5 Tips for building a small business

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I hold a degree from The University of Cape Town in Theatre and Performance (Hons.) I have never been trained in business but have managed to grow a strong organization since 2012. I would like to impart a few humble pearls of wisdom which were hard won and learned on the battle field. I have the scars to prove it and stand by these wholeheartedly.

  • Find out what you Believe in

People say: “do what you love.” I fall in love with new things every day and out of love with other things every other day. Some say: “do what makes you happy,” but the same applies. Some things that made me happy a year ago make me sad now. I think this is thin advice. I don’t think it is enough.

I DO believe you should chase your unique passions and BE happy but there is another way to ensure happiness and real fulfillment. Find out what you believe in. What do you stand for? How to you want to affect change in the world. What do you want to improve? How do you want to help?

You don’t have to be a charity to do good in the world. Let’s take a shoe maker. She is motivated to create comfortable shoes so that the wearer may experience life without any pain. She crafts them exquisitely, motivated that it will provide people with pleasure and joy. I know that she is happier and more fulfilled than the shoe maker making shoes purely because he became convinced that “shoes” is the next big market.

It is hard to grow a business. You want to be doing not only what you love, but also what you believe in. You need to know WHY people will need your product or service. It changed the game for me.

An excellent talk on this by Simon Sinek. Check out his amazing ideas that urges us to “Start with Why.”

  • Have Plasticity (and humility)

I founded this business in 2012. Today it looks very different to the picture I had in mind in 2012. Entrepreneurship, for me, is about: having courage, being robust, having a thick skin, falling on your face, learning the lesson, getting back up and back in the ring. It is fighting. But not stubbornly, rather with humility and flexibility. Humility because you’ll be wrong. Often. Admit it. (To yourself at least.) Learn. Move on and apply the lesson. Don’t change the shape of the business with every whim and trend. Don’t rush into decisions but be flexible: listen, learn and adjust the course when you need to.

In the very end, my business will have the same vision (as above) but may very well have a completely different shape to the original one. And I am cool with it. It is scary. I know the market will continue to challenge the business and I plan only for the courage to respond and adjust wisely. I aim to be in touch with what my market space and its consumers need and what they believe in.

I am steadfast but with a healthy dose of flexibility.

  • Let go of “being liked”

I am a kind person. I connect. I am a classic extrovert. I think I am funny and friendly. I laugh out loud! I love people; finding their magic and sharing myself with them.

But I had to learn to adjust how I apply this bouquet of characteristics in my personal life to the work place. Being buddies with the team of people who work for me, initially, stripped me of the tools a manager needs. If there was valid cause for reproach, I couldn’t hold my staff accountable because I was afraid of them disliking me or their work.

I absorbed all the unexpressed frustration and added their tasks to my own load, convinced that I could do it better. It made the team more dependent and less effectual, added to my stress and made the organization far less effective.

Every organization, however small, needs a leader and a manager to hold people accountable, reprimand if necessary and keep the organization disciplined. If you can balance keeping a team accountable to standards, outcomes and deadlines through supporting and effective training, the right people will inevitably become more self sufficient.

A warm and connected environment where the leader is able to discipline without ‘fear of dislike’ is professional and healthy (and can be fun!) It took me a long time to get here. Still working at it.

  • Network (it is a verb!)

Since the moment I landed back in South Africa, after a half-a-decade of traveling and learning and exploring from the UK, I started asking for help. Have a look at the The Art of Asking by the amazing Amanda Palmer.

I owe so much of what I have achieved to simple introductions, to the right people at the right time. Some of the most important business decisions I took were based on introduction to the right person, service or product, the perfect door being opened and sound advice, at the right time.

I spend a lot of time networking and I love it. I am proudest of the connections I have made and how I can help others with the connections I have. It will forever be at the top of my gratitude list.  It is true! It isn’t what you know, it is who you know!

The only secret is: to keep giving. If you are looking to get connected, spend your time connecting someone else to your network. Even if there is nothing in it for you. Even if it is in an entirely different market. Give. It is amazing how things will come back around to you.

  • Learn every day

I studied theatre. I hold a BA (hons) degree. There is no MBA to my name. I have had to learn how to “do business” through experience and it has been my best teacher.

But I get hungry for information, knowledge, ideas. If there was more time, I would do another degree but for now I try to access the vast wonderful world of free wisdom that is available to me. I like to digest it and apply as much of the learning I can source, testing failing, trying again and succeeding.

Practically, I find this in books, articles, podcasts, Ted talks and documentaries. Information is freely and abundantly available these days. And it amazing! It is now possible to sample everything or learn deeply on a certain topic. And we have to. If we don’t, we become stale, complacent, lazy and even defensive.

I read, listen and learn a lot for pleasure too but for professional inspiration, I listen to Tim Ferris’ podcast on what he calls life hacks. He interviews amazing people in search for their secrets to success. I read Seth Godin’s daily blog. Short sharp incredibly cool bits of (beyond) business advice. I enjoy everything the educationalist, Ken Robinson, has ever touched and recommend this talk on “How Schools Kill Creativity” and this book, on “Finding your Element.” (He is in the particular realm, my business belongs to.)

And I am just motivated, inspired and in awe of little gems like this. Tim Minchin is one of my heroes and the below is a huge inspiration to me.

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