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What young entrepreneurs wish they knew before starting a business

Published:Sunday | July 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Stephen Spence, former president of YEA.
Erica Winter, president of the YEA.
Bronhil Thompson, past president of YEA.

Yaneek Page, Contributor

As of January 2014, nearly 70,000 young people under the age of 25 were unemployed, according to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica.

Another 40,000-plus persons left high school on July 4, with the majority expected to join the tedious search for job opportunities.

Added to that, thousands of university and college students who completed their studies in June will also be thrown into the already deep and dreary unemployment pool.

In the current environment, it will be harder for a young person to find a job than it was for Brazil to score against Germany in the World Cup semi-finals.

Many of them will have no choice but to look to entrepreneurship, which is why I've dedicated this week's column to helping them prepare for the arduous journey ahead.

Young people should familiarise themselves with the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Jamaica (YEA), whose vision is "to increase the survival and success rate of young and youth-owned businesses in Jamaica" and to "create an environment where the young entrepreneurs can support and inspire one another in growth, balance, and success."

Let me declare that I was once a vice-president of the association and have, over the years, volunteered my time and support to help realise that vision.

The current and former YEA presidents have generously shared things they wish they knew before they started business in the hope it might improve the likelihood of success for aspiring young entrepreneurs and save them major teething pains.

Here's what they wish they knew before starting their businesses.

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Yaneek Page is an entrepreneur and trainer in
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  • ERICA'S TAKE - Erica Wynter, YEA president and CEO of CandE Innovational Services

1 Cash flow was not profit. After the first year in business, I realised we weren't profitable despite the flow of cash. Many of our services were priced way below market rate in an effort to attract new customers. I also didn't know that running out of money was a common part of the journey and that I needed a cash cow.

2 Women found it harder to start and maintain a successful business. I will never forget meeting with a gentleman from a prominent company to discuss a partnership using our delivery services. He said no one would take me seriously without a man by my side and that I should take a man with me to business meetings.

I also remember meeting with a man who spent the entire time lusting at me, only to realise he was interested in me, not the company's services. I remain confident and have been operating my business for the past five years without taking a man to meetings.

3 How long it took to convert prospects into customers. Everything that involves corporate companies and decision-making takes time. It took as long as three years to sign off on some contracts.

4 The importance of connections. Knowing the right people in the right places can make a big difference in your business. Networking cannot be overemphasised. In our second year, one company owed us for over six months. Everything was affected and I doubted we would have made it. I now know people in different industries in decision-making positions who have helped with obtaining contracts and being paid on time. Sometimes if you don't have a relationship with accounts payables, 'dog nyam yu suppa'.

5 The importance of balance. It took me three years after starting my company to balance my life. One year before launch and three years after, everything was about the company. Everything!

I forgot about my personal life and my then partner. My relationship ended and my son was not performing well in school.

I should have separated business from my personal life and instead of leaving work at 11 p.m., gone home and taken time to help my son with homework and care for my partner's needs.

  • BRONHIL'S TAKE - Bronhil Thompson - Immediate past president of YEA and CEO of HRM Options Group International

1 The many sacrifices a business owner will have to make, for example, giving up personal pleasures.

2 You sometimes pay to learn and it is expensive. Some businesses do not operate above board and will rob you through unethical practices.

3 Information is highly guarded/lacking in Jamaica, especially when trying to gather information to assist your business.

4 Change is constant. Your business will suffer if creativity and innovation are not embraced.

  • STEPHEN'S TAKE - Stephen Spence, former president of YEA and CEO of SMS Communications Limited

1 People will let you down. This will happen in ways you can't even imagine when you start out. It can range from inattentiveness and laziness to fraud and theft. You'll see it all from the people you meet along the way. Your faith in people or belief in them can be a dangerous thing.

2 Do not give equal share to yourself and partners. Decisions are hard to make. They can and will push you out of what you have worked hard for, and their vision might not be yours. Always have controlling interest.

3 Things take longer than you ever imagine. Everything that involves people, resources, tasks, and coordination takes longer than you ever think it should take to get done. It isn't about developing patience as patience doesn't really help you keep driving things forward. It is about being realistic in your planning and management.

4 Running out of money is a common part of the journey. You won't expect it because you prepared for the long haul. You secured a business loan, or got some investors, or sold your house, or have one year's worth of savings, and you have planned accordingly.

But then, all of a sudden, amid the puffy clouds and blue skies, your little twin-engine 'entrep-airplane' will sputter, the needle on the gas gauge unexpectedly plummeting to zero, and you will have only one choice: Land your plane on the wild, abandoned airstrip called bank balance.