Gender Talk- By Nayomini Weerasooriya
Entrepreneurship is alive and well in Sri Lanka – especially the start-ups initiated by enterprising young women. Every day, you hear of one more designer boutique, one more cupcake venture and one more young woman, talented, ambitious and capable, announce launching her own brand or her own label.
An entrepreneur spirit is well and good; it speaks volumes for the country’s ability to produce entrepreneurs. It also augurs well for the business environment to have so many young men and women engaging in entrepreneurial ventures that will build a strong base for micro business opportunities. But that’s not all – while it is good to be optimistic, too many young women make the mistake of going head first into a new territory with less caution and more enthusiasm than a level head.
Let’s face it – doing business is tough. It is no land of roses – while the victories are sweet, the challenges are many. In fact, too many. And as the joke goes, while what the person next to you ordered from the menu looks good, it doesn’t mean it will necessarily taste right for you. Put in a nutshell, too many young people make mistakes in building the business – they start off well enough but before long, the dip comes and so does their learning curve. It’s a tough world – and there are more takers than givers.
Common mistakes start-ups make
Let’s look at a few common mistakes start-ups make – overcoming them is not difficult and when your entrepreneurial talents are under fire, you can easily pick up the pieces and move on. It takes experience, expertise and enthusiasm yes, but also determination and a strong resolve to see things through and plough on to eventual success.
Doing what everyone else is doing – This is a potential minefield. While what everyone else is doing (fashion boutiques, salons and spas, cupcake shops, Italian restaurants and the many multitudes of ‘fashionable’ businesses) looks trendy and interesting and even profitable, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will succeed at it too. You have to do your homework – study the market, the business. Is there room for one more operator – will the business grow or am I going in for a slice of the existing market which doesn’t mean much in the long run. Can the business survive the competition? Are you happy being one more frog in the pond or do you want to be the only frog in the pond?
Focus on what you are good at – Discover your talent. Are you good at something? Focus on your talent and put that to work. It doesn’t have to be what someone else is doing. It can be totally new and innovative but if you fulfill a customer need with the service you provide based on your talent, you will have a thriving business. I have witnessed so many innovative new start-ups coming up with startling success – one venture that made a lasting impression was the ‘achcharu’ vendor. He had a multitude of ‘achcharus’ (pickles) for sale in modern plastic cans and he was doing good business. He identified a need and found a novel business to fulfill it.
Get the numbers right – Every business needs good financials. Any business that is not based on sound financial principles will face trouble. Make sure you can start, stay afloat and make a decent return. That’s what businesses do – they turn in a profit. No one runs a business for fun – there’s too much at stake for that. Make sure you have a clear idea of what the costs, the returns and recovery of your investment are and then venture into it.
Plan a realistic business model – Be pragmatic. Building a business and keeping it running takes vision yes, but it also takes a whole lot of practical down to earth business sense. You can float on cloud nine for perhaps the first month of the splashy launch but when crunch time comes, you need to have enough sensibility to know whether to go into flight or fight mode.
Keep the business as a separate entity – Running a business is tough – you need to be disciplined financially and otherwise. From day one, the business is best kept apart from your personal life. Good businesses are not extensions of their owners or investors. Good businesses will reinforce the image of their owners yes, but it should not be used as a personal achievement. Instead, if you succeed in building a sound business, you will be recognized for the talent, ability and success you have displayed in doing so.
Plan for the long term – Too many young people lose track of the long haul. Stay focused on building and sustaining it. That focus will help you overcome challenges and stay on course. It will also encourage you to reach for the sky so that even if you miss the sky, you will still have the stars.
Most of all, running a business and watching it grow gives you the experience and the expertise that no text-book will ever teach. For entrepreneurship to grow, you need to water it right and keep in on the right track.
(Nayomini, a senior journalist, writer and a PR professional can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)