Everyone wants to be an entrepreneur or as some would term a ‘wantrepreneur’. Coining the entrepreneur status means that you’re not just going places, but you’ve ‘made it’; you’re a ‘success’.
There is no doubt the job title has been overly glamourised in recent years, but the reality isn’t quite so sexy, glossy or fun filled. In fact, launching and running your own profitable business involves an insane amount of hard work.
Seemingly endless hours, not to mention the personal sacrifices along with the stresses and strains on personal relationships are only some of the factors involved.
This is something I have first-hand experience at having set up and developed two businesses, Gravity in 2009 and most recently Klipboard, a mobile app and web dashboard.
So, what does it really take to build a business? When can you really call yourself an entrepreneur? More to the point, are you prepared for never being off, the strategising, pitching, presenting, networking, immense stress, etc?
The big idea
So you’ve come up with the idea, you truly believe in it, and no doubt people around you have been brimming with positive feedback. However, your nearest and dearest are often guilty of telling you what you want to hear, in an effort to be supportive.
Be careful to not let this feedback drive your decisions or sway your judgement. However, be more concerned when people don’t challenge your ideas and pose tough questions.
Occasionally, on the other hand, it may be that people can’t see your forward-thinking vision especially when your idea for a business is disruptive or not traditional in its model.
Confident that your idea for a business is in fact excellent, and there is a sizeable market that will adopt it, you’ve now got to convince other people, establish a company and most importantly, figure out how you’re going to make it commercially viable.
The set up
Whether you’re going it alone, or have a co-founder(s), there are some fundamental steps that need to be considered/completed in the early weeks and months:
Life preparation. Are you ready to sacrifice a steady income? In order to do this you require full commitment and can’t have a secondary job.
This is now your job and you have to make it pay for you. Also you may be used to certain creature comforts, however, you will have to reduce or forgo some expenditures as your new venture will require every penny for survival.
You’ll have to prepare yourself and your family for a big change. If there are any cracks in your relationships, becoming an entrepreneur will likely add more pressure.
Long hours. Be ready to commit a significant amount of time. There won’t be any holidays for quite a while and even when you may manage to take one, you will still be required.
Starting a business is 24/7 and you might struggle to get the balance right between working and spending time with loved ones and friends. Formulating your business plan may take time, however, this is only the beginning of long days.
Meeting people, getting your business off the ground and overcoming daily obstacles are only some of the elements that you will have to do in a day. You will have to learn to wear many different hats, sales, operations, HR, finance, etc.
No one will care as much as you. Nobody but you or your co-founder(s) will pay much attention to your new business or even have as much passion for it as you.
Developing your skills in how you talk and present about your business is essential, as you need to give people a reason to pay attention.
Your plan will never be completely finished. A business plan is a fluid and constantly evolving entity, just like a business itself.
After many years, I’ve learned that you need to listen to your customers/market and remain agile by updating and adapting your business to ensure it remains relevant and current.
For example, Blackberry and Nokia are two brands that failed to innovate at a time when most needed and as such lost significant market share to the likes of Apple and Samsung.
You’ll have to make tough decisions. What about removing a co-founder or giving away equity? What if the business is not performing the way you imagined and you need to pivot or call it a day?
Whatever you do, make these decisions promptly and don’t let the heart get in the way of a sound business choice.
Once you’ve made the decision, stick with it and move on. Over the years I have learned to listen to my gut instinct, every time it has been right and on the two occasions I didn’t, it proved I should have.
Networking is essential. More often than not success is down to a certain amount of luck, but most definitely, who you know.
Don’t play down the importance of being open to meeting lots of different people. While you might want to go home, curl up in front of the TV and turn your phone off, your time will be better spent meeting potential customers and influential people.
Sometimes, there is not always a pre-defined reason as to why to have a meeting with someone, it is always best to be open and see where it may lead. Sharing and collaborating with others is hugely important.
There will be critics. There is no doubt that some people will think you are crazy, some might even be negative towards you and your venture. Not everyone understands or wants to become an entrepreneur.
They may not appreciate your passion or what motivates you on your entrepreneurial path. Be prepared to listen to people, evaluate and consider their points of view, whilst coming to your own conclusions and progressing forward with your vision.
Bootstrapping or securing funding
My first business was self funded and grew successfully over the years without the need for any outside investment. However, some start-ups require funding to grow and scale further. Seeking early-stage investment is a gruelling exercise.
Be prepared to pitch to lots of people, many of whom will not only rip your business to shreds, but potentially you as an individual.
They may also expect huge returns or unrealistic equity in return. Be very careful with this aspect and ensure you are certain about the type and amount of funding you want, but at the same time you have to be realistic too.
It is highly advisable to research and understand how investment in start-ups works along with having a good level of knowledge about the commercial legal aspects. Seek professional help if required or talk to others that may have done it.
I also have a mantra of what I call ‘smart money’ as good investors will not only be able to provide money but also support, knowledge and introductions into your market. Securing investment requires patience, diligence and a very clear strategy.
It’s all about profitability
A brilliant business idea is one thing, but successfully being able to commercialise and realise the concept is key.
Generating consistent revenue is imperative to building a successful venture, and you must be able to generate sales with a consistent profit margin to keep the lights on. It is imperative to have a robust sales strategy that is in line with the commercial objectives of the business.
Making a profit is key, as Michael Douglas said in the original Wall Street movie, ‘Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity’. As an entrepreneur, your ‘sales hat’ must always be on, never miss an opportunity to sell and don’t be afraid to continuously outreach to people to generate revenue for your business.
When you know you’ve made it
These are my own five measures for success, however I am sure each entrepreneur has their own, as success can be measured in many different ways:
1. You are disciplined and relentless at executing your vision
2. You posses confidence without arrogance
3. You’ve failed and got back up again
4. When others start referring to you as an entrepreneur and not yourself
5. You’re happy and satisfied within yourself.
In my opinion, there are few things in a professional life more rewarding than building a business, watching it grow, developing people in your team and being recognised by others as a successful entrepreneur.
As I said, it doesn’t come without compromise, but then again all the really good things in life don’t come easy!
Further reading on starting a business