When starting a business, it is important to know where you fit in and how you can differentiate yourself.
As most entrepreneurs do, I suppose, I thought my idea was brilliant! I was so smart, I came up with solution that no one bothered to think of! Yeah… that’s rarely true. Chances are someone out there, somewhere else in the world, beat you to it. In my case there was already a website that lists all the funders in South Africa. Of course, I had to check out my competition. I tested the website out and in my view, it wasn’t user friendly, the user interface had cartoon characters (which I thought was patronizing) and the information was not comprehensive. I obviously had to make sure my website was going to be DIFFERENT and BETTER; so back to the drawing board I went.
I actually watched a Ted Talk that being second is a good thing as you learn from the other’s mistakes.
While there were many websites out there that offer information to entrepreneurs, none of them offer a holistic approach. Rather, they would focus on one or two challenges faced by entrepreneurs and specialize in that. There is of course merit in specialization, but no single one stop shop that coordinated all this information that existed.
Also, these websites are one dimensional. One thing I knew for sure was that I did not want a website that was flat and one sides- people like interaction and engagement. I thus thought that I should incorporate a social network element to my website- where entrepreneurs can create profile and interact with one another- and my website. This should promote more regular engagement (i.e. traffic) with my website and in turn drive up advertising revenue. I should also be able to better understand my customers this way.
In August 2016 I decided to apply for a day’s leave to attend the Small Business Expo at the CTICC, hosted by National Small Business Chamber. I figured that this would be a great way to network with both Enablers (the exhibitors) and Entrepreneurs (the attendees). I had two objectives: identify any new Enablers and test my website idea on the Enablers (organisations enabling small business development) and Entrepreneurs.
When I approached an exhibitor I would first ask them a few questions about who they are and what they offer. Next I asked them about their marketing strategy. Without divulging too much about my business idea, I asked them to imagine an expo just like this, expect it is entirely online. Similarly, you have entrepreneurs visiting the website and companies exhibiting their offering. Would you perhaps look at advertising on this website? I would ask them. Depending on who I spoke to, the answers varied from despondence, indifference, amenable to enthusiastic. Where relevant or useful, I took their feedback on board.
There was one incident that got me super excited. Long story short, I spoke to the head of marketing for a SME segment of one of the big listed companies in SA and rest of Africa. When she heard my (brief) idea, she was so excited saying that I was the only entrepreneur she met that day that came to the expo not just to find out what I can get but what I can offer others. I can’t describe how excited this women was- she told me to invite her on Linked-in, she gave me her personal contact details, told me to email her, invited me to a networking event, emphasized how interested she was in promoting women in IT, and that I should enter this competition/programme they were running. I left the expo with such high spirits- wow imagine partnering/collaborating with such a big and reputable company! …but when I tried reaching her on email and phone on various occasions, she was nowhere to be found… and never to be heard from again… what an anticlimax… oh well, just had to brush it off, keep my head up high and continue working on my dream.
Fake till you make it
I don’t know about you, but I find businesses with gmail address so unprofessional. Gives it such a “fly by night” persona. I made sure this was not going to be my company’s brand. Luckily, seeing that my business is an online one, I naturally created a website and an associated email address. So that wasn’t too much of a problem.
But what about a physical address? Home address is a no no. Through my research for Entri I came across this concept of a “Virtual Office”, most of these co-working offices have them. Essentially, you pay a small fee (much cheaper than physical rent) and you get to use their physical address (you can get really upmarket addresses). They’ll even accept your mail too. But what really sold me was the receptionist and dedicated telephone extension. So if clients call you on your “landline”, the receptionist will answer in your company name, tell them that you are “in a meeting” or “offsite” and that you will return their call later. The receptionist will then take down a message for you and email it to you. I mean, how awesome it that?!
I found one of these close to my work (i.e. day job). They were awesome. It was R500 per month for this offering at the time. I thought this was decent price to pay considering that it will basically make my business appear more legit and essentially lead to more business.
In hindsight, it actually did not make much sense to take out a virtual office while I was still in development phase. The only people I was working with were my freelance staff and they couldn’t care less if I had a fancy receptionist or not. So I cancelled my subscription after a few months. Money down the drain. Oh well, at least you guys can learn from my mistake. See the post I wrote on Alternative Workspaces for Entrihub.
I’d revisit this idea at a later stage.
When people Google “Entrihub” I wanted my company details to pop up on the right side of the page. Again, this would make me look me legit. For this, Google requires that you have a physical address. So armed with my “virtual office” credentials, I could apply for this. So, I signed up for Google Business. For Google to verify your address, they physically post you a letter… like in the post! In this letter, is a code that you have to submit back to Google, and bam! You are verified business. It’s super easy. It just takes long because of the physical postage thing. But now my business looks so much more professional with contact details and operating hours- it just shows that I mean business, ya know?
But alas, when I cancelled by virtual office contract, I no longer had an address. I maintain that putting your home address is not a good idea (I’m paranoid like that), so my business page thingy got taken down *sigh*