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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

3 Steps to Starting your Own Business Today

So you want to start your own business? What are you waiting for?

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Here’s what the experts say about how to face your fears of leaving the corporate world, and when you’re really ready to launch your own business.

Step 1: Refine your idea

Here’s how to take the idea of owning your own business and turn it into a reality.

The question that halts most budding entrepreneurs in their tracks is, ‘when do I begin?’. The fact that you’re even thinking about starting a business means you’ve already begun. You’ve taken the first step by asking for help and searching for answers. There will always be challenges, no matter when you decide to start your business. To succeed, your goal is simple: Define your business concept to the best of your ability, test it out and adjust it as you discover what will work.

The greatest aspect of being an entrepreneur is that there are no rules to follow. You don’t need more experience or money to start; you can go for your dream right now. To help you get going, here are four tips.

  • Define your passion in writing

If you keep an idea in your mind, that’s as far as it can develop. Writing down your concept helps you focus on how to make it a business. By clearly defining your idea, your imagination, heart and intellect can begin to work together to make it a reality.

  • Keep an open mind and trust your instincts

This is not the time to judge your abilities or your experience. Tell yourself that you can and will discover how to make your dream business a reality. Find people who can help. SME owners usually enjoy sharing their experiences. Listen to them and get real-life direction, knowledge and tools that will move you forward faster.

  • Buy yourself time

Pick a specific time each week when the only thing you do is work on developing your business. Don’t let anything distract you; this is your special time to go for your dream.

  • Test out your idea and be willing to adjust it

You will be successful if you take action and make adjustments to your idea by analysing the information you receive. Allow your business concept to be shaped and moulded by your research, friendly suggestions and other information you gather along the way.

By simply having a dream, you have already taken the first step to achieving your goals; now, get ready for the ride of your life.

Drop all of the excuses, jump in with both feet and trust your instincts. You will uncover the resources, people and strategies you need to succeed.

Related: Steps for Testing Your Business Idea

Step 2: Get going

If you want to start a business but don’t know where to begin, don’t worry – you are not alone. Here are eight ways to take control.

  • Take a stand for yourself

If you are dissatisfied with your current circumstances, admit that no one but you can fix them. It doesn’t do any good to blame the economy, your boss, your spouse or your family. Change can only occur when you make a conscious decision to make it happen.

  • Identify the right business for you

Give yourself permission to explore. Be willing to look at different facets of yourself (your personality, social styles, age) and listen to your intuition. We tend to ignore intuition even though deep down we often know the truth. Ask yourself, ‘What gives me energy even when I’m tired?’ How do you know what business is ‘right’ for you? There are three common approaches to entrepreneurship:

  • Do what you know. Look at work you have done for others in the past and think about how you could package those skills and offer them as your own services or products.
  • Do what others do. Learn about other businesses that interest you. Once you have identified a business you like, emulate it.
  • Solve a common problem. Is there a gap in the market? Is there a service or product you would like to bring to market? If you choose to do this, make sure that you become a student and gain knowledge first before you spend any money.
  • Business planning improves your chances of success

Most people don’t plan, but it will help you get to market faster. A business plan will help you gain clarity, focus and confidence. A plan does not need to be more than one page. As you write down your goals, strategies and action steps, your business becomes real.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What am I building?
  • Who will I serve?
  • What is the promise I am making to my customers/clients and to myself?
  • What are my objectives, strategies and action plans (steps) to achieve my goals?
  • Know your target audience

Before you spend money, find out if people will actually buy your products or services. This may be the most important thing you do. You can do this by validating your market. In other words, who, exactly, will buy your products or services other than your family or friends? What is the size of your target market? Who are your customers? Is your product or service relevant to their everyday life? Why do they need it?

There is industry research available that you can uncover for free. Read industry articles with data (Google the relevant industry associations) and read Census data to learn more. However, the most important way to get this information is to ask your target market/customers directly and then listen.

  • Understand your personal finances and choose the right money you need for your business

As an entrepreneur, your personal life and business life are interconnected. You are likely to be your first – and possibly only – investor. Therefore, having a detailed understanding of your personal finances, and the ability to track them, is an essential first step before seeking outside funding for your business. As you are creating your business plan, you will need to consider what type of business you are building – a lifestyle business (smaller amount of start-up funds), a franchise (moderate investment depending on the franchise), or a high-tech business (will require significant capital investment). Depending on where you fall in the continuum, you will need a different amount of money to launch and grow your business, and it does matter what kind of money you accept.

  • Build a support network

You’ve made the internal commitment to your business. Now you need to cultivate a network of supporters, advisors, partners, allies and vendors. If you believe in your business, others will, too. Network locally, nationally and via social networks. Here are some networking basics:

  • When attending networking events, ask others what they do and think about how you can help them. The key is to listen more than tout yourself.
  • No matter what group you join, be generous, help others and make introductions without charging them.
  • By becoming a generous leader, you will be the first person who comes to mind when someone you’ve helped needs your service or hears of someone else who needs your service.
  • Sell by creating value

Even though we purchase products and services every day, people don’t want to be ‘sold.’ Focus on serving others. The more people you serve, the more money you will make. When considering your customers or clients, ask yourself:

  • What can I give them?
  • How can I make them successful in their own pursuits?
  • This approach can help lead you to new ways to hone your product or service and deliver more value, which your customers will appreciate.
  • Get the word out

Be willing to say who you are and what you do with conviction and without apology. Embrace and use the most effective online tools (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn) available to broadcast your news. Even though social networks are essential today, don’t underestimate the power of other methods to get the word out: eg, word-of-mouth marketing, website and Internet marketing tools, public relations, blog posts, columns and articles, speeches, email, newsletters, and the old-fashioned but still essential telephone.

Related: Smart Marketing Ideas for Your Business

Step 3: Overcoming your fears

Call it what you like. Procrastination. Fear. Necessary preparation. The fact is that many new business owners fall into the trap of staying ‘busy’ without actually doing business.

Designing business cards and setting up spreadsheets are just some of the tasks that, though necessary, make it tempting to put off doing business. After all, it’s more fun to choose fonts than to make cold calls.

It’s true that starting a business requires a certain amount of preparation, or as Robert Spiegel, author of The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Best Home-Based Businesses, calls it, ‘pencil sharpening’. Here are ten ways to move past pencil sharpening and put those pencils to work.

  • Make a list

Making lists is a common denominator in businesses that have moved forward during the start-up phase. “People take time-management classes and use various electronic tools, daily planners and software, but all these tools essentially help make lists,” says Spiegel. “Having a list is the most important way to keep procrastination away.”  Keep the list in front of you so it’s always visible.

  • Take baby steps

It can be overwhelming when your to-do list is changing and priorities seem to be wrestling each other, but starting with small, manageable jobs can help thwart fears and minimise anxiety. Focusing on what really matters often comes down to having discipline and a clear vision.

  • Find a customer

If you don’t have customers or clients, you don’t have a business. Yet finding and committing to that first customer can be a difficult hurdle for many entrepreneurs.

  • Forget perfection

It might seem ideal to have everything in place exactly as you envisioned, but perfection doesn’t pay the bills. The ideal situation would be to have high-tech office equipment, but rather than waiting, start working from a small office with little more than basic equipment – a desk and a telephone.

  • Talk business

Believing in yourself and your business might sound like hokey advice, but if you don’t believe you’re truly in business, as opposed to ‘starting a business,’ how can you expect anyone else to believe it?

Change your choice of words when you’re out in the world. Talk about your company like it is a business, not like it’s about to be a business – “I’m trying to start a business” sounds noncommittal. Even if all you’ve done is print your own business cards, saying things like, “I own my own business,” or, “I have to get back to work,” will get the word out that you are serious.

  • Reward yourself

On a weekly basis, ask yourself if you’ve really done anything worthy of a reward – something that will have a tangible impact on your business. Then choose your reward carefully and make it only as grand as the task completed.

  • Be accountable

Find a partner, organisation or another business owner to hold you accountable. Whether you choose to buddy up with another business owner or be regularly accountable to a friend or family member, pick someone who won’t let you off the hook too easily.

  • Predict the future

A sure way to determine if you are furthering your business is to look ahead. If you stay in the pencil-sharpening stage, where will your business be next week or next month? Chances are, you’ll be in debt. Guy Kawasaki, author of eight books, including The Art of the Start, Rules for Revolutionaries and How to Drive Your Competition Crazy, suggests that entrepreneurs use the following test to determine if what they are doing can be considered progress: “Would you call your spouse to tell him or her it’s done? For example, you wouldn’t call your spouse to [say] that you ordered stationery.” Do something today that makes you want to call home, and your odds of future business success increase dramatically. Or if negative motivation is more your style, picture your future if you don’t take some steps forward now.

  • Remember your dream

When the going gets tough and it’s time to tackle those things outside your comfort zone, keeping your initial dream in mind might be the motivation you need. Changing goals and creating new dreams can keep your excitement as fresh as it was in the beginning.

  • Do the hard stuff first

Emotion can kill a business before it even gets off the ground. Human nature dictates that we are first drawn to the things that bring us pleasure, and business tasks are no different. By getting distasteful responsibilities out of the way rather than avoiding them, we can more fully enjoy the other parts of business ownership.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

From Buffy To Business: Sarah Michelle Gellar Opens Up About How Hollywood Helped Prepare Her for Launching A Company

Sarah Michelle Gellar and her co-founders share lessons learned and how acting helped her deal with rejection and how being a celebrity in the startup world can have its drawbacks.

Andrea Huspeni

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Sarah Michelle Gellar

Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur. With a turbulent economy, companies cutting jobs and employees fearful they’ll be replaced by robots, people of all backgrounds are looking to take control of their financial future and pursue their passion, including celebrities.

Jessica Alba, Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney and Victoria Beckham are just some of the stars who decided to transition from La La land to entrepreneurial land.

And now Sarah Michelle Gellar, best known as the star of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is also part of the startup world. The actress-turned-entrepreneur joined forces with friends who are also parents, Galit Laibow and Greg Fleishman, to launch Foodstirs in 2015. The DIY baking company, which sells kits and mixes, wants to provide parents fun, yet simple desserts for their children, with a focus on organic, ethically and sustainably-sourced ingredients.

“We’re determined to help bakers around the world take pride in their pantries, joy in their treats, and time together in the heart of the home,” is part of their mission.

After raising a reported $5 million, the company has expanded beyond just ecommerce; Foodstirs is now in approximately 7,500 stores, including Whole Foods.

Related: The Important Entrepreneurship Lesson From Jessica Alba And Sarah Michelle Gellar

We caught up with her before the event to chat about finding success, her journey and lessons she learned.

Before you got into the world of entrepreneurship, you were best known for your acting. Why did you decide to jump into this world?

I always knew I wanted to do more than just be an actor for hire. I thought producing might be enough, but I realised I still desired more. That’s when I realised I could utilise my great existing platform and actually be a part of creating something tangible. It’s been such an interesting process, learning how much of my existing skill set is applicable to being an entrepreneur.

Why did you decide to have a focus on food?

sarah-michelle-gellar-foodstirs-and-children

Food has always been an important part of my life, as it should be for everyone, but that magnified once I had children. Our kids were so interested in baking, yet there was no readily available brand that had the attributes we would want and expect – organic, ethically sourced, easy and affordable that also tasted amazing.

What has been the mantra that has helped you find success as an entrepreneur?

The one thing being an actor prepares you for is rejection.  I spent the better part of my life facing and dealing with rejection, and I have never let it stop me from achieving something I was passionate about. When it comes to business, for me the word “no” is just the first step to yes. That rejection inspires me to work harder, and prove those no’s to be a mistake.

What is something that would surprise people about your entrepreneurial journey?

I think people assume that being a celebrity makes it easier to raise money and achieve mass distribution and that is not the case. Maybe it gets you in a door, as a novelty, but then you have so much more to prove.

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

What is one piece of advice you will share ?

sarah-michelle-gellar-foodstirs

This piece of advice came from Galit Laibow – one of my two amazing partners along with Greg Fleishman. Always surround yourself with people who are smarter and know more than you do. We have such an incredible group of advisors with vast experience in all areas of business that we can call on at all times. Their knowledge is invaluable.

What is on the horizon for you?

We just achieved wide retail distribution (in over 7,500 stores) so our main focus at the moment is supporting our stores through quarter four and at the same time dialing in our innovation pipeline for 2018.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

Farah Fortune Of African Star Communications On Choosing The Right Clients

Publicist extraordinaire Farah Fortune of African Star Communications built her business not by courting big clients, but by backing young up-and-comers, and growing her brand right alongside theirs.

Monique Verduyn

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Farah-Fortune

Vital Stats

  • Player: Farah Fortune
  • Company: African Star Communications
  • Established: 2008
  • Contact: +27 (0)79 826 1955, farah@africanstar.co.za

The 36-year-old publicist launched her celebrity PR business in 2008, with R1 000 in her pocket — she spent R589 of that on registering a CC and the rest on business cards.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Linda Trim From Giant Leap On Making Your Office Work For You

From working on her bedroom floor and sharing two-minute noodles with her daughter as she struggled to survive, today African Star Communications represents high-profile rappers such as K.O and Solo, and stand-up comedians Loyiso Gola and Jason Goliath.

She has an office in Nigeria and plans to open two new offices in Botswana and Ghana.

You pulled yourself up by your bootstraps. How did you overcome the hurdles?

I lost my first business to a crooked partner in 2006. I was determined to try again and I went in search of funding, but no-one would give me money.

When the last thing I had to feed my child was a mouldy piece of cheese, I went back to work for a PR company, earning R12 000 a month, managing accounts worth millions. I hated every minute of it. In June 2008, when my CC registration came through, I walked out the door.

My first pitch was for a small charity day that AIG hosted for Manchester United in Johannesburg. I was the only woman in the reception area, but my offer to do the job for R10 000 was irresistible and I signed my first client. That was just the beginning of a long struggle. I was broke for the next three years.

Friends bought my groceries, and I would feed my daughter and have her leftovers for dinner.

I couldn’t afford petrol so I walked from my house in Randburg to do pitches in Sandton in my takkies, and then changed my shoes at the client’s office. The only thing that kept me going was the belief that I could somehow make it work.

What was your big break?

Farah-Fortune-woman-success

In year three rapper AKA was about to release his first album. He pursued me for four months. Initially, I didn’t want to work with him, but his ambition won me over.

I’ve never regretted the decision. We signed a contract, and shortly after that more clients came my way, mostly for small events.

Working with AKA made me realise that my passion was for music and I decided to channel my energies into promoting South Africa hip-hop stars. That’s how I ended up specialising and finding my own niche in the crowded PR sector.

Our team convinced 8ta/Telkom to look at AKA for their ads and it worked. I branched into corporate PR after the celebrity side took off.

What made your business stand out from other PR companies?

First was affordability. Publicists do not come cheap. I signed up many young artists who had not yet hit the big time, and charged them as little as R4 000 a month to manage their publicity and help make them famous.

Taking on lots of small clients meant that I could spread the risk. We still structure our packages according to what clients can afford and I’ve kept the overheads low. To this day, I’ve never advertised.

Second was my focus on hip-hop. Before 2011, corporates were not interested in rappers and the scene was very much underground. I convinced Vodacom to sponsor a big hip-hop party with AKA as the star attraction.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: For Cupmasters A Cup Is More Than Just A Simple Product

After that, many other corporates woke up and took advantage of the popularity of the local rap scene. I like to think I played a part in mainstreaming South African hip-hop.

How have you stayed relevant in a fickle industry?

Once the business was pumping, I built my own brand. I never planned to be in the spotlight, but the more I appeared in the media, the more I was able to build my clients’ profiles, and get bigger accounts.

I focused only on doing business-related interviews and people started to take me more seriously. I could not believe how many corporate contracts I did not win because I refused to sleep with the client.

It’s a disappointing reality of this business when you are young and female. Developing my own brand helped me to build a career based on respect and professionalism.

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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

Ezlyn Barends Of DreamGirls On Igniting Passion

According to Ezlyn Barends of DreamGirls, great leadership is about finding and fostering passion in others. That’s how sustainable organisations are built — and grow.

Monique Verduyn

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Ezlyn Barends

Vital Stats

  • Player: Ezlyn Barends
  • Company: The DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Programme
  • EST: 2012
  • Visit: dadfund.org 

‘Lead from the back.’ That’s one of the leadership lessons from Nelson Mandela, and it’s an approach that has worked for Ezlyn Barends, a social entrepreneur and all-round high achiever who is passionate about empowerment.

Through The Dad Fund, launched by her father Lyndon Barends in honour of community leader Daniel Arthur Douman (DAD), she started the South African chapter of a US-based girl education and empowerment initiative, the DreamGirls International Outreach and Mentoring Programme.

DreamGirls aims to increase the number of girls who complete high school and enter tertiary education. A total of 450 girls have participated so far, and all beneficiaries do community service, which extends the benefits of the programme even further.

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: How Xoliswa Kakana And ICT-Works Tackled A Male-Dominated Field

Barends describes DreamGirls as a sisterhood of young female professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders who mentor and guide teen girls from poor communities to gain an education that will enable them to achieve success, so that in turn, they too can contribute positively and meaningfully to society.

What happens when you let go?

“One of most important things I have learnt is to let other people in your organisation take the lead,” says Barends. “That has been an important realisation for me as I am involved in many initiatives, which makes time a very precious resource.

“Teaming up with people who have the same values and vision as you do, letting go of the need to control — which is common among entrepreneurs — and empowering others in your organisation is key to success. That is how DreamGirls has grown and developed into a successful social business.”

It also means Barends isn’t alone in her passion to change lives, but has been instrumental in creating and fostering a group of individuals with the same goal.

Every entrepreneur has a finite number of hours in each day. Being able to spread the load amongst trusted individuals is key to growth — and growth is Barends’ ultimate goal, as it means more lives are touched and changed.

The power of passion

Barends has proved just how powerful a passion for helping others can be. When DreamGirls was launched, there was no budget, but her desire to do good and her commitment to the cause were so all-consuming that everything somehow fell into place.

It helped that a range of corporate donors came on board to help fund the programme. Since then the programme has received significant support from corporate South Africa in the form of funding and in-kind donations, facilitating workshops and events.

The ability to encourage and inspire others to take ownership has enabled three branches to flourish in Gauteng, the Western Cape and Polokwane, with further possibilities for growth in Pretoria, Bloemfontein, Durban and Kimberley.

In the first two years, Barends ran DreamGirls full time, together with a team of women. Because of the passionate assistance of her team, she was able to complete an MBA in the UK in 2014, bringing valuable skills and insights back to the organisation.

“We have developed our own culture, which we call the DreamGirls way of doing things,” she says. “Because the organisation has been built on a specific set of values, it is about so much more than merely helping girls to get a tertiary qualification. The essence is about being helpful and supportive of everyone involved.”

With her team firmly in place, Barends has taken on a full-time job in business development at Microsoft. Being able to rely on others to run DreamGirls’ daily operations means she has more time to focus on strategic growth and creating greater financial sustainability for the programme.

“It has brought fresh perspective, and that’s one of the reasons why we have now decided to go the franchising route — simply because I had the time to step back and look at what we were trying to achieve a little differently.”

We-recommend-tickWe recommend: Linda Trim From Giant Leap On Making Your Office Work For You

Applying the franchising model to a social enterprise

Dreamgirls-foundation

Equipped with an MBA, Barends has used the knowledge she acquired through her studies to continue improving the DreamGirls business model.

“Part of the process of letting go was to create a social franchising model that we are now in the process of rolling out,” she says.

Franchising the DreamGirls concept required her to systematise the business model first, to ensure that it can be replicated successfully.

That process in itself can be a real game changer for a social enterprise as it elevates operations to the next level, with the operating manual becoming a day-to-day ‘how-to’ guide for the organisation.

“We have documented and put together all of the training materials and tools required to run a branch of DreamGirls. Now we are seeking franchisees who are committed to becoming social entrepreneurs. The franchise system will enable us to cover our operational costs, which is necessary because corporate sponsors are understandably keener to fund the programme than its running costs.”

Franchising is certainly a quicker and more cost-effective way of scaling up when it is difficult to access capital, and the legwork has already been done.

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