Tips on starting a kitchen-table business

Stay focused on your startup goal no matter what stands in your way. Photo by Chesney Bradshaw

The number of entrepreneurs who have started successful businesses from their kitchen-table must be in the millions. More than highly expensive startup incubators.

Where else do you start?

Often, starting a new small enterprise begins at home.

Even if you don’t have a kitchen table, you’ll still have a space somewhere in the house such as a dining room table or a desk in the study.

Don’t kid yourself, starting a new enterprise is not something to be sneer at. It takes hard work, determination and guts to follow through right until the end. Someone starting a training business, for example, may spend an entire year developing the training manual and the associated presentation that goes with it.

Success is the sum of small efforts repeated day in and day out – a quote from a motivational writer. The advice is spot on — you need to chunk down all the tasks that you have to do to accomplish your startup goal and then get about doing them.

The advantage of the kitchen table startup is the low overhead. You don’t need to lay out any capital to start. Even when you have a minimal viable product, you can still operate from your kitchen table to test market demand.

Kitchen table businesses are really business idea incubators. Just think of how many businesses have begun at kitchen tables for many decades. This is the place where small businesses start and then involve into small and medium size businesses.

Often when the original founder entrepreneur retires, the business is sold on to the large corporations that then have sufficient capital to roll the business out on a regional or national scale.

Working on the kitchen table is not always the ideal place. It’s not always free of interruptions and you can only work for so many hours in the day at the kitchen table.

The kitchen table remains a symbol of free enterprise. It’s where anyone with an idea to start something can begin. As mentioned, the capital outlay is negligible – all it takes is determination and perseverance.

The kitchen table start-up might be romanticised but take a look around and you’ll see how many businesses have actually been started at a kitchen table. Here is one to check out.

If you look around at the number of smaller stores and limited line products coming home to market, especially in the coastal areas, it seems that kitchen-table start-ups are on the increase, especially in this economy.

Find opportunities in your local market

Photographer: Chesney Bradshaw

Trade and commerce is two way. Consumers have the option to buy local or global today with the Internet. But there is a good case to be made for local businesses attracting local customers.

Opportunities in the property market are local. Property owners are achieving high rentals in upmarket suburbs.

The local and international tourism market provide excellent opportunities for local property owners who wish to rent out accommodation.

Prepared foods are local. Local restaurants and fast-food chains reap the benefits of being local. For some it might be hard to attract those consumers who opt for fast foods from the international chain but they play their role in creating employment.

Attention to the quality of local cuisene provides many local business opportunities.

Local Internet gurus keep hammering away at selling online to international markets. There is nothing wrong with this of course – it provides important opportunities. However, first look around and identify local opportunities that lie right under your nose.

Services provide many local opportunities. Businesses in electrical repairs, plumbers are the obvious ones but there are also roof coating specialists, glass fitters, kitchen cupboard re-fitters, local furniture manufacturers, furniture restorers, carpenters, tiling and floor experts, and garden landscapers.

With the consumer having so many choices these days, it pays to understand local tastes and preferences. It’s also important to keep in touch with local buying trends and to tap into them. (Security services, for example, are in high demand – a sad reality.) Talk to your customers and find out what they want. Ask them for feedback on what you are providing to them and how you could improve not only the products they buy but also service.

Local markets provide much opportunity for entrepreneurs. But with high volumes of imported goods and services, local entrepreneurs have to up their game and be better than the best.

To outsmart competition, you need differentiation – in product, service, packaging, local content and astute marketing. Buy local can just be an empty promise or futile statement unless your local offering has clear competitive benefits and value to local customers.

A business person shares a success secret

Photo by Nicolás Perondi on Unsplash

I used to go to a restaurant quite regularly because it was so well run by the owner. The experience there was good because the staff were happy, he came and chatted to customers and he always played pleasant music.

One evening he shared a secret of his success, not put in that way but he showed how he had gone about creating wealth.

Now, to start at the beginning, this business person began by owning a restaurant that was part of a franchise chain. He bought the restaurant franchise from previous owners who were not successful.

The first thing he did was to renovate the place, change the menu ( in keeping with the franchise menu but with some variation), hired new staff and kept a close watch on everything.

Once his restaurant was running smoothly, he began looking for new opportunities. He found a pizza outlet in another suburb that had been neglected by the owners. He bought the pizza outlet and went about refurbishing it. He established the pizza outlet as the leading one in the suburb.

Not satisfied with those two successes, he went on to buy another pizza outlet that had been bought for someone’s son but he was never in the outlet, gallivanting all over the place and pizza outlet went down. Again, the entrepreneurial restaurant owner rebuilt the outlet and slowly but surely increased customer volume.

After all this hard work, and this entrepreneur was never shy of hard work, he got his lucky break. Yes, there are lucky breaks when you work hard.

An international chain came into the country to expand and made him offers on his two pizza outlets. He was able to receive a princely sum for both pizza outlets.

The real secret of this entrepreneur’s success was to find run-down businesses and re- establish them as successful outlets. The opportunity to sell both of them to an international chain of pizza outlets was really the cherry on top.

What paid for him in the long run was to spot these opportunities, to work hard and make them successful. 

How do you explore new business possibilities?

Photo by Chesney Bradshaw

I came across a list of 100 business ideas. Each business was described and included a photograph of the business owner. Not one of those business ideas interested me in the least.

This is the problem with lists of business ideas.

You go through them looking for something that may interest you and when you have found nothing to raise your curiosity or interest, you may become despondent.

You begin thinking, when will I ever come up with a new business idea?

You may also tell yourself that you need to keep looking.

Lists of business ideas are pretty much useless because there are so many business ideas out there.

There is one waiting for you to discover it if you go about it in the right way.

Exploration for new business ideas begins with you. You need to do some introspection and find out what your interests are. Consider things that have excited you in the past. Perhaps they provide clues to what you could explore.

Your exploration for new business ideas may include certain interests or hobbies you already have. Is there a way to turn your hobby or interest into a business? What would it take? Would turning your hobby or interest into a business kill this interest for you?

To take a simple example, you may enjoy making preserves for family and friends. But to produce a great quantity of preserves requires a whole new way of operation. Is this really what you want?

A new business idea should appeal to your nature, interests ,something you enjoy doing and that could be propelled by a purpose.

Start exploring by looking at what you’ve done in the past, what you are presently doing and what you’ve always wanted to do.

Shift you’re thinking by wandering around new places, reading new magazines and Internet sites, switching your television and cell phone off and discovering new possibilities outside of yourself.

This banned word can get you into a lot of trouble

An entrepreneur gave me his business plan and other documents relating to his business and asked me to review it.

I went through the business plan and had some insights to give him but decided first to ask him, how could I help.

This is a very important question because as an independent adviser you may have much experience and more than 100 analytical tools to detect what’s the matter in the businesses but you could miss the mark completely unless you go into a review session with an open mind.

It’s important to right at the outset find out what is concerning the entrepreneurs.

Anyway, I asked the question and the reply was “customers”. The entrepreneur told me that he had set up the business a few years back but still did not have one customer.

Entrepreneurs forget what Peter Drucker one said, “The purpose of a business is to create and maintain a customer”.

We spoke awhile about how to acquire customers and then it dawned on me:

What do you need to win a customer?


You need to be creative about using your network of contacts, where are you going to find customers, how are you are going to approach them, what you are going to say and which prospective customers are likely to buy your product or service.

Now , in some organisations and institutions, the word “creativity” is virtually banned.

In one instance talking to a senior business person , I was asked not to use the word “creative”.

What about “innovative”? I asked.

“Oh, that’s alright,” the Business person said. “Now I understand what you’re telling me.”

Pause for a moment. How else can you win a customer without using your creativity?

You have to think about it, come up with an approach and then do it.

Everyone is creative. Sometimes they don’t just realise it.

Creativity is one of your most important resources or assets.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

In this turbulent, ever-changing and complex business environment, you are going to rely more and more on your creativity.

Batting for the wrong side

Spring on the Spruit. Watercolour by Chesney Bradshaw

Customer service has improved in some areas. Flourishing Internet retail businesses and bricks and mortar retail outlets under huge competition in a tough market are two of the main causes.

Among these businesses you find the heroes but there are still many villains lurking about.

Take this one for example. A software company that provides an excellent product has has tripled the cost of this product. It makes you wonder who this company is batting for – the customer or themselves?

Financial services, especially financial advisors, often bat for the wrong side. If you ask a financial advisor, the first thing he or she wants to do is to get hold of all your investments and policies so that he or she can cream commissions off the top. They don’t want to hear about your financial investment issues. They seem to be only in it for the money.

Whose side are they batting for? Their side, Of course.

Then there are the car rental companies. They want you to pay for insurance for everything including the body of the car, tyres, windscreens and right down to the floor mats. Service in some cases is horrendous. If they catch the slightest mark on the vehicle you are hired, they want you to pay for it. Refuelling charges, administrative fees for minor accidents costing a bomb. Unfortunately, car rental companies are a necessary evil.

But it absolutely clear that the bad ones are batting for the wrong side: they want to protect their interests at the expense of the customer.

The cost of lost opportunity in repeat sales must be huge for these villainous businesses.

Why not check your business practices to see if you are batting for the right side – the customer – and not for the wrong side – your business.

Why your company should fear a business disruption

Photo by Chris Gallagher on Unsplash

When last did you test your business continuity plan?

A disruptive incident at your workplace or factory can lead to financial boss.

The aim of business continuity management is to ensure that you can get your business operations up and running in the shortest possible time after a disruptive incident.

By testing your business continuity plan annually, you are able to determine how effective it is and to make improvements.

How should you go about testing your business continuity plan?

If you do not have the internal expertise, you would need to get hold of an independent contractor who specialises in business continuity management.

They will take you through a test scenario and see how your management responds and where there are gaps that need to be addressed and closed.

You can also do a test yourself but just remember that this then would not be done by an outside, objective and neutral observer. But if you are professional about it, you can do one that would be reasonably acceptable.

Just remember that an independent consultant will have more experience with business continuity management and will be able to identify gaps that you may perhaps not be able to identify.

Business people get caught up in the thick of small the things. They often are too busy dealing with operational issues and customer requirements. Business continuity management gets swept aside or lost in the churn.

How prepared are you if a disruptive incident occurs?

In an ever-changing complex social environment, pressure on resources and global climate impacts, the probability of destructive incidents has increased. But there are many other causes of disruptive incidents including cyber crime, human error and machine breakdowns.

If you wish to find out more about business continuity plan testing, please contact me by email.

Aren’t you grateful for that lucky break?

From left: Brian Grobbler, Clinton Grobbler, Grant Grobbler, Glendyr Dade

I was listening to a story about a woman who received a lucky break from her employers and it helped her become a successful musician.

If you cast your mind back, do you remember the people gave you a lucky break?

Some institutions, and we know which ones these are, claim they are supporting those less fortunate but we all know that most of them are really in for it themselves.

Yes, it’s a cynical attitude but that’s the reality.

Where do the real lucky breaks come from?

It’s often from family, close friends and strangers. They can provide contacts, resources, support and encouragement, and help that institutions can’t give.

My own lucky breaks came from my father and mother and strangers. I am immensely grateful to those who opened the door for me. I’ve never forgotten this and where I can I have tried to use my limited resources to open doors for others.

In fact, most people who provide lucky breaks for others want to keep quiet about it and let the person get on with their life.

It’s quite different with institutions that grandstand from all kinds of platforms to beat their chests and shout about what they’ve done.

Just consider the millions of small and large acts of kindness that others have given to so many, many people. These are the people who are the real heroes in society and communities.

They go unrecognised by the Institutions.


Because to give them recognition would undermine their agendas.

It takes time and effort to do something for someone else. It may even mean financial sacrifice.

But it can make a huge difference in people’s lives – more significant that what what institutions can.

For most people enabling lucky breaks is an act of generosity from the heart.

Let’s recognise and not forget all of those people who have helped other people.

Meeting a surfing pioneer


While on a short holiday break in the southern part of the Western Cape, I visited one of the pioneer surfers in this country.

He served at False Bay during the 1960s when they, when surf riders used the old long boards. In those days the terms surf riders used were “Hang Ten”, “Hang five” and “Stoked”.

I wished I had a photograph to show you him surfing but alas the photographs that my father took of him in those days are long gone. He told me how my father, who was a newspaper man at the time, would edit his surfing reports (he was a member of the False Bay Surf Riders Association) that he used to supply to a local city newspaper in Cape Town.

The surfing pioneer left False Bay in 1970 and moved up the southern Cape Coast and became a legendary fisherman, skipper, owner of numerous fishing boats and subsequently owner and operator of a fish factory.

I remember those early days as a child and was inspired by the surf riders I saw as well as the surfing magazine copies that my father regularly gave to me. I bought my first long board in 1972 and surfed the Cape Peninsula for many years.

Surfing all over the world has grown enormously since those pioneering days. Apart from surfing equipment, the surf industry industry has provided many business opportunities especially in clothing and footwear manufacture and retailing. In fact, many people wear surf clothing who have never rode on a surfboard or kneeboard.

It must have been wonderful in those pioneering days with a few surfers. Hardly anyone surfed then and when there were good waves those pioneers had it all to themselves. Today even on the marginal surf breaks you find overcrowding. You’ll be lucky to get prime position to ride a wave. Even at the peak wave breaks, surfers have to wait a very long time before they get a chance to surf.

What an opportunity it was to meet again with this surfing pioneer and chat about those amazing early days. You could say it was the “golden era” of surf riding. Surfing was way different in those days from the radical manoeuvres that today’s surfers make on their short boards. But in another sense nothing has really changed – whatever equipment you use, surfing is still one of the most exciting things you can do at the coast experiencing that incredible feeling riding on water powered by the mighty ocean.

How to cope with a child who has schizophrenia

Acrylic of Patensie, Eastern Cape, by Rayne Bradshaw

In the history of this country today celebrates a very famous and worthy South African.

It is also World Mental Health Day. Time to reflect on caring for someone who has a mental disorder such as schizophrenia. 

When a child is diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar, the family life undergoes great upheaval. The family can break down. It is a devastating diagnosis.

If time is on your side, you can do something about it. Why time’ Because it takes time to get your child onto the right medication, deal with emotional issues, observe and identify strange behaviour and assist your child to get into a regular regime. I remember when I was young my late father hated routine. But it is exactly what a child with schizophrenia requires.

There’s also a need to set clear boundaries and standards of behaviour. You don’t want a situation where your child runs amok and your household or family ends up in chaos.

The right medication is critical. But even more important is that the child takes the medication. In my experience, I have found that females with schizophrenia are more prone to take their medicine. With males, they often think that they can drop their medication and that they will be fine. The consequence – back to psychiatric hospital care. Remember, that it can take up to three months to get the patient back onto the right psychiatric medicine and achieve stabilization (for the psychosis and emotional side).

Concentration or focus is poor and motivation is low. No wonder then that a recent journal article states that up to 80 to 90% of people with schizophrenia are unemployed. 

The challenge therefore is primarily to establish well-being and happiness with your child (as far as you humanely can). That is the main goal. The second, is livelihood exploration. Let your child experiment with possible futures. If after their episodes and relapses they come out as high functioning, perhaps then you may look towards part-time or fixed-time work. Of course, there are those who are lucky (for various reasons) and come out high functioning after their first episode. They will be able to pursue their livelihood or occupation. By lucky I mean able to hold down a job. People with schizophrenia also fear employers and do their utmost not to disclose their condition. Employers will say they don’t discriminate but the reality unfortunately is far different.

Looking after someone schizophrenia is not for sissies. It takes a cool head, calm heart, much patience, a network of supporters and financial resources. But please note here that the financial side is vital. If you can, take breaks away from your child to get perspective. If you can’t, at least partition your life so that you can have moments of quiet time,. Even when things look at their very worst, I have seen parents, caregivers, find solutions when they didn’t believe that there were any.