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Start-up Advice

Testing your Business Idea

Given the choice between starting a business built around a new whiz-bang widget and starting a shoe store, I would go with the shoe store every time.

Harry Welby-Cooke

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I say this because so many would-be entrepreneurs have not done their homework and base their business on what they think people should buy, rather than what people really want or actually do buy.  Testing the market thoroughly could mean the difference between a good and a great business, success or failure.

Here’s another way to look at it giving a simple example. People buy shoes every day and it’s not that difficult to put a number on the size of the shoe market. Additionally, because our global population grows every day, I can be quite sure the market for potential shoe owners will continue to grow and people will buy multiple pairs of shoes in the years ahead. However, most inexperienced business people would opt for the whiz-bang widget business. They become enamoured with a potential market they can’t quite measure or identify.  They think everyone needs it and will want to buy it.  They spend a fortune and land up with a warehouse of stock they can’t even give away.

How can you avoid this trap in your own start-up?

Here are four simple and inexpensive action steps you can take before you get into business to make sure there is a viable, sustainable and growing market for your proposed product or service.

  1. Identify your market. How big in terms of rands is the current market for your product or service? Is it a new or a mature market? Are you in a new or mature category? A lot of these questions can be answered with a few hours of online research or from the industry associations.

Another good tactic is to go to a trade show or exhibition and look at your prospects as well as your competition. What does your potential customer really want? Who are they? What is your competition selling and at what price? Can you deliver the same at a lower price or can you add value and charge a premium? Is the sales cycle long or short? Is the exhibitors’ list growing or declining from year to year?

Answers to these types of questions will give you a big advantage in getting a handle on the opportunities within a marketplace and if your initial assumptions about your product or service really hold true.

  1. Identify your customer. Develop a list of questions to profile the “perfect customer” for the product or service you are trying to sell.  Include questions such as: Is the target male or female? How old are they? Are they married? What was their main motivation purchasing a particular product or service? This knowledge will give you additional insight into how your own sales process should be structured. It will also help you operationally tailor your product or service offering to better fit your audience.

For example, if you are looking at a dry cleaning business, you may discover there is a want or need for a higher-end delivery service to professionals in your area. Given that, you might be able to re-orient your distribution and delivery systems to meet an unmet demand.

  1. Test and measure demand. Big companies spend lots of resources testing ad campaigns and hiring focus groups.  However, you can do a lot more effective research on your own by simply starting small then testing and measuring everything you do.

If you perceive testing and measuring to be expensive for little or no return, just imagine spending 10 to 100 times that amount without generating any sales or revenue simply because you didn’t measure the desirability upfront.

  1. Start a list of contacts. At this point in your start-up and planning phase, you may have a list of vendors, suppliers or even potential customers. If so, great. Keep building that list and start to develop a communication strategy to keep in contact with that list on a consistent basis. Today’s contacts may be tomorrow’s customers. More importantly, they have access to entire networks of people who may want or need your product or service.

The real goal of networking is not making a sale to your direct contact, it’s about creating a relationship with that contact that leads to referrals and word-of-mouth leads down the road. Whatever you do and however you keep track of your list, make sure you protect it and treat it like gold. For most businesses, your contacts database often becomes the most valuable asset you own.

In the end, there is no fail-safe formula for business success, although people are always trying to find one. The best indicator is a proven market with room for growth, populated by people willing and able to pay for something unique or different that helps them make their lives better, easier or happier in some way. It’s the business that does the usual in an unusual, unique or different way that wins customers and keeps them coming back for more.

Harry Welby-Cooke is the Master Licensee for ActionCOACH South Africa. He is also the President of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors Association of South Africa). ActionCOACH is the world’s largest executive and business coaching company with operations in 39 countries. It is also on the list of the top 100 franchises globally. As a highly successful Business and Executive coach, Harry is a master of teaching business owners how to turn their businesses around and accelerate their growth. Email him at harrywelbycooke@actioncoach.com or call 0861 226 224

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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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Start-up Advice

7 Ways A Tech Start-up Is Like Starting A Band

Building a successful tech start-up and putting together a band are more similar than most entrepreneurs and musicians would like to admit.

Alice Goldstein

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Building a successful tech start-up and putting together a band are more similar than most entrepreneurs and musicians would like to admit. The truth is that both of them require a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, self-induced poverty and other big sacrifices. Like a startup, says Alex Grossi of Quiet Riot:

“The process that once entailed a songwriter or record label spending countless hours and dollars recording, manufacturing and marketing music is gone. It is now up to the artist to figure out what the next move is in the industry.”

Succeeding in the music or the business worlds can also bring a number of great benefits. Becoming a successful entrepreneur can open up doors to new, more fulfilling projects and rewards. Moreover, you will have more control over your future ventures and have a big role in the success of any project you work on.

Visualising your tech start-up as a band can help you get creative, and may even help catapult your company to success. Because of this, I’ve put together a list of seven ways a tech start-up is like putting together a band, so you can put on your inspirational hat and make your company more than just a one-hit-wonder.

1. Be honest with your skill set

The first thing you need to consider when starting a band is the instrument you can play and at what level. The very same can be said for tech start-ups. Technology now influences virtually every single part of modern society, so you need to consider the skills you have available and determine how you can use them to create a good product.

David Ellefson, the bassist from Megadeth, owner of Ellefson’s Coffee and EMP label group shared his learning experience forming and playing in rock bands, in which he said:

“The idea of a rock band is selling this dream of the ultimate creative journey and endless freedoms. Yet, things like showing up on time, knowing your role (and respecting the roles of others!), disciplined practice, marketing &; promotion are as much part of the band experience as getting onstage and rocking the house each night.

Related: How Craig Bright And Brian Little Launched Rocking The Daisies

I learned many years ago that just because I was successful in music didn’t qualify me to be an expert in other fields, too. My successes came as a result of discovering my passion and honing in on skills that came natural to me. That led to relationships that opened doors for my success. We’ve all been blessed with certain skills, talents, and abilities and having success (and happiness!) usually lies with our passion allowing us to be the best we can be with those abilities in a chosen field.”

The good thing is that you don’t only have to focus on your particular expertise. Each band member offers a valuable set of skills that contribute to the quality of the music. In this case, your band members will be your start-up team. Take a look at what each team member brings to the table and make sure you are applying them to their full potential.

2. You need to be driven by passion

business-passionJust because you love music doesn’t mean making music will just happen, and in the words of Phil X the guitar player of Bon Jovi:

“There are no short cuts. You have to kick your own ass before you kick everyone else’s.”

Once you have identified your passion, the next step is acquiring the skills to realise your dream. This may seem tricky at first, but try to get creative and figure out a way to combine your skills and passions to build a valuable business.

If you are preparing to launch a tech start-up, you should definitely find something you are passionate about. Not only will this make your work easier, but you will always find motivation to give your best, even on bad days. Moreover, you may find that working on something that you really love will actually bring you joy and work as extra fuel when your tank is running low.

3. Put together a stellar lineup

If you were building a band and you knew the best drummers and bass players in town, you would definitely reach out and try to recruit them, right? Well, the same thing goes for your tech start-up. You should review all your options and scour your connections until you find the combination that best suits your vision.

Now, remember that putting together a killer lineup isn’t only about finding the best of the best. You also need to find a balance and make sure that the talent you bring on board will compliment the whole team. If you have two great candidates, but you think they won’t work well together, you are better off choosing the one that works best with the rest of your ensemble.

4. Practice makes perfect

practiceOne of the most important aspects of having a band is practicing frequently. Musicians already have a high level of dexterity, but that doesn’t mean the band will sound good right off the bat. By practicing together, you can make sure everyone is on the same page and organise your act.

As a start-up, the equivalent of having band practice is working as a team. Although everyone learned the skills needed to carry out their specific tasks separately, you also need to work as a team to make sure everyone is in sync.

A good way to do this is to give everyone individual tasks, and also assign at least one communal task a week. This will give you time to sit down with your team members, gauge that everyone is on the same page, and clear the air if they are not.

Related: Will.I.Am: The Man Who Took Music To Mars

5. Networking is the KEY

Any successful musician will tell you that networking is as important as the quality of your music. Networking with the right people can help you land gigs, get your music to the right listeners, and make a name for yourself by rubbing elbows with established industry giants.

The reason why I say that networking is KEY to any tech start-up is because it’s what will enable you to Keep Expanding Yourself. Building connections with established tech companies and influencers can help you get your name out there and land significant contracts. Not only this, you will also be able to gain valuable insights from the people that already thrive in your industry.

6. Find your audience

audienceMost bands already have a good idea of who their followers are or will be, and they focus on getting gigs in venues that will attract these fans. This makes their promotion easier and increases the chances of hosting a successful event. Not only this, in order to adapt to your audience’s changing needs and preferences, you must be ready to diversify wherever necessary.

Marq Torien from BulletBoys put it beautifully “Always know at some point you have to reinvent yourself in your music career. It’s a must, if you want to keep your audience and fans who love what you or your group does. All the great musicians and artists have done so at some point in their careers. Don’t have fear of diversity”. Marq stayed true to his words as their highly anticipated March 2018 Frontiers Records release “From Out of The Skies ” is truly one of their most diverse album to date.

Although it’s a bit more complicated, you should identify your start-up’s perfect clientele in the form of fictional buyer personas. This requires a good amount of market research, but it will give you essential information about your potential customer base. You’ll be able to create marketing campaigns that speak directly to your buyer personas through the channels they use the most as well as diversify based on changes in consumer demand.

Related: Kim Coppen-Watkins On Having And Maintaining Strategic Growth

7. Use all available promotion channels

It’s no secret that the most popular bands are featured on radio, television, the internet, and just about any other channel you can imagine. Besides boosting their collective egos, bands tend to take advantage of all promotional channels they have available because it guarantees it will extend their reach as far as possible.

You should also consider all the marketing channels you have available and take advantage of every single one of them. Now, if you start-up is in its early stages, you may not be able to invest huge amounts into advertising. That being said, you can always get creative and use free marketing channels such as social media platforms, blogs, and YouTube videos.

Finally …

Launching a tech start-up may not sound as glamorous as being in a band, but they are more similar than you may think. Always remember a successful tech start-up requires patience, a lot of behind-the-scenes work, the ability to adapt to change, and a well-organised team. Follow the tips outlined above to pave your way to success and enjoy the perks that come with it!

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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