To stay ahead of the competition, one must take time to learn and grow in your role, you organisation and your industry.Interestingly enough, many entrepreneurs feel they don’t have time for continuous learning, citing too much to do for a one-person operation or a small team. Just like exercise, continuous learning helps entrepreneurs to maintain the sharpness of their minds, to keep abreast of the trends and to stay ahead of the curve.
How can an entrepreneurs continue to learn and grow amidst a busy schedule?
Helping us to answer this is Goh Ai Yat, a former senior banker and management consultant. Today, she calls herself a trainer, a storyteller, an artist, and an entrepreneur.
What programs do you offer to entrepreneurs?
There are two series, one is the Starter kit. Many people like the idea of being an entrepreneur, but are not sure on whether to embark on it. The starter kit series is to help people get ready, know what it takes to become an entrepreneur and to start a business.
For those who are more serious, we have a series called Tool kit, which encompasses six modules. It ranges from looking for a business, marketing and sales, accounts and finance, people management, legal matters, and culminating into writing a business plan.
What challenges have you observed, when it comes to wanting to become an entrepreneur?
When people decide to be an entrepreneur, they usually start with something they are passionate about. Or rather they believe their passion will take them through the journey of becoming an entrepreneur. In so doing, you will be trapped because they tend to think they have the greatest idea. As reality sets in, they realise they may not be as prepared as they should be.
Ask yourself, what business do you want to get into? What are the kinds of products and services you want to get into? It is the lack of understanding of what the market is. Some entrepreneurs think that they will make money almost instantly and do not prepare for gestation period. The key is understanding of cash flow, rather than the need to be profitable.
Can you please share a story of entrepreneurs who have succeeded we have not succeeded in these challenges?
One of my participants was retrenched three times. His motivation of starting a business was not to be retrenched any more, because you cannot be retrench yourself. He decided to go into the beauty space. Beauty is a big business. He got a distributorship from New Zealand, an organic related beauty product. Because he is not himself familiar with the beauty space, even though he has a marketing background, his product range was fairly limited. After a while, he couldn’t continue to sustain the business.
There is another participant who wanted to get into the food and beverage business. They bought a recipe from abroad and managed to successfully start their business. However, they did not have enough capital to sustain. They thought they were able to start with less capital than others, thinking they might be more efficient than others. Their shop location was not ideal and they were not able to generate the revenue as projected. Because of the cash flow strap, they had to get investors. Fortunately, he was able to do so. But many are not able to in the timing that is required.
When it comes to learning, why do you think it is important for entrepreneurs?
The journey of an entrepreneur can be very lonely. Because the moment we get in, we are firefighting. Most of the time will be running in circles to try and get the business off. The process can be frustrating. We can be engulfed in what we have and stop looking outwards.
In that sense, it limits us to acquiring more perspectives in the businesses we are in. Because we are passionate about what we believe in, entrepreneurs tend to be persistent and have a drive. In that journey, entrepreneurs will find they have very little time to explore more options for themselves. To overcome this, you can either get a mentor to work with you, or reading what is relevant in the marketplace.
What do you believe are the skills and the knowledge that an entrepreneur must have in order to thrive and be successful?
There are only two things that one has to manage, one is growing the top line, without revenue there will be no cash flow.
The second is operational efficiency. Operational efficiency means having the right competencies to manage operations at a lower cost. In this context, the technical skills become important. We then have the qualitative competencies, such as the ability to network, the ability to collaborate with partners, the ability to understand customer service, the ability to tweak the business to meet the needs of the client. Understanding finance from a business perspective is important.
What skills do you see are plentiful or lacking in entrepreneurs that want to start up?
Many people want to become entrepreneurs. The essence of it is thinking up the business. It is fundamental, and new entrepreneurs find it hard to identify the opportunities that are available. Or their perspective of opportunities are narrow and small.
The key is understanding the criteria that are associated to opportunities. Basically there are three things. If an entrepreneur can answer these three questions quickly, they can start doing their homework.
The first one is the market must first be attractive. Attractive means the market must be big, where you have a huge need in the market space. A young entrepreneur want to go into a niche market, it is still huge market.
Number two, when we run a business we are thinking of long-term. I don’t believe anyone goes into business for short-term. When it is long-term, has to be sustainable, durable and replicable.
The third thing is timing. I am keen at looking at ideas. When the dot com first started, I joined in the bandwagon. I realise the business I went into was to sell information online. At that point in time everything was given free. I found very difficult to get people to buy data and information. I felt at that point in time I was too early. If I were to do that today, in today’s market, people are prepared to pay for that information, to make better business decisions.
These three things are important.
How can we help entrepreneurs to prepare for these three things?
One needs to invest their time to do research and development. There is no excuse for us today. The Internet provides a lot of this information. There trends that you can look at. You can look at industry news and information. You want to do a survey, or market research. An understanding of the industry you want to going to and talk to people from this industry. This helps mitigate risk. If you have the knowledge of what you are getting into, you will reduce the risk in getting into business.
If we can identify that the market is already attractive, and if we go in and do not do it right, it might fail. Or we feel it is because we do not have the right strategy. It is not because the market is bad.
The crux is knowing how to tweak our business, knowing who our customers are, and wrapping our strategies around that. Our effort, energy, time, finance resources will be focused towards this target market.
What is the biggest roadblock for an entrepreneur to become successful?
They call this the negative aspects of many entrepreneurs, which is ego. For one, entrepreneurs think their ideas are the greatest. They refuse to tweak to what the market wants. Entrepreneurs have a desire to build something big. But they may not have the right resources, such as people, finance, to make it work.
How does the ego become a roadblock?
Some entrepreneurs think they’re the best.When they do not listen to input, that can be challenging. Some people may say the entrepreneur is extremely passionate and therefore is determined to make it work. Those are few numbers, when they have the capital to sustain.
Generally for most of us, when we start off, our limitation is capital. If you choose to invest $50k, you must recognise that this $50k will last you for awhile. If I were to be so stubborn, and refusing to listen to others, within a short period of time, you will realise your financial resources will shrink. That is the end of the journey. If every month I have cash flow, I can last much longer.
In every business, we are looking for something big. We hope to grow up very quickly. We also must understand there is a bread-and-butter. What will sustain us, for the first few months, is what gives us revenue. We need to build the foundation.
What can support the success of an entrepreneur?
There are two things. One, we need to allocate time for ourselves. If we were to use the 80/20 rule, 80% of the time we spend on our business. 20% of the time we spend the time to reflect on where we are and where we are going. This will help us attune and revamp strategies along the way.
Need to spend time on networking. Networking helps open up the market and look at different perspectives. In the network, you can speak to entrepreneurs who have succeeded and who have gone through the same pains of the new entrepreneur. Also take the time to look at new market space, such as observing competitors and trends. From there, You can start to move towards the right strategy.
In the next five or seven years, what do you foresee are the important knowledge or skills that an entrepreneur must acquire?
In the future, technology space will become critical and an important ingredient for success. It helps us leap and connect to consumers, not only the space we are working in but also globally.
There will be psychographic changes in the consumers. Psychographic means demographic changes, preferences, Behaviour and taste of your target market. Today’s consumers evolve quickly. There are many ferocious competitors, that outliers enter the same market space.
Any parting advice?
You need to understand the why you start your business. It can be a lonely process. Sometimes, you may not get the support you need. You must be able to stand and say the reason why you started this. You need to understand your motivation. At moments when you feel down, you need to remember this. I recommend you write down your why statements. Put it on a poster size in your room and reflect on it every day.
Constantly observe and listen to your consumers. When consumers complain, they are giving you feedback. Listen to them. Be observant to the competing landscapes.
When you have a great business, they’ll be many competitors who coming into your space. Be clear of their value proposition and look at how you can be ahead of them.
Suppliers have a good understanding of competition and the market landscape. It is good that you spend once a month to touch base with your suppliers and listen to them. Staff feedback is also important.
Have a buddy. Have a mentor. They remind and assure you of the process of becoming an entrepreneur. When you see their success and understand their journey, it gives you assurance that you are not alone.
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Ling Ling loves to learn new things and discover what makes people tick. There is nothing greater than helping others discover and live up to their potential. She believes that life long learning is the key to personal growth, work/life satisfaction and well-being.
Ling Ling is one of the very few independent female podcaster, based in Singapore. She run the The Podcast Collective Circle with Lean In to encourage and support women to be come podcasters.
Ling Ling is the Director of Spark Learning Solutions, a learning and development company that focuses on the development of cultural intelligence, intercultural competence and cross-cultural effectiveness of talents, leaders and organisations globally.
Listen to the introductory episode to learn more.