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Five Key Start-up Lessons all Entrepreneurs Should Hear

Entrepreneurs tend to make the same mistakes again and again – falling into predictable start-up traps. Here are five pieces of advice all young entrepreneurs should listen to.

Mongezi Mtati

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The excitement of starting a business, proving a model and building on every experience can often leave the founder juggling far more than they can keep a handle on.

It’s akin to living on the edge, leaving the safety net, or being on an endless dose of adrenaline. When things quieten down just after midnight for some – the lessons we should have learnt come to the fore.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: 6 Things I Wish Somebody Had Told Me When I Started My Small Business

As an entrepreneur, I know these moments well. They come rushing at you all at once, making you wish you’d listened to that advice about a bedside notebook to record your thoughts, but you didn’t and now your mind is on overdrive.

Here are five simple lessons that all start-ups should – but rarely – apply.

Build thought leadership and educate

As one person, or a small team, all you have is your immediate network to find new clients and prove that your offer is worth the price you ask for it. The days of ‘open up shop and they will come’ ended with the emergence of the information age.

This assumes that you’re targeting a smart market of connected people who are interested in knowing more. They’re questioning everything, and they love stories that they can share, or that add meaning to their lives.

The first place any of us look when in search of advice or service providers is the web. As a start-up, it’s a huge opportunity: It’s a cost-effective and easy way to generate content and keep a relevant content stream going.

If you’re well-versed in your industry, you can even write for trusted industry platforms that position you as an expert while you build your business.

Stories that empower would-be clients and customers by sharing meaningful stories or educate them about what you do and why that serves them, spread.

Instead of trying to be at the centre of customer stories, let your business become part of their story. That’s when you gain credibility and the sales follow.

Ignore the Joneses

Keeping tabs on the competition is only important if it empowers you to improve your model, or enables you to create better products and make a bigger difference in your market. But be careful. An obsession with competitors can lead to a loss of identity.

Be who you are, as much as you can. People love products for different reasons. Trust that. iPhone lovers care about the differences that distinguish their smartphones from HTCs and Samsungs. No one wants different phones that are all the same. This is true of any product.

During my first encounter with my mentor I told him why other businesses in my chosen industry were doing certain things in ways that I could improve. He advised me to focus on my model, on why this makes sense as a business first and how I should build it in a way that targeted clients’ buy-in.

This advice ensured that we focus on our offering in the marketplace, that we build both the business and ‘our secret sauce’, instead of creating something that intends to beat the competition. It also means we’re unique in many ways, and not just copying our competitors.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: 8 Musts to Start Your Business With Little to No Capital

Don’t cry over burnt cash

Cash is one of the most important resources in both growing and multinational organisations, but of course, the smaller the business, the more every cent matters and it’s guarded with everything there is.

Sadly, aside from investing in the business, building an organisation leads to burning money on some bad decisions that seem sensible at the time. This is an unavoidable part of starting a business.

As a business owner, networking is one of the easiest ways to build contacts and it also happens to be one of those things that lead to a collection of unused business cards.

Getting your business cards designed and a website up and running are important aspects of starting up and this should be done properly. They can be done cheaply or by an affordable designer who does a proper job.

Too many start-ups waste money trying to save money. More often than not, it’s better to do it right the first time, even if it costs a bit more upfront – you’ll save in the long run.

The identity that you create for your growing organisation contributes to your clients’ buying decisions.

Consistency is king

50% of all advertising and communication is wasted, as the famous adage goes. It’s true that most of the people you reach out to are not interested in your offering; in other instances people watch before they jump in. A business that has been around for two years has more trust and consistency on its side than one that started three months ago.

When a partner and I started another business, we went on a spending spree in the first three months where we bought advertising space in various newspapers and websites. We thought that getting exposure for our products would mean that phones would ring for offers to buy and they did.

Most of the serious customers needed a guarantee that only time in the business would afford us and that cost us a few potential sales that were important for our survival.

Consistency, even among the people who almost trust you with their lives, is key to letting them trust you with their wallets. And patience. You need to build a reputation. It takes time to launch a successful business. Hang in there.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Why Being So Serious Could Slay Your Start-Up

Not everything is an opportunity

“Your time is yours to pour into the business, not to use on non-paying efforts that present themselves as opportunities,” said a mentor who was discouraging me from taking on more work for exposure. Like my strong-headed peers, I allowed that advice to fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, he was right.

When you’re starting out, people offer you the opportunity of ‘exposure’ in lieu of billable work and hours and most of that exposure does not amount to billable work.

It ends up being a waste of time that could have been used to either make money (or more dreadful hours) in the business waiting for the phone to ring or drumming up sales. It could even have meant going to SARS for an hour or two, which saves you pain later.

Mongezi Mtati is the founder of WordStartWordStart, a word of mouth company that connects companies with organic conversations.

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Start-up Advice

9 Quotes Every Entrepreneur Should Live By

Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.

Jennifer Keithson

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Entrepreneurship takes great perseverance. Failure is common. In fact, it is expected. Over 75% of venture-backed start-ups fail.

There are great learning opportunities that present themselves when we fail, but we must be willing to continue on and try again in order to learn anything at all.

It can be quite an arduous task to strive for your own means, to create your own vision and to rally the support within yourself that starting and running your own business requires.

Thankfully, we’re not in it alone. The wisdom of others can greatly ameliorate the process learning from our missteps and hiccups.

Taking from sagacious investors, inventors and thinkers can help you pick yourself up and make something meaningful out of your quest to become a successful entrepreneur.

By studying the thought processes of other entrepreneurs, we can become more enriched and more aware of how to approach the challenges we face in business and in life.

Here are 9 quotes every entrepreneur should live by:

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Start-up Advice

4 Tips To Secure Funding For Your Start-up

Here are 4 tips to help you secure funding for your start-up.

Ellie Martin

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Entrepreneurs seek to create new and ingenious ideas. Successful business owners are adept at looking at things in new and interesting ways. Their creativity fuels everything they do. Blazing through the initial steps of opening your own start-up can seem like a breeze if you’re endowed with this creative mojo, but you still may find yourself stuck at the very last step of starting your business.

Finding funding is undoubtedly the most difficult part of starting a business, and securing it requires the most creativity of all. Still, you can only stretch your creativity so far. Luckily, there are a few ways you can improve your chances of getting the money you need, regardless of whether you decide to attract angel investors or venture capitalists, or if you decide to apply for small business loans and grants.

Here are 4 tips to help you secure funding for your start-up:

1. Seek alternative funding opportunities

Before taking out a massive bank loan, consider these other funding options:

The vast majority of entrepreneurs either use their own funds to start their business or borrow money from friends and family. According to Forbes, 90% of start-ups fail, with 25% of them failing within their first year of operation. Due to this rate of failure, if it really is impossible for you to attract investors or secure venture capital, it is still best to avoid putting up your own money. Before draining your personal savings account, look into other options, such as crowdfunding. Research small business grants as well, as these can help cover gaps in funding.

2. Write a top-of-the-line business plan

If you’re interested in attracting investors, you’ll need a solid business plan to lure them in. Regardless of how wonderful your idea is, you must communicate that idea effectively and back up your claims with thorough research. A tightly organised business plan has the ability to assure investors of your industry know-how. It will give them a picture of how you plan to run your business and how accurately you can assess and address risks.

An entrepreneur who has a business plan with a punchy executive summary and a precise market analysis in hand is more likely to attract shrewd investors than one with only an inspired (and undeveloped) idea.

Related: Business Plan Format Guide

3. Network, network, network

The absolute best way to find investors is to network. Generally, you never want to cold call investors with your business ideas. You want to build relationships naturally with those in your industry and in your local community. Talk with other business leaders and go to local events. Offer to help other entrepreneurs and established business owners. They may return the favour by introducing you to reliable angel investors or they may steer you to a venture capital firm that helped launch their start-up. They may even offer to pitch in some of their own cash, if they really take to your idea.

Moreover, to make sure your networking efforts are effective, try to pinpoint the audience who would be most interested in your idea.

“Network selectively,” advises American author and entrepreneur, Steve Pavlina. “Take the time to build a profile of your ideal customers, and target your networking activities to reach them. Speak to those who are already predisposed to want what you offer.”

Building connections is a vital part of creating your business. You’ll need to build new ones and strengthen existing ones, not only to get the funding you need in the short term, but also to survive as a business in the long term. 

4. Be prepared to compromise

Asking for funding for your startup means experiencing failure time and time again. Most of the investors you’ll encounter will pass on your idea. You shouldn’t take this to heart. It’s all a part of the process. You may find that in order to get the funding you need you’ll have to give a small piece of the business over to an angel investor.

Your first crowdfunding effort may fall short, and you might have to incorporate feedback from backers and implement changes to the core of your idea to crowdfund successfully the next go around. Don’t be too rigid with your vision. If you’re willing to make some slight changes, you could have a much better shot at landing a deal.

Securing funding for your start-up is no easy task, but it is certainly not one you have to do alone. Enlist the help of friends, family, and business associates to help you craft a superb business plan, meet other entrepreneurs and investors, and make revisions to your idea. Use their input to help you find other ways to fund your start-up, such as small business grants and crowdfunding. Use these 4 tips for securing funding for your start-up, continue researching your target market and refining the way you approach investors. Without a shadow of a doubt, if you’re willing to seek the advice of others and compromise when necessary, you’ll find a way to fund your start-up.

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Start-up Advice

7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

What follows are seven simplified yet key strategies to develop yourself as an entrepreneur which are a hybrid of the authors’ practical experience and what he has learnt from very successful entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants over several years.

Dirk Coetsee

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What lies behind you and what lies in front of you are tiny matters compared to what lies inside of you” – Ralph Waldo Emmerson


I am an entrepreneur, I surround myself with business minded people, I am privileged enough to be mentored by great leaders. I speak to visionaries, I write about them and learn from them.

What follows are seven simplified yet key strategies to develop yourself as an entrepreneur which are a hybrid of the authors’ practical experience and what he has learnt from very successful entrepreneurs, coaches, and consultants over several years.

A wise man once told me, “A higher level of consciousness does not mean you are better than anybody else it just means your mind sees from a higher vantage point and therefore you see clearer than most.”

Related: 8 Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Advice For When The Going Gets Tough

Those wise words lead us into explaining the first strategy:

1. Expand your consciousness

Simply put your consciousness is nothing but what you are aware of. By increasing what you are aware of through experience, study and honest self-reflection and by inquiring deeply into every aspect of your business as to increase the quality of your awareness you are enhancing the quality of your experience as an entrepreneur.

The second strategy often referred to as priming or framing is commonly used by successful entrepreneurs:

2. Priming or framing

Priming or framing is creating a positive mindset first thing in the morning which builds mental strength and the capacity to face the day with a very good attitude. This is, in essence, done by creating a morning ritual or habit for yourself which can take whatever form you prefer, as long as the outcome of it is a stronger and better you.

Some prefer meditation and/or prayer. Others repeat affirmations in the mirror. Some take the quiet early morning hours as the opportune time to read and learn more about their craft. Exercise is another way to start your day in a positive way. See this exercise of Priming or framing as an investment earning compound interest over a period of time.

nelson-mandelaGoogle whom any famous leader or entrepreneurs’ mentor was and a name or many will most certainly pop up. Nelson Mandela’s’ mentor was Oliver Tambo, Warren Buffet holds the Dale Carnegie certificate proudly displayed on his office wall in high regard, the famous investor Ray Dalio is still coached by Tony Robbins.

Related: (Podcast) Being An Entrepreneur Is Painful

That explains why you should:

3. Be willing to be mentored

When I facilitate training or a coaching session a common objection to being mentored is: “ Yes , but I do not know anyone that could mentor me.”

Honestly, what a lame excuse. Most servant leaders understand that it is part of their duty to society by leaving other servant leaders and/or entrepreneurs behind and are actually just waiting for your call.

It is really as simple as that, make your list of people that you look up to and want to be mentored by and call them, sincerely tell them how much you admire them and ask for guidance and mentorship. To those whom knock sincerely a door will be opened.

There is no such thing as a “self-made man” as everyone has received some help in some shape or form along their journey of entrepreneurship.

It is much harder to give up on something that you really have worked hard for over a long period of time as opposed to something that you have approached with half-hearted intent and little effort.

Therefore:

4. Hard work compounded by smart work

Hard work is not only something that you should do to stay ahead of the competition but a necessity in order to build resilience.

When you have lost sight of your purpose and vision as an entrepreneur decision making becomes drastically harder, your morale might be affected negatively, and your bank balance might suffer as a consequence.

So:

5. Ensure that you have constancy of purpose and a clear Vision

A very effective way of priming and/or framing is to remind yourself of your purpose and vision every morning. Make your Vision and purpose visual by displaying it clearly at your office. An entrepreneur cannot talk regularly nor enthusiastically enough about his or her vision and purpose. When you have not wholeheartedly bought into a vision and purpose how can you expect your team to?

ian-fuhrThose whom embody servant leadership of which the founder of Sorbet, Ian Fuhr is a prime example know that unconditional giving as a principle not only builds character but empowers others so that we can not only grow as businesses but as people.

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

That is the reason for:

6. Giving without expecting anything in return

When you give of yourself unconditionally you have a true servant heart and your clients will not only be loyal, but they will love you in general. Giving unconditionally feels good and receiving unconditionally places no burden on you and creates a wonderful and vibrant work atmosphere, generally speaking.

When you only take a stand on your principles and values during good times yet allow them to crumble in the face of challenging times “your house is divided and cannot stand”.  Your principles and values must become ingrained practises and not just frivolous words.

Taking the aforementioned into account:

7. Have non-negotiable principles and values that you live by

As an example, if when respect is a non-negotiable value that you live by you will refrain from losing emotional control and will be willing to walk away from a conversation where someone dis-respects you.

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