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.

 

How To Overcome Difficulties Nigerian Professionals Face

 

Let’s face it, working 9-5, running a business, following your creative passion, hustling, even just breathing, almost everything you’re doing in Nigeria is more difficult here than it is anywhere else in the world. It is easy to fall into that trap of, “Oh! My village people are after me”, and literally give up, then start waiting on a phantom helper to send dollars from above, but that’s not happening anytime soon. I believe in God, however the honest truth is prayer and fasting cannot replace putting in work to achieve tangible results.

Pro tip: Stop working hard, start working smart!

Focus on doing one thing at a time and assess your results. Ensure you stay on track, so your work doesn’t slack because of things that may be going on around you. Everyone you see is trying to figure out this maze called life and hacking it out day by day, so don’t let the people stunting on social media get you down, a lot of young people are struggling to get ahead. There are a thousand and one tips I can share to help with dealing with the realities of working and balancing life, here are a few major ones.

 

Maintain a Positive Mindset

People are continuously faced with challenges, difficulties and setbacks, they are inevitable and part of life, how you handle these challenges determine your ability to succeed. You grow as a person by learning to manage stress and maintaining a positive attitude when faced with challenges. Successful people do everything possible to stay problem-free, when challenges arise, they respond with a positive attitude, learn their lesson and keep moving forward towards their vision.

You have to resolve in advance to not let your situation get you down, respond to difficulties in a positive and constructive way. Neutralise all negative thoughts, speak to yourself in a positive way, whatever is expressed is impressed, what you say to others will be impressed on your subconscious, so actively make positivity a part of your personality. Focus on your vision and goals and never forget it is impossible to grow without difficulty, challenges are preparation for the next level, so level up!

 

Build a Network of Positive Minded People

Surrounding yourself with positive minded people will help you focus more on achieving your dreams even when your situation seems tough. Keeping the company of negative minded people would corrupt your mind and without realising it, you lose your focus and drive. Build a network of people that share similar goals and visions, it is easy to focus on yourself and keep working, however you would arrive at your goal faster if you are surrounded by people that are motivating you.

Resolving issues on your own may be overwhelming, admitting that you need help is not a sign of weakness, but an indication of strength, maturity and wisdom. Start building your trusted network with the people around you, your friends, family, co-workers and connect with people outside your network that are on a similar track as you are.

Talking about things going on with you is important for several reasons. If you have issues bothering you, it would be relieving to have an outside source to give some advice or at least be a good listener.

 

Avoid Burnout

Any career path you choose – paid employment or entrepreneurship – would exert a lot of your energy, if you are truly committed to your work. Hence, you need to pace yourself to avoid breaking down, because you cannot afford to. We all know that we need to exercise more, eat better, and sleep better. The key is how to do this with the time demands on our schedule.

Safeguard yourself from a burnout by scheduling regular social activities, working out, find a hobby you can commit to, volunteer for charity causes you believe in. Having a good sense of humour helps with gloomy situations, I think this is a collective trait with Nigerians, we find the joke in every situation and honestly it helps with dealing with the difficulties we face.

 

Stay Resilient

As a young professional, you often meet people that do not take you seriously. This may be because you are at the start of your career or your business, hence they think you have it all wrong. Do not let the opinion of others deter you, challenges are not a personal affront, see it as a stepping stone to your promotion.

 

The biggest tip I have for overcoming difficulties is having self-belief. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? There is nothing you can’t achieve if you put your mind to it.

Stay hungry, stay focused, stay resilient. The world would be worse off if people like Angela Merkel, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had given up on their dreams. Be persistent. Keep trying and with time, you’d experience that breakthrough you’ve always wanted. We are all learning. No one gets it right every time.  A more compassionate attitude toward ourselves only helps us to stay in the game.

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.