Small Business and Startups in economic uncertainty (part 1)

Startup

Getting started in business is never an easy road. This is even more apparent in the current economic environment compounded with the need to be globally competitive in order to stack up against foreign imports. Typically we are entering our new endeavor on a shoestring budget or trying to get business running while continuing as an employee in another company to be sure there is enough money to pay the bills. Not many startups have the benefit of being bankrolled by someone with an excess of cash. Especially not until they have proved they are viable.

So why would any sane person with a stable 9-5 job decide to move away from that stable employment into the topsy turvy world of Startups and SMEs? With the current business environment and the number of startups that actually do not survive the first year, surely you would need to be insane to jump into your own enterprise.

1. Be prepared for the long haul

Some of us look at the challenge of commencing a Startup as being the necessary penance to be paid in order to make a difference to the current situation.There are a lot of benefits and a high degree of satisfaction from running your own business, but often this comes several years after you have first opened your doors.

It takes time to build a reputation. To quote Warren Buffet; "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it". Once you start your business you are working on building that reputation, come to terms with the fact that your business is not likely to be an overnight sensation and this is going to be an incremental process and you will be at least partially prepared for the road ahead

2. Know your market and how your business will differentiate itself from competitors.

When I started GBOS, I had come from a career of working in Australian manufacturing. I had seen my particular industry sector wither and die in the new Global Marketplace and I had also seen and heard of the issues and problems that arose from embarking on a ill-prepared venture to offshore manufacturing.There was (and still is) a lot of propaganda surrounding the decision of some companies to manufacture offshore. Persistent quality issues fueled this sentiment. Basically a lot of Australian companies were left in a situation where they had no viable option. Domestic manufacture was too expensive to be viable but offshore manufacture was too unreliable to be an alternative.

There needed to be another alternative for these struggling industries. We did not need another company offering to move manufacturing offshore. We needed an option where we could manufacture offshore if needed without the quality and understanding problems.

3. Be passionate about your business

Having a passion for your business can guide you through the long months when you are working day and night trying to get noticed and build up some degree of consumer confidence in your offering. This is really where being prepared for the long haul comes into play. I am assuming that you fall into the category of many Start-ups and small businesses and you do not have access to unlimited funding and are not able to put your business into prime time prominence through countless paid spots.

You are needing to market your reputation and business typically through lower cost means and through social media and word of mouth. This will usually take time without having access to an enormous budget and paid writers to produce clever posts and videos that have the potential to become viral sensations. Passion for what you are trying to accomplish will often get you through until you start to see a financial reward for your hard work.

4. Don't be obsessive about your business model.

Once you start to receive customers through your efforts, you should accept their comments about your offering and how you could improve your business as constructive criticism and a potential to refine your business model and to offer even a more defined distinction between your business and it's competitors.

If you are obsessive about bringing a certain business model/offering into the market, you stand the chance of ignoring the requirements of your customers as irrelevant in order to serve your own purposes. I am not going to get on the " customer is always right" bandwagon, let's leave this slogan to sales and marketing. Lets just say " the customer can have an interesting insight into the marketplace" and listening can sometimes be helpful in refining your business

With GBOS our business model evolved over time from a business that originally offered to source products offshore to a business whose primary focus became on minimizing and preventing non-conformance and quality issues encountered with offshore manufacturing. We became obsessed with specifications, both from the client and the transfer and understanding of these specifications to the factory. This is really the area where we add value. We can get it done and get it right in the shortest possible time.

5. Don't be afraid to share information with the marketplace.

Information sharing can be a powerful tool for building your reputation. If you are freely willing to share industry insights with the marketplace and offering an alternative to those looking to trade from the point of darkness and customer insecurity, you start to become a noticed "voice in the wilderness" and eventually someone who is sought for their opinions.

With GBOS I started sharing insights into the industry and trying to dispel some of the mythology involved much to the chagrin of some companies who had previously relied on this area of uncertainty to perpetuate their business.Manufacturing offshore was not a venture into a dark foreboding territory that was doomed to failure unless you used a trading company or manufacturer representative. Most failures were due to the lack of specifications or lack of understanding not the business relationship. We also decided to assist in the decision making process and introduced a quick online build or buy analysis on our website to help companies make an informed decision before jumping to an offshore manufacturer. We are now advocates for informed manufacturing whether it be onshore or offshore and the control of non-conformances and quality issues.

Offering secrets that do not put your business at risk of obsolescence but give the customer an ability to become better prepared and make more informed decision making  as above can bee seen as a real pint of distinction to make your business stand out from the crowd.

6. Be prepared to walk away if it doesn't work out

This may be one of the most difficult  aspects of running a start-up / small business that entrepreneurs need to address. What will you do if your business is not accepted well by the marketplace. You have invested countless hours into developing the business and nurturing it from the ground up only to find it is not an acceptable model for the current marketplace.

Know when to call it as a doomed enterprise. Take time to stand back occasionally and reassess the situation using an unemotional eye. Sometimes a market shift can make a previously thriving business become unsustainable overnight. I originally came from a career of repairing TVs and consumer electronic equipment. Over the years the price of imported goods went down and the price of repair and component conversely went up. Eventually the market transformed to a "throw-away" model. Some of the companies that had previously focused on repair evolved into different arenas others decided to close the doors and look elsewhere voluntarily. A small section of die hard companies decided to stick with the business model thinking that things will "revert back to the good old days" , an ideology  that never eventuated and caused several business owners to trade at a loss for concurrent years until they were economically forced out of business.

To be continued in part 2.....


Brian Le Mon

Brian Le Mon

Principal at EQP Optimsation Solutions

A lot of pondering and analysis of my work history brought me to the realisation that, in essence, the key to building and running a sustainable business can be distilled down into 3 main factors: EFFICIENCY, QUALITY and PROFITABILITY. As a result EQP Optimisation Solutions was born. Contact me directly on 0433 687 545 for a confidential discussion to discuss business mentoring or consulting solutions and how we can EQUIP your business for a profitable and sustainable future.

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