In my work years, I have started businesses, been part of starting businesses and worked in already established businesses and I have learned over the years that the foundation is very important to the growth. It is for this reason that I consider this topic a vital one.
Starting anything is a brave action. Taking an idea in your mind and having the guts to birth it into reality is laudable. Not many people have the guts to start and that sheer step is what makes the difference. So, even if you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: Starting a business the right way requires you to start, so start.
It is the most important step in this 7-step guide, but first, let me tell you my story:
I was on the path to becoming a medical doctor. My parents had decided it long before I was born, and I was on board with it. On my birthdays, I got medical toys, like stethoscopes, medical dictionaries, Ben Carson’s popular book – Gifted Hands. I read it and began to imagine myself as a neurosurgeon. I added Grey’s Anatomy to that imagination and I immediately became Christina Yang; the only difference was I loved the brain over the heart. Of course, I went on to study Biochemistry but instead of bringing me closer to medicine, it brought me closer to business.
I noticed patterns within myself:
- My school friends always asked me for business advice and from the results they got, it was clear that I gave great business advice.
- I was also an idea bank. I had ideas about anything and everything. My brain was a spinning wheel, solving puzzles and digging deep into problems to find solutions.
- I garnered technical knowledge out of curiosity. I could write business documents with ease.
These patterns were confusing but guess what? I discovered Branding and Communications and this helped me combine my technical and creative knowledge. I may not have succeeded at being a Neurosurgeon, but I was definitely a Surgeon. I was succeeding at removing the cancer called Problems and transplanting solutions. I was passionate about leaving people better than I met them and so my curiosity for business led me to start mine. Along my journey and with my interaction with startups, I have learned the following:
- Start: Don’t let the fear of failure or the weight of perfection hold you back. It is selfish. Start as you are with what you have and learn as you go. The first Facebook, Instagram, Laptop, etc. didn’t look the way they do now but they were very pivotal in getting us here. They also created jobs that never existed e.g. Influencers, digital marketers etc. So start. Someone’s future depends on it and believe me, if you don’t start, someone else will. Ideas are volatile and they only belong to those who execute them. Start Now!
- Do your research: This research is not to discourage you from starting but to inform you about the best way to start. Dig deep into your target market (if it is everybody then it is nobody). Always remember that even water and oxygen have target markets and the packaging and industry is based on this target market. Yes, oxygen is free but the people who pay for it at hospitals will argue otherwise. Know the difference between your consumers and your customers. A core part of your target market is their ability to afford your services. Know your competitors, not to copy them but to learn how to be better. Know your industry. Know your brand, the value you are offering and your unique selling point.
- Plan your finances: Avoid overcapitalization. Don’t splurge in the name of packaging! Draw up a yearly budget. Keep your eye on your expenses and how you can spend the least possible to achieve the best results. Leverage on partnerships. Keep your books. Pay yourself. Based on your budget and financial forecasts, determine if the business requires extra funding and then apply for grants or bootstrap first, before you start searching for investors or considering loans.
- Build a team of people with aligned vision: This doesn’t apply only to your team (staff and employees), it also applies to your investors and partners. Ensure that there is a synergy, an understanding of the core vision and value symbiosis. Don’t be blinded by money or packaging!
- Build a structure: Think like a sustainable business. Put a structure to your process. Yes, you are starting small, but think big. Think like a generational business. Automate some processes and create a firm structure that will outlive you. Document this structure in every facet: HR, finance, legal, etc. Ask for help from professionals or companies that offer these services to SMEs, it’ll save you a lot in the long run.
- Collaborate: Identify key partners with like-vision and collaborate with them to build the business. This could also mean having a partner or partners to co-run the business. 30% of something is better than 100% of nothing.
- Brand & Communicate Wisely: Your brand is beyond your logo and color, it is who you are, how you are identified, assessed and defined. Pay attention to it. Pay attention to your tone and personality. Invest in building a good brand and communicating it as clearly as possible. Part of this communication is marketing. Don’t be pressured into the social media frenzy. Instead, build quality relationships and communities, no matter how little. Come up with creative ways to reach your target beyond sponsored posts. What cost effective way can you get word out? Who are micro influencers who will be excited to try out your products? Employ creative marketing approach and tactics.
There is no one way to start right but the first step in starting right is starting! So, take a step today.
Blessing Abeng is a multi-faceted entrepreneur driven by the need to create lasting solutions to key problems faced by individuals, and SMEs. As a brand strategist, communications manager and entrepreneur, Blessing creates unforgettable experiences that reflect the personality of brands and converts strangers to loyal customers. She is also a Co-founder at Disha and Director of Communications at Ingressive for good.