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Starting a business isn’t easy. Anyone who’s tried to do it will tell you that. And if you haven’t started one, you have a serious failure of imagination if the thought of it doesn’t scare you just a little bit. It can be a little less scary, however, with the right kind of guidance.
During the One Young World Summit in Johannesburg, a group of young people from around the globe got a taste of that guidance from a set of experienced entrepreneurs. We took some of their best pieces of advice and distilled them into a very brief guide to what the complete novice can expect when they start a business.
1. Age doesn’t matter
If you’re young, you might think that you don’t have enough experience to start your own business. And if you’re a little bit older, you might think that you no longer have the energy to start something fresh. The truth is, it doesn’t matter how old you are. If you’re thinking about starting a business, the right time is now.
Take Carole Stone for instance. She started YouGov, the respected market research company, when she was in her 60s.
Like Mark Zuckerberg and loads of other much younger “dorm room” entrepreneurs, she was ready to start a business, so she did.
2. You don’t (always) need funding
While we’re always pleased to see a promising startup get good funding here at Ventureburn, the fact is you don’t necessarily need to get funding from the get go. By keeping your business as lean as possible, it’s often possible to have it fund itself within a relatively short period of time.
A great example of this way of running a business, called bootstrapping, is Nic Harlambous’ Nicsocks. The bespoke ecommerce outfit was built up with just a few thousand rand and turned a profit within its first month of existence.
3. Have a clear vision
This might sound obvious (bear in mind that this is a complete novice’s guide), but you can’t just start a business around a set of vague ideas. You have to narrow those ideas down and figure out how to make a profit from them. Those ideas might change over time, but when they do you should always apply the same process and try to be as clear as possible about what you’re trying to achieve.
4. Hold yourself accountable
While you have to have a certain amount of ego to be an entrepreneur, but at the same time you have to be comfortable with the fact that your mistakes are your own. Once you own a business, you can’t blame your boss for the difficulties you’re facing because it’s you.
5. Who cares, wins
This point is the title of a book by One Young World founder David Jones. The point of the book is that people often don’t care how much profit you make if you have a decent go at changing the world in a positive way.
If the project you’re involved in is outside of area your business specialises in, it’ll also help you stay grounded and that there are bigger problems out there than the current state of your balance sheet.
6. There will be setbacks
“Even if you have a good, sustainable product, the market will be hard to win over,” says Bethlehem Alenu, founder of Ethiopian footwear company Sole Rebels. You have to work seriously hard if you’re going to succeed. In the midst of all that graft, there will be other setbacks — from manufacturing flaws if you have a physical product to server and development issues online.
You’ll probably spend a good few weekends crying in the foetus position in between marathon length working sessions, but if your business is sound, you’ll eventually start seeing rewards.
7. Protect your intellectual property
People love a great idea. Some of them love copying great ideas even more. We’re not talking about people adopting your model in other markets here, but people blatantly ripping you off. It may not be nice to think about but it is a reality. Think about every possible aspect of your business that someone could steal. Picking up domain names, registering your business’ name on a variety of social networks and aggressively convincing people that yours is the authentic experience or product are all things you can do to protect your IP.