Someone I know who has moved back to South Africa from the UK has been trying for some time to break into the local advertising industry. He is a graphic designer and after two years hasn’t come up with any meaningful work. He advertises services on a local community forum and only got two replies. One was from a salesperson for a stationery company and the other a printing company.
The challenge in areas like this where so many people have similar skills such as graphic design and Photo Shop is to find a niche market. The thing is it takes time to build up a local personal network where you are able to select customers that will first of all give you work and secondly provide you with profitable work.
So many colleges and universities are churning out people with the same or similar skills that in many areas the market is flooded. In this hard economy with slower business companies are often not starting something new and don’t need these skills.
It’s the same thing with entrepreneurs going into the area of green skills at the moment. Now is the time to get in before the colleges and universities start pumping out people with green skills. Soon you’ll find noticeboards and advertising forums overflowing with advertisements for electricians who can save you energy in your home or plumbers who can reduce your water consumption. Yet those who have got early into this area are making way even though it is proving to be a hard sell. Later when this market grows and eventually matures, differentiation in whatever form will be required to have a competitive edge.
A computer store owner I know was recently explaining how difficult it is to targets and position your business in this market. On the lower end of the market, you’ve also got hundreds of people who have computer skills and are out of work and selling these services below market-related rates. Then there are the computer repairers who target the bottom end of the market. But for the unsuspecting the results can be disastrous. One customer of such an establishment had his computer repaired only to find out later that it was working slowly because the repairer had removed some of the memory to use with another computer. On the higher end where Mr Big and Mr Giant complete with unlimited resources as a small business you stand little chance of doing anything but getting a hiding.
That’s why even with a small computer retail and repairs business you need to choose your customer profile carefully. You need to break down the marketplace into segments, knowing the behaviour of potential customers in each of those segments. But before you rush headlong into serving any of those sub segments, you need to test the waters with a small trial to determine just how profitable it really is.
Starting and running a small business requires a different mindset and skills set that you won’t find in regular business schools, business accelerators or institution provided learning. The skills of the savvy entrepreneurs are wired through careful customer observation, trying things out and always staying one step ahead of competitors.
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