By Lola Coker-Esu
“I built a conglomerate and emerged the richest black man in the world in 2008 but it didn’t happen overnight. It took me thirty years to get to where I am today. Youths of today aspire to be like me but they want to achieve it overnight. It’s not going to work. To build a successful business, you must start small and dream big. In the journey of entrepreneurship, tenacity of purpose is supreme” – Aliko Dangote
I’m sure by now you’ve figured out that entrepreneurship is not what you learned in business school. You cannot theorize entrepreneurship because nothing you learn will prepare you for what entrepreneurship brings. You may have written a business plan or submitted a proposal to investors to see if your idea is worth venturing into. You may have spent time securing your office, opening a business account, printing flyers and running ads, however these efforts will be a waste if no one is interested in what you have to offer or if they are interested but don’t know you exist.
First thing first, if you are not getting the kind of response you expect, evaluate your targeting process. Are you speaking to the right people, your niche? Your niche is basically a specific group of people that will benefit from your business. These are the people that are interested in your products or services. When you find them, make sure your message is clear and you are speaking their language. When coming up with content targeted at them, put yourself in their shoes so you can gauge their response. Remember, it’s not about elaborate and irrelevant graphics or long texts that they can’t reckon with. Also, you have to connect with them on a regular basis, if you’re here today and gone tomorrow, they won’t take you seriously. Consistency is key so devote time to market your business.
Most people go into business winging and bootstrapping it, but you need a plan. Business planning is not about drawing up a formal business plan. You need to evaluate every aspect of your business and come up with an effective strategy to work around challenges, avoid losses and constantly increase your revenue. In planning you need to map out your business processes, goals and strategies, business expenses, projected income goal (determine how much your business needs to bring in and what will happen if it does not), customer relations and crisis management, etc. I recommend doing your research first so that your plans will be more realistic.
A lot of times people focus on the wrong things. A lot of entrepreneurs are more interested in creating a facade instead of actually growing the business. People say “fake it till you make it”… I say “work hard till you make it”. It’s not about the fancy website, the social media pictures, the expensive office, etc. The goal is to make progress, solve problems and make money. There are times when you’ll have to trade your services with other entrepreneurs in order to save money and build your portfolio; start small and maximize what you have. Leverage relationships and ask for other people’s expertise. You cannot be the Chief Officer of Everything. You might be saying, “I don’t have the money to hire people right now”, you can get a lot of services at an affordable rate on fiverr.com or any similar site. You can enlist the services of a virtual assistant, and you can hire interns. I know that there are some businesses that require a bulk amount to start up, especially in technology. If you cannot get investors, you can consider options like crowdfunding.
In entrepreneurship, experience from doing the work trumps any written plan or document. The answers are in the work that you do. You will never know everything about your industry but you should know enough to start and thrive. Once you get into entrepreneurship, you can tweak things along the way. Don’t believe the hype of an overnight success, there is no such thing. Most people who appear to be overnight successes have been working hard but you didn’t know who they were. Once they start gaining traction and building momentum, it seems like they are moving quickly into ‘successville’. You don’t realize that it is the foundation and the ground work they did previously that has allowed them to leap in strides once the opportunity is presented.
Entrepreneurship is risky, it takes sacrifice and hard work. Most of all, you have to be committed and be willing to learn everyday. A know it all and a prideful entrepreneur will be limited. Even if you don’t have a huge budget now, there is a lot of free education to get you started. You have no excuse in this age of Youtube, Google, Blogs and free online courses. Master your skills, attend free and paid seminars, workshops, training, conferences and webinars. Do a lot of research, pay attention to what people are doing, what’s working for them and what tools they use. You can join Facebook groups, interact with fellow entrepreneurs and look for avenues to collaborate. Entrepreneurship can be lonely, so the more people you can carry along with you, the better.
Eventually you’ll have to move out of your comfort zone to invest in yourself and your business. Place yourself strategically to be in the right place, around the right people so you can get the right information. When people see the sacrifices you’ve made and how bad you want it, they’ll be willing to help you on your journey.
Finally, I’ll end by saying, be yourself. Let your authenticity flow through because that’s what will attract people to you. In the midst of the crowd, what makes you stand out, what will attract people to you? People respect you and listen to you when you’re being yourself, not trying to fit into a box. A copy is less attractive than the original no matter how good the copy is!
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