The Challenges We Faced As A Non-Sexy Startup
You always hear about the challenges for tech and innovative companies when starting their company- from getting investors, dealing with competition from other tech savvy companies and hiring the right talent. Not many hear about the struggles of SMEs and solopreneurs that start up in the region (like us at DeCluttr ME) and have no aspiration to expand to have more than a 1000 employees after a year and sell up later for billions. So here are a few of our struggles:
1. GETTING THE WORD OUT
Professional organizing is a huge industry in the U.S. and Europe, but very few had heard of decluttering here. I knew it would be a difficult concept to explain to people here when I first started it in 2013 (plus it was not innovative or tech sexy), but I had no idea I would have to deal with “eye-glaze face” as often as I did when I first started. Through social media, networking and writing blogs and articles, I was able to spread the concept to a wider audience quickly. In less than a year, I was able to get clients who appreciated what I did and needed my help desperately. (Plus it didn’t hurt when Marie Kondo brought professional organizing to the global forefront this year.)
2. BEING LEAN
No, I’m not talking about “leaning in” with other female entrepreneurs. I am talking about being lean with your spending when you start up. You might have a big amount of share capital in your bank account when you start up, but it does not mean you have to use those funds!
These are examples of how I have saved or how I did not spend money on my business since founding the company:
A. We didn’t buy fancy office furniture. Buy secondhand furniture or hit up Ikea. you really don’t need that fancy spinning ceo chair when you start.
B. I advise people to visit my website. Most of my funds have been spent to create a user-friendly uncluttered website. Use the money on the site rather than spend money on printing brochures (they only get thrown away).
C. I use online virtual assistants to help me with my admin work.
D. Make the most of the services available on Fiverr. I have engaged a video editor in Costa Rica and an artwork creator in Macedonia to help my business.
E. Use the free service Canva to create artwork for my blogs.
F. Pay for photos using one of the US$1 per photo sites.
Once I have made my first million dollars, I will go out and celebrate at a high class restaurant using the company’s petty cash, but for now I am enjoying how lean my business is running. Full disclosure: I did spend a silly small amount for advertising in a newspaper, it was the biggest waste of money for my business. But we are all allowed to make mistakes.
3. FORMING A COMPANY
I found forming the company very simple as I was a solicitor and company secretary in my previous life. The reality is anyone can form a company on their own. You just have to fill in many forms, hand in copies of all your IDs a few times and provide a packet of passport photos. The difficult part of forming an sme is paying the high license fees. If you are a solopreneur with no investor or million-dollar trust fund, the startup license fees are hard to swallow. (The renewal fees are slightly easier to swallow.)
Even if you do form the company and pay the huge license fees, you then have to try and open a bank account. Many banks expect you to leave over AED100,000 in the bank account at all times. That AED100,000 could be used to build your company! After all that, you are expected to rent an office to maintain the trade license. Rent in UAE is not getting any cheaper from what I have seen. There are always articles stating that the DED and free zone authorities and banks love SMEs, but I have to yet to see the love for smes from a financial point of view.
4. BEING A RUBBISH SALESPERSON
I’m not a natural salesperson. Some of us have the selling ability, and some of us recoil in horror at the thought of pushing someone to buy our product or service. I have always disliked the hard push by salespeople, so I had to think of a way to sell my products without annoying potential clients. To help me become a better salesperson, I found a business mentor. She showed me how to focus on my sales technique with potential clients and also how to market myself online and offline.
5. IT’S NO 9-5 JOB
Being an entrepreneur, I’ve found I tend to work outside of the normal 9-5 structure. When I am with a client, I will work from 9-5 helping them to declutter and organize. However, once I have finished with them, I still have to deal with the numerous emails, admin, and running of the company. That means I can still be working at midnight or even later catching up with my business related tasks. Talking (and tweeting) to other entrepreneurs, I have found that many of us burn the midnight oil, but you are never warned that you could be working much longer hours than when you were an employee for a corporate.
These are a few challenges I have faced over the last few years, but the joy I get from running this company far outweighs the challenges that are occasionally encountered (except maybe the license fees).