Congratulations! You’ve decided to pursue your passion and explore your potential as an entrepreneur. Now what? Consider these basic tips to help get your business off the ground today:
1 Know your customer
Talk to your friends, neighbors, colleagues, and anyone else who will give you the time of day. Ask what pains them about their everyday life. What is missing? What could be improved? What are their values, habits, and desires? Only by intimately knowing the people you are trying to serve will you be able to create a product or service that is valuable to them and different or better than your competitors.
2 Share your idea
You’re afraid someone will steal your idea. I get it. But what makes a business successful isn’t the idea itself, it’s the people behind it. By sharing your idea you open yourself up to finding your first customers, partners, advisors, and maybe even investors. And if you do it with people from diverse industries and backgrounds, they’re likely to have unique perspectives which will inspire new and exciting twists on your original idea.
3 Start small
We all want to change the world. Guess what? You can’t do it overnight. Take your grand vision of clean water for all, or the e-Commerce site you want to takedown Amazon, and break it into incrementally challenging, but achievable steps. Think about what you can do today, without borrowing money from the bank, which will help you to reach that long-term vision. Want to export tons of avocados to Russia? Try selling one to your neighbor first.
4 Be unconventional
When you are ready to setup shop, expect someone to follow your lead and to do the same thing as you (probably in the shop next door). Unless you have a patented, one-of-a-kind invention, you will have to set yourself apart in other ways to catch people’s attention and win over new customers. Choose a catchy or provocative name. Start a customer rewards program. Make a fool of yourself by dressing up like a banana and handing out flyers at the next Guma Guma Superstar concert. Stand out from the pack and people will start talking about your business, and eventually customers will start knocking on your door.
5 Cash is King
Cash flow is perhaps the single-most important piece of the puzzle for a new entrepreneur to master. Keep basic records of your cash inflows and outflows (sales and salaries, for example), and never confuse those with your personal expenses (food, clothes, etc.). Review your books regularly to see where you’re spending the most money and where you can cut back on expenses (do you really need that iPhone data plan?). Most importantly, make sure you always have a steady inflow of cash to keep the bills paid and the production line rolling. And last, but not least:
6 Just Do It!
Every entrepreneur fails. Successful entrepreneurs learn from those failures, make the necessary adjustments, and return to the market with a new and improved product or service. There are loads of idioms to drive this point home: experience is the best educator, no risk no reward, etc. The point it this: you’ll never know if your idea is as great as you think it is, unless you put it into action and see what happens. Bonne chance!
The author is the Country Director of the Babson-Rwanda Entrepreneurship Center and the National Coordinator of Global Entrepreneurship Week (November 12-18, 2012). Follow the GEW campaign on Twitter @GEWRwanda