

Overall winners were:

  • Most Jobs Created: Hula Minerals and Processing
  • Best Performing Company: Aquila Projects (PTY) LTD
  • Best BU Ambassador: Recycle 1st
  • Overall National Winner: Modi Mining
  • Incubator of the Year: Johannesburg incubator
  • People’s Choice Award Winner: Recycle 1st

Seven Years  1 000 SMEs R2 billion collective turnover

  • Contributed a combined R118 million in taxes back to the fiscus
  • Created more than 10 000 jobs
  • Contributed R436 million in salaries
  • Expect more from your ESD Investment.

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