We all dream of starting our own business at one time or another, right? Whatever your reason, being an entrepreneur takes hard work, passion and guidance. So we spoke to online education company Getsmarter and got this advice.

1. Research everything

Doing your homework is non-negotiable. Do as much research for as long as possible before you settle on the specifics. Is there already a similar business in your area? Does anyone actually want or need your services? Are there any municipal rules, prohibitions or requirements that have to be taken into account? Thorough research will tell you if you should go ahead or rethink your product or service. This will save you a lot of work, stress and money.

2. Make a plan

Once you have a good idea of what you want to do, write out a full business plan. Setting everything out on paper forces you to think about the details. Your business plan will be a useful operational document once your business has started. Keep referring to it to see if your goals and achievements are on track. In addition, you will need a professional business plan if you are going to apply for financing from a bank or investor.

3. Learn the right skills

You may already be an excellent designer, lawyer or programmer, but do you know much about government business regulations, financial planning or marketing? All of these skills are essential to running a successful and profitable business that complies with all the relevant laws and regulations. So, before you embark on your business venture, be honest with yourself about the skills that you have and those you still need to acquire. Either appoint specialists to deal with those areas you are unskilled in, or learn the skills by taking a professional training course or doing a small-business diploma.

4. Sort out the legalities

A business cannot simply come into being – you need to follow a formal registration process. The rules for this can vary depending on where you are, so check with your local government or chamber of commerce for the specifics. Choosing whether to found a sole proprietorship, partnership or company is an important decision, so do your research, especially on the new Companies Act. Aside from choosing the business type, you also need to register for certain taxes, obtain permits, register your business name and so on.

5. Get funding

Getting the money together to start your business can be one of the hardest and most frustrating aspects of the process. You could simply save up, but this funding model is limited and it’s very difficult to save up enough. You could also find a formal business investor to lend you the money which gets paid back as your business earns a profit. You could also get a formal loan from the bank. This is the most common option, and it’s a good way to get funding at a reasonable interest rate. Also check with the local municipality to see if it offers support for small businesses; a government grant can give you a much-needed boost.

6. Promote, promote, promote

Finally, market your business in as many ways and places as you can. Come up with an opening special (say, 50% off all services in the first month) or have a launch event with snacks, drinks and special offers – do something appropriate to your business. Try as many other marketing channels as possible to see what works best. Always keep an eye on your budget and follow marketing rules so you don’t annoy or spam your target audience.

For more information on the University of Cape Town (Law@Work) Start and Manage a Small Business course, go to www.getsmarter.co.za

Plus, sign up for this course before 10 April and you will receive a R500 discount on the course fee of R8 208. Like what you hear? Click here to register and use ‘ELLE mag’ as the promotional code to claim your discount.

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