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Start-up Advice

5 Expensive Mistakes These Experts Will Help You Avoid

Starting a business is tough. You make mistakes, and then you pick yourself up and make sure you don’t make the same mistakes again. But you can also learn from the mistakes of others – particularly the more common examples.

Nadine Todd

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Mistakes

Here are five expensive mistakes to look out for, along with expert advice on how to avoid them.

1. Expensive mistake: Hiring the wrong team

Irfan Pardesi and Hina Kassam, founders of ACM Gold, made this mistake a few years into their business, once it was already hitting a turnover of hundreds of millions of rands.

“We thought it was time to bring in an experienced management team, and we hired from top-tier investment companies,” says Pardesi.

“What we hadn’t taken into account was the fact that large corporates operate differently from entrepreneurial organisations, and that top managers in particular will implement the structures that worked for them before. The whole culture of our organisation started shifting. It was an extremely expensive mistake to make, and took us months to rectify. Today we’ve learnt: Always hire for a cultural fit, whether you’re established or a start-up. Attitude is everything.” 

Related: 6 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me When I Started My Small Business

Expert advice

Bill

Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and author of Disciplined Entrepreneurship, says choosing the wrong team is the single costliest error entrepreneurs make, resulting in not only lost income and time but depleted morale.

“Choosing who to hire and work with in a start-up is like playing sports at school: You can pick your friends and play for them, but if you want to be good and continue to be on the field, you have to carefully pick your team,” he explains.

It’s crucial to choose people with varying skill sets. However, Aulet says: “Much like a great sports team, they must also share some common values and the ability to trust each other in tough situations. That’s why past experience working with your co-founders and early employees in stressful times is much more important than being friends.”

Be like this guy

When Justin Stanford first launched ESET Southern Africa, he did it out of a garage. His very first hire was an intern, Carey van Vlaanderen, and together they pretended the company was much bigger than it actually was. Today, van Vlaanderen is CEO of the company, while Stanford heads up the holding company, 4Di Group. That first hire made all the difference, particularly because they both cared about the business and its growth.

2. Expensive mistake: Bad pricing

“My single biggest mistake with my first business – a handbag company – was in pricing,” says Sarah Shaw, CEO of consulting firm, Entreprenette.

“I didn’t understand that with any kind of clothing or accessories, you have to calculate the square footage of fabric, including the wasted fabric,” Shaw explains. Its a common misstep for product manufacturers.  Without an accurate understanding of her costs, she couldn’t price her products correctly.

“I thought you sort of doubled everything, but that’s not correct,” she says. “It’s a 2,5-times mark-up from cost to wholesale, which covers marketing, the showroom fee, all your expenses.”

By the end of her first two years in business, Shaw had put in more than $100 000 of her own money. Thanks to perseverance and media buzz (celebrities loved her bags), she ended up with $1 million in annual revenue and attracted investors, but she couldn’t recover from the downturn after 9/11 and closed the business in 2002.

Expert advice

Home Truth: Remember the price you charge must take into account all the labour at the market price of the labour. According to Bertie du Plessis, author of Your Business Nightmares and How to Wake Up, when you’re selling services for which you need to invoice in order to get paid, you must ensure your price includes everything that goes into delivering the service and getting the money into your bank account. This is where many new business owners and SMEs fail. The price you ask can’t take into account only the time spent executing the task.

How many different steps are required?

Let’s take something as simple as a logo design:

  1. First market your service
  2. Then you will get a brief from your client
  3. You have to travel to the client and back to your studio again
  4. You have to offer a first concept or, usually, more than one concept
  5. The client will propose changes
  6. You apply these and resubmit the concept
  7. The client will make alterations for the last time, which you will implement
  8. Now you have to invoice the client
  9. You have to follow up on the invoice
  10. You have to make sure the money is paid.

When you quote a client, have you taken each and every step into account, or is the job actually costing you money?

3. Expensive mistake: Waiting for perfect when good will do

Be like this guy 

Greg

When Greg Schneider launched his online job referral site, Hiring Bounty,  he wasn’t inventing something new – he was formalising what people were already doing.

“People were already tweeting jobs, or posting them on Facebook. Referrals have become an important part of the hiring process. We just formalised the system. Busy people aren’t checking their social media feeds 24/7, which means a lot is missed. Through our platform we’ve pulled everyone together – you can look for jobs, refer your friends and colleagues, and advertise jobs. When someone is placed, everyone receives a bounty – it’s that simple.”

To get his business off the ground, Schneider started by working on the idea, and then launching an MVP (minimal viable product), which was literally the bare bones of his idea.

“Once I had the MVP I could then add the bells and whistles based on my experiences of what the market actually wants (versus what I thought it wanted), how to market each job, how much a bounty should be, how to source candidates and so on.”

Of course, getting Hiring Bounty off the ground took much longer than expected, because the lead time for actually hiring people was longer than Schneider had originally anticipated.

“On top of that, the revenue model only pays out three months after a successful placement, which lengthens the whole process. I spent longer setting the business up than I thought I would, and it’s a big lesson to learn.”

If Schneider had waited to get his product off the ground instead of starting with an MVP, it would have taken even longer – and might not have happened at all.

Lesson to learn 

When you’ve got a killer idea, it’s natural to want to introduce it to the world in a fully formed state. But it doesn’t take a chartered accountant to figure out that the longer you take to launch, the longer you go without money coming in.

“This is a common mistake, especially for tech people,” says Drew Williams, co-author of Feed the Startup Beast. “Many want to build an app and won’t let it go until it’s perfect, but then you take too long and spend too much.” Specifically, this error will probably leave you with no ‘runway’ – the cash you’ll need to sustain you as you’re trying to get your product off the ground once it’s ready, but before you have customers.

“You need to come up with the simplest, basic version of your product that gets the idea across and try to find someone you can sell it to,” Williams says.

“Find one or two clients who are willing to do a pilot where you build, test and iterate it. Inevitably, your product will be different than what you expect, and then you build it. If you get a real, live client, you create a better product in a very cost-effective way.”

4. Expensive mistake: Skimping on lawyers

Kerryne Krause-Neufeldt launched her first business when she was 23. She was young, full of energy and passion and had a knack for making things happen.

Those same traits had their downside as well though: She did things too fast, had no staff discipline and didn’t look at the fine print. The result? Industrial sabotage. Krause-Neufeldt lost everything, and had to start painstakingly from the beginning, with no money in the bank, and having lost the agency for Karen Hertzog Oxigenated Creams, a local market she had personally grown.

Today, it’s a lesson the founder of I-Slices Manufacturing has taken to heart, and she’s now the first to admit that paying an expert to look over every contract is worth the expense.

“Dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. My reps were able to conspire with my investors to take the agency because I hadn’t carefully evaluated the original contract. It wasn’t a good contract and I had no idea. I was desperate for cash and never questioned it until it was too late.”

Lesson to learn   

Tobin Booth, CEO of Blue Oak Energy, an engineering and construction firm for solar photovoltaic power systems regrets  skimping on legal fees in his company’s infancy.

“If I could do some of the early stuff over, it would have been to pay a few thousand to have a lawyer write up a proper contract,” he says. “I didn’t have the right attorney who really understood my business.”

A few early customers simply didn’t pay up, so Booth tried to move matters to a collections agency. “I found out that there were some clauses [in the contract] that didn’t allow me to collect on legal fees,” says Booth.

Sarah Shaw, of Entreprenette, meanwhile, unknowingly signed a contract that gave her handbag company the trademark to her name, so when investors came in, her name belonged to them. “I can’t use my own name in business again,” she says. “I wish I had hired a lawyer to watch out for me.”

5. Expensive mistake: Being cheap about marketing

After launching Traklight, Mary Juetten found that her website wasn’t indexed properly for search engines.

“No one was finding us,” she recalls. So she decided to invest in an inbound marketing programme. “That initial payment is scary for a small company, but we don’t have to pay developers to make changes to our site, and they do email marketing and CRM,” she explains. So far it’s working: In April 2013 the Traklight site recorded just 100 visits per month; by the end of the year it was getting 2 800.

How much does Juetten estimate she lost early on between the missteps in software development and inbound marketing? “As far as money thrown away – actual cheques written for useless things – that would be in the tens of thousands,” she admits.

“As far as lost time [and] products not developed on time, it’s in the hundreds of thousands. We would be much further ahead now.”

In the end, the best way to avoid costly mistakes is obvious: Save and spend wisely. “Keep spending really, really tight,” Drew Williams advises.

“Leverage everything you can and give yourself as long a runway as possible. You’re going to need it.”

Be like this guy 

Mongezi-Mtati

Mongezi Mtati launched the marketing campaign for his start-up, Wordstart, in a cheeky and unusual way. He and a friend stood on two busy intersections in Joburg and gave away suckers and pamphlets begging for two spare tickets to the upcoming Ramstein concert.

The pamphlets included a press release introducing Wordstart and what the company does (which is word-of-mouth marketing).

It was a cheeky, irreverent move, but Mtati wanted to prove that word-of-mouth marketing has legs, provided you give people something to talk about, laugh about and share.

“We got a lot of attention with our marketing stunt. People were videoing us and posting the clips, the media noticed us, and at the end Ramstein actually heard about the stunt and invited us to the concert as their guests.”

The start-up had proven two key points: Word-of-mouth marketing works, and it pays to market your own brand.

“We suddenly had two important case studies. First, we could show potential clients what we could do. We weren’t just pitching an idea; we were pitching a successful campaign. And secondly, we had proven to ourselves how important it is to market your own brand. A lot of businesses in this space forget that. They concentrate on their client’s brands, but they forget they need to also build their own brand as well.”

Related: Building A Brand On A Budget

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Start-up Advice

Should Entrepreneurs Lie? It’s A Tricky Question

In the hustle of the startup world, entrepreneurs often drop little white lies – and don’t even consider them to be lies. Where’s the ethical line?

Jason Feifer

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telling-a-lie

Gary Hirshberg knew the exact amount of money he needed to save his company: $592,500. It was 1988, and his fledgling yogurt brand, Stonyfield Farm, was near collapse – rocked by the closing of its third-party manufacturer, hemorrhaging money as it struggled to fulfill orders and unable to find new investors. But with that exact amount of cash, Hirshberg and his co-founder, Samuel Kaymen, calculated, they could open their own facility and regain their footing.

So Hirshberg drove down to his local SBA office with an informal proposal. “We’ve got a bank willing to provide the loan,” he told an officer, and he said his shareholders agreed to put up $100,000. All he needed from the SBA was its 85 percent loan guarantee, which would make the bank comfortable executing the financing.

The SBA liked what it heard, and that positive response set in motion the funding that would save Stonyfield Farm and enable it to grow into one of today’s most recognisable yoghurt brands. But in truth, the SBA didn’t know the whole story. Hirshberg didn’t have a bank lined up. His investors hadn’t committed the money. All he had was a vision for his company, a plan to save it…and, ugly as it may sound, a lie that would pull it all together.

Let’s put it bluntly: This is common. Entrepreneurs lie. It’s not like they regularly drop Theranos-level falsehoods to defraud customers and investors, but the scrappiness of entrepreneurship inevitably leads to some kind of deception. People say their company is bigger than it is, that they’re more prepared than they are, that they know how to do something they don’t. They spot an opportunity and they lie to get it, and that becomes part of their story – an origin that may one day even be celebrated, like how Steve Jobs famously faked his way through the first iPhone demo at Macworld even though the device itself was a buggy mess.

But here’s a question the entrepreneurship community has been struggling with for centuries: Is it OK to lie? And when does a lie go too far?

It’s tricky, because most entrepreneurs don’t see their deceptions as lies at all. Hirshberg doesn’t. “I mean, look – you beg, borrow, steal, stretch. You do what’s necessary,” he says today. In truth, the editors of Entrepreneur can get drawn into this logic. Just recently, this magazine ran a series of articles on bootstrapping, which featured a number of stories about entrepreneurs stretching the truth. One of them, for example, was about Anthony Byrne, the CEO of a Dublin-based company called Product2Market.

In the start-up’s early days, Microsoft considered hiring it but first wanted to conduct a site visit to make sure Product2Market had the necessary manpower. In reality, it didn’t. So in advance of Microsoft’s site visit, Byrne brought friends, family and neighbours into his office, having them pose as employees to make his startup seem twice its size. It worked. Microsoft signed on.

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

After that story ran, an Entrepreneur reader emailed an objection. “I don’t think the magazine should be promoting people who got ahead by lying as an example for others to follow,” he wrote. But Byrne doesn’t think of his action as lying; he sees it as a simple act of survival. In a crowded industry dominated by big players, he needed to look larger and capable.

“As soon as we got our first big deal, I did in fact hire the right number of people to fulfill the contract,” he says.

This is also how Hirshberg of Stonyfield Farm sees his own circumstance. Rather than lying, he was creating an opportunity he knew he could fulfill. True, he didn’t have a bank or his investors on board with his plan. But he knew a banker that was interested in his brand and figured that if the SBA seemed on board, the bank and investors would follow. And that’s what happened. “It’s OK as long as you ultimately do deliver,” Hirshberg says.

But context is also important, he thinks. If entrepreneurs lie for the sake of lying, or for their own personal gain, that’s a problem. But what if it’s for a common good? Consider his plight, he says: Stonyfield Farm may have been small at the time, but it was employing people and supporting their families. Hirshberg’s wife was pregnant, and his mother-in-law and other family and friends had put significant money into the company. He’d tried repeatedly to save it by more direct means. He even found a potential manufacturer that promised to step in and help – but at the last second, the manufacturer tried changing the contract to steal the brand away.

Hirshberg and his co-founder nearly gave up. Then they made one last-ditch effort — going to the SBA. “I believe that determination is the most undervalued and essential ingredient for success,” he says. “More than a great product. More than financial acumen. More than great marketing. It’s just absolute determination, and as a corollary, believing in yourself when no one else does.” If they went out of business, lots of people would lose. He was determined for that to not happen. The lie was worth it, he says. It was just an entrepreneur doing what was necessary.

Not everyone is going to accept this. Purists will surely say Hirshberg and Byrne and others are just liars justifying their actions. But Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University, who has written about lying in entrepreneurship, thinks they’re onto something.

“If you can somehow measure harm to others, that is the limit,” Chamorro-Premuzic says. He believes most entrepreneurs tell lies when they think the falsehoods will do no harm. Had Hirshberg failed to get bank financing, the SBA simply wouldn’t have offered the loan guarantee. Had Byrne been caught, his deal with Microsoft would have fallen through. They were largely victimless crimes, wasting little more than someone’s time.

Related: “See The Gap, Be Decisive And Love What You Do” – Advice From A Fempreneur

The way Chamorro-Premuzic sees it, the greatest lie we all tell is that we don’t lie. “There’s a reason why we have to all pretend the world is more honest than it actually is,” he says, “and that’s because we’re part of the same world that thrives with at least a certain level of getting away with some deception.” And he says creative people — the kind of fast-thinking, big-dreaming people who often become entrepreneurs – tend to lie more than others. The truth, he says, is that people in business expect some kind of transactional lie – whether it’s from a job applicant, a potential partner, or someone else.

“The system is encouraging at least some form of fact distortion, and rewards it,” he says. “If you ask an interviewee if they enjoy working with others and they say, ‘Most of the time I don’t,’ they won’t get brownie points for being honest. You’ll say, ‘This guy is antisocial.’”

So what’s an entrepreneur to do? Simple, says Chamorro-Premuzic: Treat lying as a tool to be used in very particular moments. It cannot result in harm to individuals. It must lead to an opportunity you can genuinely succeed in. And very critically, it cannot become a foundation you build on with other lies. “The brands that people trust, the products that people trust, clearly are created and run and owned by cultures that respect the customer,” he says. “Long-term focus requires honesty.”

Seen this way, a lie is a gamble – a slight tilting of the odds in a critical moment. But what follows must be truthful, because, as our liars say, that’s the only way to build an honest company.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

The ‘Anything’ Entrepreneur

Most entrepreneurs are told to ‘stick to their niche’ but what happens when you make diversification your key to success?

Rowan Fine

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entrepreneurship

Traditionally, entrepreneurs are told to stay focused and stick to their niche. But what if this advice isn’t always the right thing to do? What if this isn’t the perfect plan for your business, especially when you are facing a mercurial economy and a complex market? The instructions to build a thriving business aren’t set in stone, they’re as fluid as the customers and markets that inspired their creation in the first place. So, instead of hugging that niche rut, here are seven steps to intelligent diversification that could make a huge difference to your business…

1. The price tag

Having a niche business can become expensive, especially if you purchase stock from a specialised or niche supplier. They tend to charge a premium as they have the expertise and market position that allows them to do so. If you instead look to selling a variety of products and solutions, you can reduce the prices for your own bottom line as well as that of the customer.

Often, you are paying for a brand and not the deliverables so ensure that you’re investing into solutions that add value to your business not weight to your bottom line.

Related: How to Start A Business When You’re Flat Broke

2. Variety is key

To survive in this economy, small business owners can no longer afford to only offer single product lines. By adapting and diversifying, you ensure your business isn’t the one left behind. Your competitors may very well be planning on introducing complementary products and services that boost existing offerings or add value. Don’t be the business that hasn’t been paying attention to the customer’s need for more bang for their buck.

3. Bolt on is bolting in

Offer your customers bolt-on extras where you can. This furthers the value you can add to your service and the value that the customer perceives you are offering to them. Extended warranties and value-added services not only add value, but they add longevity to your customer relationships. This means that you build depth with your customers as opposed to a hit and run sale.

Related: How To Start A Business With No Money

4. Build a fence

When you diversify into a variety of solutions and services, you are giving yourself the opportunity to ring fence client spend. They won’t need to go to a multitude of suppliers as you will become their trusted one-stop-shop. You can then use this as an opportunity to showcase other products and services and to use your relationships to pitch clients into new areas of your business.

5. Client retention

When you have a rich pool of resources and strong client relationships, then you build trust and you prove to your clients that you have what it takes to get them what they need. When you’re trapped into single product lines you can’t offer this level of depth to your clients and they will simply go elsewhere.

6. Communication and collaboration

Diversification also offers you the opportunity to communicate more regularly with your clients. Instead of only selling to your customers seven or eight times a year, you can talk to them several times a week. Instead of just supplying products, you are helping them to deal with their day-to-day challenges and requirements. This allows for richer upselling and even more opportunities to engage.

Read next: 21 Steps To Start-Up Success

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Start-up Advice

How To Forge Your Own Path In Business

Finding your own way doesn’t require reinventing the wheel.

Timothy Sykes

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pathway-in-the-woods

You don’t need to be a visionary to forge your own path in business.

Honestly, you don’t even need to be a business owner to forge your own path. It’s more about a state of mind where you’re able to think for yourself professionally. To clarify, that doesn’t mean you’ve got to be a lone wolf: ideally, you want to be able to to work with and even for others, but without being a follower.

The ability to balance being an independent thinker yet simultaneously remaining accountable for your actions will make you a much more valuable worker, no matter what field you’ve chosen. The good news is that with targeted effort, anyone can adopt this mindset. Here are some of my tips for how to forge your own path in business, and why it matters.

Learn the rules first

This might sound out of place in a post about how to forge your own path in business. After all, aren’t we talking about independence?

Here’s the thing. Before you want to break the rules, you have to actually learn what they are. Take the time to learn the “rules” of your trade before you start trying to reinvent the wheel. You’re likely to pick up wisdom that will serve you, even if you intend on using the rules to inspire new and creative ways of breaking them.

Related: 30 Top Influential SA Business Leaders

Seek guidance

Once again, you might find yourself thinking: Why should I seek out guidance if I want to forge my own path? Picture a cliche movie scene of a parent teaching their kid how to ride a bike. There’s that magical moment where the parent lets go of the back of the bike, and the kid is doing it on his own.

In business, you often need that initial helping hand before you can ride smoothly on your own. Before you can think for yourself, it can be helpful to absorb all of the wisdom you can from others.

One powerful way to do this is to find a mentor, or someone established in your field or a similar field who can give you words of advice and help you avoid making mistakes. Another is to make sure to take part in networking groups and to engage with other entrepreneurs. The more people you connect with and the more knowledge you gain, the better!

Set realistic and specific goals

If you want to gain confidence, become an independent thinker, and a better problem solver, do this one thing: Set realistic and specific goals.

Say that you want to increase sales for your business. It may not be realistic to say that you want to double your sales, but to simply have a goal to “increase sales” isn’t specific enough. However, setting a goal of increasing sales by 20% this year might be more realistic and is definitely more specific.

A goal like this is motivating, as it gives you something specific to work toward. It also allows you to break it down into actionable steps. You can begin to problem-solve, making specific plans for ways in which you could make your goal a reality. As you reach these milestones, you’ll gain more confidence in your abilities, which can help you move forward more confidently in your career.

Observe, but don’t copy

It can be very helpful to look at what your competitors and other entrepreneurs are doing. It keeps you relevant, gives you ideas, and can help keep you nimble in your chosen field.

However – this is important – you should never copy what others are doing. For one thing, it doesn’t work. Say you see someone killing it with a brand new hummus restaurant start-up. You can’t just start crushing chickpeas and expect success. There are lots of inner workings to the business that you’re not privy to, so even if you were to try, you couldn’t quite replicate someone else’s success.

Further, by the the time you copy, you’re already a follower and behind the curve. It’s better to use the information you observe as data, so that you can gain insight on things like effective marketing techniques and aesthetics, and apply these things to your own original ideas.

Think for yourself

You probably already guessed this one, but to forge your own path in business, you need to learn to think for yourself. So…how do you do that? Education is key. You need to absorb all of the knowledge you can, talk to as many people as you can, and observe as much as you can.

It’s almost like you’re forming your own personal library of data and resources. As time goes on, you’ll become better able to use this knowledge that you’ve gained to put your own unique ideas out in the world. You’ll be better able to generate ideas and to come up with intelligent solutions.

Related: Business Leadership – Learn How To Embrace Change

Let yourself grow over time

Ultimately, if you want to forge your own path in business, you need to be patient. Expertise, independent thinking, and autonomy won’t all happen overnight, so take the pressure off of yourself.

Remember: Patience is a trait of some of the most successful people. Focus on progress, not perfection. If you want to be successful for the long haul, allow yourself to learn and grow and continue to improve over time. Slow but steady, right?

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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