In my article, ‘It’s tough being an entrepreneur in South Africa’, I looked at challenges faced by South African entrepreneurs in a South African environment. In this article, I’m going to focus on the practical challenges and what are the key characteristics, or rather, the qualities you require to be successful as an entrepreneur, irrespective of the challenges you may encounter.
First things first
Where you’re going with your business is the starting point. What is your dream for your business (your vision), what is the purpose of its existence (your mission), what products and or services are you going to provide, who are the customers you’re going to serve them to and whom are you competing against. This is informed by your business idea, and the decision to implement the vision is informed by the business idea research you will undertake to determine if that business idea will be viable, profitable, and sustainable in the long term. The biggest challenge is actually having the discipline to explore the viability of your business idea as opposed resigning in a huff, and wanting to start something immediately, without first having established the efficacy of your business idea. And of course, the most critical challenge facing would be entrepreneurs is to identify often overlooked niches and put them at the forefront of innovation and emerging fields. What happens then, once your research has confirmed that your business idea will make money? When your company starts to be operational?
Passion for your business
If you’re into business because you’re chasing money, then you have a problem. This is because you haven’t cultivated your passion for doing what you do. Maybe you stumbled onto the business by accident. Your ability to develop high quality products and services, solve your customer’s problems, make life easier, better and cheaper should be the driving force behind the business, because it is the pillar on which your innovative ideas will become reality. And this will be what is drawing your customers to you, over, and over again. They will refer you to their networks. So, you won’t have to chase money, the money will come to you. Your passion will be fuelled by your self-belief that you can be successful, and give you the self-confidence to prove your critics wrong when they discouraged you not to go ahead.
Running a business is lonely. When you start your business, you will most of the time, be alone, especially in the early stages of establishment. This means that you are basically everything in your company: the receptionist, the product/service specialist, the finance manager, sales manager, customer relations – basically, you are running everything and you are the key contact person. Everything rests on your shoulders and if you let go of any of the important activities, you will lose out.
Customer attraction, retention and loyalty
Getting the trust of the customers to buy from you and be loyal is a big challenge. Basically, you are at the mercy of your customers for you to succeed and if they don’t like what you’re offering, they will not buy from you. Over and above that, sometimes you will encounter unpleasant and negative customers, and oftentimes, entrepreneurs just grin and bear it, because of their reliance on the buyers. Your business idea research should have informed you about what type of customer YOU want to buy from you.
Not only are you faced with having to run your operations on a day to day basis, and make a profit, sometimes just stay afloat and survive, satisfy and exceed your customer expectations, ensure your competition does not out-win you, but you also have to contend with market conditions of which you have no control of. The market conditions can go either way: you can be hugely successful one day, or you can be down and out, and bankrupt the following day. The financial status of your customers (if they’re not achieving their margins) can put a strain on the their ability to buy, as they have to tighten their pockets to ensure that they too, survive. So, you need to have a proper savings so that you can access the money during those dry months.
You need to be flexible
For your business to survive, you need to be flexible, and adapt to the changes in the environment. In the course of running your business, and with all the technology changes, you’ll find that in a few years, the products or services you are providing now are no way near to what you started with, although the core of it will remain. Being open minded, and flexible allows you to respond to changing tastes and market conditions.
You need to take risks
Entrepreneurs are not meant to be conventional or conformist, at least not in the strictest sense. Entrepreneurs break rules, take risks, are aggressive, creative, intuitive, authoritative and not easily influenced. They are strong willed. They know that they will encounter failure, or challenges, but they don’t give up, because what they intend to achieve with their business is based on their self-belief, and the vision of the business. They know what they want and they go for it. Please don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that you must disrespect the rules and not comply with relevant legislation where you need to. What I’m saying is if you find a different way of doing something that will yield better results, quicker, at less cost and time, go for it.
My challenge to you? You can develop these characteristics and become successful in your business. It starts with you.
‘What do you need to start a business? Three simple things: know your product better than anyone, know your customer, and have a burning desire to succeed.’ Dave Thomas