10 Challenges of Starting a Business from Scratch
“To have a great idea, have a lot of them.” – Thomas Edison
Developing a business idea is usually the first challenge faced by every entrepreneur when starting a business from scratch. Finding the right business opportunity or creatively developing an idea is certainly not an easy task. I call “Envisioning the idea” the first true task of an entrepreneur. As an entrepreneur, you must possess the ability to see what others cannot see. While others see problems, you must see opportunities.
“There is far more opportunity than there is ability.” – Thomas Edison
But seeing opportunities is just the beginning. The main business challenge is going to be your ability to forge that opportunity into a business idea. I see this as a business challenge because the process of transforming problems into business opportunities is like trying to turn lead into gold. I call it the entrepreneurial process of “Creating Value out of nothing”; a process that brings innovative products into existence. Below is an illustration of how the process goes.
- Identifying a problem > Seeing an opportunity in the problem > Coming up with a solution > Forging the opportunity into a business idea > Integrating your solution into a business plan
“A good businessman must have nose for business the same way a journalist has nose for news. Once your eyes, ears, nose, heart and brain are trained on business, you sniff business opportunities everywhere. In places where people see a lot of obstacles, I see a lot of opportunities. At times, there is something instinctive in me that tell me a business opportunity exist even at a place where others see nothing. That is what makes me different, maybe unique. A good businessman sees where others don’t see. What I see, you may not see. You cannot see because that is the secret of the business… the entire world is a big market waiting for anybody who knows the rules of the game.” – Orji Uzor Kalu
Developing a vision is definitely a business challenge because an entrepreneur must sometimes assume the role of a sorcerer. Let me explain in detail. Most individuals are comfortable with the present way of doing things but it is the duty of an entrepreneur to envision and forecast the future. An entrepreneur must always be ahead of his time or else he will lose his relevance. It is the duty of an entrepreneur to bring into present what is yet to be. It is also the duty of an entrepreneur to bring solutions to other people’s problems. Let me give you some practical illustrations:
“If you want to be rich, you need to develop your vision. You must be standing on the edge of time gazing into the future.” – Rich Dad
a) In the late 70s and early 80s, while IBM saw increase in demand for their mainframe computers, Steve Jobs envisioned a personal computer in every home and Bill Gates envisioned the need for easy to use software for personal computers. That single vision made Bill Gates the richest man in the world and Steve Jobs the most famous business person of the 21st century.
“Business is going to change in the next ten years than it has in the last fifty years.” – Bill Gates
b) The Wright brothers envisioned a flying machine but they were massively opposed because the thought of humans flying was perceived as impossible. Today, the Airplane is a reality.
c) Back in those days when cars were custom made and exclusively for the rich, Henry Ford envisioned affordable cars for the masses. That single vision made Henry Ford one of the richest men in history.
“You are nuts and you should be proud of it. Stick with what you believe in.” – Trip Hawkins
I believe with these few examples, my point is clear. Developing the vision and idea is the first true task and challenge of being an entrepreneur.
After developing your idea, the next challenge you are going to face when starting a business from scratch is that of raising capital. As an entrepreneur, you are the only one that knows business your idea to the core. You are the only one that knows the story of your future.
“Capital can do nothing without brains to direct it.” – J. Ogden Armour
Trying to convince investors about something that doesn’t exist is definitely a challenge. Trying to make them understand that you are trustworthy and equal to the task is not child’s play especially when you are building your first business.
“If you want to know the value of money, go and try to borrow some.” – Benjamin Franklin
There is more to raising capital than just simply asking for money. Most investors want to invest in already established businesses with minimal risk and they want to be sure that they get returns for the risk they took. Most brilliant business ideas never scale through the venture capital stage because the entrepreneur is either not prepared or lacks what it takes to raise the needed capital. Just as my mentor, Robert Kiyosaki says:
“The world is filled with brilliant ideas and excellent products but the world lacks seasoned entrepreneurs.” – Robert Kiyosaki
To overcome the challenge of raising capital, you must develop the ability to sell your idea and vision to potential investors. When I say “sell your ideas“, I mean improving your communication skill and your manner of presentation. In the game of raising capital, you must have a good story to tell; backed by a strong business plan and good persuasion skills. You must know how to pitch angel investors and venture capitalists alike.
“The ability to sell is the number one skill in business. If you cannot sell, don’t bother thinking about becoming a business owner.” – Rich Dad
“Eagles don’t flock, you have to find them one at a time.” – Henry Ross Perot
The third business challenge you will face in the course of starting a small business from scratch is assembling the right business management team. When I talk about a team, I am not talking about regular employees. I am talking about a “strategic round table business team” that will meet regularly to brainstorm on ways to grow your business.
“Individuals don’t win in business, teams do.” – Sam Walton
The process of building a business team starts even before the issue of raising initial start-up capital arises. Remember I said that most brilliant ideas never scale through the phase of raising venture capital. Well; this is where most budding entrepreneurs miss it. Most brilliant ideas and products never get funded because the entrepreneur is trying to raise capital as an individual. A business team is a vital, yet often ignored key to raising venture capital successfully.
“Business and investing are team sports.” – Rich Dad
As an entrepreneur, you are bound to have strengths and weaknesses. That is the more reason you need a business team to cover up or compliment your weaknesses. A team is a necessity for building a successful business. Now finding a business team is just the second hurdle, transferring your passion and vision to your team is the next piece of cake.
“Teams should be able to act with the same unity of purpose and focus as a well motivated individual.” – Bill Gates
It’s your duty as an entrepreneur to make sure your team sees the future you see. They must believe in your possibilities and must also be passionate about making that possibility a reality. If they can’t grasp your vision, if they can’t see the future with you, then they are not worthy being your team.
“My model for business is the Beatles. They were four guys that kept each other’s negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person; they are done by a team of people.” – Steve Jobs
Your strategic business team should comprise your banker, financial adviser, accountant, attorney or legal adviser and any other specialist that will be of tremendous impact to your business. A question on your mind right now might be “how am I going to pay this team” My answer is I don’t know. You will have to figure it out yourself or better still, you can consider bringing them on board as partners.
“Go to the wolf, consider its ways and be wise. A wolf will never hunt alone; it hunts in packs because it knows the power of team work.” – Ajaero Tony Martins
Is finding a good location a business challenge? I don’t know but what I do know is that finding a good business location at the right price is definitely not easy. How do you get a location that has a rapidly growing population, good road network and other amenities at a good price? Well, you will have to figure out yourself.
“If you own a butcher shop, don’t hire vegetarians. To hire the right people, you have to let the wrong people go.” – Rich Dad
Most writers and managers crank up the process of finding good employees as an easy task. They define the process of finding an employee as simply presenting the job description and the right employee will surface. But I think it’s more than that.
“The competition to hire the best will increase in the years ahead. Companies that give extra flexibility to their employees will have the edge in this area.” – Bill Gates
Business owners know how difficult it is to find a hardworking, trustworthy employee. Most employees want to work less and get paid more. Finding a good employee who will be passionate about delivering his or her services is quite difficult. Finding good employees is a minor task compared to the business challenge of forging your hired employees into a team.
You may have great employees but if they can’t act as a team, they are worthless and will yield nothing but stagnation. A football team may have great skillful players but if they fail to play as a team, their possessed skill is useless.
“Bringing together the right information with the right people will dramatically improve a company’s ability to develop and act on strategic business opportunities.” – Bill Gates
Employees are your representatives to your customers and the outside world. They are a reflection of your business culture and ethics. If an employee of yours is bad or rude to your customers, it is going to portray a bad image for your company. So you must be careful when hiring employees. Remember the golden rule of business; “Hire slow and fire fast.”
The sixth challenge you will face in the process of starting a small business from scratch is finding good customers. Note the keyword “good customers.” In the process of building a business, you will come to find out that there are good customers as well as bad customers. You must be on guard for bad customers. Good customers are really hard to find. A good customer will be loyal to your company and will be willing to forgive you if you make a mistake and apologize. A good customer will try to do the right thing that will benefit both himself and your company mutually.
“Thank God for my customers. They buy my products before they are perfected.” – Henry Ford
Bad customers will always look for loopholes in the company’s policy to exploit and make a few gains. Bad customers will always try to exploit the company’s goodwill and look for ways to rip off the company. Bad customers are responsible for bad debts. Good customers build your business and bad customers will always try to liquidate your business. Just as you fire employees, you must also be prepared to fire bad customers without hesitation. Remember the story of the customer that sued McDonald’s claiming the coffee was too hot.
“You must fire bad customers just as you would fire a bad employee. If you do not get rid of your bad employees, the good employees will leave. If I do not fire bad customers, not only will my good customers leave but many of my good employees will leave as well.” – Rich Dad
“In business, the competition will bite you if you keep running. If you stand still, they will swallow you.” – Victor Kiam
Competition is the next challenge you will face when starting a business. Most individuals see competition as a plague but I see competition as a good challenge. I see competition as a benchmark for creativity, the main engine that stimulates innovation and production of quality products at great prices. Without competition, there will be no innovation and without innovation, the world will be stagnant.
“If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.” – Jack Welch
I see competition as a welcomed challenge and I want you to do the same. Competition keeps us on our toes and drives us to constantly improve our products and services. But you must be warned. Competition can make your business lose its relevance in the eye of your customers so you must always be on guard.
“The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all but goes on making his own business better all the time.” – Henry Ford
“Smooth seas seldom make good sailors.” – Anonymous
Just as a sailor prepares for unexpected storm, just as a pilot is always on the watch for unpredictable bad weather and thunderstorms, so must an entrepreneur prepared for whatever comes. Unexpected challenges can come in the form of:
- Unexpected law suits
- Inconsistent government policy
- Not being able to make payroll
- Unpaid bills and taxes
- Unexpected resignation of staff from sensitive office
- Bad debts from customers
- Loss of market share
- Dwindling working capital
- Inadequate stock or inventory
“A company’s ability to respond to an unplanned event, good or bad is a prime indicator of its ability to compete.” – Bill Gates
These business challenges, if not handled properly can ruin your plan to build a successful business. Another challenge you must expect is an unforeseen increase in business expenses. If not handled properly, it might result in constant negative cash flow and eventually; business failure.
“In three years, every product my company makes will be obsolete. The only question is whether we will make them obsolete or somebody else will.” – Bill Gates
Change in trends is a challenge you must be prepared for when starting a small business. Trends have made and broken lot of businesses. I know a lot of profitable businesses that have been wiped out by slight industrial changes and trends. A typical example is the Dot com trend, where many established industrial based businesses were wiped out by new web based dot com companies.
“How fast a company can respond in an emergency is a measure of its corporate reflexes.” – Bill Gates
When the Dot com era began, business owners were left with only two options. Either they join the dot com train or they get crushed by the dot com train. Seasoned entrepreneurs know that trend is a friend and are always willing to swiftly adjust their business to the current trend. Keeping your eyes open to spot trends is really a challenge but the big task will be your ability to quickly use the trend to your advantage.
“In the world of business and investing, your exit is more important than your entry. A good thumb of rule is this; exit before you enter.” – Robert Kiyosaki
When building a business from scratch, you are going to face the challenge of determining your exit strategy. Just as the quote above states, you have to plan your exit strategy before you even start the business. Most entrepreneurs run their business without any plans to exit and even if they have an exit strategy, they find it difficult to implement it.
“Always start at the end before you begin. Professional investors always have an exit strategy before they invest. Knowing your exit strategy is an important investment fundamental.” – Rich Dad
Before starting a business, it is advisable to plan an exit. Lack of an exit plan is the primary reason why most businesses crumble after the death of the founder. An exit strategy is very important to the long term survival of a business. now how do you plan an exit strategy? There are benchmarks you can use to determine your exit from any business. Most smart entrepreneurs will use a certain benchmark as a target and once this specific target is reached, they exit the business. Examples of such benchmarks are:
- Annual sales
- Annual Turnover
- Asset Base
- Market Saturation
- Customer base, subscribers or number of users
Now when it comes to exiting a business, there are three strategies you can apply. You can choose to exit a business in any of the following ways:
a) Turning over the business to professional managers
When your business reaches a certain stage of maturity, you can exit by turning it over to professional managers. In this case, the business still belongs to you but you are not involved with its day to day affairs. You will have to give up administrative role to assume the role of a watchdog. When you exit in this manner, you will have more free time to look at other projects or retire.
b) Selling the business privately
In this case, you are exiting the business by selling it to a private investor. In the business world, it is called M&A (Mergers and Acquisitions). Exiting your business this way means that after the sale and transfer of assets is complete, you have nothing to do with the business again.
The unique thing about this type of exit strategy is that while you are selling your business (in form of shares) to public investors, you still maintain control over the business. Please before you apply any of these exit strategy, I will advise you consult with your attorney or legal adviser. But ultimately, it’s up to you to decide the exit strategy you want to apply; but always remember “your exit is more important than your entry.”
As a final note, I want to state clearly that challenges come only to make you stronger; so don’t faint in the face of challenges. Stand tall; keep moving your business forward and I will see you at the top.
How I Overcame My Business Challenges
When you are successful, everyone wants to associate with you. But nobody gives a damn about the process you went through to achieve such success.
Everyday, I keep receiving accolades with respect to my achievements; yet deep down inside of me, I know success is not what it’s painted to be. This piece is about a recent business challenge I encountered, how I solved it and the lessons I learned from the experience. I am writing this for those who are currently experiencing hard times in business and life in general. I want you to know that you are not alone. As you read, I hope you learn and profit from my experience.
Sometimes, challenges or problems come so fast that you lose your grip. Regardless of your financial or social status; you will never be free from problems. I get my own fair share of problems everyday but just recently; I was hit by a massive setback.
The period April to July 2011 was one of the toughest in my life. I was practically running on adrenaline and living on edge within these four months. Now you may want to know what transpired within these four months but I think this should be a story for another day. However, I will give you a brief insight of what I faced recently, how I overcame and the lessons I learned. So if you are still eager to profit from my experience and foolishness, then read on.
In the month of April 2011, I was robbed at gun point and it took me some weeks to overcome the trauma. In the month of May, my business suffered a major setback and in June; my bank placed a hold on our business account (meaning we can’t make withdrawals from the account) due to some differences that needed to be reconciled. My business suffered a major cash flow crisis as a result of this single action the bank took, so I resorted to borrowing cash from family and friends to keep my business afloat. By July, I was deeply in debt. Within this period, I was always on the go; shuttling from one state of Nigeria to another; just to resolve the problem I was encountering.
Now let’s fast forward to this day; the third day of August 2011. As I write this now, I can’t really tell how I feel. All I just want to say is this; “I survived.” As at today, I have cleared all outstanding debt I incurred within the hard times, my bank account has been restored and my business has roared back to life. But it took me and my team, 90 days of untold stress to bring things back to order.
Now how did i survive this trying period? How did i stay afloat? How did i keep my body and soul together? You will find out below
a. I sustained my business cash flow
Cash flow is the life blood of business and when it begins to trend in the negative, it will only be a matter of time before your business collapses. When I resorted to borrowing cash from family and friends; I was only trying to keep my cash flow position positive, I had to make sure the daily operations of my business continues unhindered and this also implied that I had to make some cut on our daily expenses.
b. I took responsibility
When the problem began, I had every right to point a finger to any member of my business team and say; “it’s your fault.” After all, i am the boss. But I didn’t do it. I did not run into a hole and hide; rather, I placed myself in front of my team. I told them that a mistake has been made and I was not interested in trading blames at that moment; all I needed was a solution and my team responded positively. They thought I was going to axe someone but I didn’t. Rather, I preached the need to jointly assume responsibility and resolve the mess together; with me as the lead dog.
c. I engaged in critical thinking
I have said it in previous articles that critical thinking is a key to effective problem solving. In the midst of the ensuring tension, I still found time to think in solitude. In fact, I spent most of my free time alone to the extent that my dad became concerned over my health and began counseling me to take things easy. But I laughed him off and quietly explained to him that I wasn’t worrying, I was thinking. At this point, I want to make it clear that there’s a big difference between thinking and worrying. Thinking solve problems but worrying compounds a problem and may even get you killed. My dad probably never understood the difference.
d. I tackled the problem head-on
What do you do in the face of problems? Do you face them squarely or you run and hide? Well, I know from experience that people react differently in the face of problems. Some even ignore the problem as if it doesn’t exist. But to pull myself and business out of the mess, I knew I had to tackle the problem head-on and I did.
Challenges of Starting a Business – 6 Lessons I Learned from My Personal Experience
I. Integrity can be a life saver
The bible said that “a good name is better than precious ornament” and that’s definitely true. When I went to borrow money for my business from family and friends; none requested a collateral or interest, none blinked an eyelid before granting my request. But they made it clear to me that they were lending me their money based on my reputation of always keeping to my words. When I heard this; I was humbled and I strived to make sure I didn’t disappoint.
Always make sure you preserve your integrity; it can be a life saver in hard times. Never make empty promises and when you eventually make a promise; keep to your words. I have seen entrepreneurs raise millions and even billions of dollars easily; just because they have a reputation of delivering on their words. If you want to achieve much in business; preserve the integrity of your name.
II. Do what you must today; not tomorrow
Most people are fond of procrastinating; I am also guilty of such and in fact, procrastination was one of the reasons our business got in trouble. So whatever you have to do today; do it. Don’t wait till tomorrow because it might be too late. Don’t wait till you are under pressure before you act.
III. When challenges hit you; don’t break
Challenges are part of life; they come to make you stronger only if you refuse to bow. When challenges hit you; don’t break. Rather, toughen up. Just like a famous politician said; “when vultures surround you, refuse to die.”
IV. Never lose focus
One of the greatest mistakes you will make in times of hardship is to take your eyes off your goal. No matter how bad the situation is, never lose focus.
V. When all human effort fails; turn to God
Yes, God works and he answers prayers. I had a good experience of this during the hard time. I remember going to the bank to meet with my banker. As I discussed with my banker, I was lost in thought. I wasn’t interested in the sermon and big words he was spitting out; all I wanted was a solution and just when I thought a solution was forthcoming, my banker said “I am sorry Mr. Ajaero; we still can’t allow your company make withdrawal from the accounts.”
Those words hit me like thunderbolt. My business was on the brink of collapsing and here was this smart looking guy telling me I can’t access my money. As I bow my head lost in thought, I noticed someone by my side. I turned and it was a man. He must have heard my banker saying those last words, he asked what the problem was and I told him. He asked me to see him in his office the next day and he gave me the office address. I went home that day crying to God for a solution; I couldn’t sleep that night as I kept praying asking God to come to my rescue.
When I got to the man’s office the next day, he simply signed a document; handed it over to me and said goodbye. No introduction, no cross questioning. This man didn’t even bother to know the name or identity of who he was helping. I was really surprised that someone I don’t know from Adam would help me with such a sensitive problem with no strings attached. Well, some will attribute such action to luck but I will say it’s God at work. So when it seems all hope is not, never forget to cry to God for help. He will surely make a way for you.
VI. Always be prepared for the worst
This is the final lesson I learned from the whole scenario; always be prepared for the worst. Challenges and problems will never stop coming no matter how successful you are. Even though I have solved this particular problem, I know bigger problems are still lying ahead of me. Instead of praying never to encounter challenges; the question I constantly ask myself is “how prepared am I to handle the next challenged?
I know you can never be too prepared for what’s ahead since you can’t predict what is to come; but at least, I believe that he who is prepared has half won the battle. Now how can you prepare for what is to come? A good way to start is to keep aside a certain amount of cash specifically for emergency purposes.
As a final note, I want to say that I am happy to be writing this now. Call it my survival write up and you won’t be wrong. It’s not easy being at the helm of affairs; it’s not easy being a business leader. This single incident made me wonder the amount of pressure top business leaders and CEOs go through during challenging periods. Well, like I said earlier; all problems will surely come to pass. The real bone of contention is whether you will survive or not.