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Start-up Advice

5 Steps That Helped Innovative Marketing Take The Leap

Launching a business is all about recognising a gap in the market — and then capitalising on it.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

When husband and wife team Judd and Claudia Sherrin moved from Joburg to the South Coast, their plan was to maintain their full time jobs and work remotely. They were both working for a media house in Joburg, with Claudia involved in the editorial, design and eventing side, and Judd running advertising sales. Instead, the move launched them into entrepreneurship.

Here’s how they capitalised on a niche, and what you can learn from their start-up journey.

1. Find a niche

The most successful start-ups solve a problem. It’s entrepreneurship 101. If there’s a problem that you need a solution to (and would pay for), chances are there are others like you looking for that same solution. It’s a simple yet elegant way to develop a business idea. For Claudia and Judd, it became apparent that South Coast-based businesses did not have a strong online presence.

“It was 2015. The way I primarily found advertising leads in Joburg was through Google and business directory searches. That wasn’t working in KZN. The businesses I was looking for existed, but they had no online presence,” says Judd.

There was definitely a gap in the market, and Judd and Claudia knew they had the skills to fill it. They understood marketing, the digital space and content and eventing. They started putting a business plan together.

2. Create a runway and bootstrap the business

Judd resigned from his position, but Claudia maintained her full-time position for another year. This gave the couple the runway they needed to launch their business without worrying about bills needing to be paid.

Related: 4 Vital Ingredients To Create Your Business’ Secret Sauce

It’s always tough to maintain a full-time job and launch a business, but if you have a goal in mind, and use your funds wisely, it’s an excellent way to bootstrap your business. It also means that any funds generated early can be reinvested into the company, instead of being used to pay personal bills.

One year into the business, Judd and Claudia’s first client invested in their business and became a silent partner. The cash injection allowed them to accelerate their growth, but they wouldn’t have attracted an investment partner if they weren’t already operational and proving their business model.

Bootstrapping your business is the best way to do that, because you’re in the market, finessing and tweaking your model.

3. Create a compelling value proposition

“The incredible thing about digital is that you can track it,” says Claudia. “This means we have the data to prove any claims we make about digital marketing and the online space.”

The trick is to use that data. “People respond to data,” agrees Judd. “We don’t go into a meeting without firm numbers to prove our case. We show return on investment, how traffic is generated, who is viewing and responding to digital marketing, geographical locations and demographics.”

This information doesn’t just prove Judd and Claudia’s sales case, it’s critical to fine-tuning campaigns once they are launched, ensuring more successful marketing spend.

Related: 5 Startup Lessons That Could Have Saved Me 5 Years

4. Educate your market

“We recognised there was a gap in the market,” says Judd. “This meant they either didn’t understand why they needed to be online, or they were fearful of change. Either way, before we could sell our services, we’ve needed to educate the market on why having an online presence is so critical in today’s competitive business environment.”

“You can’t sell your service if your market doesn’t buy in to what you do,” agrees Claudia, “so that was our first challenge. We needed to break the online world and digital marketing down into their base elements.

“You can’t expect a business owner to invest in your services if they don’t believe you can help them, which means before you can pitch your business, you need to lay the foundations of why your industry is such an important marketing and business tool, and how it will benefit your client.”

“Change is fearful,” adds Judd. “The more you educate, the more people understand the benefits of what you’re offering, and the less they fear doing something new.”

There is always the danger that a competitor swoops in with a sales pitch after you’ve put in the ground work, but it’s a risk worth taking. Without an educated market you won’t make meaningful sales anyway.

Position yourself as an expert in your field

As market educators, Claudia and Judd are also setting themselves up as the local experts in the field. They’ve even taken on pro bono work to cement this position.

“We work closely with the South Coast Tourism Board. This gives us credibility with local businesses, particularly as most of our clients are in the hospitality industry,” says Claudia. “The pro bono work allows us to build up our stock profile, generate original content, and network at their events. Our work with South Coast Tourism provides a case study to prove what we can do with a client whose referrals the local community trusts. It’s a win-win relationship.”

Referrals have worked well. “Our silent partner is a respected business owner in this community, and so his word and what we achieved for him carried a lot of weight,” says Judd.

“While you’re educating your clients, make sure you’re listening to them as well,” adds Claudia. “Telling people what they should be thinking is a poor strategy. Educate your market, but listen to their needs and concerns, and tweak your offering accordingly. You need to work together, and all business plans should constantly evolve to suit market needs.”

Related: 3 Crucial Questions To ‘Fail Proof’ Your New Business Idea

5. Have a growth plan

Judd and Claudia might have started a niche regional agency, but their growth path is focused on a national footprint. “We already have clients in Joburg and Pretoria,” says Judd.

“Our first goal was to assist our local market. By driving tourism we’re also helping to grow our local economy. All businesses belong to the same ecosystem, and we’re very conscious of this fact.”

Working at a local level provided a platform and experience to target other markets. “Our focus now is to build an online business that can cater to international markets,” explains Claudia.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Start-up Advice

Carve Your Own Niche Without Competing Against Corporates

Business opportunities abound in the trustless business universe. Here’s how you can leverage new technology, solutions and consumer trends.

Etienne Nel

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The trustless business environment is a pioneering space and therefore an ideal environment in which entrepreneurs can launch new products and services without having to compete against corporates — or even other established businesses.

As Bitcoin was the first to show, trustlessness is actually a form of distributed trust. Individuals agree on a way to transact and a system is devised that enforces the agreement. In the process, the need for large, corporatised or government intermediaries, like central or commercial banks or institutions such as Visa and Mastercard, is eliminated.

This strips cost out of transacting, simply because it eliminates layers of middlemen. It opens up markets small or medium-sized businesses simply couldn’t afford to go after otherwise.

Perhaps more importantly, it slashes the cost of starting and running a business. This lowers the barriers to entry, enabling entrepreneurs to more easily break into existing markets or create entirely new ones.

There’s been a lot said in the past 50 years (since the personal computer gave ordinary people access to information that they’d never had before) about the way IT is revolutionising business.

But trustlessness introduces a whole new paradigm of business, one that suits entrepreneurs down to the ground.

How to profit from the trustless universe

1. Three years ago, First Choice Global, a Kenyan start-up, broke the stranglehold ‘trusted’ global financial services conglomerates had on international money transfers. It enabled Kenyans working in the rest of the world to send money in a matter of seconds to their families, who were often unbanked and living in remote rural areas. It bypassed banks, using feature phones and the Mpesa system. It has since been expanded to the citizens of other African countries. The company makes its money on the exchange rates entailed in the transfers. Customers pay no fees.

2. The Ushahidi system, which also originated in Kenya but has been used all over the world, including the United States, works on the basis of voters and other members of the public using the app to report electoral fraud or disruptive incidents. Authorities are involved only when they are notified in time to intervene and keep elections legitimate. The system is in the hands of the electorate but monetised by licensing it to governments or electoral authorities.

Related: Vusi Thembekwayo On How To Be A Jugger-niche

3. When it listed on the NYSE in April this year, Spotify ditched the traditional model of listing. With no lockup period and no intermediary bankers, Spotify went public without all the typical shenanigans. There was no underwriting syndicate, no IPO allocations, no preferential treatment. Spotify offered shares directly, simultaneously, and equally to its 70 million paying users.

4. Bitcoin flourished because it has mechanisms in place by which all parties in the system can reach a consensus on how information and trust are shared by the network’s various stakeholders. Information about individual transactions is shared in detailed ‘blocks’ on which agreement must be reached by independent third parties known as miners, before the transaction is validated. The agreement is public.

Bitcoin is a ‘trustless’ system in the sense that there is no surrender of authority to a usually ‘trusted’ centralised organisation. It is also trustless in the sense that each party to each transaction and, therefore, all the parties to all transactions in the block chain are equal components of a distributed chain of trust and power. You don’t have to know other parties to the chain in order to be able to trust the overall chain.

Monetisation of the Bitcoin idea occurs as miners earn a transaction fee for using their resources to validate a transaction and also earn new Bitcoins for successfully solving the algorithm puzzle related to settling a transaction between the two people transacting. And, of course, Bitcoin is vying hard for the status of a currency. It has an external value in which people want to trade.

The Bitcoin example is more complicated and obscure than the others. But, the principle remains: The decentralisation of decision-making that technology enables means that, as long as the community of users you target agrees on the process needed to transact with you, you can start a business anywhere, any time.

Superficially, that sounds like the basis of any conventional business. But, there are two crucial differences. In the trustless world, you need to be:

  • The trustless universe functions only if people can see, understand, and agree to what you’re doing and what is required of them to benefit from your idea.
  • Acknowledge not only that other people have good ideas and could improve your product or service but also that they actually want to do so. It’s a source of innovation you couldn’t afford to buy. But you can harness it.

Getting started

The decentralisation of decision-making that technology enables means that, as long as the community of users you target agrees on the process needed to transact with you, you can start a business anywhere, any time.

You don’t have to start from scratch

To profit from the trustless universe, you don’t have to be as radical as Bitcoin. As the three earlier examples show, a simple idea will do. And, you can choose to operate in an established industry.

Our own business is a case in point. We’re a stock exchange. Shares have been issued by businesses and bought and sold by investors for close to 600 years. So, our industry is well entrenched. But… we’re changing it. Not for the sake of being different but in order to create financial access and inclusion with the specific purpose of improving the national economy so that every South African’s life improves.

Our core idea is simple. We use technology to cut transaction, settlement, and clearing time from the usual three days to ten seconds. This removes the need for issuers, brokers, and investors to hold large sums of capital pending settlement. Ordinary people can, therefore, afford to buy shares because they need no more than R1 000 to transact. As a result, a retail market opens up, exactly like the Spotify example. Issuers have a vast new source of capital to tap into. (Think of the power of issuing shares to your most loyal customers. It’s the best loyalty scheme ever devised. Do you think they would ever buy anywhere else?) And, because our model cuts the cost of listing by up to 80%, a vast new range of businesses can afford to list, creating entirely fresh investment opportunities for institutional and individual investors.

Related: Satisfying A Key Niche

It’s one of those synergistic, seamless ideas that inherently translates into a reinvention of an industry. It is transparent, in that investors can use an app to get realtime information and make decisions about the companies listed with us. Also, our system is so granular that it can tell issuers exactly who is trading their shares. They can, therefore, control exactly how many and what type of shareholders they have.

The model is also democratic. It is principles-based rather than rules-based, acknowledging that entrepreneurs know best how to run their businesses and investors know best how to spend their money. Specifically, it is democratic in that it enables shared value. Everyone wins.

It is trustless in terms of relying on the generally agreed principles of the Companies Act to keep issuers both sustainable and answerable to their shareholders. We don’t impose additional rules on our issuers. Our market, which is everyone in Africa, is able to rely on consensus-driven definitions of business sustainability.

Trust it

The trustless universe is still being defined by commentators and participants alike. However, it is already a practical reality and is happening all around us. Rather than waiting for it to be fully defined and ‘trusted’, focus on the fact that it’s a frontier. You get to make your own destiny. Go make it.

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Start-up Advice

6 Ways To Become An Entrepreneur Without Starting From Scratch

You can get into the game with more than money.

Rahul Varshneya

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Creating a start-up offers promise for generating revenue that can lead to big profits down the road. Most think that the only way to start a business is to build a product from ground up – layout the blueprint, make your first hire and build from there.

This isn’t the only way to start a company, especially if you want to become an entrepreneur but don’t have a concrete business idea or maybe you feel that age isn’t on your side.

I present to you six ways to become an entrepreneur, without starting a company from scratch.

1. Buy an existing business

One of the best ways to invest in a start-up is to buy one that is already in business. When you buy an existing business, you can reduce your risk since the business model has already been proven. There are tons of ways you can buy existing businesses, including via a platform, such as Flippa and BizBuySell.

For example, Flippa offers a way for buyers and sellers to meet and conduct business sale transactions for websites. As one of the largest marketplaces for buying and selling online businesses, Flippa facilitates the buying process as an auction-style platform where you can bid on an ecommerce business. These businesses are typically established and already have the traffic and revenue to support a viable business that you can later develop and scale.

BizBuySell offers a way for you to buy existing businesses but requires an application to join its membership. Whichever option you choose, just make sure to research the company, understand why the business is being sold and whether it fits your business and financial goals.

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

2. Offer your services for equity

Do you have any unique skills that a startup can benefit from? Are you a lawyer, accountant or marketing pro? List all the skills you can offer a startup to can help them build a better business and be crucial in their journey.

The next step would be to find start-ups that lack that specific skillset and offer it to them in exchange for equity. Professionals are known to get up to 20-40 percent in equity, depending on the current stage of the company. The earlier the stage, the larger share you could get.

If you’ve got a unique insight into growing a company using a marketing strategy you’re really good at, use that as your pitch to a start-up that is primarily run by engineers who don’t yet have a marketing professional on their team.

3. Buy a stake

You can also buy a stake in the company by investing cold hard cash. Just remember to do your research on the company and understand how the equity allocation works. For instance, a new start-up may offer equity equivalent to how much you contributed.

That means if you contributed $25,000 in a start-up with a $200,000 valuation, and the other investor contributes $50,000 while the owner contributes $125,000, you can expect a 12.5 percent stake in the company while the other investors have a much larger stake in the company.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

Entrepreneurs! Do You Know What Your Customers Want?

Take off those rose-tinted spectacles and start looking at your business the way your customers do.

Chris Ogden

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Do you know what your customer’s need? Have you really looked at their problems and challenges and asked yourself how your product or solution helps solve them? Do you even know if your business addresses any one of the myriad pain points they face every day in their personal and professional lives? If your business talks to other businesses, are you speaking in the language they want to hear? If you don’t answer a definitive YES to every one of these questions, then you need to start paying attention…

Put in the effort

Research, research, research. Find out what people need through all the myriad of digital and physical research channels available to you. And when you engage with your customers in person, ask them questions and write those insights down. Listen.

Related: 5 Reasons Why Your Business Is Losing Customers

Bad feedback is great feedback

If clients are unhappy, they talk to you. This is good news. Use this feedback to build solutions that change these issues into advantages. This is when you should consider building an open feedback loop or mechanism into your business to ensure that you are getting the best possible insights from your customers. I

It’s also a good idea to check their criticism against reality before you spend thousands on fixing a problem that doesn’t really exist. For example, if they complain about poor customer care, assess your process and see how many complaints you have. It may be that one customer happened to deal with that one unhappy employee.

Understand their business

Your client has their own clients who have their own clients, and so on, and so forth. Take the time to get to know their business and their market. Often entrepreneurs don’t get to know how their client’s businesses work and they miss a crucial trick. By spending time with them and listening to them you get to understand their pain points and their needs. This way you can be the one who helps to fix their problems properly.

Related: How Well Do You Really Know Your Customers?

Don’t stop innovating

Don’t fear the ability to change something to suit a client’s needs. Your products and services have to evolve constantly as your market and consumers are changing constantly. You need to add value, change features or adjust your services dependent on the business you are in. Pay attention and innovate.

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