Whereas in the past, the 'corporate career' may have been the norm for many bright graduates, with fewer graduate jobs available in blue-chip firms and the growing popular disillusionment with the City, now is the perfect time to start your own business. Starting a venture while you are young and have fewer commitments is ideal; you probably don’t have a family to support, a mortgage to pay and can adjust to the often frugal life of an entrepreneur – with little or no money when you’re starting up.
When I refer to entrepreneurship, I do so in its broadest sense and include the burgeoning field of social enterprise. We are facing some deep-rooted social issues in our world such as poverty, environmental degradation, and social and political unrest, and entrepreneurs are often left to find the solution to many of these problems.
Why not team up with the people around you and start thinking about how you can create the next Facebook or Virgin? Sir Richard Branson started Virgin in his early 20s – proof that you are never too young to start a business.
Here are some of my top tips for those of you who are considering striking out on your own:
Network, network, network.
Remember the saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know?’ Well this very true, especially in the world of business. The earlier you start getting out there, meeting people, attending events, talking about your idea or business the better. You never know who you will come across and who in turn they may know so keep an open mind when meeting people.
Always carry business cards with you and when taking business cards from other people – jot down a few notes on the back, i.e. where and when you met them and any action points you discussed. This will help jog your memory in months and years to come and make follow-ups easier.
Try to follow up with people you’ve met within a week (to ensure they remember who you are and what you talked about!) Develop these business contacts by keeping your network active. Remember these relationships are reciprocal. Even a simple introduction between new contacts won’t be forgotten.
It’s all in the execution
Lots of people come up with ideas, but very few go on to execute them successfully. A common downfall for entrepreneurs is being over-protective about their idea and failing to discuss it with others for fear of it being ‘stolen’. Whilst this may be a legitimate concern (and you can seek professional advice about this from an intellectual property lawyer), the process of talking to others about your idea can help you refine and improve it further.
Accessing external finance is likely to become more difficult in the current economic climate. It is therefore essential that you are self-sufficient by keeping costs to a minimum. Cut back on unnecessary expenses – live more frugally, which in the entrepreneurship world is known as ‘bootstrapping’!
When putting together a team to work with you, consider offering them equity in your business rather than a salary (or a mixture of the two) – that way they are sharing the risk with you and have a greater incentive to work hard and see this venture succeed. There is no need to spend lots of money on expensive advertising or PR; be creative about how you get the word out about your business. Use platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn, create a viral marketing video on YouTube and attempt self-promotion through Twitter – there are so many tools out there which you can use for free!
There are many successful entrepreneurs and business people who are willing to offer young upstarts advice and mentoring. Developing a strong rapport with a mentor who has “been there, done that” will be invaluable to you and help you to grow your business whilst avoiding some of the pitfalls your mentor may have faced.
Get started, but be willing to adapt
Too often I hear people saying, “I’ll start my business after I’ve worked for a few years”; “after I’ve turned 30”; “after I’ve done my 500-page business plan” etc. These are often just stalling tactics which keep you at a standstill. I am a firm believer in learning by doing, and the quicker you start the better your chances are of success.
That being said, don’t forget the tip about seeking advice; you should be agile enough to adapt your proposition and re-invent yourself based on feedback you receive and the changing nature of the market. Do not be fixated on following your plan to every minute detail.
If you don’t think you’re ready to start up just yet but want to learn more about business first hand then why not gain some work experience in a startup or small business working alongside an entrepreneur? Often these offer you the chance to take on significant responsibility and make a real difference in the company. It is also the perfect training ground for people who want to start their own business, as by being in a start-up you can learn from those around you and by shadowing the entrepreneurs themselves.
The recession brings with it opportunity; it is the time to take a step back and see what is broken in the world we live and what we can do to fix it. I expect that in 10 years we will look back at this time to find that some of our very best and bravest entrepreneurs started their ventures in the midst of this recession – and as the old phrase "Fortes fortuna adiuvat" goes – fortune favours the bold.
Rajeeb Dey is CEO and Founder of enternships.com, a portal that provides internships for students in entrepreneurial businesses