What entrepreneurs wish they’d known when they were starting out

The 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® winners discuss the advice they would share with their younger selves

In the absence of concrete guidance and mentorship, the path to becoming a successful entrepreneur can be a very lonely one. As such, this path is too often forged solely by way of trial and error – frequently involving costly mistakes and countless sacrifices along the way.

In order to make this path less formidable for ‘up-and-coming’ entrepreneurs, we sat down with the winners of the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition to discuss the advice that they would share with their younger selves.

Vanessa Jacobs of Sow Delicious® and Emerging Business Entrepreneur of the Year® says that, above all, she would remind her younger self to never trade passion for money. “If you follow the money, it will seem to elude you and leave your life empty, but if you work for the love of it, then the money will follow you instead.

“It is also important to always remain teachable and view every set-back as a gift, because at its very core lies a solution of how to use it to excel to greater heights,” she adds.

This sentiment of remaining teachable is echoed in the advice offered by the owner and founder of Khonology, Michael Roberts, Job Creator of the Year ®. “Understand economics and how the world works, but be open to views, ideas and take advice. Look for inspiration in other people’s success stories and surround yourself with positive and focused people.”

Overall Entrepreneur of the Year®, Johan Eksteen of Agricon, urges young entrepreneurs to realise that they are loose cannons – something that he says is both a good and a bad thing. “Young entrepreneurs have untapped potential as they have not yet been corrupted by the harsh realities of the economy. They dream without limits and are therefore very creative and original. In this lies the caveat that it is both a good and a bad thing to be a loose cannon.

“Many ideas are potentially great ideas, but the key is to implement these ideas in real life. If they listen too much or too often to people with experience, they may be discouraged to even try, and therefore their great innovation may go undeveloped. However, if they do not take up some mentorship and advice, they may have no clue as to how they should turn the idea into a business.”

In this sense, Eksteen points out that strong mentorship encourages and guides a young entrepreneur is important, but also highlights the risk of getting the wrong mentor. “Choosing the right mentor is crucial, as the last thing you need as a young, driven entrepreneur is a passion killer.”

Carl Pretorius, managing director of Just Trees and Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year®, says that he found having an older mentor whom he could bounce ideas off and get advice from to be very helpful. “When I was younger, I often thought that I knew more about certain matters than I really did. I would encourage young entrepreneurs to be honest with themselves about what they know and do not know, and then get help with or learn about the latter.”

Furthermore, Eksteen says that young entrepreneurs should realise that it can take up to five years to put a solid business concept together and to start making serious money. “In this time, the entrepreneur must remember that they are not managing a ready-made concept, so it requires constant change and sharp entrepreneurial tenacity to succeed.”

Eksteen finishes off with a final piece of advice that can and should be applied at any stage along the entrepreneurial journey: “Most entrepreneurs look down at the road they are on, and forget to check the direction in which they go. So keep your one eye on the potholes and the other on the road.”

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