1. Build Your Skill Set and Knowledge Base
No matter what, you want to start and stay curious. There’s a lot out there to learn, more than you’ll ever have time to master and any entrepreneur needs to be adaptable and open to new information. That can seem daunting, but there are a few things you can do to simplify the process of continual learning.
- Take a “first principles” approach to problems – as Elon Musk has said, first principles is a “good framework for thinking… boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there, as opposed to reasoning by analogy.”
- Get comfortable with research – subscribe to trade publications to see what’s trending within an industry. Research the market you’re interested in exploring. Get out and meet people who are doing the things you want to do; not only can they provide good advice, they’ll be an invaluable part of your network.
- Focus your attention on what matters – while some serial entrepreneurs have a reputation of being jacks-of-all-trades as they jump around from industry to industry, you can likely find more success by focusing on an area of interest and specialization. Pursue a degree or program that teaches entrepreneurial skills and knowledge specific to the industry that you want to get into.
2. Build Your Network
No one ever succeeded alone. Every successful entrepreneur has benefited from their own network of mentors, partners, employees, and investors. Once you’ve found a mentor or advisor who can assist you, it’s important to reach out and find other systems of support.
- Unsure of how to go it alone? Partner with a cofounder or small team that will offer complementary skills to your own. you can get one by joining the SME100AFRICA community
- Talk to friends and family about your venture. Not only are they the surest way to secure additional support, but some might also be sources of possible “seed” funds or low/no-interest loans.
- Get professional help! Research and vet professionals like financial advisors and lawyers that you feel comfortable trusting and relying on – and that is where being part of the SME100AFRICA team plays in
3. State Your Idea, Claim Your Niche
If you don’t already have a solid idea, then it’s time to consider what type of product or service you’re able to offer and – more importantly – what’s going to set you apart from everyone else.
- Start exploring solutions for everyday problems or frustrations experienced by friends and family and your target markets.
- Determine if you’re going to meet an underserved demand or improve on an existing service. The former is a way to claim a space within a market and differentiate yourself from competitors.
- As always, you’ll want to do your research on the categories and fields you’re thinking of entering and start asking questions about how a new product/service can exist within that space. If you’re unsure of how to do the legwork or need to dedicate time to other aspects of your startup, consider hiring a marketing researcher for assistance.
4. Find and Understand a Market
The best product in the world isn’t going to succeed if there isn’t a market interested in buying it. Starting broad may seem like a good idea, after all that’s the highest possible number of buyers, but trying to sell to everyone means that you’re really selling to no one. To get a better idea of what your market is going to be, you’ll need to develop an understanding of what people are looking for.
- Who are the people most likely to buy from you or would be most interested in your service?
- Develop profiles of your potential buyers – what jobs do they have? What lifestyles do they lead? What needs do they have? What pain points do they experience?
- Narrow your list down to the best opportunities and select the one that you want to start with first.
- Set up interviews or surveys with people who fit that profile to continue refining that initial understanding. Which pain points are most urgent for them? Would they prioritize convenience over price? What benefits of your product/service might excite them the most?
5. Design Your Business and Idea
Once you’ve settled on what you want to do, then you’re going to have to outline your business structure and develop your product to show that it’s viable. That’s the only way you’re going to be able to win over investors.
- It’s time to start laying out exactly how your business will be moving forward. You’ll want to create a business model, aka a business plan, that details how your business will be organized, a prospective budget for the future, and details on how your business will make money.
- Plan out the sales process that you’ll use to acquire new customers. What’s your marketing strategy – are you using certain social media accounts? Are you attempting a viral marketing campaign? What sales materials will you need? Most importantly, what’s the process by which you’ll convert those who express interest into actual sales?
- It’s time to truly show what your business is about and build out a proof of concept, or what’s also known as a minimum viable product (MVP). The MVP, whether it’s software, a service or a physical product, should be capable of executing the basic and most important functions of your idea.
6. Secure Funding
You have a plan and you have a product, now it’s time to secure the funding that you’ll actually need to start up your business and get it running. Depending on your product and market, you have several options available.
- You can attempt to start by securing initial funding or loans from friends and family. Trust levels are high and you might even be able to receive the funds without having to pay interest or offer too much of a share in your company. Of course, this entirely depends on the level of wealth and assets of the people you know.
- Start by looking at organizations that connect entrepreneurs with funders, such as banks
- There’s also the opportunity to secure small business grants and loans. These investments differ from VCs and angel investors by offering (generally) smaller amounts of initial capital and having specific requirements: loans will need to be repaid with interest over time, while grants are reserved for meeting certain conditions – such as assisting minority or underprivileged communities.
- Rather than trying to secure a few large amounts of funding, you could attempt to crowdfund your business through hundreds, or thousands, of smaller donations. With modern digital technology, there are several options for running a crowdfunding campaign, through platforms like Jumia
7. Build Your Business
Once you’ve gotten this far, now the real work begins. Time to put that funding into place, build out your first real product, and get it out to your target market.
- You will need to establish a location for your business, whether you’re renting out an office space for your team to work in or you’re leasing a building in a downtown location. Or, perhaps your business is entirely online and all your employees are expected to work from home. At the very least you’ll need to claim a website to both promote your business and allow customers to learn about your product and contact your business.
- You’ll need to consider the actual structure of your organization and what your plans are for incorporating your business. At the very least you should consider the option of registering as a limited liability company (LLC) to both build the credibility of your business and protect your personal finances.
- Keep working on promoting and marketing your business! After the initial buzz dies off you’ll still need to find ways to reach out to new, prospective customers and announce the latest updates and developments of your product. Review the metrics of your campaigns and social media channels to determine what’s working, and what’s not, and what you should be doing to effectively advertise.