You’re enjoying maternity leave and toying with the idea of starting your own business so you can have the flexibility to spend time with your baby. But where do you start? By Thobeka Phanyeko
Your priorities inevitably change the moment you become a mom, so ideas that may have been lingering in the back of your mind may suddenly take centre stage. Having your own business will allow you more flexibility, but it can also be daunting.
These steps will help you feel more confident about navigating the entrepreneurial space.
Prepare for the journey
Life coach and founder of Success Coaching Jason Bernic says it’s imperative to take a realistic approach when embarking on an entrepreneurial journey. He suggests asking yourself the following questions, “Are you ready to spend less time with your kids? How are you feeling about entering the workplace again? What skills do you have? What have you done in the past? What are your qualifications? What do you want to do? What’s your current mindset? What are your energy levels like? What excites you? What life do you want to live? How many hours do you want to work in a day or week? Are you working for money or passion? What’s your vision? And what kind of work/life balance are you seeking?”
Work on your idea
Once you’ve established that this is the path you want to pursue, identify a gap in the market where you believe your product or service will add value to people’s lives. The next step would be to sell your idea. You will need to draft a pitch for this.
Cape Town-based life coach and leadership mentor Julia Fourie explains the pitch should focus on your target market by ensuring what you’re saying is aligned to their needs and the solution you have. She says it’s easy to forget about the “end user” you’re designing your product for, so focus on getting user feedback before you finalise your pitch. “Make sure to focus on the solution and how this helps them versus focusing only on the product − you need to make the connection for the end user, don’t expect them to just get it.”
Visit business-plan.co.za to learn more about this process and download a template.
Find your why
The intention behind turning your idea into a business is what will help you make good decisions and stay on track. Are you starting a business because you need a career change? Do you feel your priorities have changed, or do you need an additional source of income to sustain your lifestyle? Jot down your reasons and don’t censor yourself, because getting to the core of what drives you will help get you through turbulent times in business.
Do market research
Put your feelers out to discover if there is a need for your product. “You don’t need to pitch your product at this stage, but rather go to the people you believe would be your target market and find out what they’re currently using, what doesn’t work about it, what they have tried, what they would be willing to try and what is important for them in the solution,” says Julia. Focus on getting feedback and brace yourself for constructive criticism. “Consider this feedback when structuring and designing your product,” she adds.
Surveys are effective in terms of reaching different demographics and this will help you build a database of your target audience. When a survey is too long, people tend to lose interest quickly, so ask relevant questions to as many people as possible.
An online tool like my-echo.co.za is a great resource as it allows you to create email, SMS and web surveys, and receive responses in real time.
Create a website
It’s never too early to start thinking about a website as this creates an official presence for your business. You can also use it to host the link to a survey or a sign-up page for people who want to know when you’ll be launching. You can use your website to blog about the process of starting up and to build a relationship with your customers.
Decide if it’s time
Success Coach Tanya Haffern suggests taking your product or service to the market before launching. “Test the idea as well as the demand before you put too much time and effort into it,” she says. She further notes that entrepreneurs often fall in love with their “one big idea”, create the product or service and then try to force it onto the market. “It’s easier going about it the other way – checking demand before creating the product or service,” she adds.
It’s also important to know how to scale your business and the systems you need to have in place before launching. Tanya cautions that if you manage to launch and grow quickly, you’ll be scrambling to get all that in place, so it’s better to think about it all before you leap forward. “You need a basic accounting system and registering a company allows you to claim business-related expenses. Understand the difference between cash flow and profit, and keep a close eye on the finances of your business. Create monthly cash-flow projections and learn about income statements and balance sheets.” Excel is a great resource for managing budgets, as is an online accounting package like Sage, which you can use for time tracking, reporting, payments and invoicing among other services. You don’t need to have a financial background to navigate the site as it’s user friendly.
A basic business 101 course will help you wrap your head around this new venture. If you’ve secured a business loan, you should be well on your way. However, factor in the amount you’ll be paying back and for how long. Some lenders will give you a grace period of up to three months, which should allow your business to pick up.
But whether or not your business does well in this time frame, you’ll be expected to pay back the loan with interest. If this is a solo project, consider whether you can afford to launch by working out the costs of starting out and how you’ll survive the first few months of business.
“Don’t forget to reflect on other resources, too! How much time you would need to give, how long it would take to break even and how long it would take to get a return from the business, and reflect whether you’re fine with this commitment in terms of cash and time, and how long it will take before you see a return,” says Julia. Make a note of every item you’ll be spending money on in the start-up phase and in the future. Consider your household budget too, and see how much you can spare as this can help you decide whether you can afford to launch or not.
Believe in yourself and your idea
So you’ve done your research, but the self-doubt persists. This is completely natural when taking a big step. You’ll be going back and forth in your mind, mainly due to a fear of the unknown. But if you’ve made it this far, chances are your idea is worth turning into a real business.
“Don’t give up too quickly. People will often say it’s been done before, which is not always true. It’s also been proven that the first to market isn’t always the best,” says Julia.
To join a community of like-minded women visit lionessesofafrica.com.
Julia’s top tips for moms
- Try to create mini-goals. I often use a running analogy; instead of focusing on the end goal, rather run to each milestone. Do this with your business idea and use these milestones and key decision points as a reflection stop to decide whether you want to continue or change some things.
- Don’t decide too quickly. Instead of just accepting no as an answer, reflect on the aspect of your pitch that was rejected and change your offering accordingly. Keep doing this until your get your “Yes!”.
- Be realistic about the time and commitment you’ll need to launch your own business. It often takes double or triple the amount of time you think it would and that’s OK.
- Don’t be afraid to walk away, that’s OK too. It’s far better to have tried something and gained experience than to always wonder “What if?”.
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.