- Get an idea
- Find the money
- Set up shop
- Spread the word
- Marketing Bootcamp
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” said Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Unfortunately, the saying has been appropriated by so many self-help gurus and motivational posters that it doesn’t have much impact these days.
But it’s worth pausing a moment to ponder the statement, because it actually holds a lot of truth. Every great business you can think of started with that first step.
Sadly, though, not enough people take that first step. Starting a business is difficult and daunting, and more problematically, has no firm deadline. Very few people have someone looking over their shoulder forcing them to get a business started. So that great idea is never acted on. Starting their own business remains something they’ll do ‘one day’.
The best way to actually take that first step is not to think of launching a business as one (massive) project, but to instead break it down into more manageable goals. We’ve compiled a four-step plan to get your business off the ground. It starts, as you might expect, with finding an idea.
1Get an idea
Finding a great idea can be both the easiest and the hardest part of launching your own business. It’s easy because you don’t need to spend any money on it. And when you strike on that amazing idea, it can be tremendously fun and rewarding. Also, thanks to the Internet, there’s no shortage of ideas. Inspiration is everywhere.
But finding the right idea can also be hard. There are so many options that it can all feel a bit overwhelming. Moreover, no idea is a guaranteed success, so you can never be quite sure if your ‘amazing’ idea is actually as good as you think it is. Doubt will almost always be gnawing at you.
When looking for an idea, many people would recommend ‘following your passion’. This can be good advice, but it doesn’t work for everyone. You might love to cook, but if you’re not bringing something new and innovative to the industry, your restaurant probably won’t make it.
Passion is great, but it’s not enough on its own. To really be successful, you need to solve a burning problem, and since most problems are already being solved these days, it often comes down to solving it more efficiently than someone else.
If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn’t any limit to what you can do with your business and your life. Ideas are any man’s greatest asset. – Harvey S. Firestone
Related: A – Z Easy Small Business Ideas
2 Find the money
Thanks to all those over-funded unicorns in Silicon Valley, the global start-up culture has become obsessed with VC and angel funding. The reality, however, is that your business probably won’t get millions in funding.
Only a very, very small percentage of start-ups will ever see external investment. But that might not necessarily be a bad thing. As the quote by venture capitalist Fred Wilson suggests, loads of funding doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, it might actually be a bad thing.
Being able to throw money at every problem creates the wrong culture in a business. You want to get the fundamentals right and start showing positive cash flow as quickly as possible. You don’t want to scale quickly because you’ve got the money to do it, only to find out later that your business model doesn’t actually make sense.
The amount of money start-ups raise in their seed and series A rounds is inversely correlated with success. – Fred Wilson, Union Square Ventures
3Set up shop
Once you’ve launched a start-up, there are only two things you really need to do in the short-term: Maximise your income and limit your expenses. That means signing customers and selling goods, without burning through a ton of cash to do it.
The good news is that this is easier to do than ever. There are a lot of solutions out there — both digital and real-world — that can help you launch your business successfully. You just need to fight the temptation to lease swanky offices and buy expensive equipment, and commit to the cost-efficient way of doing things.
Also, you need to get the fundamentals right — from the very first day that you operate. You need to always be aware of the financial situation of your business. Neglect this early on, and you’ll pay the price down the line.
Never take your eyes off the cash flow because it’s the life blood of business. – Richard Branson
4 Spread the word
There are only two ways to increase revenue: Increase the price of what you’re selling, or sell to more people. So, unless you want to try and up your prices (which is very risky), you need to increase your customer base. You do this through marketing.
Thankfully, marketing is easier than ever. Thanks to technology you can now market your business without having to spend money on expensive television or print campaigns. You can make a big impact, but you need to be smart about it. Your marketing budget can go a long way, provided you know how to utilise it.
This starts with knowing your customer. If you don’t truly understand your customer, you will struggle to make a success of your business. In an era when consumers are spoilt for choice, the companies that truly thrive are the ones that know their customers and have empathy for them.
Salesmanship is limitless. Our very living is selling. We are all sales people. – JC Penney
Know thy customer
Successful marketing starts with understanding your customer. If you don’t understand your customer, you don’t have much of a business.
“The number one reason why start-ups go under is a failure to understand the market,” says Dr Alex Antonides of Enterprises University of Pretoria. “For this reason, any and every business enterprise should start with customer discovery and development.”
Before you even think of selling anything, you need to discover if there’s a market for what you are offering. This means going out and speaking to potential customers.
In lean start-up parlance, this is called customer discovery, and it should form the foundation of any business venture.
If your business is already up and running, you have hopefully done the hard work of speaking to strangers and finding out if they’ll be willing to pay money for your product or service. However, customer discovery isn’t something that can be checked off a list — it is an ongoing exercise.
“I tell my students to go out to a mall and look at the things that people are spending money on,” says Antonides. “You have to know and understand what consumers want.”
Only once you know what consumers want can you market your offering successfully. Empathy is a word that’s often used in Silicon Valley, but it’s not as popular here. That’s a shame, since the companies that achieve success in a highly competitive environment are the ones that have real empathy for the consumer. This means really engaging with customers about the problems they face, and the solutions they require.
It’s not about the ‘fast sell’. It’s about spending time (and money) to get to know the customer. It’s about creating a holistic picture of your potential customer, which includes even the things that are seemingly irrelevant to your industry. Once you’ve done this, you can create a successful marketing strategy.
Search for ‘marketing bootcamp’ on www.entrepreneur.com. You’ll find a wonderful collection of articles and other resources, which have been created in conjunction with the UPS Store. Regardless of your marketing question, you’ll find an answer here.
It’s all about content
Google and Facebook ads can offer a great ROI, but you still need to spend quite a bit of money in order to make it work. If you spend a small amount of money, very few people are going to see your digital ads, and since conversion rates are generally low, you probably won’t enjoy a lot of success.
When it comes to digital advertising, the old adage of ‘you need to spend money to make money’ is very true. There’s a certain tipping point at which digital ads start to make sense. Many small businesses spend thousands of rands on Google and Facebook ads every month. It’s worth it, though, because the business generated from new customers is worth more than the cost of the ads. But what if your cash flow is too tight to allow a huge marketing spend?
“Building a community as a brand that has little to no marketing budget isn’t easy — that’s why it is imperative to look at your content approach, especially on Facebook, as a storytelling opportunity. Who are the heroes and villains within your market, and how can you position your brand differently from its competitors?” says Mike Sharman of Retroviral Digital Communications.
“Developing remarkable content is the key to providing a launchpad or a platform from which to build fans. Facebook also has an algorithm that serves your content to a limited number of fans first and — based on the success of the engagement of this content — then distributes it to a wider audience,” says Sharman.
As ex-Google employee and angel investor Paul Buchheit has said: “Start out by making 100 users really happy, rather than a lot more users only a little happy.”
Generating content can seem like a small way to market your business, but if that content is good and it makes a handful of prospective customers very happy, you’ll be surprised by the effect it can have. Great content says a lot about your business.
Of course, you’ll probably need to spend some money on marketing, but by experimenting a bit, you can make every cent work for you.
“If you are a brand/business page, you will need to spend on paid media, either via an agency or with your credit card. You know your product or service better than anyone else, so experiment by putting some money behind your posts to target first niche, and then broader audiences. Facebook spend shows what your expected reach and engagement will be as you scale your spend, and spread it out over several days,” says Sharman.
By paying attention to your campaign, you can stretch your budget surprisingly far. But it’s not a sit-back-and-watch kind of activity. You need to tweak and experiment constantly, until you find a strategy that really works.
Start-ups: Creating A High Tech/High Touch Environment
Here are some practical tips for creating a ‘high tech/high touch environment’.
In this fast-paced tech orientated world things are changing at a frightening yet exciting rate. It is so easy and so quick to create a tech start-up from anywhere in the world and office space as a requirement to start up has become obsolete, your garage will do. Yet because it is so easy and so cost effective for so many to create a start-up it is so hard to stand out amongst this entanglement of serial tech entrepreneurs and innovative start-ups.
The millennial generations’ general paradigm of thinking, which is more open –minded and entrepreneurial is slowly but surely breaking through the barriers of traditional business operations, mechanisms and methods, imbalances are created, however, when tech is the sole focus and people are forgotten in the process. As is so evident throughout history eventually by some means balance is sought in order to create equilibrium.
This writing serves as advice to all tech start-ups to seek balance from the onset in creating a “high tech/high touch” environment. A “High tech/high touch” environment can be defined as a balanced approach where both tech solutions, and of equal importance, team empowerment and inspiring leadership form a potent combination of enduring success.
Technology by itself cannot solve everything but technology applied in unison with a strong people centred approach can be a powerful catalyst towards solving at least some of this worlds’ major challenges.
Although many factors such as for example fiscal discipline and other management controls play a vital role in your start-ups’ success do not forget to create an inspiring environment for your team within which they feel safe and united in purpose. Key to business growth is the individual growth of all team members and no stone should be left unturned in moving from a toxic and/or culture of complacency to a learning and growth culture.
Co-create an inspiring vision for your team and get their full buy-in. If you cannot do that you might have to put in more effort when it comes to your own leadership skills and/or “free up the future” of complacent and lethargic employees whom simply do not want to work hard to collectively actualise your business’ co-created vision.
Although very hard, it is worth the effort to only hire people that are passionate about and have integrity in what they do. If a sustainable and successful “high tech” environment is the aim ensure that it is underpinned by very smart hiring and training practises further enhanced by a good dose of inspirational servant leadership.
Generally speaking, everyone wants to feel part of something bigger, exciting, and inspiring. It is your responsibility as founder and leader to create a motivating and energetic business climate wherein every team member is empowered to execute at a rapid pace and with a “zero defect” mind-set. A team environment wherein everyone sincerely wants to be great at what they do and are energised by ‘small wins’ on the path to actualising the grand vision of the company is far more inspiring and sustainable as opposed to an environment where ‘subordinates’ are only managed and basically forced to do their jobs.
Related: The Anatomy Of Peak Performance
Sincerely care for your people yet maintain balance,as caring does not mean you treat them like children. Caring means taking great interest in both their career and personal development, and to be tough enough to eventually let those go that does not constructively contribute to a positive growth culture.
Here are some practical tips for creating a ‘high tech/high touch environment’:
- Have a balanced approach in hiring. Hire for technical and people skills and ensure that there is a clear development and training plan for all team members that is reasonable and attainable.
- Find your purpose as an entrepreneur and with great enthusiasm model that purpose at every juncture as to inspire others to find their purpose.
- As ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ guard the positive and growth culture that you model as a leader with all your energy and remove anything and anyone from the aforesaid culture that is counter-productive to your business performance.
- Sincerely care about and show that you care about each individual team members’ personal and career development.
- Regularly put having fun and inspiration high on meeting agendas as we generally take ourselves too seriously.
Why You Shouldn’t Quit Your Job To Start A Business
Rather than taking the plunge, consider dipping your toe in first
As the world becomes more digitized and access to the internet is something we all enjoy, more and more of us want to quit our day jobs to start our own businesses. The word “entrepreneur” is thrown around a lot these days, with many people seeing it as a means to enjoy a whole new level of professional, financial and personal freedom.
It is not difficult to see why, either. Having the ability do what you love, when you want and on your own terms is certainly attractive, especially when you could potentially build it into a sizeable income. Don’t be too quick, however, to abandon your day job to pursue your entrepreneurial dreams. Many of today’s best-known entrepreneurs consider doing so to be reckless and unnecessary.
“Entrepreneurs” are rarely the modern-day maverick who suddenly decide one day to quit their jobs and pursue their dreams. After all, quitting a job to pursue business is risky, especially without having a safety net in place. In fact, the majority of people who decide to start an online business will fail within the first year.
Further, there is far more involved in transitioning from being an employee of others to becoming your own boss than you may realise. Changing your mind-set from that of an employee to an entrepreneur is a major key to successfully bridging that divide.
If you operate with the mind-set of an employee — a person who is used to working for others and being paid by them – you will almost certainly fail. When you work for others, you do what they tell you to do. As an entrepreneur, you decide what the next best step is, and you execute that step in your day-to-day actions. The latter requires both a significant mind-set shift and major discipline.
At the same time, in our rapidly changing economy, you would almost be doing yourself a disservice not to start a business. But, how can you do so while working full-time?
Take the “hybrid path” to entrepreneurship
If you’re willing to sacrifice much of your free time now to reap the rewards later, you have what it takes to become an entrepreneur. Often called the “hybrid path” to entrepreneurship, many successful entrepreneurs started their business while still being employed full-time.
Research has shown that those who kept their day jobs while starting their businesses were 33 percent more likely to be successful than their risk-taking counterparts.
Leveraging your full-time job in the early days of your business, allows you to build on firmer financial ground, increasing the likelihood that your enterprise will last and thrive through the initial stages.
In addition, being entrepreneurial within your existing job allows you to build the necessary skills and traits you will need as you transition from your employee to entrepreneurial role.
Being impatient and chasing short-term gratification by quitting your job and going all-in, is risky and often ill-advised. Building slowly and steadily for the long-term is often the wisest course of action.
Today, it’s more important than ever to start a business
Still, with all that being said, the time couldn’t be more right to start your own business and become self-sufficient. Unlike in years past, having a job no longer guarantees financial security.
Rapid developments in technology and the ever-increasing digitization of our world puts creative and business-building tools in the hands of everyone. Whether you have skills to market or a great idea for a product, you too could be the next Bill Gates or Elon Musk.
Even if you set your sights a little lower, consider what skills you have that others would gladly pay you for. Figure out what you can charge per client, and how many clients you would need to completely replace your income. Unless you’re already earning seven figures, you’ll soon realise that the numbers are not that daunting.
I was able to build my first business through affiliate marketing With affiliate marketing, you don’t have to create your own product. Rather, you earn a commission by promoting other people’s products.
Though the thought of running your own business, spending your days working on something you’re passionate about, and choosing how and where you spend your time is enticing, realise there are days if not years of sleepless nights, cash flow shortfalls and mind-set hurdles between you and your destination.
By building your business while working full- or part-time, you will have the cash flow in the short term to get your enterprise off the ground. Once your business begins bringing in an income which rivals that of your day job, then and only then should you consider whether to pursue it full-time.
Building a business is not for the faint of heart. But, if you’re willing to work crazy hours, delay gratification and learn from your failures, you can build both a business and life like few others. After all, “Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.”
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
How To Survive 150 Straight Rejections
And come away smarter, tougher, and more successful.
Sam Sisakhti had an idea for an e-commerce company called UsTrendy. It would sell clothing made by talented, unknown fashion designers from around the world — acting as a marketplace for great styles that could not be found anywhere else.
It didn’t matter that he had no experience in fashion or building a brand, or that he had just quit his ﬁrst job out of college after only four days. What mattered was that he believed that this idea could be huge. And to get it there, he ﬁgured, he needed to raise money. A lot of money.
Initially, it seemed easy. On their very ﬁrst pitch, Sam and his associate landed a $500 000 offer. “Crazy,” he says. But there was a catch: The VC required them to move to Silicon Valley to receive the money. Sam’s right-hand man didn’t want to move. Sam decided he’d just do it himself.
So he moved, failing to understand that investors buy into a team, not just an idea. He promptly lost the funding. No matter, he thought. He’d just get more money
Thus began Sam’s real journey. He started pitching to anyone and everyone, regard-less of their ﬁeld of expertise. It went badly. By his count, he was rejected around 150 times in a row over 18 months. Worse, he kept revising his business plan based on their feedback, reducing it to an ever-changing muddle that made it even harder to sell.
This beating culminated with a meeting with a VC who, humiliatingly, was a family friend. “He threw my business plan in the trash, right in front of me,” Sam says. “And I just remember thinking, Man, what am I doing?”
Entrepreneurs hear a lot of nos. In fact, it’s probably the word they hear more than any other, especially starting out. It can come in torrents. It can get crushing. The key, as Sisakhti learnt, is twofold: To survive it, and to learn from it.
And here’s what Sam realised: He needed to stop pitching. Not every business needs funding, nor is every business ready for funding.
“I was spending all my time pitching, and I wasn’t spending any time building the business,” he says. So he scaled back. “I went from wanting to create the next Amazon to just saying I wanted to grow a business organically,” he recalls. “I just wanted to pay for a modest, middle-class lifestyle.”
Freed from the ceaseless need to fundraise, Sam drew on his natural creativity and resourcefulness. He’d always thought he needed funding to help recruit young designers. But now he started to get creative. He recruited them right out of design school — using student brand ambassadors to get around rules about recruiting on campus. Soon he had a thousand. Then he linked up with London Fashion Week to do a show for emerging designers. He pitched a design competition, and that got him 3 000 more, along with a bunch of press coverage.
Now he had inventory, revenue, and exposure. He was feeling good. One night, over dinner, Sam sent a magazine piece to mega-investor Tim Draper, who had rejected him twice already. Fifteen minutes later, Draper responded, saying he wanted to talk. Eureka.
“I think the reason he was interested was that I’d shown I was going to do this with or without the money,” Sam says
He even got a little cocky. “I told him that it’s just a matter of time: ‘If I have your money, I’ll get there faster, but if I don’t, I’ll still get there. And then the valuation’s just gonna be that much higher to get in.’”
Draper invested $1 million in a ﬁrst round, then came back for a second round. In total, UsTrendy has raised more millions since, grown by 300% annually in its ﬁrst few years, and worked with more than 20 000 designers from more than 100 countries. It has attracted more than two million followers on social media and other digital media channels.
Now when Sam reﬂects on all those no’s, he thinks not of rejection — but of how it changed him. How it showed him the way. “It was awesome,” he says.
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