Musings from Bahraini entrepreneur, design agency creative director and magazine editor, Wafa Alobaidat
It seems that everyone is weaving through life at his or her own pace. Everyone has their own set of goals, everyone has their own system, and everyone is searching for careers that suit them. And in business, much like life itself, every entrepreneur is going through their journey at their own pace, and figuring out what works for them and setting systems in place that will get them close to their goals.
When I find myself mentoring other start-ups, or sharing my advice at lectures in universities, I can only share and talk confidently about what I know, and most importantly what has worked for me. In 5 years, I have launched one successful start-up, and failed in two others. So when asked about my top lessons on what has worked for me in business, I narrowed them to this:
For the first two years of your business, keep your expenses low. Don’t get over excited and give yourself a big fat salary. Don’t opt for the big fancy office or the ridiculously good-looking furniture. Bunk up in a business incubator, share offices with another business if you can, or make use of free office space that can be provided by family whenever possible. As your revenue sources increase invest in a better space, better furniture, and pay yourself accordingly to how well you're doing.
Focus on one business at a time. Too many entrepreneurs have two or three ideas that they want to pull off at the same time and can’t seem to make a decision to just focus on one at first. Starting a business is like having a child, you must give it at least nine months of preparation, and then at least two years of full attention until it can slowly stand on its feet. It is such a full time job to have one baby – especially if it is your first – that it’s best to focus and grow it well.
ADAPT YOUR BUSINESS
Adapt your business according to what is selling and what is not. If your product is good, it will sell. If it is not it won’t sell. It is as simple as that. That is the only formula. If your product is not selling, it is best to find out why, and find out quick so you can fix it. Listening to feedback from your stakeholders and customers and team members is crucial to adapting your business in order for it to work.
Many entrepreneurs think that the hard work will end as soon as they’ve launched their business. I am here to break it to you. This is only the beginning. It is much easier to start something, than it is to maintain it. Growing it is even more of a challenge. You are the accelerator of your business – the more you get your hands dirty, the more you push, the farther it will go. At the end of the day you can hire the very best people, but no one will care about your business as much as you do, no one will understand the ins and out, and no one will understand that product better.
GET YOUR HANDS DIRTY
It is easy to spot who is going to make it, and who is going to fall flat on their face at the very beginning of a new journey. The ones that work behind the counter, meet the customers, take the orders, and deliver the items themselves are the keepers. They have focus, stamina, discipline, and are humble. They are making the sales themselves and are scoring the best corporate deals. They know all their customers by name and remember their birthdays. It’s the ones that get tired easily that worry me; the ones who sit in a desk behind glass walls, away from where the actual business takes place, concern me. The ones that outsource everything and refuse to pick up the phone to make a call or set up a meeting; the ones that don’t ask for advice; the ones that refuse to talk about their failures; these are the ones that require mentoring. It is all very similar to a first-time mom who outsources all her baby needs to the help versus the mom who refuses to let anyone touch her baby during that critical time.
You will sacrifice your time, your social life, and your paycheck in the first few years. If not, you should. And it will pay off in the end. Never ask anyone to make the same sacrifices as you would for your business. Don’t whine and don’t play the victim. Just man up and focus on the big picture. Do the work until it pays off.
HAVE A STEADY INCOME
I don’t believe in taking cuts from sales, I don’t believe in commission, and I don’t believe in “one hit wonders”. I believe in retainers, in constant streams of revenue. Create a regular source of income; a sum, however small, that you can get on a regular basis will give you stability. Create a revenue source that is stable, for your books, and to ensure the longevity of your business.
No one wants to do business with you if they don’t like you. In order to like you, they must care about you. In order for them to care about you, you must care about them. In a time where this is too much of everything, and more options that we need, what people will bank on is the relationship they have with you.
Wafa Alobaidat writes for Khaleejesque and muses on fashion, art, culture and culture shock in the Middle East. Wafa is also the editor of Sketchbook magazine and runs design and PR agency Obai and Hill.
To get in touch with Wafa, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @wafaobaidat