University for me was like it is for many other African youths, my parents chose my major and depicted the rest. Soon after my final year, before graduation, I decided to finally turn my actual passion into a business, unrelated to what I studied. The idea was solid, it was solving a common problem and was geared to serve the average income woman. It wasn’t even about making profits, as such, but to make a difference.
You can read all the articles, blogs and books about anything, but you’ll always only learn when you take action and start doing it.
What I learned the hard way that as an entrepreneur, is that you’re all the departments of your firm. You’re the legal team, production, marketing, HR (for yourself lol) and the finance team. It’s not just about coming up with a great product and selling it.
You need to be ready to face all the challenges that come with it. Not just the perks and profits.
You need to be organized enough to know how to separate your dream and ambitions from the realities of running a business. You need to assess the influences you have around you and differentiate between their perspectives and the actual facts that affect your business.
These are a few of the things I learned the hard way from starting a business.
“If you build it well, they will come.” A shortened quote from the movie Field of Dreams resonates with me. Raising capital shouldn’t be what stops anyone from doing anything. Soon after starting on next to nothing, the business idea came up during lunch with a friend who immediately invested. It wasn’t much but I was determined to multiply it and build a great business.
The thing is, I had started with absolutely nothing. I mimicked the product I had in mind and sold about 10 units of it. That cost me a quarter of what I made and from that, I made 10 more units. These sold almost immediately to my close friends and family. I then started receiving orders from their friends and family.
See, if I hadn’t just cancelled out my fears with action, if I had waited to achieve perfection, I would not have had any type of confidence built into the business concept. It is this little action that made the investor see it as profitable. This and of course my intense passion for my idea.
With dedication and value in your product/service, taking action is the best way to raise capital. Put yourself out there and be ready for rejection. The best way to raise capital is to start small, as small as possible. With proof of concept, you can use the money from the first few products you sell, no matter how little, to make more product and grow moderately.
Young as I was (22 years), the ‘adults’ around me begun weighing in with their advice. Including my mum who I obviously trust and respect. They insisted that the product was going to be counterfeited and would lose its rights and value. Naturally, a lawyer had to be involved. He was only in it for the money and did little to help the business. Meanwhile, he pocketed half of the initial capital that I’d gotten from my investor. Additionally, the unlicensed advisors decided that the packaging had to change to appeal to a higher income market. This cost more money.
Many other factors came up after this, some I considered, others I discarded. I was quickly draining the little capital I had to grow my business due to feedback I thought was key to my success. Feedback is important but at the end of the day, it should not change the course of your vision for your startup. Learn to discern between helpful advice and mere opinions.
More than anything, have experienced and qualified mentors who give constructive input to growing your business. I was afraid to say no because I was young and figured the adults knew best. Business is business. Make business decisions, not emotional ones.
The next alteration was the organic marketing strategy I had for so long thought out. It ‘came to my attention’ that it wasn’t going to work and hiring a marketing team was the best move. I met with a few marketing strategists and made a plan with one of them. This did not help at all. It’s not that they didn’t do a good job but that I had not established the product enough for it to matter. Even when I did get customers, I had not figured out how to deliver to them, the costing of the products that would accommodate the marketing budget, nor had I gone through product testing.
While it was great that I was taking action and putting the product out there, at the end of the day what exactly was I delivering? I needed to be more realistic. The pursuing of high profits over the value of the product was a large step in the wrong direction.
At an early stage of business, you don’t really need paid marketing if you’ve not put together the more important components of its structure such as defining your target market, having proof of concept and planning out your resources accordingly. Marketing should be one of the final steps and not a shortcut if you want to build a business that provides value.
Well wishes to anyone who is starting out as an entrepreneur and hopefully, you gained something from this.
If I could go back, what I’d change most is taking advice from non-professionals, they meant well but it was a business I was trying to run. Yes, was, I soon gave up on my dream and wouldn’t you know it, the same advisors gave me a sort of deadline to ‘get my life together and get a job’.