We all know the disastrous success rate of start-ups. I’ve spent the past 20 years working with thousands of entrepreneurs trying to understand the key factors that determine whether a business will be one of the 4% that succeed or one of the 96% that fail.
One of my observations has been that most successful entrepreneurs deliberately surround themselves with a support ecosystem during their early growth years. US research firm, Dun & Bradstreet discovered that only 10% of all businesses that fail close down involuntarily. In other words, 90% of entrepreneurs who close their businesses simply give up.
Anyone who has been on the entrepreneurial journey knows how many times we wake up in the morning wondering if it’s worthwhile continuing. It’s particularly difficult when we’ve lost a major client or a key staff member, or we’ve had a quarrel with our partner, not to mention the stresses of managing that all-too-elusive cash flow.
Many entrepreneurs interpret having a support system as simply having a mentor. Although this is part of a support ecosystem, it is by no means the entire thing. Below are five types of support that I believe every entrepreneur should deliberately build into their journey.
1. Strategic support
As entrepreneurs, especially in the early years, we find ourselves deep in the operational aspects of the business and spend far too little time in the strategic mind-set. Surround yourself with at least two strategic thinkers who can give you perspective and ask the hard questions around the why, the how, the where and the what of your business. This will give you a more holistic approach on how to think through your strategy; you can borrow from both to finesse your own.
2. Operational support
It’s important to find two — or preferably three — people who have either direct or similar experience in your industry. They can give you practical insights into the pitfalls to avoid, the opportunities to look out for or even just the lay of the land. I use my operational-support advisors to help me think through scaling my business, since all of them have created their own scaled ventures. I trust their experience, their intellect and their advice.
3. Emotional support
Positive friends and family are critical to a successful entrepreneurial journey. To be in a position where you can be vulnerable and honest and feel emotionally supported is priceless. Had my wife doubted me once during the start-up years, my knees would have buckled and I’m not sure I would have had the strength to stand up again.
An important nuance to emotional support is to ensure that you remove all the negative people from your inner circle. Stay away from the naysayers, the jealous and the know-it-alls. They erode your confidence and defocus you from your mission.
4. ‘Spiritual’ support
In the humdrum or chaos of the daily fight and the monotony of the paperwork, you can very easily forget your why, your purpose and the reason you got into the business in the first place. I’ve found that by having a ‘spiritual’ mentor, I can reconnect to my why and the purpose of my business. As clichéd as it may sound, one of the most important contributions such a mentor can make is to remind you to enjoy the journey, and to observe its gifts, its challenges and its teachings.
Surviving month-end is a serious matter. Not being able to pay salaries is a serious matter. Making promises to clients and not knowing how to deliver is a serious matter. As a result, too many entrepreneurs become serious themselves, the fun slowly squeezed out of them over time. Their smiley faces of the past become the grimaces of the present.
I have what I call my ‘fun mentor’ — someone I can spend time with who gives me space to be childlike, immature and sometimes even naughty. The release when spending time with such people, and the consequential balance it provides, is extremely important in ensuring that we maintain our sanity during the long and arduous process of starting a business.
Being deliberate about creating your support ecosystem should be one of your early aspirations when starting up a business — but it’s never too late! In my experience, it’s relatively easy to set up a support circle. The people you need exist within your direct or indirect networks, and I find that most people are very happy to help a young entrepreneur on his or her journey to success. Who wouldn’t want the kudos of saying, “I was Mark Zuckerberg’s mentor”?
How To Forge Your Own Path In Business
Finding your own way doesn’t require reinventing the wheel.
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.
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.
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.
Start Your Online Business For (Practically) Free
5 Simple steps to start your online store on a shoestring budget — no previous experience required.
If you’ve been wanting to release your inner entrepreneur but you’re constrained by a tight budget, an online store is a good place to start, particularly as you can get set up and start taking orders without spending the world up-front.
Your online store can be set up by you (yes, even with no prior experience) and you can get it up and running without needing to hire staff or rent offices. Hopefully you’ll need all of that as you grow, but for now you can set up your online store and start taking orders on a shoestring budget with these five, simple steps.
Deciding what to sell
If you don’t have money to invest in buying products to sell on your site consider selling your services. Ask yourself what it is that you are really good at that other people would be willing to pay you to do? Create this as a service and use your site to promote your offer and to let clients book out your time. You can also consider improving your skill level (and how much you can charge) by doing some online courses on the topic.
If you prefer selling physical items, reach out to people you know in case your network has idle stock in their stock rooms. Negotiate to list their stock on your site and when a customer pays you for an item, buy it from your supplier and send it to your customer. This is essentially drop shipping in its most manual form and until the drop shipping infrastructure in South Africa is established, hustling for work-arounds is the best way to get your online store up and running without investing in inventory.
Decide what website platform to build your site on
Without going into too much detail I can narrow down your options to using WordPress or Shopify as your CMS (Content Management System). This is the skeleton of your site where you add all of your content on the back-end to be organised before you publish it to the front-end, which is what your customers see as your website.
You can establish a WordPress website for free whereas Shopify starts from $29 per month. If you are experienced with websites I’d suggest WordPress, but if your experience is limited setting up a Shopify site is an easier solution that will save you a lot of time when you get started. Either way, don’t be intimidated by the process as the set-up wizards will guide you step-by-step on how to build your website.
Taking online payments
Setting up your store to take online payments is much easier than you think. From day one you can enable manual EFT payments and let customers pay you by EFT (but only dispatch the order once the payment has cleared!). This allows you to start taking payments straight away.
Next, you can easily apply for an account with a South African payment gateway. The account can take up to a week to be approved and the service provider will guide you on how to set it up on your site. Once this is done your customers will be able to pay you by credit card, instant EFT, Bitcoin, Mobicred, Zapper and more.
If you don’t yet have a business bank account, don’t let this slow you down. You can start off by linking the payment gateway to your personal account and then change it later once you’ve set up a business account.
Related: Will Anyone Buy Your Product Online?
Getting your first sales
Here are a few ‘low hanging fruit’ tips for getting easy traffic to your online store to help generate your first sales.
Share your new site with everyone you know. Use any social media networks you may have to announce your new website to your friends and family. Start by asking them for feedback (so they don’t feel that you’re pushing them for sales) then ask them to share your products with anyone they know who might be interested.
Offer launch specials. Now that you’ve got some eyes on your site generate urgency by, offering a ‘launch week 15% discount’. Apart from driving sales, this also lets you test your payment and delivery processes with people who won’t get angry if things don’t go perfectly. What’s more, you can reach out to these first buyers for product feedback, which will be super helpful before you start selling to unknown customers.
Validate your business on Google. Visit google.com/business to add your business details to Google Maps. Once this is approved your business details will show on the right side of the Google results when people search for your brand. This is a great way to build trust and traffic.
Build your newsletter subscriber list. Your exposure to your social media followers can be limited by changes in the rules of each platform. Your list of newsletter subscribers, however, is the only list that you own and control so it’s vital to build this list from day one. It’s a fantastic place to launch deals and subscriber specials and to engage with people who’ve signed up to hear more from you. A great way to grow this list is to offer a free ‘lead magnet’ which people can only access once they subscribe. The best ‘lead magnet’ is a content offering that is truly helpful and desired by your potential customers. Try to get creative and think of what you are willing to give away for ‘free’ to build your database.
Learn the basics of SEO. Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the big topic of Search Engine Optimisation. If you can learn a few key principles on YouTube and then build each part of your website with this in mind you’ll see a massive long-term benefit as each part of your site will climb higher in the rankings in the future. Don’t forget to submit your sitemap for indexing; skipping this step will delay your websites’ pages being properly ranked in Google.
“Building your own website on a shoestring budget is not only possible but it’s likely to be easier than you expected. Aim for progress instead of perfection, you’ll have plenty of time to fine-tune everything once your site is live.”
Delivering your order fast and cheap
Trying to use the South African postal service to deliver to your customers may sound like a cheaper alternative than couriers but it’s really not an option as their service is often hit and miss. Customers will also abandon orders on your site if they see that you’re not using couriers to deliver to them.
You need to engage with the courier companies in your area to see which ones offer the best service at the fairest prices. If you’re in a big city you should be able to deliver within the city for around R32 and to other major cities for R45 on an overnight delivery service. Delivering to customers in outlying areas does become more expensive but you can investigate couriers that offer drop-box options so that your rural deliveries don’t cost more than R99.
Of course, the larger the item the higher the delivery cost can be, but if you’re shipping bulky items like fridges or couches shop around for the best prices as you should be able to offer nationwide road-freight deliveries at no more than R250.
Some companies in South Africa offer aggregated courier quotes where you can book through their service and benefit from their mass negotiation with the respective couriers. They can get as much as 35% discounted off the normal rates and this is passed onto you. These systems can also be integrated into your website so that everything runs seamlessly — like true eCommerce should.
South African customers are generally willing to pay for courier fees on their orders up to a certain shopping cart value. The general rule of thumb is that you ought to offer free delivery on orders over R500; however, you need to know your numbers to ensure that the average shipping fee can be absorbed by your gross profit margins once the order value reaches over R500.
Building your own website on a shoestring budget is not only possible but it’s likely to be easier than you expected. Aim for progress instead of perfection, you’ll have plenty of time to fine-tune everything once your site is live. Getting your website live sooner rather than later helps you to recoup some cash from kick-starting your sales, it allows you to get feedback from your first customers which you can use to improve the final site, and, getting your first sales will validate that people are willing to buy what you’re selling.
(Infographic)The Do’s And Don’ts Of Naming Your Business
There’s a lot that goes into a company’s name.
Finding the right name for your business can be crucial to its success. If you’ve got a boring, vague name, then you might repel potential customers.
When it comes down to it, there are some major do’s and don’ts that go along with naming your company. For starters, keep things simple and short – a long name can confuse potential customers and won’t make a lasting impression on them.
Your name should also tell your story. Not only will this help people recognise your company but you’ll build the brand’s character.
Something a lot of people don’t think about is how their company’s name will sound in another language. Even if you’re in the early stages of building your company, who knows what could happen in the future. So create a name that sounds good and has a positive translation in any country. Next, always test your ideas before setting them in stone.
Ask potential customers to take a survey and compare your name with other companies in the same industry. Of course, you also must ensure that the name you came up is even available.
To learn how you can create the best name for your business, check out Business Backer‘s infographic below.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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