Updated: Jul 5, 2018
With no funds available to attend university (and no idea what to study even if I did have the money), I started working full-time as soon as I matriculated. From the very beginning, I battled with the normal (I say backward), 9 to 5, corporate routine that is forced upon the majority of employees. It didn’t take long for my quest to be a 'successful’ entrepreneur to start.
Success to me meant, finding the next-big thing, starting a business and making tons of money. This journey went on for 20 very long years.
I can’t remember exactly when it dawned on me, but one day the realisation hit - you do not have to conceptualise a business idea that has never been done – it doesn’t even have to be unique. What you do need is passion, and a determination to do what you do better than anybody else!
Take Facebook for example - it wasn’t the first social networking platform, they just did it better than all the others.
So instead of searching for the next big idea, I focused on my strengths (and in this case my husband’s strengths) and conceptualised a business idea around what drives us, what makes us passionate, and what service we could offer that would enable us to make an impact in the lives of others.
From this change of focus, Co-Pilot, our start-up business and legal consultancy, was born.
With step one (the business idea), and step two (the name) under our belt, we now had to focus on the ‘doing it better than anybody else’ part (after all business and legal consultancy firms are certainly nothing new).
This is what we have learnt, on this part of our journey, so far:
Disrupt the norm
What can you do that makes your product or service more user-friendly / accessible to client’s?
For us, we realised that professional legal and business advice was almost always too expensive for start-ups, and therefore seen as a luxury rather than the necessity it is. So, we centered our business structure around making these services more accessible to small businesses. Goodbye - rigid, per-hour billings and exorbitant legal bills. Hello, flat rates with no hidden costs or nasty surprises.
Understand your clients
To truly connect with clients, you must talk their language, when and how it suits them.
We quickly learnt that small business owners are wearing multiple hats and their time is better spent focusing on their business service offering, and not sitting in unnecessary supplier meetings. Instructions to us can come via email, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or phone call, allowing business owners to brief us, when it suits them, at any hour day or night.
Offer the best customer service
Excellent customer service is the best and most inexpensive marketing tool available to you.
You would be surprised how many small business owners give shocking customer service, which inevitably ends up with them failing. Start by responding (timeously) to every bit of communication you receive. Have clear terms and conditions in place so that your clients have clear expectations of your product / service (under-promise and over-deliver). Understand your obligations in terms of the Consumer Protection Act (remember after sales care is as important as closing the sale). Always go the extra mile to assist.
Make sure you have a kick-ass corporate identity
The reality is that potential client’s, do judge a book by its cover.
Make sure that each and every visual element of your company portrays the image you want to project. In this digital age, we are lucky enough to have access to some awesome DIY design sites, so if you can’t afford the services of a professional designer, go and check out Canva – it is easy to use, and has some really awesome design templates available.
Marketing, marketing, marketing
A great product alone is not enough to succeed. How will your business grow if potential clients do not hear about you, and your customers cannot find you?
Marketing can be a big expense that most start-ups cannot afford. However, there are many effective free marketing activities available to you.
Word-of-mouth marketing is, in my opinion, the most powerful marketing activity available to you – use family, friends and acquaintances (who appeal or fit your target) to advocate and share. In addition, as mentioned above, if you give good customer service your clients will also become invaluable brand advocates and influencers.
Use social networks that fit your brand and share quality and informative content that encourages interaction. Go and check out Udemy for some awesome, cost-effective online courses on social media strategy's and much more.
So go out there, find your passion and make your dreams your reality. We did, and with hard-work and perseverance, it has turned out swell!