Columns

An exciting small business start-up

Chris Burns

Monday, December 03, 2012    

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LIKE the development of a foetus in a woman’s womb, building a small business from scratch can be extracting, nerve-racking and exciting. Contending with big dreams, funny ideas, managing petty fights, having little money, endless work but limited time are circumstances that induce many vicissitudes in the process. These contradictions and contractions are mindboggling. Yet, brick by brick, idea by idea, businesses are conceived, given context, evaluated and then hurrah, they are launched — “suh nuh badda grudge a man fi ’im tings”.

It matters not what it is that one builds, the process of putting thoughts and ideas together, going through the brainstorming process and putting one’s money where one’s mouth is can be invigorating and frustrating, especially when some partners do not pull their equal weight, but firing them is just not part of the game.

There is something absolutely fulfilling about building a business from the ground up and from nothing. Architects would likely tell you that moving ideas from conception, to design, to blueprint and then making them into something is no easy task. They would likely advise that ensuring each part fits perfectly requires more than due diligence. It requires dexterity, collaboration, passion and commitment – the kind no one can pull off a shelf or lift from the pages of a motivational text.

Still, it matters little how many business plans one has written or the many business presentations one might have made, creating a business of your own is substantially different and equally difficult. Perfection tends to take centre stage, particularly when one’s life-long reputation is on that stage.

I have had the distinct pleasure recently of working with two very ambitious young men (Anthony and Damion) as we conduct several ideation sessions. These sessions have been frighteningly long, but productive. Yes, tempers flare, eyelids close in red, passion wanes, but determination and hope always remain the same. They motivate me all the time and although I am an unrepentant no-nonsense participant, they never seem to mind. Well, not yet…Hmm!

The service they seek to market is unique and the potential for growth and success appears phenomenal. I cannot disclose the nature or name of this business, neither can I publicise the credentials of its owners. However, it is heartening to witness the development of their ideas and to participate in the construction, fine-tuning and ultimate launch of their business.

That notwithstanding, small business development requires a lot more than raw passion; it requires buy-in, particularly from venture capitalists who have to finance risky, but promising, start-ups such as the one being contemplated. Small business development requires substantial and sustained government support, whether through tax relief, small business loans at low interest rates or employment grants, and definitely requires the support of the communities in which they operate.

Given these realities, those considering starting a small business must spend sufficient time developing credible business ideas and plans that include bankable marketing strategies, credible operations and management plans, marketable products or services that, above all, must include feasible and transparent financial projections.

No financier will consider a small business proposal, let alone grant audience to its principals, unless and until the principals or their representatives can articulate the fine nuances of their business model or present a model that is clear, concise, convincing and implementable.

Therefore, to get audience with and approvals from financial institutions and to get the requisite “buy-in” for your small business ideas, the principals must possess working knowledge, understanding and experience in the industry they are entering. They must work synergistically with their teams to build a business model that is worthy of people’s time and confidence.

Winning people’s confidence is essential to the success of any enterprise, but it is quintessentially more so for small business start-ups. Nevertheless, it is not just about the confidence of prospective financiers that is crucial, because winning consumer confidence is paramount to the success. With this in mind, every small business idea must be neatly packaged, whether it is about a product or service.

Some small business start-ups can go “belly-up” rather quickly because too many of them fail to invest sufficient time in relevant product or service research and development. As such, their foray into the marketplace is never informed by science, research or even a scintilla of market or business intelligence. It has been my experience not to rush to market without laying the proper groundwork because “first impressions” are always lasting.

One suggestion, for example, would be to test a tiny segment of the market aheadof official roll-out to get feedback on packaging, relevance, product or service content and so on. This gives the business an opportunity to take action and to adjust, based on market reaction – it never hurts. Some small business owners make the mistake of falling deeply in love with an idea and becoming preoccupied with it to the extent that they refuse counsel, only to experience failure in the end.

Undoubtedly, small businesses represent the fastestgrowing segment of the US economy. Collectively, they employ more people than major corporations and their operations directly influence the communities in which they conduct business. Generally speaking, small business development and growth contribute to the Gross Domestic Product of most countries. Consequently, as consumers and consultants, we must support small businesses and give them every opportunity to flourish. As I said earlier, it has been absolutely encouraging and empowering to be associated with these ambitious and bright young men who are on a mission to accomplishing great things.

Burnscg@aol.com

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