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Start-up Advice

5 Lessons For First-Time Entrepreneurs I Learned The Hard Way

Every chance you have to learn from somebody else’s mistakes, take it.

John Rampton

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Now that I’m well past my first-time entrepreneur experience, I can reflect on what I learned during that period in my life. In doing so, my tips might be able to help some of you first-time entrepreneurs out there get past barriers a little more quickly, get launched faster, and avoid some pitfalls along the way.

I’ve failed many time. I can remember several times where I didn’t even have enough money in my bank account to pay off the minimum payment on my credit card.

Years later and a healthy bank account later I can share with you a few things I should have known but didn’t. Here are five tips that I wish I knew before I started that would have potentially saved me from failing several times:

1. Ask a lot of questions

There were many places where I thought I knew what I was doing that would have been better served if I had asked questions instead of assuming.

I thought if I asked questions that maybe someone might think I was stupid or might not take me seriously in the business and investment worlds.

In actual fact, I should have spoken up and asked more questions because this would have saved me time and money as well as potentially got me funding faster.

Asking questions often means you are interested in learning more and that you are interested in what others have to say, including investors, potential customers, and business partners.

These contacts take questions as actual interest and engagement in them and in the subject matter, rather than a sign of weakness.

If someone thinks you have asked a dumb question, that’s their opinion and it shouldn’t matter. You are simply gathering more information to help make important decisions and clearly you can’t know everything.

2. Don’t skip college

There have been some incredible stories of young entrepreneurs who made it while still in high school or early in college – and who found success without a degree. Even if that were to happen to you, skipping college isn’t a step I would suggest.

When I was in college, I got a good theoretical framework, general knowledge, business acumen and skill set that definitely was beneficial to being able to better run a business.

This helped me when I launched my first company to not get screwed when I got approached with a bad acquisition deal. Of course, real world experience and street smarts count for a lot, but it is good to have the foundation that college offers. Plus, I met one of my mentors and people who later went on to become business partners.

Now, many universities have top programs and services just for those interested in entrepreneurship plus offer accelerator labs and startup assistance.

Take the time – and yes, spend the money to go to college. Remember, you can still start your business at the same time like Zuckerberg and others have done.

3. Get a co-founder (and a mentor)

co-pilot

Although I first struck out on my own, I quickly learned that two are better than one. Having a co-founder provided a way to fill in those areas where I lacked knowledge, expertise, skills and connections. Just take the time to find that special person that truly complements you and where you can create and hold a shared vision.

It is not easy, but I used networking events and my other connections, including my mentor, to find a co-founder. Together, we have launched several successful business and now are building the future of cash. I could never have done this alone. Neither can you.

Next, I suggest getting a mentor. I have had several and they helped me immensely when creating a strategy, business plan, and roadmap as well as helped me visualise what I wanted to do. Not to mention my favourite mentor was there to lend emotional support when things just weren’t working. I personally find the best mentors are free and want to help because of you.

4. Celebrate the small wins (and failures)

At first, all I had my eyes on was the big prize of launching and growing a successful business. What I didn’t do was recognise the small wins along the way.

I failed to stop and celebrate those small successes as real accomplishments. It’s only now that I see how all those small wins along the way were crucial to the big win at the end that I know I missed meaningful moments that could have brought me – and those with me, some happiness. Plus, these “wins” help keep the momentum going.

Now that I know what to watch for, I celebrate these smaller wins. I recognise small wins have helped me get through the barriers and failures, too.

Then, there is the idea of celebrating the failures. Sure, it sounds like the last thing you would want to do, but there is a good reason to get yourself into this mindset.

Up until the point of my first gigantic setback and then failure, I had excelled at anything and everything I’d ever done.

As an overachiever, never losing seemed really great, but I never learned as much as I did when I failed for the first time, and that failure might not have been so devastating had I known how to take those failures in stride, learn from them, and thank my lucky stars they happened. Oh, and that next small “win” you have right after that failure will truly be celebrated.

5. Don’t forget to have fun

As a first-time entrepreneur, I was working like crazy – so focused and so determined. I was so busy that I forgot to enjoy the ride I was on. Of course, I’m still pretty intense when it comes to what I’m trying to build and I love to put in long hours, but now I realise the benefit of consciously reminding myself about the pure enjoyment of creating something from scratch and watching it grow.

Now that I have a little one at home, I really understand what it means to watch your “baby,” see how this little person develops, and see your own reflection in what you have made.

Maybe it is still hard to understand why I’m offering this type of advice at this point in my entrepreneurial life. But keep it in mind as you set off on your own personal entrepreneurial journey that there is a lot to see along the way.

If you can incorporate anything I’ve shared with you – if even a tiny piece of information that makes your way easier, it will bring me happiness and satisfaction.

While everyone’s story is different, there are some parts of this life and parts of the entrepreneurial travels where you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

John Rampton is an entrepreneur, investor, online marketing guru and startup enthusiast. He is founder of the online invoicing company Due. John is best known as an entrepreneur and connector. He was recently named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine and has been one of the Top 10 Most Influential PPC Experts in the World for the past three years. He currently advises several companies in the San Francisco Bay area.

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Start-up Advice

Which eCommerce Platform Should You Build Your Store On?

This is an important decision to make and with so many options out there it can become a bit overwhelming and confusing to decide which platform is the best option for you. So which platforms are best suited for a South African eCommerce entrepreneur?

Warrick Kernes

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Having owned and run websites using XCart, Magento, Shopify and WordPress, I’ve made enough mistakes and learnt enough lessons along the way to be able to help guide you to make the right decision about which platform is right for you…

When looking for options you’ll come across platforms like Prestashop, WordPress, WIX, Shopify, Squarespace, OpenCart, Magento, Shopstar, OneCart, ShopOn, LiquidBox, BigCommerce and endless more. All of which are trying to convince you that their platform is the best for you to use.

Reading international blogger reviews is helpful but they don’t account for how these website platforms perform in South Africa. They don’t review what the support is like in SA and which local software services are compatible. You see, these points are often neglected until you need them further down the line and only then find out how important it is that the platform you’re running your store on is made to work in SA.

Having worked with all the major website platforms I understand the importance of website support and how the site integrates with the local services which will make your life easier and your website better. Services like this include integrations into Rand (ZAR)  based payment gateways, integrations into local courier services, API connections into marketplaces like Takealot and Bid Or Buy, and API connections into price comparison sites too.

Related: 6 Steps To Building A Million-Dollar Ecommerce Site In 60 Days

The final factor to consider is the reputability of the website platform itself. There are many new and upcoming website platforms which I would love to support but when it comes to choosing a platform on which I’ll be building my business I need to know that I am going to be selecting a world-leading service provider.

So with this in mind I can help to narrow down your options to two platforms being WordPress with WooCommerce and Shopify. Which of these two is right for you will depend on how much you value your time.

Shopify will cost you $29 per month but the ease-of-use is such that even a novice can get a site live within a week. Operating WooCommerce on WordPress is complex for beginners and it will take you much longer to figure it all out before you can take your site live but the plus side is that it is free to use.

So ultimately you need to consider which of these two is right for you and your business but the most important thing is that you don’t spend any more time researching, take action and get started sooner rather than later so you can start to grow your online empire.

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Start-up Advice

6 Ways Starting A Business Is Like Raising A Child

Here are six ways that embarking on your own entrepreneurship journey is like raising a child.

Belinda Mountain

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While you may think work and parenting are worlds apart, when it comes to starting a business versus having a baby, the two have more in common than you think.

After all, both involve bringing something new into the world, preparing for the unexpected, and riding the storm when things don’t go as planned. Here are six ways that embarking on your own entrepreneurship journey is like raising a child:

1. It involves new expenses

From nappies and school fees to food and clothing, there are a whole lot of new expenses involved when it comes to kids. In the same way, starting a business also involves various costs – whether it’s paying accounting fees, setting up your website, buying stock or employing people. In both instances, having a good financial plan in place can go a long way to help you manage these expenses.

Related: How To Start A Business With No Money

2. It’s an emotional rollercoaster

Parenting invariably means you’ll experience every emotion under the sun, from unmatched joy when they’re born, to frustration at toddler tantrums, to wonder at seeing their little personalities develop. The same goes for a new business: Expect a range of emotions, from the highs of getting your first customer, to the satisfaction of making a profit, to anxiety if the market doesn’t respond to your product as you envisioned.

3. Expect the unexpected

Few things are as unpredictable as babies: One minute they’re gurgling contentedly, the next minute they’re crying for reasons you may or may not know. Just like babies, businesses can be highly unpredictable too. Product prototypes can fail and cause delays, employees get sick, an unforeseen tax bill could arrive on your desk – you’ll need to get comfortable with expecting the unexpected. And, if you run your business full time, you’ll need to bid farewell to your predictable monthly paycheque too (at least in the beginning).

4. It requires stamina

Late night feeds, helping your child with homework, washing, cooking, cleaning, answering all their burning questions – there’s no parenting “off” switch. In the same way, being an entrepreneur means it’s hard to stop thinking about your business at the end of the day as you would with a regular 9 to 5. This constant call for attention means it’s crucial to schedule in some downtime for yourself so that you get time to decompress and refresh.

Related: What Business Should You Start In Africa?

 5. You’ll need safeguards in place

While their immune systems are immature, young children get sick, which typically involves trips to the doctor, medication and possibly even the odd hospital stay. Having a good medical aid means you’ll be financially prepared for these intermittent expenses. And, just as you should ensure your child has the right medical cover, your business and your employees should also be covered properly. Fedhealth is one example of a medical aid that specialises in providing medical cover for SMMEs.

6. Love will get you through

As hard as parenting can be, the enduring love most parents have for their children means they keep caring for them day after day, no matter how exhausting it is. Similarly, if you love the industry your business is in and the work you do, you’ll have the fortitude to keep at it over the long term.

Both parenting and starting a business are hard work, but they’re hugely rewarding too. With both of them, it’s true that what you put in, you get out. Seeing your child grow into a well-adjusted, caring adult can be as satisfying as watching your business mature into a something that’s profitable and self-sustaining. Upon reaching these milestones, most people will agree that the journey to get there is definitely worthwhile.

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Start-up Advice

Start-ups Need More Than Money To Succeed – They Need Smart Money

Start-ups need investors who bring not only cash to the table, but also their networks and business acumen.

Max Lyadvinsky

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Ask any start-up what the single most important element to success is and – more often than not – the answer will be money. Financing always ranks as a high priority for the small fish trying to make it happen in the big pond of business – but often discussed with less fanfare is where this cash comes from and what will come with it. These are actually the most important details to a start-up.

That is not to say that money is not important. In fact, the second most common reason for start-up failure is lack of funding, according to CB Insights. Although, perhaps ironically enough, the top reason for start-up failure is lack of market need – a problem which could have been identified and avoided by investors who bring money with direction and money with experience.

Start-ups don’t just need money, they need smart money.

Start-ups need investors who bring not only cash to the table, but also their networks and business acumen. Essentially, they bring experience and direction to outfits that are usually inexperienced or directionless. So, let’s talk smart money and the start-up.

What is smart money?

“Smart money” refers to investors who are simply more intuitive and aware of market movements and business health. The Financial Times describes “smart money” as “sophisticated investors who tend to pick the right moment to buy or sell assets because they can identify trends and opportunities before others do.” These investors calculate based on history and profit and invest accordingly. Where they go, other investors follow.

These business heavyweights are invaluable to a startup because they put more than simply their money where their mouth is; they also invest their expertise. A start-up could have all the money in the world but it will fail more without the proper business direction and market placement.

Smart money works best for start-ups when nascent businesses pair with investors who provide a holistic approach to business. They can help in hiring the best talent, attracting interest from the most relevant stakeholders, securing a continuous presence in the press, avoiding pitfalls and, ultimately, fulfilling ambitions.

There are more than a few ways that money can be termed as smart. Perhaps the cash infusion also comes with experts in thought leadership and strategy, or executional capacity, or the ability to increase sales and raise funds. Whatever the method, smart money brings something more to the table than dollars. This becomes abundantly clear when conducting post-mortems of the startups which have failed.

Related: Government Funding And Grants For Small Businesses

Why do start-ups fail?

Start-ups fail all the time – and it is important to understand why. As mentioned above, the top reason start-ups fail is simply the lack of market need. Tackling problems that are interesting to solve rather than those that serve a market need is the most common issue start-ups cite for their downfall. The next most common reason for start-up failure, as likely predicted, is money. Smart or not, money does need to flow into any start-up to make it possible. Meanwhile, the third most common reason for startup collapse was team composition. More to the point: Start-ups need to comprise a diverse team with different skill sets.

These top three reasons for start-up failure could be solved with the right management approach from the top down. Each of these reasons can be addressed with smart money. The right business and management structure will allow the right hires to be made and course to be charted. Smart investors can identify the right people for your team and help you to hire staff who will take the business to the next level.

While start-ups think money is the key, it is not the end-all and be-all for their potential success. They need skills and networks. Business and innovation expert Rosemarie Truman explained this misunderstanding best: “A common mistake entrepreneurs make in their struggle to find funding is focusing too much on getting the money under specific terms and not paying enough attention to who is providing the funds.”

Show me the (smart) money

Savvy entrepreneurs recognise their businesses need more than cash to be successful – especially those at the top. Alibaba chief executive officer Jack Ma, who ranks as one of the richest people in the world, described the need for smart hires and smart staff as thus: “At first, I knew nothing about technology. I knew nothing about management. But, the thing is, you don’t have to know a lot of things. You have to find the people who are smarter than you are.”

Smart business owners want to work with investors who provide not just money but also their expertise, time and access to networks – and this is especially important for businesses looking to scale. The proof is in the research: Take for example a paper by Morten Sorensen, professor of finance at Copenhagen Business School, about venture capital and its impact on an overall business. Sorensen found that companies funded by more experienced venture capital funds were more likely to go public, and also that more experienced venture capital funds invest in better companies, leading to better long-term business health.

So, the question then becomes: Where does one access smart money? The answer will depend on whom is asked, but startups that have survived and later grown into viable businesses are a good place to start. The founders of collaborative blogging platform Niume, Daniel Gennaoui and Francesco Facca, have this advice for start-ups who are on the hunt for smart money:

“First, you need a strong founding team with complementary skills that can actually deliver on their promises. Second, you need a working minimum viable product (MVP), showing that there is traction and interest for the product and people willing to use and pay for it,” the founders said. “The actual amount they invest is far less important than the value they bring to your company.”

It is also worth noting that crowdfunding can be considered a form of smart money, as it brings an ecosystem of partners who will help to scale and countless brand ambassadors who have invested their hard-earned cash.

Related: The DTI Funding Guide You’ve Been Looking For: The What And How

It’s simply more than capital

Gaining start-up finance is not only venture capital or crowdfunding – it should also provide an ecosystem of business management and be viewed as such. It’s simply wrong to think funding is only funding. Start-ups can have all the money in the world but will fail more often than not without the proper business direction and market placement. Those who want to make a lasting impression in their given field need the guidance and support smart money brings.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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