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start up

You have a business plan – what now?

climbing small

 

You have spent time putting together a great business plan, don’t waste it

 

It takes time thought and money to put together a credible business plan. You may have needed one to get finance, or to get suppliers to support you, or because you believe that planning your business is the right way to go, which is the best reason. Now the plan is complete, it has goals, targets and projections, mission and vision, marketing promotions, organograms, staff recruitment and training plans, financial projections and all the other characteristics of a great business plan – so what now?

Sadly in even the best intentioned businesses the day to day activities of running the business, and as all that great work fades from memory the plan document remains in a file, never to be looked at aside from out of nostalgia. If this is done deliberately it can be a good strategy, especially if you follow Eisenhower’s motto that “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” In this strategy the business recognises that merely developing a plan drives the business to more focused and effective actions, but the entrepreneur wants freedom to react to situations on the ground, rather than stringently following the plan. If this is so in your business I have no problem at all.

However if your business is like the majority, the great ideas and lofty goals set down in the plan will slowly be submerged in the sea of day to day tactical management, and very few of the goals of the plan will be met. If this is you, or if you are in a planning cycle and fear this very widespread problem then read on… Continue reading

Moving from the core business

14 Feb coverThis article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in February 2014 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

Think positively to diversify your small business

 

 

 

Entrepreneurs are creative by nature. That is a core value and advantage. So it is not unusual for an entrepreneur to think of new business ideas that could be additions or diversifications for the existing business. Some of these ides will differ radically from their core business. Should they be implemented? If they should, how should they be put into practice? What are the things to look out for when you move away from your core business?

Entrepreneurial businesses thrive and grow by innovation; by adding new products, by fresh approaches to old problems and by creative development of new markets. This is one of the attributes that allows them to compete with large corporates. Diversifying is generally a great way to grow the business. Sadly it can also be a way of reducing existing business to shells. The difference is how the entrepreneur manages the diversification.

New ideas can arise out of boredom. Many entrepreneurs are enthralled by the activity and challenge of starting something new but are not happy with routine management. I call them the ‘firestarters’. The disadvantage of firestarters is that they get bored doing all the hard and repetitive work of growing a business after it has developed a toehold in the market. Their business can fail as the entrepreneur neglects it or strips it of resources to build a business based on the new idea. If you recognise yourself in this category then either become a serial entrepreneur, building and selling businesses as they mature, or find a partner or series of partners you can hand the core concept to when your mind starts to wander. This is a great way to build a huge business empire or personal fortune.

 

Things to watch for

Often a new idea looks attractive only because the core business is not succeeding. The entrepreneur will be thinking of ways to make the business survive and prosper. Adding synergistic opportunities to a business which is not producing expected results can be a great way to inject life and success into that business. Doing something radically different to cover up the failure of the current business to deliver on expectations can kill it. If the core business is not performing then either fix the business or close it, and create a new business with the new idea. Continue reading

Quality checks for your business plan

image_thumb2This article was published as the Sanlam Business Market, Business Tips: December 2013 newsletter. The Sanlam Business Tips is an incredibly useful and free resource for entrepreneurs. If you have not yet subscribed you should.

 

Many business plans lead businesses into disastrous situations

 

We all know we should check our cars before travelling. Equally important is the need to check your business plan for faults and potential failures before making it the core of your business, or using it to ask for finance. Here is a 6 point check:

  • Can YOU execute? Failure to convince financiers of this aspect is probably the number one reason for rejection. More critically, it is probably the number one reason for early start up failure. Points to check: Do you have enough knowledge to run the business? The entrepreneur of a business which markets services needs to understand marketing as well as the service. Do you have any experience in this field? Hobbies are often a help in this regard, for instance enthusiastic cooks setting up catering companies. Do you have the time to execute the planned actions, and will your family support that? Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted, there will be many late nights and early mornings. Can you take risk? If you are uncomfortable with being daring at times you should plan for safer businesses. Can you lead? You will need to tell people what to do and learn to make uncomfortable, even agonising decisions.

Continue reading

Which business should I open?

13 August CoverThis article was written by Ed Hatton, the Start Up Coach for Entrepreneur Magazine (South African edition), as the My Mentor column published in August 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission

 

 

What is the right type of a new business for young people?

 

 

A young relative asked me: “If you were 23 what sort of business would you open?” I realised what an interesting question this is. Imagine being 23, with the experience to know what to consider and where the opportunities lie. Thanks for the great question entrepreneur-to-be Jean!

The first answer is that if you want to be business owner you should become one. Starting a business is nowhere near as difficult as people suggest. Even desperately poor and illiterate people open sustainable businesses all over the world without business advice, bank loans or advertising. It is more difficult to launch and develop a business that can grow out of the survival phase to provide employment and value or wealth to the entrepreneur, and if that is your dream choose a business that can grow, as opposed to lifestyle entrepreneur businesses like a photographer.

Be capable of running it

You should be capable of operating the business. At 23 you may lack business experience but business owners need to be able to handle finances, marketing, sales, HR and administration. Don’t choose a very complicated business or one in a highly regulated sector, like food or medical supplies. Choose an area you know or have a passion about. Continue reading

What do they want to hear?

13 March coverThis article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in March 2013 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

The subject must be important to potential buyers

 

 

 

 

 

Challenge
This entrepreneur was the victim of a horrific motor vehicle accident that left him brain damaged. He has beaten the odds and gained several tertiary qualifications. He asks how he can turn his inspiring story, as well as information about brain injuries into a career as a speaker.

Response
This entrepreneur is very passionate and knowledgeable about his subject and has researched the high prevalence and management of brain injuries. He believes everyone should be aware of this information. He also has an inspiring story to tell, of overcoming huge obstacles on his way to his qualifications. His problem is getting paid speaking assignments.
Many entrepreneurs have products and services in which they believe passionately, and think potential customers should share their enthusiasm, but consumers at every level have the choice of more products and services than they could ever buy. They select those which are important, which may not be the services the entrepreneur believes in so passionately. So they do not come asking for the entrepreneur’s services and that can leave the him bewildered and frustrated. Continue reading

The very first thing

12 November cover This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in November 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

The first actions can turn a dream into a business – or a nightmare

 

 

Challenge

This entrepreneur has what he believes to be a viable idea for a new magazine. He asks what the very first step should be, in order to bring the idea to fruition.

Response

Of the many things that have to be done to convert an idea into a start up business, which is the most important first step? I suggest there are two equally important considerations; ensuring real passion to launch and run a business, and testing for commercial viability of the venture.

Starting up and running a new business is not easy. It is extremely hard work, risky and unrewarding in the early stages. Start up entrepreneurs work long hours and are confronted with unexpected problems. They need to become instantly proficient in marketing, finance, HR, production, negotiation cash flow management and motivating staff. They risk family disruption, business failure and the loss of substantial amounts of money. Continue reading

How do I get started?

Image: www.freeimages.co.uk

Image: www.freeimages.co.uk

You have the idea, but what are the steps needed to turn the idea into a business

I meet and communicate with many people who have an idea that they think can be turned into a payable business but do not know where to start, and many such ideas never become enterprises, which means no new economic boost or jobs, and we need both to take the focus from large organisations and ever increasing government bureaucracies.

So here are a few steps to convert ideas to enterprises.

Who will buy it?

Without sales there is no business and yet too many start ups have only an optimistic guess at sales income. To reduce the risk of early failure the target market has to be clearly identified, it has to have the disposable income to buy the product or service and it has to be one that the new business can communicate with and sell to.

Break that sentence down into its components and you will see the need for a whole lot of research, thinking and planning. The advantage of doing this is it is easier and less expensive to communicate the values of a product to a tightly defined market and much easier to attract them to the ‘storefront’ – whether that is an actual store, an internet site or a salesperson. Continue reading

Starting alone

12 September coverThis article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in September 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

Leaving the security of the corporate world to start your own business requires more thought than expected

 

Challenge

A prospective entrepreneur asks how he can make the transition of leaving full time employment in the corporate world to make a career as an independent IT consultant. He does not have enough funds to cover expenses in the early months.

Response

The entrepreneur must have a very clear idea in his or her mind why they want to take this step. Some of the right reasons are a desire to make much more money, to build something lasting, to taste business ownership or to enjoy creativity which is stifled in the corporate world. Wrong reasons include an inability to get on with the boss, grievances about underpayment or a desire to work less. If these or similar thoughts are the reasons for going alone it may be better to change attitude, or change jobs.

Staying alive

A crucial part of the transition from the corporate world into self employment is having or generating the funds to pay for essentials in the early months. This means either having an income stream or having access to money from savings or borrowings. In either case it is wise for the entrepreneur to have a lean, low cost lifestyle, and cut out any extra expenses. Pay off debt, close accounts and trade in the high cost vehicle, but do not cut to the point where there will be pressure from the family to return to the corporate world.

The best strategy is to make these changes well before the start up is launched, and save the excess so that a reserve is available when there is no corporate salary. At the same time initial customers can be developed and serviced out of business hours. Do not take a loan to support living costs. Continue reading

Getting started

12 August coverThis article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in August 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

Turning an idea into a viable business is not as difficult as it seems

 

 

Challenge

This entrepreneur has a business idea which he thinks will make a viable business, but is unsure of how to go about commercialising the idea. He asks how to execute this transition.

Response

Many people have a business idea. Very few ideas actually turn into commercially viable businesses. This is sad when our country so desperately needs all the new businesses possible to address the terrible unemployment situation. A part of the reason for this failure is highlighted by this month’s challenge; many potential entrepreneurs do not know which steps must be taken to commercialise an idea.

The first step is the business model, including the source of income. This entrepreneur will provide a service to a tightly defined market, and make his money from fees. In other enterprises the income could be commission on sales, sponsorship of an activity, rentals, royalties or from advertising income. The source of products for resale and other necessary services must also be identified. Continue reading

Penetrating the market

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in April 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

 

Start ups in small towns need excellent marketing strategies

 

 

 Challenge

This entrepreneur plans to start an event business that will offer wedding and party planning and a catering service offering African gourmet meals with a twist.  He requests advice on marketing and penetrating the limited market in his small town. As an unknown young black entrepreneur he has concerns about succeeding in marketing to a predominantly white and older community.

Response

The first step is market and competition evaluation, to determine if there is enough market, and whether his business could win against established competitors. If either of these are negative then the entrepreneur needs to answer totally different questions.

Assuming this has been done and the market is available, then there is a mix of good and scary news. The good is that he is thinking of how to be different. The idea of gourmet African meals is exactly the sort of unique selling proposition that great businesses are made of.  The scary part is that any market is really hard to penetrate. What is usually in the target’s mind on first approach is something like:

  • I don’t know you, I don’t know your business and I don’t know why I should talk to you;
  • I have never heard of your products, and I am not sure why they should interest me;
  • I have existing suppliers and I am generally happy with them;
  • Now what was it you wanted to sell me? Continue reading

Decision time

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in March 2012 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

A business with no sales needs to change or close

 

Challenge

This entrepreneur started a model and artist management company and signed up models, planning to take a commission of their earnings. But there have been few castings and very little income. E-mails to potential clients go unanswered. She asks if she should change her way of finding clients.

Response

This entrepreneur is faced with a three way choice right now. She can persevere, working hard to make a break through, she can quit, or she can change strategy and tactics. When potential buyers do not buy a product or service as expected businesspeople either become bewildered, as is this entrepreneur, or frustrated and angry at the buyers ‘illogical’ refusal to buy. This is naive; the buyer has no obligation to buy from the entrepreneur.

The key question to ask is ‘why would they buy from my business?’ Are the models more talented, or less expensive? Are my services superior to those of others? Users of models have an enormous choice, and will have their favourites. They know what to expect and the like the look of the models they use. If they want a fresh look there will be a large choice from their current agency. So why would they switch from the known and liked to an unknown agency and model? Continue reading

Finding start up capital is a challenge

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in November 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

Entrepreneurs need to think creatively about their capital needs
 

The challenge

My challenge is finding capital. I am a full time mom with no income or assets, so a bank loan is out. I’ve consulted family members with my business plan without success.

My business idea is to supply a niche market with, latest technology imported equipment. I’ve done market research this business seems very promising.  But where do I obtain initial capital?

Our response

Getting finance to start a business is very difficult. Whether the investors are family members, finance houses, venture capitalists or angel funders, start up capital is scarce and difficult to secure. This gets worse if the would-be entrepreneur his little or no surety, has not previously run their own business or has no relevant business experience. But good entrepreneurs are a hardy lot, and used to finding solutions to intractable problems, so they do find ways to start businesses despite these problems.

Before answering this potential entrepreneur’s question I would like to pose one of my own: If she had sufficient money to start this business would she commit the funds, even if it was all she had? How sure is she that the business idea will work? If there are question marks then the entrepreneur should go back to the business plan and research more and test the concept to reduce the risk of failure. Few funders will finance a business where the entrepreneur would not risk her own funds. Continue reading

What is the real need?

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in October 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

The answer to insufficient sales may be more money invested, but there are other opportunities

By Ed Hatton

 

The challenge

I have just started a college with a unique range of course offerings. Enrolment numbers are poor due to a low advertising budget. How do we get investors involved without having surety?

Response

Existing entrepreneurs reading this will probably be smiling wryly. Cynics say the first two laws of start-ups are:

  1. However brilliant the product or service, initial sales will be much lower than expected;
  2. The only easy way to get finance is to prove you don’t need it.

In this case the entrepreneur has assumed that the only way to increase enrolment is to put a lot of somebody else’s money into advertising. There are a couple of issues with this proposed solution.

Firstly investors put funds into businesses because they believe they will make a good return. So this entrepreneur will have to demonstrate that the project will make money, despite the fact that early enrolments are poor. Facts, figures and hard information are needed, not just self belief and enthusiasm. Continue reading

Growing to profitability

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in August 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.

 

A new entrepreneur faces a steep learning curve with no mentoring

 

 

The challenge

An entrepreneur started a website to provide youth with a free service for employment and small business opportunities. The income comes from web publishing and affiliate programs. He has no IT background and has to learn operations, marketing, finance and everything at once. He also doesn’t have anyone to bounce new ideas off.

Response

This entrepreneur, operating in a rural area, wanted to make a difference to young people and small businesses. The web site breaks even but he is frustrated at the slow growth and his own lack of knowledge. This is a near-universal problem with new businesses, the learning curve is both steep and multi-disciplined. Affordable advisors are hard to identify.

Learning and getting advice

Finding appropriate learning opportunities and information while running a new business is a challenge. There are many courses advertised and choosing the right one is crucial for entrepreneurs on tight budgets and with limited free time.

Start with the free information on the internet. Entrepreneur magazine’s website at www.entrepreurmag.co.za is a valuable resource, so is the SME Toolkit (www.southgafrica.smetoolkit.org) and many others. There are many great business blogs which starts ups can follow at no cost including my own at http://marketingstrategy.co.za. It takes time and patience to search for good information, but this is time very well spent.

Entrepreneurs should not be afraid to ask for advice, but only when they have done the basics. Many business people are happy to help but don’t expect them to come up with answers when the entrepreneur has been too lazy to investigate options. Start with a successful business nearby that is not in competition with yours and then ask the managers for assistance. This works well in the internet world, where free advice is a part of life. Coaches and mentors are available for a fee, but set the expectations and budget in advance. Continue reading

What do customers need?

This article was written by Ed Hatton for the column the Start up Coach and published by the South African edition of Entrepreneur magazine in August 2011 and is posted here by their kind permission.

Starting a new business to supply an innovative solution needs lots of research

By Ed Hatton

 

 

The challenge

I have been developing a product for the health and beauty industry for the past 2 years. How do I sell and market my product both nationally and internationally?

Response

Many wonderful inventions never see commercial reality, let alone international success so the questioner is wise to ask for advice on the way forward. If the market does not see the value of a new creative concept it will not sell. The inventor may get excited about something that solves one of her own problems, but before launching a start up business she needs to be sure that the market has the same need and sees the value of her product in addressing that need. Continue reading