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How to make it on your own – with a little help

12:55 14/09/2015
Belgium is often heralded as beer country or chocolate paradise, but there’s one other commodity that you will find here aplenty: small businesses! Few countries have as many entrepreneurs per capita, which should be a strong indication for fertile business grounds. Let’s look at the conditions for starting your own.

According to capitalist thought, added value in the economy essentially comes from entrepreneurs, from people who run their own businesses. Sometimes the effect of starting a new business can be huge,  particularly in the fast-changing global digital economy of today. The virtually overnight success of companies like Facebook and Google is legendary. But even before our era, entrepreneurs sometimes created mega-businesses out of a Saturday hobby pursued in the garage.

Most successful new ventures have this in common: they don't start with a champagne and caviar reception, but grow out of low-cost hobbies that expand quickly because the product or service on offer actually fulfils a need and finds buyers. The ones that don't succeed – the ones we never hear of – fail because on the whole they don't respond to a genuine need, or at least a perceived one. Ten years ago nobody felt the need to have a powerful computer on their person at all times; then the iPhone came along and now we're all doing it.

A new business doesn't necessarily have to be original; it can also be worthwhile to come second to market, to improve on a leading product or service, or even to return to an old idea when market changes or new technology mean it now has a chance of being successful. To continue the example above, the iPod was not – as some people seem to think – the first digital portable music player. But it improved on what was available at the time, and transformed the market. It also paved the way for the above-mentioned iPhone, but that's another story.

Another common feature of entrepreneurs is that they keep going and don't let mere failure stop them. They have energy and perseverance , and they understand that they're taking risks, but are willing to bet that the rewards will outweigh the risk.

A regular bank like ING is typically not your key partner at the beginning of the creation of your new product or service. The only exception concerns the operational services of managing money, in other words receiving and making payments. If you have a potentially successful idea, venture capital – and possibly at a later stage the stock markets – are more adapted to your needs. Bank lending comes into play only after “proof of concept,” except in the example of an overdraft facility provided to save your company cash-flow problems caused when the payments you have to make don't match up with the payments you're waiting to receive.

Successful entrepreneurs also have a team of people around them, inside or outside the company. It is important to cover all aspects of doing business. As an entrepreneur you should focus on strategy and implementation, not on every single operational aspect. A flock of sheep, each with four solid legs, will perform better than one five-legged sheep.

If you don't know where to start, visit the many Start Your Own Business events, some of which are free, and learn from other entrepreneurs and from the different service providers in the field. You may be wary of the risks involved in talking to others about your idea, but those are outweighed by the advice you stand to receive, which could be invaluable in developing an idea into a solid business venture. Eventually, if your idea concerns new intellectual property, you will have to protect it by patenting it, but that's typically something that will happen further down the road, rather than at the outset.

Implementation eats strategy for breakfast. Thinking is good but you learn most by doing,  even if you fail at first. Learn from that failure and keep going – it's the only road to success.


Written by Sponsored by ING