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Opinion: Simple Steps To Sustainable Entrepreneurship

Job losses due to the Covid pandemic have been extreme. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reports that in 2020 global working time declined by 8.8% – the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs and approximately four times greater than during the global financial crisis in 2009. Locally, the economy shed anything between two and three million jobs. Four out of every 10 South Africans who should be in work remain jobless, not a happy prospect in our current economic climate.

The ‘experts’ say the solution is to become an entrepreneur, start your own business, be your own boss, make your own success.  Entrepreneurship is not easy, and it’s not for everyone. I’m an entrepreneur; trust me when I tell you this.

After a very short stint as a commodity analyst for a global banking group, it was clear that the corporate world wasn’t for me and I’ve lived the volatile, stressful, exhilarating life of an independent businessman for 20 years now.

My daily grind. Every day I go to war. I eat what I kill.

Entrepreneurship isn’t as easy as those seven-step plans you find on Google. I’ve read them all, and the advice they give is misleading. Almost all of that information is based on taking your great idea from your garage to your local bourse. It talks about single-minded strategies and business plans and financial models and daily routines. People like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Bill Gates are used as examples to follow.

Yes, this is useful if you’ve always dreamed of being a business owner, if you’ve had a great idea and been working in a formal job to save up your seed capital to make your dream come true. But if you have bills to pay and kids to feed and business ownership was never part of your plan, this information is irrelevant and scary and possibly makes you think twice about your ability to succeed.

Let me simplify entrepreneurship for those who are considering it as a sustainable solution for the future.

  1. Just start and always act fast

You can do all the planning in the world, but you will go nowhere if you don’t actually start. So, get the basics right like what you are going to do, how you will do it, whom you are selling to, and how you will reach them. And go. You will figure out very quickly if you’ve got these fundamentals right or not. If something’s not working, change it.

  1. Be open to new ideas

Change with the times and the market. A year ago, I had no idea that today I would be manufacturing and distributing world-class sanitiser stations, but I’m supplying tens of thousands of units locally and across the continent. I saw the need and acted fast, and it’s paying off.

  1. Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket

I’m not only into sanitising. One day (soon I hope), there won’t be the same level of need for this product, so I trade all sorts of commodities from petroleum products to lemons. I have interests in a wine farm, I invest in the future world of work and have a passion for technology and partner with global tech disruptors to support their entry in the African market. Having multiple business interests protects me from economic cycles, which is vital when you’re not guaranteed a corporate paycheque at the end of every month.

  1. Sell your product or service for more than it cost you to buy or create

You’re doing this to make money remember, so don’t short sell yourself or your product. Being an entrepreneur is hard work so make sure that you benefit financially from the energy and emotion you invest.

There is no magic formula to how much you should mark up your product though; it varies across industries so do some homework if you can. It doesn’t matter if you’re the most expensive or cheapest out there, just make sure you are making a profit. Numbers are the language of business if you do not understand your numbers you will not survive in business.

  1. You’re only as good as your last deal

Would you re-visit a restaurant that served bad food, or buy again from a shop where the assistant was rude or unhelpful? No. The same goes for what you’re selling. If it’s not what you promise, or you oversell and under-deliver, or let your customers down in any way, they won’t come back. So really focus on your service and remember it’s often not what you sell, it’s how you sell it.

  1. The power of partnerships

In each of my businesses I work with partners that I trust. These are people I’ve known for a long time, smart people who have a similar ethos to work and life that I do and who’s skills and areas of expertise complement mine. We put in equal contributions of time and energy because we have the same aspirations for the outcome. If you’re working with others, and your objectives are not aligned, stop and reassess your partners.

By Andrew Robinson, CEO of TradingHouse