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3 female entrepreneurs on what they wish they had known before starting a business

Lessons from those that have walked the path


This article forms part of the Women's Month 2015 series in which SME South Africa, throughout the month of August, will shine the spotlight on female business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

For many entrepreneurs, starting a business is a dream come true. You get to be your own boss and finally you are doing something that you love. However, most business owners will tell you that a new venture comes with triumphs and challenges. Three entrepreneurs speak openly about what they wish they knew before starting a business.

Victoria Williams, a seasoned content and communications strategist, founded Manifesto Media just over a year ago.  Williams decided to leave the security of a permanent position at a public relations agency to start her own business.

"Some people will not pay. This is a major challenge for any startup" - Victoria Williams

Victoria's top lessons:

People cheer you on from the side lines, but there is no one to talk to. I realised that there are few people who want to have an in-depth discussion about the challenges of running a business such as pricing, resourcing, or that client who just will not pay. The only way around this is to pay to talk to someone. Getting a business coach has been the best investment in the foundation phase of my business.

You will want to get a job again, particularly in the beginning. Having a fulltime job affords you the security of a monthly salary, infrastructure, work friendships and training opportunities. It is impossible to have this kind of environment when you start a business.

Be flexible about what you take on, but don’t lose sight of your vision. When you start out it feels like you cannot say no to anything. This can be dangerous because you take on work that you might not be that good at or does not fuel your passion.

As a new business owner you should expect this, but at some point you have to get back on track with what you really want to do. It has been a year since starting my business and now I am starting to refine what my company offers. Once you make this decision you will have to turn down work.

Say goodbye to the nine to five job and hello to 24/7. A business owner is always working, plotting their next move and driving new business. However, you can look forward to more flexibility as you can structure your day and working hours according to your priorities.  

You will make mistakes. With a new venture you will make mistakes, but it is important to learn the lessons. You might spend money when you could have saved, make rash hiring decisions, use the wrong  suppliers, or have over-enthusiastic cash flow predictions.  If you make these mistakes, correct them as quickly as possible and move on.  

Some people will not pay. This is a major challenge for any startup. Spot the bad payers early and mitigate the risk by requesting deposits and progress payments for larger projects.

"Always remember that you are only as good as your suppliers" - Dylan Kohlstädt

Dylan  Kohlstädt is the CEO of Shift ONE Digital, a digital marketing advertising agency.  She started her business four years ago and today she employs 10 people. She says entrepreneurship is a journey that she would not exchange for anything else.

Dylan's top lessons:

I wish I knew that it would be this much fun. In fact, Kohlstädt regrets that she did not start her own business sooner.

You are only as good as your staff. Do not rush into hiring people. Take the time to find employees who understand your brand and your company’s values

Work with good suppliers. Always remember that you are only as good as your suppliers and this is why you should only work with the best in the industry.

You have to market yourself. No one is going to do this for you, so do not get so busy with the daily operations of running a business that you forget to build relationships and network.

"Once you are in the game of entrepreneurship it is very difficult to get out of it" - Martina Laurie

Martina Laurie is the CEO of Hands On Treatment, a mobile massage company. Laurie has been in business for 10 years and she is the recipient of the 2007 Proudly South African best SMME Service Award. Laurie enjoyed going for massages and this is why she started her own business in the same sector.

Martina's top lessons:

Being an entrepreneur is addictive. Once you are in the game of entrepreneurship it is very difficult to get out of it. Your mind is wired to think of new ideas and when you see a new opportunity it is difficult difficult to say no.

You have to become a master in everything. As a small business owner you have to take responsibility for finance, marketing, human resources, sales and logistics. This means that you have to be willing to learn additional skills.

Your passion drives you to become the best in your field. This is why it is essential to start a business in a sector that you are interested in.

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