1Communicate, communicate, communicate
Working together with my colleagues, we get to steer the business through a relatively democratic process. I’ve discovered that the more I talk to them, the easier it is to make decisions.
In a start-up, there’s no time for ineffective communication.
Unlike my past experiences where I’ve worked in larger teams, we don’t have as many meetings as we have actual conversations. If you’re going into a start-up, be prepared to start some real relationships, and have an open agenda.
Miscommunication, ego, and politics are really damaging to a small team. Try to leave the drama at home.
Lesson for owners: Foster a culture of transparency from the moment you open your doors. As the business grows you will need to implement policies and processes, but that original culture will be sustained as you grow — and it will be invaluable for your overall organisational culture.
2Love the process, not the outcome
I have dreamed of running my own business. I imagine myself wheeling and dealing, owning boardrooms with my undeniable charisma, leading a team of happy and well-adjusted staff members with my unparalleled people skills. I have quite an imagination.
The danger of these kinds of flights of fancy is that you tend to fall in love with the outcome, and what you really need to do is fall in love with the hard work required.
This is something that I see in Pieter. He has his fingers in a lot of pies. He isn’t doing it because he imagines himself to be some rich and powerful globe-trotting businessman. He’s doing it because he is in love with the process. He likes putting the work in. He likes dealing with people. He likes seeing how the little seeds he plants will begin to blossom.
Great rock stars aren’t in love with the record contracts, they’re in love with the music. It’s the dedication and devotion to crafting something beautiful that makes them successful. The fame and glory is just a by-product.
If you’re in love with an outcome, a daydream, a lifestyle, be careful. The work is what gets you to the outcome, and if you have no love for it, you will not succeed.
Lesson for owners: Great start-ups are built on passion. You need to love what you do, and enjoy doing it. The cliché that if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life is all about the process and not the outcome — and here’s the secret:
If you enjoy the process, the outcome takes care of itself.
3Learn to shift your priorities
We started out with a focus on being a service design agency. We were going to consult to big business and help them innovate and build better products and services. We quickly discovered that service design is quite new and nobody really knows what it is.
While we’re working hard on promoting service design, we also find that we have to rely on our skills as a traditional digital agency to put food on the table.
You have to have an idea of what you want the outcome of your start-up to be. In fact, you need more than an idea, you need a plan. I won’t go into the details around planning and the importance of having a structure to work within, but what I will say is that plans change.
You will need to learn to roll with the punches, adapt, and survive. As I mentioned, communication with your team and your clients is key. You might find that the star product or service that you thought was going to make you rich takes a backseat while other products and services that you like a bit less become the real money-spinners.
While you should never put away your hero product, you might have to reprioritise based on customer feedback.
Lesson for owners: The art of the pivot is often what separates a successful start-up from its less successful counterparts. Being willing and able to change direction based on new information is your biggest competitive advantage. It’s a level of flexibility your larger competitors don’t have. Use it.
4Learn new skills
My role is that of strategist. In short, my job is to look at the client brief and budget and come up with a direction for the creatives and a plan for the roll-out. I sometimes do more, I sometimes do less.
The first thing that changed at Havas Boondoggle was that I played a role in helping my clients write that brief. I found that I was more actively involved in their businesses and that I was seen as part of their team in a very real way. I started to see myself that way too. Sure, I was an employee of Havas Boondoggle, but I gladly stepped into other roles in other businesses too.
I also began taking initiative in the creative aspect of our service. Taking my strategies a little further into the realm of creative ideation. I found that working for a much smaller business gave me the opportunity to try new things; to spread my wings a little.
The thing you quickly discover is that not only will you start tackling tasks that you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll have to tackle them with confidence. You’re going to have to learn to let go of your fear of the unknown, because if you don’t, someone else from another start-up will.
It’s an awful feeling looking back on something that you decided you couldn’t do, to discover that someone else with less experience than you did it. You’ll definitely discover that there are things that you are terrible at, but that’s one of the benefits of working for a start-up — self-discovery.
Lesson for owners: If you hire the right people for your start-up, they will take your business to incredible new heights. Look for passionate individuals who want to be involved in creating something great, instead of working a normal, safe 9-to-5. Fuel their passion and make them feel like they are integral to your own start-up story.
5Be prepared to sacrifice
If you’re going to work for a start-up, whether as the boss or as an employee, be prepared. You’re going to work weekends, you’re going to work after hours. You’re going to be on your phone late at night with teammates, you’re going to come in early, you’re going to go home late.
You’re going to spend time sleeping in hotel rooms in other cities, away from your family. You’re going to discover that there are things you’re not good at. You’re going to discover that sometimes the pressure is too much. You’re going to find out how strong you really are.
Being part of a start-up is a very rewarding experience, but don’t do it if you’re not prepared to make sacrifices. Sometimes those sacrifices are time-based, sometimes they require you to let go of preconceived notions you had about yourself.
Lesson for owners: You’re going to be asking a lot of yourself and your team, so remember to stop and also have fun once in a while. Burning out serves no-one. Make sure your team take time for themselves, celebrate and respect each other’s personal lives — and remember why you’re doing this in the first place. It isn’t to turn into a sleep-deprived zombie, but to live your passions.
Pulling it all together
I’ve been with Havas Boondoggle for just over a year now. The experience has been very different from working in a large agency, mainly because we walked into this hoping that we were going to do things differently. In part, we got that right. In part, we didn’t. All things considered, that’s okay, because start-ups are really about the journey.
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.