10 Insights For First-Time Entrepreneurs

Taking yourself out of your comfort zone and dipping your feet into the unpredictable whirlpool of entrepreneurship can be daunting, most people think about this all their lives and never get the courage to take this leap. If you have taken the proverbial leap off the cliff, good for you, if you are still considering taking a stab at your idea, testing if your business venture will pan out, I have a few tips I’ve learnt on my journey so far.

 

Focus Is Key

I read somewhere that at a dinner party, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet were asked what was the most important tool for success in life, both of them jointly replied with one word; FOCUS. You cannot undermine the need to focus on your business and build up its capacity. Majority of first-time entrepreneurs feel the urge to jump at every opportunity that comes their way. Avoid getting distracted, juggling multiple businesses will stretch you thin and decrease your efficiency and success. Start one new business at a time, run it well, not 20 businesses that are run poorly.

 

Know Your Stuff

It very easy to join a band-wagon business, rushing to start a venture because a friend told you they made a lot of money doing this business isn’t advisable. Don’t start a business because it is the in-thing or rumours have it that it offers large profit margins. Do what you love, find a market gap in an industry you’re interested in and fulfil that need. Building a business around your interests and strengths will give a better chance at succeeding. It’s not enough to create a profitable business, its imperative that you are happy running your business. You won’t be very successful at your business if you’re not passionate about it.

 

Perfect Your Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a 15 to 30 second description of your business, always be ready to give a short, informative narration of what your business does. From coincidental encounters with investors to run-ins with potential customers, be ready to give a convincing 30-second speech on what your business does. State your vision, service and benefits in a clear and concise manner. Adjust your pitch to suit your audience, the simpler it is, the better.

 

Find Mentors

Nobody knows everything and that’s fine, it’s okay not to have the answers for everything. Seek mentors and advisors that will ease your entrepreneurial journey and help you become a better entrepreneur and leader. Ensure you find successful, intelligent people who share your interests and goals, they must see the value in working with you for the long-term.

 

Keep It Lean

CUT YOUR COSTS! Keep your spending as low as possible. Mark Cuban says he lived like a college student for most of the start of his business, because extravagant spending at the start of your business can cripple your business before it even gets off the ground. Separate your personal and business accounts, triple-check every expense and manage your cash flow effectively.

 

Learn On Your Way Up

The only way to learn how to run a business is by running one, no degree, book or business plan can fully prepare you for entrepreneurship. There is no perfect way to run a business. However, don’t jump into a business without adequately planning and thinking it through, also don’t wait months and years to execute. One way to become a successful entrepreneur is to innovate, another way is to be ready to be a firefighter – you get better at entrepreneurship when you get tested under fire. Never forget to learn from your mistakes, never repeat your mistakes twice.

 

Get Ready For Debtors

This is something no one warns you about, especially doing business in Nigeria. Customers will owe you, it’s not usually because they cannot afford to pay, I honestly can’t figure out why people owe, even big corporations are guilty of this. From day 1, I would advise you put systems in place to avoid customers owing you money, for example, you can insist on a deposit that would at least cover your expenses, before your sell your product or service. If your business is the type that would require customers to pay before service is rendered, you are in such a good position. Nonetheless, setup systems that would minimise the impact debtors would have on your business, because a lot of businesses have gone under, simply because customers refused to pay up.

 

Stay Healthy

I don’t mean to sound like your mother, but as an entrepreneur, you need to recognise that your health is a major asset. You would be more productive if you take better care of yourself, eat healthy, work out, sleep well. Entrepreneurship is not a 9-5 profession, it’s a lifestyle. Don’t make excuses, working till you’re exhausted will lead to a burnout, a burnout means you have to take valuable time off work to recover.

 

Don’t Believe Your Hype

If you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk. It’s okay to blow your trumpet, but avoid exaggerating your abilities and telling tall tales about your service offerings. Market your product passionately, but in good taste. Let your business sell itself. To put it concisely, shut up and work.

 

Learn From Failure

I don’t know why people are afraid of failing, there is more to learn from failure than success. Don’t let your ego ruin you, always stay truthful to yourself and know when its time to quit.  If your business idea doesn’t succeed, identify your mistakes and learn from them. Reflect on what you would have done differently. Use these hard-learned lessons to improve yourself and your future entrepreneurial ventures.

Failure will never overtake you if your determination to succeed is strong enough. Success is the result of hard work, learning from failure, focus, and persistence.

 

Building A Business While Working 9-to-5

One of my major struggles is juggling my 9-5 job with my businesses and its tough to be honest. A lot of long nights, a lot of hilarious stories that were not as funny when they were playing out and a lot of sacrifices. I’ve had my fair share of failed business ventures, I’ve been successful in most, not quite where I want to be but I get better each passing day. My job allows me experiment with different business ideas without jeopardising my steady source of income. I love my job, I love trying out new business ideas, why do I have to choose? It is difficult to juggle both, but it’s been a pretty interesting journey so far.

Entrepreneurship is the rave right now, owning your startup is the new cool. A significant number of young, professional Nigerians I’ve met have a side hustle apart from their 9-5 jobs. For some, side-hustling is a way of fulfilling their passions, for others, it’s an extra stream of income, for most, it’s a bid to survive the dreadful Nigerian economy and supplement low wages in an economy with high inflation (Thanks Buhari!).

In my journey so far, I have come across some fundamental principles that have helped me manage the complexity of my situation. Here are some pointers on how to build your business, deepen your knowledge and better your chances of success while juggling paid employment with entrepreneurship.

 

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

In today’s world of apps created less than 10 years ago declaring higher profits than conglomerates built over 50 years ago, the clamour to be an entrepreneur is understandable. Entrepreneurship has been incredibly glamourised, that some entrepreneurs mock those in paid employment, let me be the one to tell you not to kill yourself joining the bandwagon. For those looking to make the switch, your 9-5 job is the vehicle that you would use to drive that your entrepreneurial dream. It may make you too comfortable to set up your own business, however it gives you experience, skills and insight on how to run your own business. Your day job will fund your dreams, even your dreams can’t fund your dreams.

Set SMART goals to enable you plan better and achieve more in both your business and career.

 

Manage Your Time

Running a side business while working 9 to 5 allows you test your ideas without putting your income flow at too much risk. A side hustle is a stepping stone to creating an additional income stream and a great way to test your business idea without the risk of losing your current income stream. The 5 to 9 life is probably more tasking than the 9 to 5 life, being that you would use your free time for hobbies, socialising, resting, chopping life etc., to work on your business.

You don’t need a prophet to tell you the major crux of working while building a business is time management. You have to be principled and incredibly disciplined to manage your time effectively to be productive at your job and run your business successfully. Do not under any circumstance skimp on your job for your business, if you cannot manage both at once, its best you focus on just one. There are a ton of time management apps that help with managing your schedule and achieving your goals, check some of them here.

 

Share your work

Whether on social media or a website or youtube channel or a podcast, find a way to share your work. It helps you build a community, and also establish yourself as an authority in your field. There is absolutely no point of building a business or a brand without also building a platform to showcase it, you don’t necessarily have to be the face of your brand, you can build a brand without the public knowing you’re the brain behind it. Also, sharing your work, essentially is a marketing strategy, so it’s a win-win situation.

 

Learn from Experts

Learn from other people’s experience, you don’t have to suffer, Nigerians love to glamourise sufferhead. Avoid falling into the entrapment of doing things the hard way just to have a rag-to-riches story, do things the smart way by learning from those who have experienced what you are going through. Ask for help from those who have gone before you, there is no shame in reaching out to someone who is the same field as you for guidance.

 

Collaborate

Because you have limited time, you would most likely progress faster when collaborate with people who share your vision. You have to be careful not to pick a business partner solely because you are both alike and the person “gets it”. You have to pick a co-founder that complements you, that has qualities you don’t have that is required to make your business a success. Learning to delegate tasks based on strengths from the early days will go a long way in creating structure for your business that allows you have time to do more and lays the ground work for business continuity.

 

Prioritise Customer Satisfaction

The fact that you’re working for someone while running a business does not excuse you from putting not out the best service and product with great customer service. I have come across several business owners that expect you to understand that their service is subpar because they are busy with their day jobs, this is utterly unacceptable. Your business should be properly structured and run efficiently for you to deliver top notch service. Your customers do not need to know the details of your struggles, save that for your Forbes interview. Do the needful and deliver the best service you can, whether in paid employment or in business.

A Guide To Help You Invest In Yourself

I am an ardent advocate of constant personal development. It stems from the realisation that having goals and ambition is one thing, achieving them is another.

How do you ensure you’re making progress? What checks do you have in place to check yourself? The worst way to measure progress or success is by comparing yourself to people around, because people in your circle are most likely doing the exact thing you’re doing, it’s called a circle for a reason! In what way are you constantly bettering yourself?

The major pointers to bear in mind when developing yourself are to find a mentor, find what works for you, network, find people you can talk about your business or career with, make time for yourself, exude confidence, and most importantly get your own money! I elaborated on a few of the points below.

 

Find A Mentor

A mentor does not necessary have to be someone older than you, but someone that takes out time to listen to your ideas, give you honest feedback and holds you accountable to achieving your set goals. A mentor could be your colleague or friend (P.S. one that you’re not romantically involved with), that checks that you are getting closer to your goals. For me, I recently set up weekly check-ins with my colleague, Kemi that we call “strategy sessions” where she tells me her ideas and I tell her mine, then we both go over steps that need to be taken during the week to achieve our goals. Basically, someone that holds you accountable and calls you out when you are slacking.

However, a mentor in the traditional sense of the word, is someone with more experience, who can help you build your career, climb up the corporate ladder, put together a business plan or write a proposal. For example, Arese Ugwu, the Smart Money woman always credits Tara Fela-Durotoye as one of her mentors who helped her craft and launch her brand. To be honest, it all comes down to your drive and passion, a mentor would not baby you all through your career, but would offer advice and guidance when necessary.

 

Network!

A great network is the fastest way to build a solid foundation for your business or career. I am always open to networking opportunities, because that “your network is your net worth” cliché is a tried, tested and effective principle. Who you know can be instrumental in getting you closer to your goals, especially in this part of the world. I know some people may not socially active like I am, but you just have to figure out how to meet the right people, maybe try networking online. Nigerians may not be eager to respond, but when networking, don’t focus on what the other person can do for you, focus on building a relationship with that person.

I read somewhere that 70% of jobs are gotten through networking, certainly, walking into a room full of strangers can be daunting, however it can lead to great friendships and fruitful business opportunities.

Prepare your networking strategy before you do any anything. Invest time into perfecting your elevator pitch and do a little research on the career of the person you want to connect with. If you are always on your networking game like I am, you would most likely make connections in the most unexpected places, like in a restaurant or at the airport. Be open, you never know who you’ll meet and how they’ll impact on your life.

 

Keep Learning Constantly

Just because you’ve graduated doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn something new. Learn a new language – Halo, Duolingo! Learn how to code – Codeacademy! Take online courses on management or branding or any subject area related to your field – Coursera.

Also staying aware of current events and reading as much as possible is vital to your constant learning process. Sign up for a book club – I am subscribed to the @TheReadClub on Twitter, where I get sent four free books monthly :). Signup for newsletters like @naijastartups, @thestarta to keep yourself updated. If your career isn’t going as planned, read a book about it, Sheryl Sandberg, Hillary Clinton and Richard Branson have all written books to help you with your career and business.