Like most people the beginning of the year serves an opportunity to reflect on previous successes and losses. I use the beginning of the year to strategize and plan on what to do. As I go through this process, this year in particular, my thoughts are locked on my journey as a “business woman”. The reason being that my country is at a time where more and more youth are opting for self-employment for many reasons, some of which might require articles of their own to explain.
In 2005, I set out on a mission to start my company. A 25 year-old young girl, fresh graduate, former beauty queen, TV presenter and new mom with very limited experience in business management. I morphed into a Managing Director of a “start-up” Public Relations and Communications firm and what I lacked in experience was compensated with sheer determination, passion, drive and an unquenchable spirit to succeed.
The common question at the time from family and friends was “why aren’t you looking for a job?”. How annoying it was to always have to explain to them ” but I already have a job” which was met by faces that looked like confused emojis! Thank God they totally get it now!
Among the hindrances that I experienced in my start-up days was how tough it is to get business when one has no established track record. How does one give a “wannabe” consultant work when they have no prior experience to showcase?
This is a challenge to a lot of startups, especially those started by fresh graduates with only fieldwork experience and a lot of researched ideas from Google search.
Having survived the challenges, one of the major take-outs I can share is what I call corporate volunteerism. I knew that my first and second years in business would not be for making money but rather “gaining experience.” I basically volunteered my services for “almost nothing” just to showcase my abilities and fresh ideas. New ventures are often full of unique innovative solutions, and this is what you should leverage to get your foot or rather feet in. Knowing that the time you invest to “gain experience” will in the long run “earn you the income” you deserve and much more!
Very often we tend to work in isolation and struggle to deliver what is needed to grow. Look around you: there is quite a large number of people out there with the skills that you need to nurture your startup. Some of these people are also looking for their big break and won’t mind “rolling with you”!
A start-up cannot afford to hire the right people for the job outright. However a startup can connect with peers on the same boat, with complimenting skills and, team up to offer their cutting edge solutions – leveraging skills is always a win-win for everybody!
I remember looking at the most crucial roles that needed to be filled in an assignment and sought out people with the right skills who were also looking to build their experience then, we teamed up to get the ball rolling. Today, some of those people went on to set up their own businesses and we are still cooperating on projects with many.
Some startups are lucky to get funding from the word go and some, like in my situation, are just lucky that we have the business idea!
The whole point of a startup is getting off the ground at the most cost-effective manner. I believe organic growth to be most sustainable. Some people have great business ideas, but they won’t get started until they have the big bucks to invest in an office, buy furniture and hire an entire team outright! The end game of such ‘wholesale’ start-ups is usually not positive, with a large number crashing down with great losses.
I spent the first two years of my business being the secretary, the assistant, the tea lady, the cleaner, the receptionist, the consultant, the managing director and every other role! With every new client, I invested in more resources, more systems and structures – basically more upgrades! (I call it, “the growth by must have” aka Organic Growth!)
My advice is look at your current business situation. Yes, you need an office in the CBD, a grand reception, a clerk, and 5 departments filled with highly skilled employees, including a personal assistant, driver and a full time psychotherapist! It comes highly recommended! But the reality of the situation is that you are not there yet. So, focus on what your business can’t survive without and that is what you should invest in outright. Where possible seek innovative alternatives so as not to spend money that you don’t have. At the end of the day don’t lose sight of the long-term return on investment!
For now, let me wish you all the best on your startup journey!