All entrepreneurs know the moment when they decided to give up the daily grind. They remember with crystal clarity the moment that the germ of an idea formed in their mind that would go on to form the basis of their business plan. The chances are you’ve already had that moment, that initial spark of inspiration, and now you’re on your way to setting up your very own business. Maybe you’re a new mother on maternity leave who doesn’t relish the thought of returning to work and has chosen instead to devote her efforts to setting up a business of her own. Maybe you’ve worked in a small business for some time now and know how it works well enough that you want to strike out on your own. Maybe you’ve spotted a gap in the market and invented a product that the world desperately needs. Whatever your initial spark of inspiration has been, a quick trawl of the internet has no doubt proven that you owe it to yourself and the world to start your own business.
And… they’re probably right. After all, small businesses are important. They’re good for the national economy, they stimulate economic growth and set a positive example to other budding entrepreneurs who worry about their ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with the corporate giants that dominate the market. It’s easy to become swept up in an all-consuming entrepreneurial fervour. Unfortunately, this fervour is easily quenched when you consider a lot of the brutal realities of the 21st century business climate.
The harsh realities
Even if you have a revolutionary business idea, the deck is heavily stacked against you, especially if you don’t have a lot of your own capital to invest in the business. In fact, if you don’t have a lot of your own capital, a combination of increasingly gunshy business lenders and an unforgivingly harsh economy can kill your idea before it’s even born. Even applying for European Union trademark registration can be beyond the budget of some cash strapped entrepreneurs. Keeping the flame of entrepreneurship alive can be hard when repeated applications for funding are denied, business advisors and consultants pick holes in your business plan and cash flow projections and all around you small businesses of all sorts fail in their droves.
When you feel that there’s no point in continuing and you’re asking yourself why you even bothered in the first place, here are some inspiring small business success stories that will hopefully rekindle that entrepreneurial flame even when things seem at their bleakest. While you may not be able to emulate their success, there are lessons to be learned from each of these that can be incorporated into your business strategy.
The Tasty Truth
It takes colossal fortitude to introduce a product into an already overcrowded market. It takes a strong USP, unwavering belief in your products and the tenacity to fight for your product and make a whole lot of noise on social media. That was what made Tasty Brand so successful that it made 7 figure profits in its first year (2011). Its founders, Shanan Swanson and Liana Weintraub were two friends and mothers who grew tired of label checking when it came to finding quality organic foods for their children. Identifying this gap in the market they created a brand that slotted neatly into this gap and went on to achieve success despite numerous setbacks and hardships.
Never underestimate the importance of noticing a gap in the market. Just think how many products and services we use on a daily basis that didn’t even exist 15-25 years ago. From computer programmer Pierre Omidyar, who started auctioning off old stuff on his personal website which resonated so strongly that it became eBay to Matt Maloney and Mike Evans who got tired of calling round local restaurants to see which offered takeout and spotting this gap in the market went on to form GrubHub. GrubHub is now a publicly owned company and is currently valued at over $3bn.
The Adafruit example
If you go into a business plan with the goal of making money, don’t be surprised if you’re overworked and miserable, even if your business manages to achieve success. Your business plan should not only identify a gap in the market but play to your strengths, skills, education and experience. Look at the example of Limor Fried who used her engineering and computer science skills to build her business Adafruit. If you’ve a passion to start your business without vast sums of capital, Fried’s story represents a massively successful example of bootstrapping. Adafruit sells bespoke computer engineering solutions for businesses and individuals. Not only does this fill a gap in the market it can also help to facilitate individual and business success and foster innovation.
Follow The Baby Einstein Example
Sometimes the value lies not in finding a gap in the market, but in looking at something that a product or range of products that already exists and doing it better. There are a whole range of educational toys and games for infants, but the frustration at the quality of what was on offer led Julie Aigner-Clark to form her business Baby Einstein. The business produces books and videos that teach children about art, poetry and language in an entertaining and accessible way. The project started life in Aigner-Clark’s basement and went on to become a multi million dollar enterprise.
Above all, follow your passion
Innovation and playing to your personal skills are very important, but there’s no ingredient to business success more vital than passion. Passion in your product and what you do will carry you through failures and help you to appreciate moments of success. Look at Chris Zane of Zane’s Cycles who invested a family loan in building a business around his passion for cycling and bikes. The business is currently worth over $20M.
There’s no shortcut to success. It requires a strong sense of self belief, dogged determination and a lot, a lot of hard work. Nonetheless, if you use these success stories as sterling examples of what can be done in spite of the same kinds of hardships that you and your business currently face.