There’s a certain tall Jamaican who runs at speeds scientists said were unthinkable for humans to reach. Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
Last year, at the 2016 Rio Olympics, all it took this dude to win the 100 metres gold medal was 9.81 seconds. Imagine that. It’s not the world record (which is also held by the same guy) but it’s a remarkably short time to complete 100 metres.
What’s more remarkable is when you consider how long he trained for that race to be able to make a sub 10 second time.
On the average, athletes train around 5-6 hours a day, 6 days a week. Notice I said on the average. For top level performers like Usain Bolt, the hours are more than that. But it’s not just about practice. They also follow a strict diet, sleep patterns, and rigorous mental conditioning. They do these for months and even years in preparation for when they compete on the grandest stages in the world.
All these, just to perform optimally for less than 10 seconds.
As we said in a previous article, being a successful entrepreneur is not only about ideas. When you launch your startup, all bets are off. There are only two possible outcomes – you’ll either sink or swim.
If you happen to be launching said startup in Africa, you can be sure, everything will conspire to stop you and sink you. What will determine if you’ll survive the onslaught and swim to the shores of profitability is how well you prepare just before launching.
So, here’s a complete list of things you should do before launching your startup
Scope out your industry
If you’re just starting to think about entrepreneurship in general, find the best industry to fit your style and talents.
For example, this year’s burgeoning industries include VR, wearable tech, fintech and solar energy. When you start honing in on a specialty area, seek out counselors and talk to industry veterans.
You can go to one of the hundreds of tech hubs in Africa where you’ll find entrepreneurs at every stage of business and have a chat with them.
Also, the Internet, tech events, meetups, and books can be invaluable sources of information and contacts. You would get some valuable insider information and free advice at almost no cost.
Size-up the competition
Starting a business is a little like buying a car: You need to do some research before taking the plunge. When you’ve researched and decided on a niche/industry, it’s time to put on your spy glasses.
The value of competitive analysis cannot be overemphasized. Whatever problem you may be trying to solve, your potential customers already have a way they are solving it for now. That’s your competition.
Study them (your competition) by visiting stores or locations where their products are offered. Say you want to open a new e-commerce store. For starters, create a list of e-commerce websites servicing your target customers.
Look at the design, pricing, and additional features (e.g., free delivery, pay on delivery, discounts and coupons, etc). Then check out the customers those websites appeal to. Are they millennials, college students, upwardly mobile white collar workers, newly weds, mothers or families?
Then, become a customer of the competition. Go into stealth mode by visiting their website and putting yourself on their email list. Read articles written on and by them.
Your aim is to understand what your competition is doing so you can do it better. Maybe their service is poor. Maybe their product has some flaws. Find your selling point. Your goal is to unearth the opportunities in the market, a niche that is not being served at all or not being served adequately.
Sign up for email alerts about search terms of your choice on Google News, which tracks hundreds of news sources. After you study it, deconstruct it using Fagan Finder, a bare-bones but very useful research site. Your aim is to understand what your competition is doing so you can do it better.
Consolidate Your Network
Get your contact list together. Download your contacts from Outlook and Gmail, and anyone you’ve spoken to in the past five years.
Get your data into a customer relationship management system like Salesforce or any great tool out there. Then go through it; merge, purge, and really cultivate your list. Make notes of who might be an “influencer” or who might be a “press contact.”
You’ll need those when you launch. Go as far as to inspect their LinkedIn profiles so that you can know what each person is doing presently and what they’ve done in the past (both could be of value to you).
“The biggest mistake I see these days is thinking that a business idea will automatically turn into a viable business model,” says Terri Lonier, president and founder of Working Solo. Then again, what if the idea really is viable? What if your small, modest plan to have just a few thousand signups or customers get blown up by several hundred thousand, your growth is out of control, what do you do?
Another important consideration is your personal financial resources. Make sure you have a considerable amount of capital set aside, especially because in a sole proprietorship you assume personal liability for all activities of that business. If you borrow money and can’t repay it, your personal assets are at stake.
Ask yourself, are you getting into something that suits you? Does it use your unique capabilities and experience allowing you to position yourself uniquely in the marketplace? Indeed, drawing upon your previous professional experiences can really get the ball rolling for your new solo venture.
Do you really know who your customers are? That’s really the biggest challenge, determining who exactly your customers are. Many times business owners think they understand who they are, but you need to be willing to interview and test potential customers, particularly in the pre-launch days of your company, in order to be able to obtain insights.
Ask yourself the hard questions. Provide logical and realistic answers to those questions before you proceed.
Think About Funding, A Lot
Can you bootstrap your company? Or are you going to need a small business loan? Might an entrepreneur in the family be able to invest, or should you look for venture capital or an angel investor? Money is a big topic for entrepreneurs, and it’s good to know what type of funding your business demands.
Each path to funding, be it bootstrapping or loans, or Venture Capital has its pros and cons. In order to get investors to open up their checkbooks, you’ll need to convince them that your idea is viable, show traction, be willing to subject yourself to increased scrutiny and give up a percentage of your company. Obviously, these are big decisions so you should really take the time to be honest with yourself.
If your startup is the kind you can bootstrap all the way to profitability, good for you, because you get to keep all the money you earn. You could also look into borrowing from friends and family, or even from the bank.
If you decide your business can only get to the next level with the aid of a professional investor, then you need to figure out what a potential backer looks for in a budding company – mostly traction and a kickass founding team. Start doing your research now, and don’t talk to investors until you have a strategy that involves foreseeable future liquidity.
Test and Refine Your Business Idea
You do this by testing it. The best way to test your idea is if you’re employed full-time and can sell your product or service in the marketplace on weekends. If the business is already your day job, then you have to move quickly to test, verify, and tweak your model.
Another way to refine your idea is to use online surveys and polls to gain insight into attitudes about your business idea. Use social media to hone in on certain groups that can become your focus group. Check out chat rooms, communities/groups on social networks like Facebook, industry groups within LinkedIn.
What are people discussing? What are people writing about? What questions are being asked? What challenges keep being mentioned repeatedly? You’ll discover that as your mind takes into consideration all this information, your business idea will keep evolving.
The goal is to get to know your customers intimately. What gets them interested in a product? What causes them to tune out? Are they impulse buyers or do they like to deliberate over their buying decisions? There are a lot of products that people like but don’t buy. The problem could be the price, or the marketing.
Seek advise from friends, mentors and industry veterans
A mentor can be a boon to an entrepreneur in a broad range of scenarios, whether he or she provides pointers on business strategy, helps you bolster your networking efforts, or act as confidantes when your work-life balance gets out of whack.
But the first thing you need to know when seeking out a mentor is what you’re looking for from the arrangement. What can your mentor do for you? Determining what type of resource you need is a crucial first step in the mentor hunt.
It’s not a bad idea to have several mentors based on what you can gain from them – network pool, a sounding board for your ideas, encouragement, a marketing expert etc. Ideally, you could find a mentor with all of these qualities, but life is rarely ideal. The reality is you may have to make some compromises.
After you enumerate the qualities you’re looking for in a mentor, divide that list into wants and needs. Who’s best as a mentor? Look within your family, friends, business community, the academic community, and even at your competitors – well, not your direct competition, but you get the idea.
Name your business
Naming your business can be a stressful process. You want to choose a name that will last and, if possible, will embody both your values and your company’s distinguishing characteristics.
The question is, do you want to fit in or standout? In fintech for example, you’ll see names that reflect the industry with monikers like “pay” “cheque” “cash” (Paystack, Paga). Some prefer to use a more local moniker to better distinguish themselves and highlight their local heritage (e.g. mPesa).
A great business name is simple. Seth Godin on naming your business says, “be sure it’s easy to spell AND pronounce. Prius is a bad name. I can’t tell anyone to buy a Prius because I’m embarrassed I’ll say it wrong.” Make sure it is meaningful to your audience, not just to you (e.g. Jobberman, PushCV).
Any time you have to explain your name or apologize for it, you’re just devaluing your brand.
Get a grasp on marketing strategies
You don’t need to be a marketing whiz, but if you’re trying to build an idea from the ground-up, you’ll likely need to build an accompanying marketing strategy from the ground up.
In doing so, you need to be clear on who your customers are, because you don’t have any time to waste on marketing to those who aren’t. This is really the biggest challenge new entrepreneurs face – determining who exactly their customers are.
Many times business owners think they understand who they are, but you need to be willing to interview and test potential customers, particularly in the early days of a company, in order to be able to build those relationships.
One way to make marketing easier is through joint-venture marketing. Another important and relatively easy way to get your name out into the market is building your web presence through social media like Twitter and Facebook. Be sure you familiarize yourself with and utilize Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to make it easier for people to find your website.
Start searching for future talent
This might sound premature, but don’t forget that your business is supposed to grow someday. Keep your eyes peeled all the time for people who might fit into your organization – even if you can’t afford to pay them yet.
No matter how small the internet has made the world, experts still recommend in-person networking as the No. 1 way to recruit talent.
So, if you meet someone interesting or knowledgeable at a networking event, or even if you get particularly impressive service somewhere, be it a museum gift shop or helpline, ask that person a bit about themselves, what kind of business they see themselves in five years – and the best people around will stick in your mind for when you need them.
Do the Math
Don’t overestimate your sales and under estimate your costs, says Mosquita. Research what your optimal sales should be. Talk to other business owners and leaders in your industry, join a trade association, do whatever it takes to get an accurate estimate of your revenues that first year in business. Suppliers also may be able to tell you what price potential customers would be willing to pay for the products or services you want to sell.
Talk to other business owners and leaders in your industry, join a trade association, do whatever it takes to get an accurate estimate of your revenues that first year in business. Suppliers also may be able to tell you what price potential customers would be willing to pay for the products or services you want to sell.
To test how your business idea will fare, you should prepare a “break-even analysis.” This is where you project income and expenses for a year to determine whether your business will make enough sales revenue to pay for its expenses.
Good luck out there.
If you are really serious about launching your startup, you should join our Side Hustle Bootcamp, a three day intensive bootcamp for entrepreneurs/founders wannabes happening this February.
Slots are almost taken up, if it sounds like something you might be interested in, apply here.
Feature image via Startupist.com