Entrepreneurship isn't easy. To demonstrate this there are many, many metaphors I could throw at you. We've all heard the one about business being a marathon and not a sprint. Personally, I think it's more like climbing up a mountain. Here's why.
It's long and arduous, and you can bet you're going to experience blood, sweat and tears during the journey, but you persevere because the view from the top is amazing. On your way up, you reach little lookout points which serve as a reminder of why you're doing it and it encourages you to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Sometimes you look down and realize how far you've come and you feel immensely proud of yourself. Other times you look up and feel overwhelmed at how far there is left to climb.
Also, there are numerous ways to get up that mountain and no path is right or wrong. As entrepreneurs, we're all metaphorically making our way up to the summit. Some of us are sprinting up the steep incline while some are moving at a steady walking pace on the well-trodden path. A handful of budding business owners may be taking a more scenic route and admiring the stream and the tulips out back. Heck, others are climbing straight up the cliff face, heavy backpacks on their shoulder with no safety net to catch them if they make a wrong move. But we're all on our way to the same place and the truth is we can all get there, no matter which route we take.
So what's the problem? The challenge is, there are a smorgasbord of people out there telling you the best way up the mountain. Here are three people to avoid if you ever want to leave base camp.
Yep I made it up, and nope it's not a real word. As the name suggests, these people will never be entrepreneurs. Sticking with the mountain analogy for a second -- these are the types standing at the base of the mountain, hands on their hips, arguing over the best way to get to the summit. Or better yet, many of these folks are sat on the couch at home watching other people scale great heights and muttering about how they are doing it all wrong. It's easy to be an armchair coach. It's much tougher to get out there and actually get it done. If you're going to take advice from anyone, make sure it's from those who have gone out there and done what you are hoping to do. To look at it another way -- don't take advice from someone unless you want to end up where they are.
When I was starting out, I met with a friend-of-a-friend. I was told this person was in the know about business and could help guide me on the path to entrepreneurship. What I didn't know is how this person's business had failed and so he didn't exactly have a rosy view of life as a business owner. As a result, I was met with was the following: "Do you know how many entrepreneurs fail within the first three years? Let me tell you the stats." You know what? Thanks, but I'm going to decline your offer. Because as a new entrepreneur, the last thing you need is someone telling you how tough it's going to be and how likely you are to fail. You already know this, because you're smart and if you weren't then you wouldn't be thinking about setting up shop on your own. My advice? Steer clear of meetings with people who have failed in business. It will totally kill your vibe.
Family and Friends
This one sounds counter-intuitive. You love what you do and you want to share it with your loved ones, right? Of course. But here's the thing. Your loved ones are just that -- they love you, and so any advice they give you will be clouded with this love. And that can be awesome, knowing you can go to them for support when you are struggling and in need of some encouragement. But as for constructive feedback, your family and your friends are not going to give this to you (and it's a good thing).
Thinking back to when I was a kid, my mom would keep all of my artwork and display it along a prominent wall in the kitchen. We would see it every day and it made me feel proud and happy that my creations were in full view. It gave me my first platform to showcase my creativity and for that I'm truly grateful. But I also recognize that those creations were, if I may say so myself, absolute garbage. Why am I sharing this? Because those we have known for a very long time rarely change the way they see us. And so to your family and long-time friends, you're still that little kid holding up a drawing made of sloppy paint and dried spaghetti. Of course they're not going to tell you it's crap -- that would hurt your feelings.
Above all else, do you know who's the best person to take advice from? Yourself. Yep, you read that right.
You're smart and you already know what you need to do. So get out there and scale that mountain.
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A unique idea might not necessarily be one that no one else has thought of. It could be that someone looked into it and found it was simply not financially viable. Do extensive market research to assess exactly what your competitors are offering, and more importantly, why they don’t offer the things you’d like to. Study published data for quantitative research and get feedback from your potential customer base for a more qualitative analysis. Find out why they would buy into your idea, how much they are willing and able to spend and how often to make your start-up worthwhile.
Just because you’re going it alone does not mean you can operate a business without structure. A business plan is crucial to help you clarify your idea, spot problems, set out goals and measure your progress. It’s highly unlikely that a bank or an investor will consider offering you a start-up loan without one. To find out how to put together the perfect plan, log on here.
Register yourself as a sole trader and start branding your product. The name of your business will be crucial – you’ll need to get a logo designed, print out letterheads, business cards and register the domain name, which means changing your mind afterwards will be a waste of money and time. As well as making sure the name reflects your business and sounds appealing to potential customers, check the name isn’t already taken (or too similar sounding to a competitor). Also check that nothing unsavoury pops up on search engines when you type it in! If your idea is genuinely new, get it patented for free.
Starting a business on your own doesn’t mean you can do it without others. You’ll need to source and build a good relationship with reliable and affordable suppliers, as well as distributors. A start-up also relies heavily on validation, so get to know people whose endorsement will make new customers take you seriously too. And don’t forget, you can be a sole trader and still have partners to help share the load.
Make yourself accessible and approachable from the get go by building a website that’s both professional and personable. Make it is easy-to-navigate, easy-to-understand and easy on the eye. Choose a host that provides quality support, ensure your site loads quickly, and that it works effectively on mobile devices. Find out as much as you can about SEO. Start building up followers and likes on social networking sites as soon as possible, have engaging interactions with them regularly, so by the time you’re ready to launch your product, you already have a loyal base to help you spread the word.
The excitement of starting up your dream business means it’s easy to overspend, but once the novelty wears off, many end up losing both money and heart. Before you start ploughing your loans or your savings into the project, be absolutely sure this isn’t a vanity project, that you’ve assessed the market and your spending well enough to know how you’ll keep your head above water until you’re guaranteed a profit. Don’t skimp on hiring advisors, a good lawyer and accountant will help you get your head around tax and stop you drowning in invoices, receipts and small print.
A solo venture comes with its assurances of stress, so be absolutely sure you have what it takes before you start-up. Do you have the negotiation skills to get the best deals, the communication skills to win people over, a head for figures to ensure you’re on top of your finances? A lot of novice entrepreneurs give up once they start to question their product. How will you handle a customer demanding their money back, or reading a bad review online? A thick skin, the ability to come up with solutions to unforeseen problems and a solid support network are all crucial for those going at it alone.
Follow Cheryl Muir on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cheryljmuir