Entrepreneur Beatrice Bartlay reveals the most important things to remember in the early stages of business.
Starting a business is no mean feat and anyone venturing into the realm of entrepreneurship for the first time will undoubtedly encounter some of the toughest barriers and biggest challenges in their career so far.
Having launched my business over eight years ago, the best single piece of advice I can offer to anyone beginning their entrepreneurial journey is: know your industry! You need to understand it inside out, back to front and upside down. The only way to do this, is to listen to what the industry is telling you, and to learn from it.
Take as much advice as you can get from all available sources, and become an absolute expert in both your own business and your market sector, as this is the key to competitive advantage.
Here are my top five tips for getting to the forefront of your industry:
You don’t know it all
The first stage to gaining advice is understanding that you do not know all there is to know. Many entrepreneurs will believe that because they have worked in a particular industry for some years, they will have the knowledge needed already. There is always more to learn and you should not be embarrassed if you don’t know the immediate solution to a challenge or if you don’t know how to tackle a certain situation or task. Noone knows it all and that’s why it’s important that you soak up as much expert advice as you can. No matter what situation you find yourself in, someone else has always been where you are before, and someone else will always have more knowledge on the topic than you.
Seek out the experts
Find those most experienced and well placed to provide advice in your field and take their guidance wherever possible. Who is providing cutting-edge knowledge or insight in your field? Who is offering regular talks and guidance? And to whom do others look as ‘trend setters’ within the industry? You should be following these role models and learning from them. Read the materials they publish, the speeches they make, follow them through social media channels. You should also not be afraid to seek a mentor. There are plenty of schemes available for those starting out in business and there are always experienced businesspeople on hand to offer one-to-one advice, often free of charge. Their practical guidance can be invaluable, and the launch of my franchise scheme would not have been possible this year without the help and advice I gained from a mentor.
Attending networking events and trade shows are immensely useful as it enables you to draw on the experience that lies all around. Research the key conferences, exhibitions, roundtables and award ceremonies in your field and attend as many as possible. Not only will you learn what your competitors are doing, but you will also have the opportunity to network with important figures in the industry. Although this may seem costly in the short term, it is an essential part of learning the industry and the return on investment in the long run will be demonstrated through the contacts that you will leave with.
Read all about it
Every industry has trade publications, which will be incredibly useful to you. You should subscribe to your key magazines to keep up to date with the industry and with thought leaders in the field. There will also be many textbooks, study materials and whitepapers, all of which will be beneficial to familiarise yourself with. Although you may know most of the information included in a textbook for example, I guarantee there will be something new to learn in every reading.
Watch your competitors
An obvious tactic, but nevertheless crucial. You must always be aware of what your competitors are doing and if possible, what they are planning next. This is not so that you can replicate their movements, but so that you are kept up to date with the industry in general and what is on offer elsewhere. This will only help you to stay ahead of the pack and to devise innovative and competitive approaches. Unfortunately, there may well be instances whereby your competitors release a product/service/offering which is superior to yours and your response to this should be how to better this, not how to replicate this.
Ultimately, you need to be offering your customer the best option for them and monitoring your competitors may help you to understand what this best option is.
Once you’re set up and trading, the advice should not stop, and you should always be looking at learning to improve your business. Speak to your suppliers, advisers and customers, and importantly, your current team, on a regular basis. While not all advice is sage, being information hungry will enrich your entrepreneurial journey, and even those ideas that appear irrelevant on the surface may spark ideas. Keeping your ear to the ground like this will help you to run a successful and innovative business.