March 1, 2010

Please Don’t Miss these 5 Successful Business Tips


As most of you know by now, I have bootstrapped my business from the ground up. Everything I tell you in this blog comes from my heart, mind and soul. There are no copies of this anywhere else on the web, and you won’t find this in Business for Dummies.

Time has gone quickly for me since the beginning of running Fuseware, and my past job and life seem literally in another world. I’m meeting many people, many more than I did working as an engineer. What made everything that much more hectic for me was that I moved into a new area only to find it in total lack of security and in the wrong neighborhood. I now have a much nicer and safer place in Century City, but I had to go through many hassles in the process, all while running my business.

All of this change has been really inspiring and fascinating, but it has not come without its downsides, which I will get to in a future post. Either way, I’m keeping myself well energized and motivated and cannot wait for what the next few months will bring!

With all that said, I’d like to give you my the 5 most important tips I’ve learnt so far, according to my real experiences.

Resist against all urges to undercut yourself.

When I started out, I had a price range in mind for my services, my ideal clients and how I would deal with them. My unique offering is virtually unheard of in this country, with only a handful of businesses doing the same thing. Many clients that I meet don’t always realize the importance of getting into social media, and they ask for what they are used to – cheap ways of getting to the top of Google in 48 hours via Adsense or the standard dime-a-dozen SEO job. It would be extremely easy for me to take on this business and become an internet marketing company instead of a social media agency.

However, I believe the utmost in the true value I am delivering and want to stick with my original plans. I do not come cheap, although I am more cost effective than the big name companies out there. I also know that once I make one client extremely happy, 10 more will follow pretty easily. Thats the power of social media. Please don’t undercut yourself in your business, it only dilutes your value and offering, and frames certain expectations in customer’s minds which are very difficult to change!

Get a lawyer. A good, well connected JEWISH lawyer!

I am very grateful to have the connections and contacts that I do. With that said, I recommend to you more than anything to have a great well connected Jewish lawyer in case you land in any trouble one day. In SA, this tends to happen quite a bit with smaller firms because we have several oligopolies that try run the market in various industries ranging from retail, food to media. And when a small firm tries to bite at their heels, they may react.

Why a Jewish one, you ask? They really don’t take any bullshit from anyone, and give 110% to your cause – for a price.

Don’t sweat the free stuff

As you know, I am a big fan of openness and transparency. I recently released the free Social Barometer report, and will release many more free social media and SEO tools and reports in the future. I manage several blogs, and connect among many different channels with people. I don’t charge for any of this, and to be honest I really don’t want to. I’m not in it for the money – I know I’ll get enough of that soon enough. I want to educate people in South Africa and beyond, and hopefully inspire them to undertake this amazing journey of entrepreneurship too.

Don’t be worried about giving away parts of yourself. People only want you more for it, and you are definitely not undervaluing yourself by educating the world. With that said, you must also be very clear of what your business model is, because we all need to pay the mortgage too.

Remove your dependencies ASAP

In business, you are bound to be dependent on something. A partner agreeing with your decision, a customer’s pending payment, a bank loan that you have to repay or any other circumstance slightly out of your control.

Try reduce and remove these dependencies ASAP, because they only serve to hinder your progress. They affect your decisions and can lead to slower decision making and possibly the wrong decisions sometimes. You don’t want to be dependent on anyone but yourself (ideally!), or else you could be cornered or worse.

Think long and hard about what hoops you are jumping through for others unnecessarily, and cut them out. Your business needs to be a lean, clean value creating machine.

Be Agile and React like a Ninja

Did you know that a plan flying from Cape Town to Johannesburg will start off course 99% of the time? The flight’s electronic steering constantly corrects the plane and thats how it gets to the right location.

Before I started out, I had a bit of a business plan detailing where I was headed and a few ideas here and there. But to be honest, a lot of it was thumb-sucked out of a parallel universe. I am constantly correcting my business in tiny increments according to what creates the most value for my clients, and what is easiest path to take for me (with the latter having less priority of course).

Don’t sweat the massive 5 year plans unless you are pushing for VC funding – have a great simple product or service that people need, and just do it. You will make mistakes along the way – I have already – but correcting all the time will ensure your success.

(Bonus) Hacking Through The Night Won’t Make You Successful

This is for all the coders out there. We all know of the stories of hackers that toiled for months through day and night to create some great new product that everybody wanted, which then sold in the millions and made lots and lots of cash. Bill Gates is a prime example.

The truth is, this really isn’t the best way of utilizing your time. Business is about people and relationships, and working by yourself through the night to create the “next big thing” has such a high probability of failure you should rather just play the lotto. If you know what you are doing, you can work a lot less by cultivating the right relationships and bonds with other key industry players and businesses.

There are ways of pushing great products that you have made out to the public, but I believe its much better to spend the majority of your time connecting with people that can help drive your business.
Well thats it for me – if you guys have any advice from your own hearts, souls and minds, please type forth below!

From The Readers:

Marc:

6. Be brutal with your cash and cash flow management. One of the worst mistakes we made when starting up was being lax and spending on items and staff we had no need for. We grew our cost base unnecessarily and two years down the line we’re still paying back the debt.

7. Be SUPER BRUTAL about the staff you want and need. Staff are a cost-centre that chow up time and resources as well as money. Pick the right people at the right time.

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7 Comments

  1. Joe March 1, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    Great post! So true, none of us can work alone which is why it’s so important to build relationships while doing business. The best companies are able to do this well with both their staff and clients.

    I also liked what you said about constantly changing your business goals so as to adapt to the market. What was true 10 years ago, may not necessarily hold true now, which is why it’s so important to be constantly changing…constantly trying to get better.

    Great post once again.

  2. ceo March 1, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    Thanks Joe – I’m glad you liked it.

  3. Darren March 1, 2010 at 7:13 pm

    Some good points there, number 1 [undercutting yourself] probably one of the biggest problems for small businesses in general.

    Your fourth point is fair, but I would say that to grow beyond being the business yourself [that old joke comes to mind about when the owner goes home at night, the business goes home too], you actually have to build a team that you can rely on [and I suppose therefore be dependent on]. Without it, the business will always be constrained by how much you can do yourself.

    While undercutting causes pricing and profitability problems, not being able to build the right team is one of the biggest causes of limited growth that I’ve seen.

  4. ceo March 1, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    Darren – I totally agree, since you will be dependant on your team once you get to that stage. Finding the right team is extremely important, and I was just having a chat with Joe – the previous commentor – about this.

  5. Marc Ashton March 1, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    I dunno – I would add in:

    6. Be brutal with your cash and cash flow management. One of the worst mistakes we made when starting up was being lax and spending on items and staff we had no need for. We grew our cost base unnecessarily and two years down the line we’re still paying back the debt.

    7. Be SUPER BRUTAL about the staff you want and need. Staff are a cost-centre that chow up time and resources as well as money. Pick the right people at the right time.

  6. Sean Nieuwoudt March 1, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    Great Post!

  7. ceo March 1, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Hi Marc. Those are great tips, I’ll add them into the post now :)

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