Vinewave doesn’t produce sexy consumer software, which is why you’ve probably never heard of the company. Its most popular piece of software, for example, is a staff directory. But it is special for a number of reasons. First, Vinewave is a South African company, despite the fact that you’d never guess it from perusing the website — all prices are in US dollars. Another surprising aspect of the business is its client list.
Users include Sony, Samsung, Harvard Business School, the United Nations and SpaceX. Most astonishingly, however is the fact that, for a very long time, it had only a single employee: Founder Lawrence Cawood. Since 2010, Lawrence has owned and operated Vinewave completely on his own, from a single computer at his home.
Although he is now looking to scale the business aggressively, his initial aim was to create a business that could provide for him and his family, without demanding 80-hour work weeks.
“I wanted to be able to spend time with my family, so my aim was to create a lifestyle business that didn’t demand crazy hours, and that would allow me to work when and where I wanted,” says Lawrence.
Vinewave ended up being exactly what he was looking for. Working on his own, Lawrence created a business that quickly boasted around R1,6 million in annual revenue, and a valuation of R10 million.
Being an online business that targeted companies all over the world, time and space was irrelevant. “I would often wake up to discover that I had made R60 000 in sales while I was sleeping,” he says.
DOING THE WORK
Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can become a multi-millionaire while watching TV in your pyjamas. Lawrence is quick to add that launching Vinewave wasn’t easy. Sales were slow to come in and refining his software demanded hard work.
“It took me six months to make my first sale,” says Lawrence. “Also, as the only person in the business, I had to work hard. I was responsible for absolutely everything: The website, advertising, SEO, product development, and so on. However, the nature of the business allowed me to do things on my own terms. Where and when I did the work was irrelevant, meaning I could spend time with my family when I wanted. Even though I had to invest a lot of time and energy into the business, it provided a certain sense of freedom. Normal business limitations didn’t apply.”
As mentioned earlier, Lawrence is now working harder on the business than he did in the early days, since he is looking to scale, but Entrepreneur spoke to him about the ins and outs of creating a lifestyle business or side project that doesn’t demand absolutely all of your time.
Here’s his advice for creating a business that can make money while you sleep.
1. Product, not service
The more successful a service business is, the more time you’re likely to have to invest in the business, since you are essentially trading your time for money. For example, if you have a photography business, every new client will cost money, require more time and add complexity to the business. Selling items online, in contrast, is easier to scale as a business, since the difference between selling ten and 12 items isn’t all that much. Easiest of all is a business that sells a digital product. The added cost and complexity that comes with every added customer of a piece of software is very small, since there is nothing to package or ship. For this reason, a company like Facebook, Dropbox and, indeed, Vinewave is hyper-scalable.
“I think it’s important to be passionate about what you do and to pursue something that you’re knowledgeable about, but you also need to be realistic about the demands of the business you have in mind. Some ideas and products demand more time and resources than others. If you want a business that you can run on the side, you need a product that is relatively easy to ship and sell. Software is easiest, of course, but a physical product isn’t out of the question. Just make sure that systems and processes can be put in place to streamline the process and free up time.”
2. Build a better version
Unless you’ve got a lot of time and money on your hands, reinventing the wheel isn’t a good idea. A company like Google, Apple or Amazon can gamble big on revolutionary ideas, but if you’re looking for a manageable side business, you want to instead focus on creating a better version of an existing product.
“You want to look at what is already selling, and build something similar, but better,” says Lawrence. “As always, you want to identify a burning problem, and provide an elegant solution that people are willing to pay for. The last thing you want to do when you don’t have a lot of time and money to invest is to try and create a new market on your own.”
3. Listen to customers
The best way to launch a business that scales quickly and easily is to create a product that customers are eager to buy.
“It took me half a year to make my first sale. I wanted to sell a suite of products, while customers wanted to be able to choose the products they needed. It’s important to listen to customers and give them what they want,” says Lawrence. “Also, remember that customers are sophisticated these days. They have high expectations. Even though I am selling a B2B product, I’m cognisant of the fact that my users are also users of things like Facebook and Instagram. Ultimately, people use things that are elegant and simple and easy to use. They pick the best product.”
Unfortunately, this means that there are no shortcuts to success. A bad product won’t find traction. Lawrence suggests launching an MVP (minimum viable product) and refining it. “Listen to customers and create something they truly want,” he says.
4. Think big
Lifestyle businesses used to be small and location-specific. Thanks to the Internet, that’s no longer the case. Geography has become irrelevant.
“Just because you have a lifestyle business doesn’t mean that you have to sell to your immediate community,” says Lawrence. “You can now sell to the whole world, which means that you can make money anywhere, at any time. You can sell around the clock. This is particularly true if you’re selling a piece of software that’s delivered instantly, but it’s also true of physical products. Shipping around the country and internationally is less difficult than it once was. Don’t think small. Expand your potential market as much as you can.”
5. Look and act professional
The traditional shopfront is increasingly being replaced by the website. Vinewave’s customers, for instance, had no idea that it was a small South African company with a solitary staff member. Lawrence spent time and money to create a professional website that looked great and attracted large clients, and that was all that mattered.
“The size and location of your operation doesn’t really matter, provided you appear professional at all times, and offer great service,” says Lawrence.
“As I said earlier, customers have high expectations these days, but as long as you meet those demands, everything else is irrelevant. You can sit at home and answer customer emails in your underwear, as long as your customers are satisfied with the product and service that they get from your company. Around 98% of my customers are from overseas, so I knew it wouldn’t work if I tried to sell in rands. Instead, I created a website that sold in US dollars. You have to respond to the demands and expectations of your customer.”
6. Marketing made easy
A lot of people are intimidated by the thought of marketing and selling a product. For many, the idea of creating a product is enticing, but they are intimidated by the thought of having to market and sell. According to Lawrence, however, marketing and selling is easier than ever, thanks to the Internet.
“I’ve almost never spoken to a customer and I rarely interact with them via email. If people are happy with your product and it does what they want it to do, you rarely hear from them. So you needn’t be put off by thoughts of difficult customer service,” says Lawrence.
“The same is true of sales and marketing. Through things like SEO and online ads, you can make customers come to you. You don’t need to cold call, just create a product people are actively searching for. Spend time and money on your website, and invest in SEO and online ads. When done properly, these things can drive your entire business.”
Business Opportunities In Printing And Signage
The event is taking place from 12-14 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.
In an entrepreneurial environment, people are seeking innovative ways to make extra money. The signage and printing industry offers opportunities for small start-ups or those looking to grow their businesses.
These opportunities will be showcased at the upcoming Sign Africa and FESPA Africa expo, which is co-located with Africa Print for commercial print solutions and Africa LED for professional LED lighting. The event is taking place from 12-14 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.
T-Shirt and Bag Printing
Embellishments and glitter help transform a simple shirt into a unique garment, and depending on the specific shirt and techniques used, it could become a high priced item. Shirts and bags can be customised, a key aspect to targeting millennials, who require unique products, want to stand out and want items that are Instagram-worthy. You can target this market with personalised bags and unique T-shirts, which do not require large and expensive equipment to produce.
Mugs and Promotional Gifting
While others may see public holidays as opportunities to relax, entrepreneurs can see them as money-making opportunities. Capitalise on trendy markets and popular holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day by producing themed and personalised gifts. Other profitable options include: shopping bags, decor and invites, promotional, corporate and safety wear, wood, vinyl, paper, plastics, metals, flat substrates like clipboards, binders, notebooks, mouse pads, coasters, business cards, stickers and corrugated signs or posters, smart phones and tablet cases.
Business owners are constantly seeking ways to get their brands noticed. And with all the gigantic billboards, street pole advertisements and other media vying for consumers’ attention, it’s difficult to stand out. Enter vehicle wrapping, which is an effective promotional tool as it’s cost-effective, impactful and long-lasting. Besides cost-effective general wraps for corporate fleets, custom vehicle wrapping offers special effects that create Instagram-worthy wraps that get brands noticed.
Of course, these business opportunities require training and some research. Luckily, industry experts will be available at the Sign Africa and FESPA Africa expo to answer visitors’ questions. There are also free educational features such as a T-Shirt and Bag printing workshop featuring demonstrations by local experts on T-shirts and bags with speciality printing techniques as well as the Textile Experience, which shows how to screen print onto T-shirts.
Opportunities for small start-ups or those looking to grow their businesses will be showcased in daily 30 minute Business Opportunity sessions. For more information about the event, and to register online, please visit: http://bit.ly/EntrepreneurSignAfrica.
10 Businesses You Can Start Part-Time
Find your perfect match for a successful part-time start-up.
Launching a company – even if it’s operated part-time – is all about drawing on your skills, talents and interests to create a viable business.
What you know and what you’re good at form a good basis for a part-time business because these companies either become an extension of what you enjoy doing most or they are based on your strengths.
Working part-time while still maintaining a permanent job is time consuming and often exhausting, so choosing what you take pleasure in or are good at can keep you focused and motivated. The right fit is important when it comes to launching a part-time business. Selling a service rather than a product does not require large start-up costs, which means you can grow your business without financing until it becomes self-sustaining.
Corporate Communications & Promotions
Corporate communications covers a host of areas, mainly because this is the sector that takes care of how companies look to the outside world – something that is very definitely a service, but also that is not often taken care of in-house. If you can write, edit, have a knack for advertising, can take photographs or create promotional and corporate videos, you can offer your services part-time to companies both large and small that are in need of these services.
A 7-Step Guide To Starting Your Own Trade Business
With that sorted, it is time to get on with the more exciting operational stuff.
Skilled tradesmen are always in demand. Whether you are a plumber, electrician, cabinetmaker, refrigeration expert, tiler or builder, there is a ton of work out there. For many, the best way to make the most of the opportunity is to open your own business.
Where do you start? The first step is to register your business with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC). Look for a catchy name that is easy to spell and memorable – you do not want customers to struggle. The CIPC will tell you which names are taken. It is also a good idea to do a trademark search before deciding on a name. Register with SARS and make sure that all your tax affairs are in order.
It is a very good idea to get a good accountant right at the early stages of the game. They can also help you set up the legislative requirements for running a business. The National Small Business Chamber is a non-profit organisation that offers a range of services to its members that aim to help them grow faster, save money and receive the support they need.
With that sorted, it is time to get on with the more exciting operational stuff.
1. Finding customers
You want to find customers in order to grow your business beyond the ones you already have. These days, that means a website and some smart online marketing.
This can be as simple as setting up a Facebook page and any one of several other social media sites (like Instagram and LinkedIn). These services are at no-cost to you and allow you to quickly build up a following of loyal customers. You can share ‘jobs well done’, so prospective customers can see what you are capable of, while your contact details are easily accessible. In due course, consider some paid averts on relevant social media platforms and perhaps a website of your own. It is a good way to get potential customers on board.
At the same time, list your services in community newspapers, noticeboards and newsletters so everyone in the area can easily see that you are available and what it is you do. Also, keep your eye on social media community groups – and ask family, friends and existing clients to refer and/or recommend your services when an opportunity arises.
Finally, there are many government initiatives and non-profit organisations whose aim is to help small businesses succeed – with a particular emphasis on black-owned businesses. This help could range from facilitating access to finance, all the way to mentorship. Spend some time finding out what help is on offer. The SME Movement site also has this kind of information.
2. Stay focused
For those just starting out, there might be a temptation to take any job that crosses your path. Rather stick to your area of expertise to build a reputation based on proven skills. If you are an electrician with a little plumbing experience, for example, tackling a piping job could cause more trouble than it is worth. Every trade is different and you are an expert for a reason.
Leave the other work for experts in those fields – but build up relationships with them so that you can refer work to each other.
3. Ride on your qualifications and references
You have spent a lot of time getting certified. Let your customers know about your qualifications and experience by putting it on your Facebook page, your invoices, e-mails and other communications. The same goes for references; these are valuable and provide evidence of your ability to get the job done. Ask for a reference when the job is complete and then on to social media it goes. The good news with social media, by the way, is that these references do not ever go away.
4. Stay on top of the paperwork
The good old days of doing business on a handshake may be behind us. Providing quotes, contracts, invoices and records of payments electronically makes paperwork a whole lot easier by creating a digital archive where physical copies aren’t needed, but it serves the same purpose, when it is formally recorded, it is far easier to see what has been agreed to, done and paid for. Do not skimp here, even the best customer service provider relationships can go awry if verbal agreements are all you have to go on.
5. Register with your trade association (and invest in CPD)
Being a member of a trade association (like Master Builders, the Institute of Plumbing or other professional bodies) lends credibility to what you are doing. It also provides access to new customers should larger contractors need to sub-contract. Your trade association also formalises training and continuous professional development (CPD).
6. Get business insurance
All too often, this crucial coverage is ignored by those starting out on their own. You want to protect tools and equipment on the one hand and you also want broadform public liability to safeguard yourself, your employees and your business against third party claims should something go wrong on the job. It provides cover in connection with your normal business activities and also your liability if any employees are injured in the course of work.
Putting the right insurance in place can mean the difference between staying in business for the long term or folding the minute the tools grow legs and disappear.
7. Deliver good service
Do not forget that every job is a potential reference and, at the very least, is your entry into that client’s network of friends or business associates. Concentrate on giving good service and actively request feedback so you can remedy any shortfalls. A take-it-or-leave it attitude may be relaxing, but it will prevent your business from growing to what it potentially can be.
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