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The 5 Stages Start-ups Must Go Through to Make That First R1 Million

What stage of business is your start-up in?

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We all want our start-up businesses to hit that coveted R1 million per year in revenue. The unfortunate truth is that only 4 percent of us actually make that goal.

This past year my company scaled LeadQuizzes, our lead generation software, past the R1 million mark in less than six months. Having hit that sales mark, I now know how important it is to maintain an awareness of where you are in your business.

That means really understanding: 1) The stage of business you’re in; 2) the fears and limiting beliefs holding you back; and 3) the keys to growing into that next sales bracket. Having this awareness creates more confidence and allows you to prioritise and take action.

Here are the five stages I believe that you and your start-up must go through to reach that understanding and hit that R1 million in sales.

Stage 1. Searching for product market fit

Your goal at this stage should be finding a product market fit. You’re likely excited at this point, but scared. Now that you’ve jumped in to starting your business, your plan for how to grow isn’t as clear as you’d thought. What’s more, you’re not making much money yet, which is scary.

You’re also starting to get distracted by lots of different opportunities for making money. Don’t let that happen; focus on your plan. And when talking about your business don’t feel you have to “fake it” and act more successful than you actually are, even though you’re worried whether things will work out.

Related: 10 Businesses You Can Start Part-Time

Daniel Tyre of HubSpot For Startups told me that the key to success is to start by proving your value and attracting customers. He recommended offering discounts or doing work for free to create case studies and a track record of results.

Focus on the lowest hanging fruit, he said. And ask friends and family for referrals.

Stage 2. Moving from a part-time to full-time business

start-up-to-success

You made it out of stage one. You’ve built a small reputation for getting results. Most importantly, you’ve got customers.

At this stage, you’re most likely becoming overwhelmed from having to sell and fulfill those orders. You’re finding it difficult to keep up.

You know you need to bring on some help, but you’re barely paying yourself as it is. You’re not sure how long that steady stream of referrals and sales will continue. You also worry you’ll have a hard time letting someone else take over because you haven’t yet established repeatable systems.

Loren Howard of LLH Development and Real Estate told me that the key to graduating from this stage is to push through. Things will feel uncomfortable, he said, but if you can spend 70 percent of your time on sales-generating activities, you will feel more confident and able to bring on a virtual assistant, then, potentially, a full-time employee.

As your expenses and reputation increase, you should be able to increase the pricing discounts you offered your first customers, Howard said.

Stage 3. Establishing a scalable business model

If you’ve made it to stage three, your primary goal now is to establish a scalable and predictable business model.

At this stage, you’re most likely still feeling overwhelmed. You may have employees, but you’re personally wearing many hats. You need to hire more support, but you’re worried about generating enough consistent work, as you are still mostly reliant on referrals.

Related: 21 Steps To Start-Up

This makes it difficult to see the path ahead where you can scale. At the same time, you’re not extremely happy with your team’s performance because you haven’t created effective training procedures or clearly defined employees’ job roles and how they are to be held accountable.

To make it out of this stage, Emily LaRusch of Back Office Betties told me, you should make a major effort to shift from a referral basis to a predictable and scalable source of leads and sales. To do this, she said, use a tool like advertising. This is likely going to be one of the most difficult transitions in your business to date, she told me.

Continue to spend 70 percent of your time on sales-generating activities. You will need to set up basic tracking and systems to manage your sales and team around your new scalable business model.

Stage 4. Building systems and infrastructure for growth

business-systems-and-processes-building

If you’ve made it to stage four, then you need to start establishing better systems and infrastructure for growth. At this stage, most decisions are emotional ones because your tracking and metrics haven’t yet been established.

Now that a scalable business model is in place, you can focus on moving into stage five. Chris Ronzio of Organize Chaos told me you should focus at this point on creating job descriptions, standard operating procedures and key performance indicators for each role.

Once those things are in place, he said, you can begin to hire and increase your capacity. At this stage, you should improve your lead and sales tracking. You should also optimise your sales model and increase the amount of revenue you make per customer. As you improve, you will be able to scale your advertisements and hire sales reps.

Stage 5. Scaling your team and proven systems

Once you make it to stage five, it’s time to scale your team and proven systems. In stage five, your growth is probably limited by your technology and your people. Cash flow is still a stressor as you make more expensive hires and invest in technology and infrastructure to grow.

Once you gain clarity around what you need to do, and understand your finances, the stress will be reduced.

Related: 46 Facts You Should Know About Entrepreneurship (Infographic)

Scott Oldford of Infinitus recommended that you will most likely shift more focus toward hiring and training new team members at this point. That means more of your time will be spent on management. You will need to improve your technology to handle more advanced reporting and tracking. You’ll get the opportunity to finally accelerate and scale what is working.

If you don’t have an awareness of where you are in your business, and follow this framework to break into what the next stage is for you, then the chances will be greater that you’ll give up, not realising how close you actually were to achieving success.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

Start-Up Law:  I’m A Start-up Founder. Can I Pay Employees With Shares?

Bulking up employee salaries with equity is a common method to attract, retain and incentivise top talent.

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Every early stage start-up company battles with restricted cash flow and not being able to pay market related salaries to their employees. Bulking up employee salaries with equity is a common method to attract, retain and incentivise top talent.

Can I pay salaries with shares?

South African labour laws require that employees be paid certain minimum wages, and “remuneration”, as defined within the Basic Conditions of Employment Amendment Act, either means in ‘money or in kind’.  ’In kind’ does not include shares or participation in share incentive schemes, as determined by the Minister of Labour. As such, there is no room for start-ups to completely substitute paying salaries with shares or share options. However, there is no restriction in topping up below market related salaries with equity via an employee share ownership plan (‘ESOP‘).

Related: 7 Ingredients Of Small Business Success Online

Employee Share Ownership Plans

There are a variety of ways in which employees can be incentivised, and it will always be important for the start-up founders to consider what goal they wish to achieve by incentivising their employees.

ESOPs can be structured in several ways, for example: employees may be offered direct shareholding in the company, options for the acquisition of shares in the future; or alternatively, a phantom / notional share scheme can be set up.

ESOPs permit employees to share in the company’s success without requiring a start-up business to spend precious cash. In fact, ESOPs can contribute capital to a company where employees need to pay an exercise price for their share options or shares.

The primary disadvantage of ESOPs is the possible dilution of the Founder’s equity. For employees, the main disadvantage of an ESOP compared to cash bonuses or bigger salaries, is the lack of liquidity. If the company does not grow bigger and its shares does not become more valuable, the shares may ultimately prove to be worthless.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

Key Features

Some key features to consider when setting up an ESOP are:

  • ELIGIBILITY – who will be allowed to participate? Full time employees? Part-time employees? Advisors?
  • POOL SIZE – what percentage of shares will be allocated to incentivise employees?
  • RESTRICTIONS – will employees be able to sell their shares immediately?
  • VESTING – will there be a minimum period that service employees will have to serve with the start-up to receive the economic benefit of his or her shares?

Employee share ownership plans are great corporate structuring mechanisms for attracting and retaining employees, as well as fostering an understanding of the company ethos and encouraging loyalty and productivity. It is essential when implementing an ESOP that all the tax implications are considered and that the correct structure and legal documentation are in place.

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Start-up Advice

Beauty Of Failure: The Art Of Embracing Rejection

In this piece I will try demystify failure, and look into why it should be embraced and not feared.

Jordan Stephanou

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“Chaotic”, “uncertain”, and “rollercoaster” are three words that would effectively describe almost any entrepreneurial journey. If death and taxes are certainties in life, then failure and taxes are the only two guarantees in business.

If failure is (to some degree at least) inevitable, why should we fear it? In this piece I will try demystify failure, and look into why it should be embraced and not feared.

1. It’s Part of the Job

We can start by separating failure into two different categories – micro and macro-failure. If a macro-failure can be considered as the overall failure and shutdown of the business, micro-failures can be seen as the day to day events that go wrong – that potential client that hangs up on your cold call; the sales pitch that gets the soft-no response of “we’ll call you”; the product launch that no one pitched up to. As Mark Manson puts it, business (as in life) is just a process of becoming less wrong over time.

Everything is a hypothesis that needs to be tested, and the process of business is applying the learnings from each hypothesis – each micro-failure – to be less wrong next time to move the business forward.

As Seth Godin says, “The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of doing nothing”. Embrace being wrong. Rejection and failure are part of the job.

Related: The Art Of Embracing Rejection

2. Opportunity to Refine

There is one undoubted truth about every failure – and that is, each failure gives an experience to dissect and learn from. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius had a similar view; that to one person a situation is good, and to another, that same situation is bad – Only perception decides.

As an entrepreneur, it is important to adopt this stoic thinking of managing your perceptions. Look at situations rationally, and perceive rejections as opportunities to refine the product that the market really needs – not the product you are forcing on your market.

3. With each Failure, Fear it Less

fear-of-failureOne of the great things about rejection or failure, is that the more often you are exposed to it, the less you fear it. In fact, micro-failures can become such a common part of an entrepreneur’s day, that you stop even noticing them as failures at all.

You may look back on a day with multiple rejections from prospective clients as a normal day on the path to building a business. The goal is to get to that point as quickly as possible.

4. One Less Avenue

In the beginning, any failure will elicit a strong emotional response, however, when it becomes embraced as part of the journey, as crazy as this sounds, you may even get excited for the next rejection or micro-failure.

Why? Because each micro-failure takes away one possible path you could go down in your business. Entrepreneurs tend to be highly ambitious, highly idealistic people. This may result in wanting to do too many things, take the business in too many directions simultaneously, and run before walking.

The beauty of failure is it re-clarifies the path, stops the entrepreneurial mind from getting carried away, and brings everything back into perspective. What’s better than pursuing 1000 potential clients? Pursuing 999 higher potential clients.

Eliminate avenues that aren’t right for your business as quickly as possible so that you can spend time on providing best possible product or service for the ones that are right.

Related: 10 People Who Became Wildly Successful After Facing Rejection

5. Practical Tip to Embrace Rejection

So with all this theoretical talk out of the way, how do we get over that fear of failure to see the beauty of it? Start by watching Jia Jang’s TED talk of 100 Days of Rejection: https://www.ted.com/talks/jia_jiang_what_i_learned_from_100_days_of_rejection. The talk genuinely impacted my life. I have since implemented an annual (and much less impressive) 10 days of proactive rejection in my life. The goal is for 10 days, to do anything in any aspect of life that you would do if you weren’t ruled by fear. Ask yourself today, “what would I do if I wasn’t scared?”

The goal is to actively seek rejection to remove the power of fear from damaging your business’s potential.

Finally, I believe we should get our heads around the idea of celebrating our failures. Go for a drink as a team and give a toast to that failure even more than if it was a success. After all, if life is more about the journey than the destination, surely we should celebrate and cherish every event of the journey along the way?

Every event that happens will be critically important in forming the empire of a business that you are building. Take a step back, see the big picture, and smile whenever it doesn’t go as planned. See the beauty of failure.

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Start-up Advice

6 Resources For Start-ups Looking For Funding

Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.

Josh Althuser

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Anyone who has ever considered starting their own business, or is currently in the process of doing so, knows that every little bit helps when it comes to making ends meet. Part of the charm of start-up culture is the low-budget creative atmosphere that seems to continually fuel innovation. But, eventually you’re going to have to keep the lights on and water running, and you can’t do that with creativity alone.

Whether you are a business that is just starting out, or already well on your way, there are plenty of online platforms that offer start-ups advice and funding opportunities. Here are 6 online resources that can help you pay the bills and grow your business at the same time.

1. Kickstarter

kickstarter-logoAt one point it seemed that anyone with a clever idea could make a video showing why the world should invest in the next big thing. While a lot of crazy projects have gotten funded over the years, utilising a crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter continues to be a viable way to get your project off the ground. Of course, if you want to reach your funding goals, it’s best that you have already done your market research, have a solid plan, and treat crowdfunding like a global VC.

Visit Kickstarter here.

Related: 4 Tips To Secure Funding For Your Start-up

2. Toptal

toptal-logoThose who are new to the start-up world might not know exactly where to start when it comes to looking for funding. While the freelance economy has grown immensely in the last 5 years, it’s important to know where to look.

Platforms like Toptal offer a wide range of freelance professionals that specialise start-up funding. Start-ups seeking a consultant on Toptal can also rest easy knowing that they carefully screen each candidate, ensuring they have the necessary professional background and experience to guarantee a successful project. 

Visit Toptal here.

3. Appbackr

appbackrIf you couldn’t already tell by the name, appbacker is definitely worth checking out if you are a start-up working in app technology for both Android and Iphone. The platform helps people discover different apps through the crowdsourcing model. Investors can scroll through apps from around the world, and if they like what they see, they can choose to invest. Funding incentive is based on an investor’s ability to purchase an app at the wholesale price, eventually making a profit once the app starts flying off the shelves in the official app store.

Visit Appbackr here.

Related: 7 Strategies For Development As An Entrepreneur

4. Gust

Gust logoInvestors are more likely to invest locally, which is why Gust is an attractive option for start-ups around the world, as they represent over eighty countries worldwide. Founded by a team of investors and lawyers, Gust knows their way around the start-up world.

With portals for both start-ups and investors, the platform seamlessly connects those seeking funds and those looking to invest. Start-ups can create a profile on Gust, and also have access to tools and tips to help them regulate finances and legal matters. 

Visit Gust here.

5. AngelList

angellist-logoNot just for investment, although that is a major part of the platform, AngelList is also a great place to find start-up jobs as well as recruitment. Those start-ups that are looking to expand can greatly benefit from this feature, while also getting their name out there to potential investors.

Their syndicate platform, led by technology experts make room for those who are looking to invest the chance to apply to a lead or directly invest in a fund.

Visit AngelList here.

Related: 6 Steps To Building A Million-Dollar Ecommerce Site In 60 Days

6. Seedrs

seedrs-logoFrom top corporations to big name accelerators, Seedrs aims to simplify the funding process for investors. Providing a vast network of investors from 48 different countries, who tap into an additionally impressive network of start-ups, there is plenty of room for collaboration on this platform. Seeders also encourages investors and start-ups to continue their relationship after the transaction is made. Their online and offline networks aim keep both start-ups and investors in the loop.

Depending at what stage of development your company has currently reached, exploring various funding options available to you is a worthwhile endeavour. Rather than blindly pitching investors, investigating each potential platform, whether it’s crowdfunding or a hiring a freelance funding expert, will save you time and resources so you can focus on the right type of investment based on your needs.

Visit Seedrs here.

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