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Opinionista

What it takes to be an entrepreneur

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Nic is an obsessive entrepreneur, global keynote speaker, and published author. He has been building business since the age of 16 and has sold three businesses in the past decade. Currently, his work focuses on helping businesses build a more curious culture to promote innovative thinking and results.

Don’t shy away from discomfort in life: embrace it, face it head-on and learn how to overcome it.

More than just about anything right now, South Africa needs entrepreneurs to start building businesses. We should also consider not killing each other, but let’s focus on the entrepreneurs for the time being.

Building a business is difficult. It’s meant to be difficult. If it was easy then no one would take it seriously.

My partner has a saying: It’s OK if something is difficult. It’s not OK if something is bad. Starting a business in South Africa is a bad experience, not a difficult one. This is a major roadblock for many people because registering a business can be costly, time-consuming and takes way too long to have a positive effect on the nation. Socially, it’s hard.

There is a global ranking of the best countries to start a business in.

Singapore often features in the top five. Singapore imposes no dividend or capital gains tax, flights to neighbouring countries are affordable and if you know what forms to fill in you can have your business registered and active within five days. This is a triumph. Other countries that feature on the list include New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Mexico. Mexico has implemented extensive business registration reform and thanks to these changes you can now register a business and start trading in eight days.

It’s easy to blame our government for failing us right at the start of an entrepreneurial journey, but this is futile. Blame gets us nowhere, so let’s discuss what needs to be done to prepare us to be better entrepreneurs.

What can our government do?

Honestly, very little right now.

At this point, all we can ask for is the bare minimum: electricity, water, a safe environment to build in and the freedom to do so without onerous regulations and corruption.

We cannot rely on our government to build the future we want, it’s up to us and our entrepreneurs.

What can our schools do?

When I was at school the academic focus was primarily about preparing students to get into university. This is outdated thinking. University is great for some people, but higher academic education is not a one-size-fits-all measure of success.

The most memorable academic exercise of my 12 years at school was my Grade 10 business competition. I was 16 and this was my first experience of building a business from zero to revenue. We had to sell something for one term and we were competing with everyone else in our class. This experience changed the course of my life. I wish I was given the opportunity to build another business after that project ended but that was it for entrepreneurship in school. One project and done.

We also had “business economics” as a subject. This was a weekly class that tried to teach cash-flow management and business accounting to learners who had never experienced revenue, profit or expenses before. It was a completely theoretical course and a waste of time.

What schools don’t realise is that anyone who has a passion is a potential entrepreneur if they are guided in the right way. If you love music and want to start a band you are going to have to understand how to sell tickets for a profit, market yourself and manage cash flow. If you are a rising tennis star you better understand how to make money from sponsorships and employ people to manage your brand while you practise and play. If you are a rugby player on track to become a Springbok you are going to have to plan for the inevitable day that you hang up your boots. If you’re on track to become a doctor then you’re going to have to understand how to run your practice for profit. Schools have budding business people all around them but they ignore the talent because entrepreneurship isn’t traditionally academic.

In short, schools need a small business curriculum for students who show promise early on and want to learn how to take a product to market. With the internet and social media, there is no reason that 14-year-olds shouldn’t be generating income while they’re studying history and geography.

What can our parents do?

My parents always wanted the best for me. In their experience of the world, that meant that I needed to study mathematics and science and go to university to become a doctor, lawyer or accountant. My parents wanted me to live a secure life without the entrepreneurial worries that they had to endure.

They didn’t realise that for me the worries of entrepreneurship were not something to be endured but embraced. They believed that a better life for me was the stability of a career that was reliable. Unfortunately for them, there was nothing that they could do to stop me from starting my own businesses and taking the leap into the world of entrepreneurship. My father is an accomplished entrepreneur but sadly never invited me into his world to learn the tricks of the trade. I had to grow up and dive in headfirst on my own. He was trying hard to protect me from the hardships and I understand that now. What I needed at the time was a mentor who could help ease the suffering that all entrepreneurs go through; instead, I was left to fend for myself.

It’s important for parents trying to guide their children in today’s fast-paced world to remember that what is big in their world is not big in the world. Just because you sucked at selling doesn’t mean your kid will suck at it too. Just because you want the stability of a corporate job definitely doesn’t mean your kid will want the same thing.

When I started coding at 10 or 11 years old my parents had no idea what I was doing. Today you might not know what TikTok is but your kids could make a substantial living through the platform. The 16-year-old Fortnite champion won $1-million at the inaugural world championship and I bet his parents initially worked really hard to get him to focus on his studies and put the controller down.

If your kid has a flair for selling, storytelling or business in any way then I urge you to embrace it and help them start a small business. It could be a lemonade stand in your neighbourhood or they could be trading Pokemon online or you could help them build a website that sells a product they’re obsessed with. You are never too young to start a business and it’s never been easier than it is right now to build a small business and start trading with the world.

What can we do to help ourselves?

There are many reasons not to start a business: fear, ridicule, lack of capital, lack of time and even a lack of knowledge or experience.

If you have considered starting a business but haven’t yet because of one of these reasons, I get it. It’s tough out there, but let me tell you right now that there is never going to be a good time to start your business. There is never going to be the perfect moment. You are never going to have enough capital and you are certainly never going to have enough time.

What you need to do is stop making excuses and just get started. Sure, when I say it like that it sounds easy to just jump right in and get started. I know it isn’t. I know there are complications. I know, I know, I know. There’s always going to be a reason not to do it.

If you’re wondering what it takes to be an entrepreneur then let me break down a few of the traits that I believe you’re going to need.

I want to be clear here, these aren’t the only things you need to make it and if you don’t have some, many, any or all of these traits you can still start a business because we’re all built differently and the path to success is different for everyone.

Here are a few things that I’ve needed to be an entrepreneur over the past 20 years:

Resilience

You are going to fail. Once you understand this you can become the entrepreneur that you need to be. Fear of failure is probably the biggest reason that most people don’t start their own business. But here’s the thing, failure is part of the journey.

Statistically, if you start a business, you are almost guaranteed to fail at some point. The more times you get up and start another business, the more likely you are to succeed.

Success is not in the starting of your first business, it’s in the starting again once you’ve failed.

Resilient entrepreneurs are the ones that succeed.

Risk

Building a business is definitely a risk. Understanding how much you are willing to risk is imperative to your general happiness in life as an entrepreneur.

If you risk everything then the upside is likely to be massive but the downside will probably break you eventually.

The pressure that comes with risking everything is not for everyone. You don’t have to risk it all on a single bet. You can build a side-hustle that you work on for a couple of hours every week and put very little capital into. Or you can take your life savings and plough them into your next venture. This really depends on your risk appetite.

Take time to figure out what you can financially afford to risk. Carefully plan out what you are willing to risk every day; a few hours, your relationships, your car, house or eating out. It’s different for everyone but you must have a clear idea of your risk appetite before you bite into the entrepreneurial journey.

Hard work

Anyone who says that you can build a thriving business without hard work is lying. I am not saying that you need to sleep less or sacrifice your mental or physical health to build a business but you are going to need to work consistently hard to get your business off the ground.

If you are serious about building a business then something is going to have to give. You can’t party all night, read your favourite books, play with your dogs, take your kids to school, watch three hours of TV every night and then expect to build a business after hours while you work a fulltime job and still get eight hours of sleep and an hour of exercise every day. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

Hard work comes with sacrifice and it’s up to you to decide what you choose to work on and what you choose to give up. If you decide to build a business and work on it every day for an hour then commit to that and work hard every day to perform at that level.

Mental and physical fitness

Entrepreneurs have an odd quirk that I’ve noticed over the past decade. We believe that putting ourselves first is a bad thing. We believe that we should work 20 hours a day and neglect everything else in the name of our business.

I think we have this all wrong.

There is a difference between self-care and selfishness.

It is not selfish to go to the gym. It is not selfish to eat properly. It is not selfish to sleep an adequate amount. It is not selfish to see a psychologist who can help you with your mental fitness. These things are all self-care.

If you put yourself at the top of your priority list and become the best version of yourself then the people around you will be happier too and want to work with you to achieve anything.

If you neglect your mental and physical fitness you will become a fat, unhealthy and mentally unstable jerk. No one wants to work with that person.

Discomfort

As I’ve mentioned already, building a business is difficult. It’s meant to be difficult. If it was easy then no one would take it seriously. You are going to be uncomfortable and it’s going to be tough. But real change, real progress only really happens in the discomfort. It is in moments of discomfort that we really figure out what we’re made of.

Most people shy away from feeling discomfort. I have spent my life embracing discomfort and understanding how it can help me become better.

Don’t shy away from the discomfort in life, embrace it, face it head-on and learn how to overcome it. BM

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