- 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.
Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk
Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…
You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.
Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.
It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.
There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…
Step 01: Do your research
No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.
Step 02: Understand the costs
Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.
A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.
Step 03: Know when to walk away
As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.
You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.
Mind The Gap
The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.
Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.
Here are five…
It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.
2. Look for pain
Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.
Be the Panado that fixes these pains.
This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.
4. Luck needs courage
You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.
Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.
5. Pay attention
This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.
5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business
As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.
Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.
Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”
As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:
1. This too shall pass
Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.
2. Appreciate what this phase brings
The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.
3. Establish boundaries
Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.
4. Take a break
Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.
5. Give it space to make mistakes
While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.
During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.
While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.
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