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Start-up Advice

Alan Knott-Craig Answers Why You Should Focus On One Thing And Have Trust In Your Partners

Choosing which opportunities to focus on, making sales and finding the right partners to work with.

Alan Knott-Craig

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I launched my business while I was employed full time. It took off, I reached a point where I needed to resign and concentrate on the business full time, and I found an investor, which has given us a year of runway. We deliver beer and gin and tonic on tap. What we are currently experiencing though is a flood of opportunities. Should I try and do everything, and increase my revenue streams, or focus on one thing at a time? — Jonathan

Rule Number One: Focus. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Until the day you give up on the commercial prospects of your first idea, do not chase any others.

As soon as you get into the game you will find plenty of opportunities coming your way. Say NO to everything. Give 100% of your energy to making a success of ONE thing at a time.

Once you’ve made a commercial success of your first product, use that foundation of capital and expertise to chase the next product, ie: G&T.

Don’t stress about missing out. Most opportunities don’t go away. Most opportunities go begging because most people can’t focus on one thing at a time. I get what you’re saying, but what about setting up the Gin and Tonic bottling business for someone else to run with you as the primary shareholder?

If I were you I’d put 100% of my energy into your primary line. When that’s pumping cash, move to G&T. But I’m not you. Only you can make the right decision for your business. Whatever you choose, you can never say it wasn’t your choice.

Related: 9 Answers You Need About Yourself Before Starting Your Own Business

You mention the book Anti-fragile in Be a Hero. I’ve just finished it and my understanding is that optionality is extremely important. If this is the case, then doesn’t having multiple businesses give you the greater opportunity that one will take off? — Anonymous

You must balance optionality with focus. You can’t succeed without focus. In order to focus, you need to be anti-fragile (ie, have no fear of adverse events). For example, my personal balance sheet is diversified, so I’m not entirely reliant on the success of my business.

That frees me up to be super-focused on my business. Diversification in business is for professional investors, not entrepreneurs.

One of our clients wanted us to develop a solution, but because we didn’t have enough resources in-house we had to approach an outside company to work with us as business partners. However, I am not happy with their contract. I don’t think they’re being fair to us. What should I do? — Portia

At the end of the day, you need partners. The only way to know whether you can trust a partner is to trust her. If the agreement is difficult to understand, they’re probably trying to trick you. If they’re trying to trick you, steer clear. Have a clean, simple agreement. See what happens. If they screw you, move on.

My partners aren’t as passionate as I am, and I often find them to be lazy. I spend a lot of time telling them what they should be doing, or just doing a task myself. Should I cut my losses, move on and start my own business with investors who do add value? — Charles

You need to trust your partners. Trust = integrity x competence x commitment. If you don’t think your partner has integrity, competence or commitment, then the entire equation equals zero. Which means you have zero trust. Which means you can’t be partners. If this is the case, you have no choice: Get rid of your partner, or leave the business and start again.

Related: 5 Books To Read Before Starting Your Business

I have recently started my own wine business after spending 7+ years in the wine industry. A question I ask myself daily is whether I spend my time pushing sales over and above building the business platform first. I’ve dealt with a few start-ups from a procurement point of view who send sales consultants to me without the basics in place, and I often find it rather unprofessional. — Richard

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Don’t mess it up by not having a business card or website. Create as credible an impression as fast as possible, while spending as little money as possible. Personally, the first thing I do before I start selling is register a URL, design a logo, build a website, and print business cards. WordPress is easiest for URL registration and web hosting. If you want to design a logo and a website there are plenty of freelancers around. For business cards, the best is www.moo.com (they deliver to South Africa, get the Luxe option). Only then do I start selling. Only once I’ve sold something do I worry about fulfilment. Of course, the golden rule is Keep Your Promises. If you sell something and then don’t deliver the goods, you won’t find it easy to sell again.


Listen to this

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Alan’s audible book Be a Hero: Make Life an Adventure is now available on amazon.com and Audible.com

Read by Alan himself, Be a Hero is a collection of stories on how to make your life an adventure by changing your mindset and tackling adversity.

Go to amazon.com or audible.com to download your copy. Be a Hero is also available in Kindle and paperback through Amazon.com.


Read ‘Be A Hero’ today

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Alan Knott-Craig is a successful entrepreneur and best selling author. Founder of over 20 companies in the tech space, he was named as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2009. To find out more about Alan’s new book, The 13 Rules for Entrepreneurs, go to www.13rules.co.za.

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Start-up Advice

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…

Chris Ogden

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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.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden

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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…

1. Network

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.

3. Luck

luck

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.

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Start-up Advice

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.

Catherine Black

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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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