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Start-up Advice

Start Your Online Business For (Practically) Free

5 Simple steps to start your online store on a shoestring budget — no previous experience required.

Warrick Kernes

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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.

Step 1

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.

Related: What’s The Best Products To Sell Online?

Step 2

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.

online-payments

Step 3

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?

Step 4

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.”

Step 5

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.

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

Getting started

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.

Warrick Kernes is a serial eCommerce entrepreneur. Having won London's Young Businessman of 2009 Award he returned home to SA and started the award winning online store Action Gear. As a recognised eCommerce Expert in SA Warrick has spoken at JP Morgan, to the MBA class at WITS Business School and more. He sits on the Education Committee for the eCommerce Forum of Africa and is now dedicated to growing the eCommerce industry through the Insaka eCommerce Academy.

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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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Start-up Advice

7 Lessons For The New Entrepreneur To Take Into 2019

You already have what it takes to make this year successful, but keep these points in mind.

Dr John Demartini

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Human behaviourist, Dr John Demartini upacks some important lessons that new entrepreneurs would be wise to take into the new year.

1. Find a need to fill that will also fulfill you as well

First and foremost, the most important thing an entrepreneur needs to do is to find out what exactly it is that businesses or people need, and make sure that this matches what is absolutely most meaningful and inspiring to you.

This need or value that you are going to fill must also be important to you and on your list of highest values so that you have a relentless drive to go and serve this need. In other words, it is important to make sure that you are doing something that’s meaningful and inspiring to you and serves a great number of people.

Related: Awaken Your Entrepreneurial Spirit

2. Clearly define all the functions required to build your business

Those functions are based on exactly what is systems and structures are required to fulfill your customer’s needs or values and to profit.

You must imagine every single step required to serve the customer. This helps build an infrastructure step by step.

3. Meet the need and generate the income

I think a great number of entrepreneurs set up fantasies that they have to depend on money to get their business started. Many have this grandiose idea that they’re going to do this, and then they need a certain amount of capital to get it going, instead of going in and actually meeting a need and generating income and then infusing capital into a proven model.

If you do it that way, then you don’t have to give away portions of your business and accumulate possibly unnecessary debt.  Ask how you can be paid up front to fulfill each essential step instead of how you can borrow to fulfill them. Sure selling in advance is often wiser than borrowing and gambling on what customer might want.

Those who decide to wait for capital before they start their business often feel they can’t get it started without outside capital. Then, a year later they’re still trying to get the capital together to get their business started. It’s often wise to actually make sure you have something that really meets a need and be willing to work from the grassroots up and prove yourself and then infuse capital based on what’s already produced and proven and build it that way.

Related: 7 Character Traits Every Entrepreneur Can Cultivate

4. Manage money wisely

Save a portion of the money earned, and take another portion and return it back into the business to grow it. It’s important to have a liquid cushion – it’s unwise spending all your money or putting all of it back into the business and then having no cushion to fall back on.

Make sure that a portion of the money is put into liquid cash. The greatest companies have a great reserve of cash. Liquid cash is important. Many entrepreneurs are gambling instead of investing and looking for a quick return instead of being patient.

5. Have adequate liquidity to prevent opportunity take overs

Watch out for opportunists – when you are running a successful business. There will be opportunists who come along and offer to purchase the business for much less than it may be worth.  That is another reason to have adequate liquid capital on hand, because without it, you can become vulnerable to others coming in and taking over the business. Leverage buyouts can occur.

Remember, cash is king. Cash grabs opportunities. So be sure to save and invest.

6. Keep focused

If you are not making money, then you must not be serving people. So make sure you are truly meeting your customer’s needs and serving them. Don’t take your focus off your mission. Don’t forget what got you to a point of success.

Related: Make A New Start In 2019

7. Be true to yourself

Don’t try to be somebody that you are not. Don’t envy and imitate other companies, you may end up not being authentic and true to what your values are. It is wiser to recognise where and when you already own the traits of those you admire according to your own highest values.  You already have what it takes.

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Start-up Advice

Outdoor Versus Indoor: How Different Conditions Will Impact Your Budding Marijuana Business

When starting out you should know the difference between indoor and outdoor production and why it matters to your future cannabis business.

Nicole Crampton

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If you’re looking to start growing and cultivating a strategy in the hopes that weed will be legalised, you’ll need to do some experimentation. Growing marijuana is a science and will require more than just a splash of water every other day like normal house plants.

Firstly, you’ll need to determine if you can grow your “crop” outside or if you’ll need to set-up a space inside. Here is what you need to know about growing cannabis inside versus outside:

Optimised versus natural

Deciding which option will work better for you depends on your unique circumstances. If you have access to an outdoor area you can use the natural resources of the sun and wind. If, on the other hand, you prefer to grow your crop inside you’ll need to cater for the natural elements you’ve lost, but you can also optimise the environment to give you exactly what you’re looking for.

When growing indoors you can control:

  • Temperature
  • Light source
  • CO2 production
  • Humidity.

This will create a stable habitat for your weed plant to grow in, without having to risk any outdoor elements. Keep in mind, no bulb is going to be able to produce the same spectrum of light as the Sun, which will leave you will smaller yields and less vigorous plants.

You’ll also find it challenging to simulate the natural environment. For example: wasps, ants and ladybugs are natural helpers against mites, you won’t be able to mimic this ecosystem indoors, and if your plants become infested with mites it can be difficult to control. To avoid using pesticides and insecticides some cultivators could find the trade-off of growing outdoors appealing.

Outdoor growers will need a suitable climate for cannabis production such as:

  • Good sun exposure
  • Hot days, warm nights
  • Low humidity.

cannabis-production-pros-and-cons

Related: 6 Fundamental Steps To Consider Before Venturing Into The South African Cannabis Industry

Can you afford to grow indoors versus outdoors?

planting-marijuanaWhether you’re growing indoor or outdoor there will be significant initial costs, however, the difference will come in when it comes to long term costs.

An indoor climate control system can be quite capital intensive compared to outdoor where the majority of the costs are in the initial start-up.

The expected labour costs for indoor and outdoor are also quite different. There is always work that needs to be done to create an optimal environment with indoor marijuana growing. With a smaller yield, like in indoor growing, pruning, trellising, watering, feeding and harvesting are more demanding and continuous.

When growing cannabis outdoors, you’ll work on one crop throughout the seasons. A farm with a large output typically can sustain four full-time workers until harvest, when more employees will be needed.

You can recoup the high cost of indoor weed farming through:

  • Breeding projects
  • Year-round harvests
  • Potent products
  • Higher selling points.

Indoor marijuana farming also allows you to cultivate strains that wouldn’t thrive outdoors.

Pro tip: Keep in mind, with the rising cost of energy and an increasing demand for more product within the current marketplace, outdoor farming could produce quality product at a more reasonable price.

indoors-versus-outdoors-pros-and-cons

Related: 12 Cannabis Products You Can Legally Start Selling Right Now

Will outdoor or indoor offer you better quality?

Being able to optimise your environment and accelerate breeding has allowed indoor cannabis to hold the title of top of the line product and generate beautiful strains with powerful flavour profiles. With indoor marijuana growth you can increase the CO2 level increasing bud growth and producing higher THC levels, which are difficult to obtain outdoors.

Indoor buds also remain in pristine condition as they aren’t exposed to the elements. Having an indoor operation enables you to harvest crops at peak conditions and curing the product in a controlled climate.

On the other hand, many users prefer the sun-grown organic marijuana. Although the actual plants tend to be more damaged, so the product isn’t as pristine. However, once you’ve gained enough experience you should be able to produce products of the same high quality as indoor growers.

outdoor-quality-pros-and-cons

Related: 10 Cannabis Business Opportunities That Can Grow Your Wealth

The best of both options

There has been a growing trend of commercial greenhouse marijuana farming. This seems to capture the best of both methods. It produces high quality cannabis, while using natural elements and optimised environments simultaneously.

Both styles of farming offer positives and negatives, and as a consumer or a future producer, you’ll need to continually educate yourself on the current trends. Continue to evolve your process, try something new and keep your mind open to possibilities.

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