Journey of a Serial Entrepreneur

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How to get from where you are to where you want to be

5 Common Entrepreneurial Frustrations

“All that is necessary to break the spell of inertia and frustration is to — act as if it were impossible to fail.” Dorothea Brande

Lets face it, we all have days when things do not go as planned. We only know they did not go as planned, because we have something to compare them with…… days, everything went right. To experience life to its fullest we have to see it from all perspectives. The way we handle difficult situations shapes the course of our lives. Some of us choose the easier option, and do not experience life to its fullest, by preventing ourselves to be placed in vulnerable situations . If you are contemplating taking the path of entrepreneurship,  handling being placed in these awkward situations is what it is all about. Below I have listed five common frustrations which I  have experienced on my journey;

1. Idea Generation: This process can be extremely frustrating for individuals or teams if dragged over a long period of time . This is an important stage and opportunity, to gather all those thoughts in your head, put them onto a piece of paper and make sense of them. This process requires continuous action, it cannot be limited to a conference room! To read more about the frustrations of idea generation please click here.

2. Lack of Resources: Managing limited resources in a startup is always a challenge. When this challenge begins to hinder your drive and motivation to move forward,  is when frustrations set in. The idea of managing your business with an unlimited budget is an attractive one, it also comes with its own set of challenges. We have to stop blaming the lack of resources as the only reason for lack of success. Success depends on having a good team, good ideas, in the right market. To read more about managing frustrations due to a lack of resources please click here.

3. Team Dynamics: A major sources of frustration for startups arise when teams stop working well together. This often happens with a misalignment of value systems and goals. Couple this situation with poor leadership, and frustrations are bound to run high. Team development from the onset is a very important aspect of getting the success formula right. To read more about how to handle frustrations caused by team dynamics please click here.

4. Lack of Sales: If you have been through the arduous task of writing a business plan, getting a team together, and, despite every effort, have been coming up short, frustration is inevitable. However, if you let this frustration bog you down, it will convert into a continuous downward spiral which could result in eventual failure for your organization. Focusing energy on analysing why this situation occurred will result in more positive and constructive discussions and could solve your particular predicament. To read more on how to handle frustration caused by a lack of sales click here.

5. Time Management: If you constantly feel that you do not have time for the important aspects of your life, there is something very wrong here. The misallocation of precious resources often results in being frustrated, grouchy and generally not very happy about life. We need to learn how to allocate this resource more intelligently to enjoy life. This will only happen when we prioritize aspects which are important to us and allocate time likewise. To read more about handling frustration caused by misallocation of time please click here.

 Letting frustrations bring us down, means, we are essentially giving up on our dreams. It is easy to throw in the towel and blame everyone else for why success is not coming our way. It takes a lot more courage to face adversity head on and tell yourself , “I am going to get through this”. Thats what entrepreneurs are, anomalies in the system, who have the extraordinary ability to adapt and change according to circumstances. The word “quitting” does not exist in our vocabulary, if we decide to get something, then there will be little rest till we reach our end goal. Team squabbles, resources or unfavorable circumstances are tests which we must overcome. The next time you feel frustrated and ask yourself “Why”,  decide what you can do about it, rather than what it is doing to you!

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If only we had more time!

The great dividing line between success and failure can be expressed in five words: “I did not have time.” Franklin Field

Time and its correct management is a frustration felt by people from every walk of life. Time moves at an almost blistering pace, due to which one often loses track of it and suddenly, the day, week, month or even year has passed you by. It is amazing how, with all the conveniences we have in the 21st century, it has somehow managed to shrink the time available to us, rather than increase it. The entrepreneur also faces this challenge, often the inability to correctly manage our time leads to massive amounts of frustration.

Take my own example, I am constantly battling to manage my time across the multiple facets of my life. There are stretches where I experience disconnects from certain aspects of my life. It is not hard to get so caught up in the daily struggle, that you lose sight of the bigger picture. There are a huge number of stories regarding time management, one I read a couple of weeks ago stuck with me. In a nutshell, the story explained how we are often so involved in our lives, that it takes a brick to be thrown at us to slow us down. (Actual Story) What happens is, we forget to live in the present because we are so busy making plans for the future. Whenever I have talked to people who have followed this path, many of them did not get that sense of satisfaction when they eventually made it to the finish line of the race they wanted to win. 

Learn how to balance your life as soon as possible. I have found that people who complain about managing their time, are the ones who do not allocate it usage well . In the end, it comes down to how disciplined you are, and also to realize how precious every moment of life is. When people ask me question about when they should start their own business, I have a standard response in most circumstance….”as soon as possible”. Sitting on the fence ,debating whether to jump in or wait for the “right time” is just an excuse. If you want to find time for something, you have to make a concentrated effort to make it. Otherwise, it will be just another thing which will continue to drag along and frustrate you further.

For those who are currently managing their own business and are finding it difficult to manage time, the first thing you need to do is to take a step back. Find out what you really want to achieve in life, then picture the life that you want to have. Next you will have to see how you prioritize your time according to the life you want to be leading in the future. Learn not to make excuses about not having time for this or that. If that something is a thing you value highly, make sure you make the time. It is only when you find equilibrium in  all aspects of life will you be able to lead a richer, happier and more productive life. If you have not prioritized what is important to you, I would strongly urge you to do that right now and make sure that you allocate your time likewise.

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5 Steps to Manage Your Time Better

 

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Why isn’t anyone buying?

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” Lou Holtz

This statement may color and trouble your thoughts, be it in a team discussion or over a cup of coffee with your significant other, and can be a significant driver of frustration on your startup journey. It troubled me greatly at the start of my journey. We would get everything ready, ranging from basic operational procedures to our sales and marketing strategies, however, when we put ourselves out there, no one was biting. Put yourself in the shoes of individuals who have dedicated 6-8 months straight in developing a product/service and get nothing but “maybe’s” during their sales cycle. This is fairly major frustration. This happened to me a couple of times in my earlier ventures and really got to me. It affected both my performance at work as well as my personal life. 

What happens at this point is, we begin to play the blame game. The market is lousy, we don’t have adequate resources, our competition is too strong or we are too inexperienced. This attitude permeates into other areas of life, you are more tense, short tempered and life loses its flavor. All that energy which had you jumping off the walls six months ago seems a distant  memory. What often happens at this point is,  you begin to lose hope and if left unchecked, eventually call it quits. This is a familiar scenario as it has happened to me in the past. Today, I work with a different perspective, slowly realizing that doing business is one thing and doing it successfully requires a completely different level of patience, persistence and belief.

Instead of blaming your circumstances and other factors, there are several more constructive questions and pointers you can look into, to find out the reason your product/service is not hitting your level of expectation:

1. Product/Service: Were your initial market demand estimates overly optimistic? Is the market for your product not as developed as expected? Take all this feedback and put it to use by adjusting your product/service to the market requirement . If the market is completely undeveloped, look for ways you can carve out a niche, if it is cost feasible. Remember to pay attention to both your product, as well as market requirements.

2. Positioning: A lot of the time, due to lack of experience, or market knowledge, we position our product/services towards a wrong segment of the market. If you experience sub par performance, evaluate your current target market to determine if the right one had been selected. Positioning your product towards different segments of the market is also a strategy you can look into. 

3. Pricing: Have you overpriced your product/service? Does the market understand the value that they get for paying a premium price? Getting answers to these questions, from prospects, could help you develop products/services which cater towards their needs as well as an acceptable price level . Have a strategy for the reason you price your product/service a certain way and make sure that it fits into the bigger picture.

4. Promotion: Have you put yourself out there? How are you marketing and promoting your product/service? What strategies have you used and what sort of return have you got on them? What are new strategies you can use to promote your product/service to your target segment. A lot of the time, we forget the fundamentals, promotion must be incorporated into your strategy if you want to drive sales. 

There is no doubt in my mind that you will get frustrated when your sales pipeline is not moving. When this happens, remind yourself, that to achieve great things in life you need to give it your best too. It works hand in hand, a half hearted attempt or lack of belief in the product/service will result in average results which leave you in a state of limbo. Trust me the younger you start on the journey the better, take advantage of fewer responsibilities. Keep in mind, most of the time we quit when we are really close to breaking the barrier holding us back. Do not make that mistake!

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5 Steps to Closing your First Deal

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5 Steps to Close Your First Sale

“Victory is sweetest when you’ve known defeat.” Malcom Forbes

Closing your first sale is one of the greatest highs you experience in your journey as an entrepreneur. It is a validation of your skills, passion and commitment to achieving something more than just the ordinary in life. There is no doubt that the journey to this milestone is a challenging one, it will test to the max and you will be able to gauge whether you have it in you to actually persevere and reach your goal. Having been through this exercise, I am now part of other teams on this leg of their journey I have put together a list of five concepts which have helped me .

1. Envision it: Before starting this journey, clearly identify where you want to go, how you want to get there and by when. Establish a picture of the entire process to enable you to visualize how you want everything to work. Once you have this image deeply embedded in your subconscious, you are ready to begin your journey. To read more about envisioning the sales process please click here.

2. Be Proactive: To be able to reach any goal in life you have to take action. Without it you will not be able to gather the momentum that is required to close that first deal and then successive deals after that. There is a need to be continuously proactive if you want to have success in any part of your life. If you want to achieve your goals and close that sale, you need to start taking responsibility for your success and action, today. To read tips on becoming more proactive please click here.

3. Ask: If you have hit a point where you are meeting a lot of people, pitching your idea and getting some interest but no sales then you are not asking for the sale correctly. Subconsciously we do not want to be the pushy salesperson . We begin to let this thought influence the sales pitch process and what happens is that the prospect is never really posed the question to buy. You need to start asking for the sale much more proactively to start closing deals. To read more about asking for the sale please click here.

4. Patience: There will be times during this journey where you will get frustrated, irritated and sometimes quite angry because you are unable to hit your targets and goals. This impacts detrimentally on the entire sales process as it decreases productivity, efficiency and your positivity. Having patience during this journey will be critical in your progress, remember, research shows that we usually quit just before we are about to hit something really big. To read more about this critical success factor please click here.

5. Learn from Failures: There is no failure only feedback. When times are tough, patience is low and we face setbacks, an entrepreneur starts to question everything. We begin to start blaming external factors, our team, our product or the economy. However this stance will not change the outcome or increase the probability of your closing the sale. You need to take the failures that you face and convert them into feedback to help you succeed. To read about strategies to convert failures into feedback please click here.

I sincerely believe that by following these steps coupled with hard work, determination and belief in your capabilities you will achieve your goals. We have to stop making excuses for ourselves and playing the blame game. If we truly want to succeed we have to do whatever it takes. Believe in yourself, your product/service and the your ability to successfully sell. No hurdle will be too high and when you finally get there, embrace the moment. Be thankful that you have been given the opportunity to prove yourself because, believe me, the journey is just starting, and it doesn’t become any easier!

I wish all of you the best of luck!

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There is no Failure only Feedback

“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” Dale Carnegie

If there are 6 words which have truly helped me in my journey as an entrepreneur to date, they are, “There is no Failure only Feedback”. They have allowed me to flip just about any situation when things are not doing well and I begin to doubt myself. The process of doubt starts with losing a sale when you were relatively close to finalising it.  The world seems to come crashing down at this point . You start to wonder about your future as an entrepreneur or in sales, next, you start to doubt the viability of what you are selling. You begin to blame all sorts of external circumstances for the situation you are in and, motivation, productivity and optimism take a nose dive.

During my second start company which was in the Import/Export business I experienced this situation at the beginning. Disillusioned at this, because of the success of my prior company I began to wonder what was happening and I started blaming everyone apart from myself. At this point a close friend who has done very well for himself in the same line of work, gave me some much needed advice. When I explained the situation to him, he reaffirmed my share of bad luck but helped me understand that my attitude towards failure was the real culprit. I had begun to take it too personally and it began to blur everything around me to a point where I was unable to put myself in a position to close that sale. He left me with the advice to use each one of my failures as feedback to refine my approach in the future.

At first it was confusing, I was not being given any apparent reason when I missed an opportunity. How was I supposed to get feedback? That is when the lightbulb went off in my head. I started asking myself the right questions which then led us to develop customer feedback forms on marketing material, presentations, quality, price and overall satisfaction. I started to listen to what my customers wanted and how we could position ourselves to fulfilling these requests. That was a turnaround for me in my journey and now, when I speak to, listen or read about successful entrepreneurs there is a common thread “Failures are pillars to your success”, we have to respond to them in the correct manner to make sure that we learn, adapt and provide what the market truly wants.

If you haven’t had success in closing your first deal yet, break down your current sales process from start to the finish. Get feedback, talk to individuals who have had success in that area, survey your target segment and figure out ‘Why your customers are not buying from you ?’. Then, use that information to adjust your sales process to get the results you want!

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The Key to Success

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.” Anonymous

During the tizzy of making a prospect list, calling potential clients and fanatically focusing on closing that first deal we forget a fundamental concept which will in turn be a fundamental component in your final sale,  that is, “Patience”. Earlier on, we established the need to set SMART deadlines to reach our goal. Setting that goal does not mean however that you immediately make a dash for it in a 400m race. If you do, by mid race you will run out of steam, and that will drastically impact the probability of closing a deal within your specified time frame.

From the word ‘go’ roadblocks will be encountered along the way, unless these are faced with patience it will be difficult to reach your goal. It is definitely not fun when you make 4 calls without generating any interest, I know the feeling . However it is usually a later call where you actually hit something. If we lose patience, it directly impacts our ability to move forward effectively and in a positive and persistent manner.

During the next couple of stages in the sales process whether it is pitching, negotiating or managing a client as sales individuals or entrepreneurs, patience is definitive for productivity. Rushing in and giving too many discounts, negotiating too quickly or getting fed up with a clients constant complaining will lead to leaving money on the table and not building the sort of relationships which will be based on an equal footing in the future.

Sales is a challenging process and securing that first deal seems almost impossible at times. You need to remember to pace yourself during the process, pay attention to details without rushing through the process. This will not only be a more satisfying process, I have found it provides you with a level of inner peace and calmness which helps you focus and eventually get that sale a lot more efficiently, effectively and often at a quicker pace. If you want to succeed at anything in life remember,  “Patience” is going to be a critical success factor. Best of luck!

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Ask and you shall receive

“To solve any problem, here are three questions to ask yourself: First, what could I do? Second, what could I read? And third, who could I ask?” Jim Rohn

You have got a sales appointment to meet the decision maker. The initiatives which you took in the last step are paying dividends. The sales pitch goes off well, there is excitement in the room and after a few words at the end of the meeting you are told they will be in touch. Feeling good about the pitch and thinking that the probability of securing the client is high, you are disappointed when there is no follow up from the client and after a while, the lead goes dead. This happened several times at the start of my journey and I always wondered what went wrong. I was really happy when I learned the answer to this conundrum.

An experienced entrepreneur I spoke to asked me whether I had been “Asking for the sale?”. Initially the question was confusing, but when I started to put the pieces together it made a lot more sense. I realised that whenever I was pitching to clients and enthusiasm was generated, I did not focus on closing the deal. I never asked the client for the sale! Psychologically I was avoiding being the pushy salesman, afraid the client would say the dreaded word ‘NO’. As a result I was repeatedly leaving money on the table by not asking the right questions.

Armed with this advice I went back to my script and practiced closing strategies for sales pitches. There are many interesting articles and training courses out there on closing strategies. I have taken the Neuro Linguistic Programming which has helped me tremendously. I have since formulated a way to subtly and politely ask the client for their business at the end of the presentation. Initially it felt strange and I was not  confident about asking, however, over time I have honed my skills. Now ,it has become second nature for me to go into a presentation and confidently, politely and subtly ask the client for their business.

The next time you are making a client presentation, make sure you formulate a strategy to ask the client to give you their business. You will not always win the business, however, through this process you will learn what you could be doing differently and then go back and ask for it again which should win you the contract!

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Be Proactive

 

“You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.” Anthony Robbins

You have developed your product/service, have your pitch ready, and are ready to go. Unfortunately, customers don’t usually start banging on your door as soon as you announce your product/service to the world. If you are serious about getting that first sale, and more importantly getting it soon, you need to put yourself out there. Take the initiative to set a target, get a list together and start making those calls and visits to prospects. This is the only way you are going to see momentum in your business. Don’t worry about refining it to perfection, you need to go out there and see what the market thinks about it. Writing story boards and doing research from the comfort of your office is important, but you need to start taking action if you are want to see results. Listed below are a couple of pointers to get you started:

1. Set SMART targets: To get to any destination, you first need to know where you are going, what route to follow and an approximate lenght of time to get there. Charting the course of your first sale works pretty much in the same manner. Set yourself aggressive goals which are time bound. Specific targets keep you more focused and create a greater urgency to get things accomplished within stipulated time frames.

2. Put a list together: Do an industry analysis and select an industry in which you believe your product/service will have the greatest uptake. This will lead naturally to the next step, which is creating a list of prospective companies you can visit in this industry. After the completion of this list of companies, chart out references or friends you may leverage on to approach these companies. This step creates a greater degree of focus and increases the likelihood of closing a deal at a faster pace.

3. Start making those calls: Pick up the phone and start making calls to references, friends or directly to the company to get appointments or even sales. At this stage, you really kick it up a gear as you are now in direct contact with target customers. The impressions you make at this stage will be critical, especially if you are a new company. Have a scripted pitch which should not sound too rehearsed, be very polite and execute it all with the utmost professionalism. Follow each call with standardized follow up emails and start  building connections to get closer to closing that first deal.

4. Network Endlessly: If you are not selling, you should be networking. Use tools such as linkedin to help expand your current professional network. This expansion helps you get more qualified leads, greater access to a much wider net of companies and the opportunity to get your product/service known in the market without spending too much on advertising. The next time you get an invitation to mixers or industry specific conferences, use these opportunities to go out there and get known in the market place.

Use this list to get started. This is not the time to procrastinate. If you want success, you need to be willing to go out there are start looking for it. There is no better time than now to start your sales campaign!

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SMART Goal Setting

Industry Identification

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Envision It!

“Envisioning the end is enough to put the means in motion.” Dorthea Brande

You call up the 4th prospect on your list and rattle off the perfectly rehearsed pitch you have been using for the last few months, day after day. All of a sudden, the prospect starts to show interest in what you are saying….you seem to have hit a chord somewhere and the best part is, you can sense it. The phone call ends on a positive note and more information is requested via email. An hour after you have the sent the mail the client, the large multinational, says they would like to speak with you in greater detail. Its an eerie feeling, the realization that you may actually have hit home and the butterflies let loose.

You arrive at the customers office, adrenaline is rushing through your body, however, you are willing yourself to be calm and confident as you have given this pitch many a time. You meet the team you are presenting to and straight off the bat you can feel the chemistry. The presentation goes well and all the verbal and non verbal cues confirm your initial vibes. During the question and answer session you face the standard questions, you have the answers, backed by much hard work and research. You close the meeting, with the client asking for time to make their decision. For a split second you think, will this end up like all the other dead ends, or was it truly different. You then make  a conscious decision to stay positive on this one.

The next morning you have an email waiting for you from the client requesting a quotation. Negotiations move quickly through the course of the day and you feel like you are on cloud nine. All those days where you were frustrated, angry and even demotivated, are already a distant memory. By the day’s end, you get the email you have been waiting for….a confirmation to move forward and a signed agreement. Sitting there , looking at the computer screen you are in a momentary daze that seems to last forever. A million thoughts are firing off in your mind relating to steps for moving forward, the realization that you have done it and a euphoric sense of happiness. You let go and for the first time in months there is a feeling of…..freedom.

Congratulations, you have cleared one of the steepest hurdles in your initial journey as an entrepreneur. This is the beginning of many more and now you know a bit more on how to get there. For those of you who have not reached this milestone yet and are working towards it, stop whatever you are doing right now. Close your eyes and envision closing your first sale in detail, start from the beginning and go through the entire sales process. Identify all the emotions, the verbal and non verbal cues, once the image is clear, hold it, you now have a roadmap to get to where you want to be ! Best of luck in your journey!

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The Elusive First Sale

“Remember, you only have to succeed the last time.” Brian Tracy

Having been in the position of pushing myself to close that elusive first deal as also managing people who are striving to hit that landmark milestone, I have developed this strange love hate relationship with this stage in a startups life. When I look back to my first startup where we were a selling designing and printing service, I realise what a great learning experience it was for all of us. We were a bunch of 21 year old students with no background, no experience and no past clientele. We had to figure out very quickly what aspect we could compete with our competitors on, it turned out to be customer service. Our entire business model worked because being university based we could cater to the large design and print requirements of the university in a more personalized manner.

It took us around 4 months to close our first ‘real’ deal. We were constantly pushed around, looked down upon, our calls were not returned and most importantly we were constantly pressured to reduce our prices because we were ‘students’. So given all of that, you are probably wondering what the ‘love’ aspect for this stage in a startup is. It came from the fact that for the first time in our lives we had to prove to ourselves that we could do something on our own. Call it ego, inner strength or a magical drive, there was a voice inside you which kept on saying “You Can Do This”. That is the voice which has helped me stay the course as an entrepreneur.

Over the course of this week, I am going to outline some basic but fundamental concepts which need to be kept in mind when you are in the position of pushing yourself or your team to close that first deal. This is a time in entrepreneurial life where will, determination and drive are tested to the limit. This is  a defining and testing time to check whether you have it in you or not, this is the stage where many discover that this path was not meant for them. Use this stage in your startup life to identify within yourself  what drives you, how you face adversity and what your threshold levels actually are. Most importantly enjoy this time, discover if you can learn to love what you do. In the end, that is all that matters. When you do something you love doing, you will never have to work another day in your life. Best of luck!

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