Tips for surviving the first three years in business

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In light of Global entrepreneurship this week, it’s apparent that entrepreneurs across the globe are seeking for answers from experts who have successfully run their businesses.

There are many components to entrepreneurial success, but common to all successful entrepreneurs is a passion to improve what currently exists, the skill to implement the business idea, and not least, a tireless commitment to working towards the vision.

Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub
Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub

Jenny Retief, CEO of Riversands Incubation Hub  shares meaningful insight on how she has survived three years in the business:


“You’ll find that money is never the real driver of those who make it, but is rather the result of a passion to see their idea making a real impact on the world,” says Retief. “The first three years are the toughest in business, and as a business itself, Riversands is not immune to the challenges faced by a struggling economy. But as Jeff Bezos says, “Frugality drives innovation” and I am glad to report that we are not only surviving but are growing, and incubating increasing numbers of sustainable small businesses to feed into South Africa’s economy,” says Retief.

How to survive the first three years in business – tips:

Be proactive:  Much of the success of small-scale business is dependent on how proactive its owner is. Expect to have to create the favourable circumstances you require if they don’t exist. The successful entrepreneur is a driving force, making the important decisions on products, ways of production and services offered. Personal initiative is strongly related to business success.

Good business habits: Being frugal is a good business habit, along with efficient time management, including delegating tasks to free up the entrepreneur for more important things. The survivors in business are those who are investing back into their business to grow it, and maintaining a lean operation with minimum wastage, including in human resources.

Goal setting: Take time to define your vision for your business and your personal “why”. Tapping into those frequently will keep your energy levels high through the inevitable setbacks and disappointments along the way. Planning, with high-level strategies and objectives as well as specific, measurable, time-bound goals is strongly correlated to success, according to research. However, you must pause and reflect along the way to identify what is and is not working. Then define the next set of plans to incorporate that.

Financial discipline:  This means fastidious accounting practices, including a detailed financial plan and diligent record keeping, so that profits can be matched to the plan. Financial discipline and strong cashflow management are defining features of successful entrepreneurs.  Assisting entrepreneurs to learn the theory of business financial management with coaching assistance to embed those disciplines is a key offering to entrepreneurs at Riversands.

Resilience:  Entrepreneurial success is seldom determined by the brilliance of the original idea.  A far bigger determinant of success is the way an entrepreneur responds in the face of adversity. Setbacks come with the entrepreneurship terrain. It’s the business that acts quickly to limit losses, which might mean downscaling, or changing strategy or direction if necessary, that ultimately survives.

Constant networking: The lifeblood of most small businesses is the right connections, whether it is for potential business alliances, sales, marketing, supply chain management or just to escape the loneliness of being an entrepreneur. Successful entrepreneurs consistently network, especially in the start-up years. At Riversands, they have formed loose coalitions, but more than that, there are regular opportunities for them to meet and greet, and learn together and from each other at the workshops and lectures.

A healthy respect for funding: Funding is critically important, but it’s not the silver bullet that many believe it to be. Even with funding, many small businesses fail in the first three years.

The question is, if the business receives funding, what is the best way to spend it? How will it be repaid? Too often funding is used to support an entrepreneur’s lifestyle, and not to grow the business. Having regular customers is what is really going to transform the business, and attracting customers isn’t a question of doing a funding application.

Accept that success takes time: No one starts out as a business guru. The best survivors in business face their challenges and learn quickly from their mistakes. If an entrepreneur doesn’t feel overwhelmed at some point, they’re not doing it right! It’s a long journey – for both the business and the entrepreneur – and everyone gets better at different things at different times. Mentorship is important in steering the course, and this is one of the critical services that Riversands provides to entrepreneurs.


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