Entrepreneurs are no strangers to working long hours and having the lines between work and personal time blurred. Many times, the very success of our business correlates with how much time and effort we invest into it. This concentrated effort might be both necessary and sustainable in the short run but can be detrimental in the long run. A light workload day can help maintain some balance in both our work and personal life.
Entrepreneurs, new business owners and even bloggers often pop up on the scene with vigour and motivation. Driven by determination to see our projects succeed we invest time, money and effort in the project or business. We strive to ensure that it has the best chance of success. This may include working extra hours or sacrificing other things to tend to our new endeavour. While this may be necessary, how we handle the inevitable slowdown may decide how successful we really are.
When we start doing something new it can be very intimidating. There is risk involved in entrepreneurship as in all business ventures and it is possible to be paralysed by the fear of failure to the point that we miss valuable business opportunities. This is why it is important to get into the habit of overcoming challenges which inevitably will come.
The first hurdle
The first hurdle will be the first major challenge we encounter in either starting a business or running it. It is the first defining problem that makes us wonder whether we should proceed or count our losses and give up. It could be difficulty raising initial capital, low sales, low profitability or unexpected expenses. The first hurdle could also be non-financial such as reduction in family time, difficulty finding the right employees or competition from other businesses. Usually the way we handle this first hurdle will teach us about making tough decisions and the sacrifices that are necessary to be successful.
Overcoming the first hurdle
There is no guarantee that we will get over the first hurdle. There is also no guarantee that we will get over the first hurdle in our first try. While this may seem like a recipe for failure, it is actually an opportunity to consider the challenge facing us and the potential solutions. If profitability is the issue and trying to increase sales does not work maybe their is a problem with the entire business model. The music industry learned this lesson when it was reluctant to capitalize on the growing popularity of the internet and concentrated instead on physical record sales. Timing may also be a subtle factor which we sometimes neglect to consider. Introducing a product or service to a market that is not ready for it can lead to failure. Educating the market first and showing the need for the product or service can help us overcome the hurdle of the product/service being new.
The confidence boost
Getting over the first hurdle in business gives a boost in confidence and a taste of solving real world solutions. It may not guarantee business success but the lessons learned from this experience can be the foundation for getting over future hurdles. Many times the solution may not be obvious and out-of-the-box thinking may be necessary. We can use the experience of getting over the first hurdle to remind us that success can be achieved even when it is not immediately in sight.
The internet is an important tool that is easy to take for granted when you are constantly connected. You may have internet access at work and at home as well. You can probably also subscribe to a mobile data plan on your phone. The more access we have to the internet the more we tend to depend on it for work, entertainment or education. This makes it all the more difficult when connectivity issues creep up.
Over the past few weeks I have been having issues with my internet connection either working intermittently or not at all. As someone who develops and maintains websites and social media pages this affects me not only on a personal level but more importantly on a business level. While I can do a certain level of work offline, the workflow is different and it limits the accessibility that clients have to me via email, Skype, or social media. It also limits my access to information on many useful sites on the internet. Obviously without an internet connection I also can’t publish any content for myself or my clients.
I am not the only one affected by poor connectivity to the internet due to the unreliability of an ISP. This also affects anyone trying to set up or run an internet related business. If you or your customers are likely to experience internet connectivity issues which are not quickly resolved it devalues the whole online experience. Imagine you are in the middle of making a purchase and your connection drops. Did the transaction go through? Will reloading the page make you do a double purchase? Will a potential customer remember to check your website when the internet starts working properly again?
The reality of the situation
Speed and cost are often touted as selling points by Internet Service Providers but reliability is also very important. What’s the point of having the fastest download speeds if you can only use it half the time? Occasionally problems will occur and ISPs are expected to upgrade their networks which may cause some connectivity issues. They are however, also expected to be committed to their customers and not charge for services that are not provided. Good communication can diffuse many tense situations while lack of communication can make it much worst. The more reliable and ubiquitous access to the internet becomes the more opportunities that open up for entrepreneurs. Internet Service Providers have a pivotal role to play in this equation – one they should not take lightly.
The world can be a scary place for an introvert with a great business idea, but a reluctance to express these views in public. Fear of ridicule, criticism, failure and doubts of one’s own ability can be crippling to the point of holding back ideas and stifling creativity. What if I am not good enough? Should I do this if I know I am not the best at it? Won’t the competition think I am a joke? All these thoughts tend to creep up on someone who is thinking of making a dramatic step into the world of entrepreneurship, especially when that person’s personality is not outgoing and bold. Despite these reservations there are a few things you should know if you are held back by fear uncertainty and doubt.
You are going to fail, but you can still succeed
When you start your own business you should expect to fail and if you decide not to start the business you have already failed. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone and there are numerous statistics which show that the vast majority of start-ups fail. The trick with entrepreneurship is that success is only achieved after you overcome initial failures and set forth plans for long term sustained success. Do not be intimidated by the risk of failing, instead prepare for obstacles since the response to failures will determine your future success.
Confidence is key
If you cannot convince yourself that your business plan is solid and that your idea has merit you are unlikely to convince investors and other key stakeholders. While you must recognize risks and know your weaknesses if you are going into business you should also know your strengths and why you believe your business can succeed. Having credible information to back up your claims is a good way of building confidence so research can be a powerful ally.
Network whether you like to or not
When you start a business you must resist the urge to keep to yourself and hope your work gets noticed. You will have to actively promote your business to let people know it exists and more importantly what it has to over them. This may be a challenge if you are not a naturally outgoing person, but it helps to use your passion for the business and desire to see it succeed to motivate you to network with prospects who may become leads and ultimately be converted to customers.
The lure of running your own business and not having to work for someone else is very tempting for most ambitious individuals. This is especially true if you feel exploited at your job or feel that it is preventing you from reaching your full potential. Having control of your business activities gives you the freedom to reap the rewards of your hard work. You can take responsibility for the decisions that are made and their outcomes. There are many costs that are associated with starting a business that can be anticipated beforhand but there are also a few hidden costs that usually tend to become obvious after you have started operating. These costs are not limited to money but also affect resources and time.
1. Administrative costs
Besides your core business functions there are several administrative tasks that you will have to perform as an entrepreneur. Be prepared to either take up these responsibilities, which will be time consuming, or to hire someone to handle it for you. Simple tasks such as billing customers, listening to their feedback and making calls to acquire leads can add up to hours a day or require you to pay a salary. This can be especially frustrating for an entrepreneur trying to focus on improving core business functions.
2. Opportunity costs
Entrepreneurs are known for their ambition and enthusiasm but you will soon realize that you cannot do it all, or at least cannot do it all alone. Sacrifices have to be made and tough decisions will have to be taken. This is where you have to consider opportunity costs or the cost of choosing an alternative course of action. You may want to raise prices but the number of customers you will attract will decrease. If this decrease will reduce profitability then the cost of changing the price is higher than the cost of keeping it the same. Analysing opportunity can help you make wiser business decisions.
3. Contingency Costs
While we hope that unfortunate events do not occur we have little control over them. The most we can do is prepare for them. Contingency costs include the cost of this preparation but also the emergency costs that creep in when something unexpectedly goes wrong. If an important piece of equipment breaks down it may need to be replaced as soon as possible. Documents may need to be backed up requiring you to purchase additional storage solely for that purpose. In the Caribbean where there is an annual hurricane season an upcoming storm can incur costs even if a major hurricane does not hit.
4. Family life costs
Starting up your own business requires a lot of work and dedication and this can definitely affect your family life. Before the time comes that you can take vacation whenever you want you will most likely have to work long hours and on days you normally would not have to in a regular job. Days off can quickly transform into days of work. It is important for an entrepreneur to consider relationships with family and make responsible decisions. Communication is critical in these circumstances as family responsibilities and work duties can often conflict.
5. Financial costs
This may seem like an obvious cost since everyone knows that investment is necessary to start up a business. The financial costs you need to be aware of are not just the initial investments though. The financial burdens that occur when the business does not do as well as you anticipated or when you do not separate business and personal funds are pitfalls that every entrepreneur should be aware of. A passionate entrepreneur will undoubtedly be tempted to invest personal funds in the start-up but garnishing your savings to fund a failing business is a risky undertaking. At some point, if the business does not start generating a profit you need to find a sustainable form of investment or it may be time to call it quits.
These hidden costs are in no way intended to discourage entrepreneurship. In fact, being aware of them before they affect you can help you develop a stronger business and be prepared for some of the challenges that may be in store. I encourage anyone who wants to start a business to work on a business plan and pursue those dreams if they are plausible.
One of the challenges of operating a business is figuring out how to perform the daily operations of the business as well as stay updated with the news trends and developments in the industry. This is especially true in the information technology industry where changes happen very rapidly, but it applies for almost any type of industry over time. How do you stay updated with the latest ideas and techniques without sacrificing delivering your core products/services? This question weighs heavier on a sole proprietor than any other type of business due to limited resources. Here are some tips that I have used to balance the delicate scale of learning and working.
Prioritize formal education for a fixed time period
You may be naturally adept at your job but at some point you may desire a formal recognition of your talent. To get the degree or certification that you want you may have to go back to school. Your business does not have to stop because you are taking classes though. You can do courses online from accredited sources while still running your business. If you do decide to obtain a degree or certification though, ensure that you make it a priority and invest in your education. After you receive your degree or certification you will be even more qualified to run the business efficiently. If you want your business to succeed, however, you should not reduce your influence on it indefinitely. Give yourself enough time to get the formal education that is necessary then refocus your knowledge and new-found expertise on growing your business.
Continue with informal education throughout your career
Despite our best efforts, we will never know it all and we will never be recognized for all that we know. To remain competitive we must learn, adapt and innovate. This can only be done by continuing education through experiences, opportunities and even failures. The internet gives us access to many resources that we can use to educate ourselves at our own pace. Although this type of education may not be formerly recognized, you have access to various types of multimedia to suit your individual learning needs.
Learn from the experience of others
Influencers are people who have gained a reputation in their field and are regarded as good sources of advice. These influencers can teach us from their own experience and success/failure stories. By learning from these individuals’ work ethic and approach to problems we can gain insights from the professionals that have already been through the challenges we are facing. These insights can help us to avoid making the same mistakes and prepare us for some of the challenges in store.
Keep a futuristic view of business
Your business is operating now but your goals are based on future success and profits. With that in mind you have to be focussed on your goals and the environment in which you are operating. The rise of social media has changed the behaviour of many in your target audience and future developments are likely to have a similar impact. Being able to foresee these trends allows you to be better prepared for them. Change can be challenging especially if it requires leaving your comfort zone but it is often necessary. Do not let the challenges of today make you lose sight of the opportunities of tomorrow.
We all have them. That great idea where we wonder, “Why hasn’t anyone else ever thought of this?” We come up with the idea, product or service that is just so practical that it is bound to be worth a fortune. But then what? How do we monetize this great idea for our own benefit and the benefit of society on a whole?
This has been a question on my mind a lot lately – as I am sure it is on the mind of every entrepreneur creating a start-up. The problem is that there is no clear cut answer that works in every situation. Many companies and individuals have turned to patents to protect their intellectual property. This however has also led to abuse of the patent system by companies who produce no products but own patents for the sole purpose of suing or settling with whoever infringes on these patents in the future. While this may benefit the patent holder the process, as it is now, stiffles innovation and may actually be detrimental to society on a whole.
I am convinced that the key to monetizing great ideas is to have the right team of people on your side. This does not need to be a team of experts but it does help to have people knowlegable enough in their fields to help you make the difficult decisions. These fields do not have to be strictly academic either. The motivator to provide the encouragement that keeps you going when success seems far away. The investor who has enough faith in you to provide financial support. The advisor who knows the industry and the challenges you are likely to face. The family members who uderstand the long hours and demands of running your own business.
Ultimately, before you can monetize your idea, you have to believe in it. You also have to be able to convince others to believe in your idea. Great ideas are the backbone of innovation and are usually accompanied by an extended family of not-so-great ideas. Even before your great idea has emerged you can begin working on your support team that will help you bring your idea into fruition.
Many entrepreneurship stories originate from a need that is not satisfied or not adequately satisfied. When trying to find the product that you need you may find out that it doesn’t exist and decide to create it yourself. Alternatively, the product may already exist but may not function as you would like it to do. To create what you need requires resources which could include knowledge, finance or creativity. If you have the time and the resources this is a great opportunity to create what you need yourself and possibly satisfy the needs of a specific target audience.
Since my field of experience is in website development I enjoy creating websites that can solve client needs. Sometimes a feature that is required needs to be developed because there is no plugin or add-on that can accurately perform the desired function. Some applications also have to be custom built to cater for very specific client needs. The same kind of situation can occur in many other fields where creativity must be used to satisfy the demands of the job.
Every entrepreneurship story is not a success story though. Many ideas, products and businesses fail and this is the major risk of entrepreneurship. If you have the confidence and perseverance to invest in creating the solution to a problem it can be a satisfying and rewarding experience. Facebook and Google are just two examples of eventual success that required multiple iterations of ideas before finally flourishing. Do not be afraid to explore your entrepreneurial spirit and develop the products and services that society needs or does not yet know it needs.