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Why You Need To Be In The Startup Game To Win It Andrea Stevens had no startup capital, only rudimentary English skills, no network and an average education, but she's built two successful businesses anyway because she took the leap into entrepreneurship. Here's what you can learn from her journey.

By Nadine von Moltke-Todd

You're reading Entrepreneur South Africa, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Andrea Gombalova Stevens

Vital Stats

  • Player: Andrea Gombalova Stevens
  • Company: Just Property Port Elizabeth and Just Property Uitenhage
  • Visit: Just.property

Born and raised in Slovakia, Andrea Gombalova Stevens embraced a new language and a new culture when she made South Africa her home many years ago. Today Andrea is the franchisee of Just Property Port Elizabeth and Just Property Uitenhage, focusing on residential property management, rentals and sales. She currently has a staff of 28 people across the two franchise offices.

When she launched her businesses though, she had only a rudimentary grasp of the English language, no formal education in the real estate field, no network or influence and most of all, she felt lacking in the emotional intelligence required for a startup business.

"The only thing I had was a burning desire to become more," she says, adding that looking back she realizes she had no idea what she was getting herself into when starting a business, and it felt like everything was playing against her.

"There is really nothing specific that can prepare you better for your business journey other than having a clear vision of where you are taking it and a desire to really make it happen," she says.

"I have encountered many people in life who have had a perfect business plan, financial back up, family support and more. And yet their businesses never got off the ground. For many people, entrepreneurship remains nothing more than a dream, or a "one day' story that they tell themselves.

"The secret is to just start. And then drive and (sometimes agonizing) discipline, I have learnt, are critical."

Sales are a startup's silver bullet

As a startup, Andrea soon learnt that there are so many areas in a business that require significant time and energy. "You have to master every part of your business to its best level. Every detail matters," she says.

"Having said that, when starting a new business, you certainly can't be caught up in every detail because you're still in survival mode. You need to balance the need to cover every corner of your business on your own with the need to drive fast growth. It's tricky and takes a lot of focus and discipline, as I mentioned earlier."

In hindsight, Andrea believes she should have focused more on mastering her sales skills, and this is her advice to other early – and late – stage entrepreneurs.

Related: 2 Simple Ways to Keep Your Startup Growing

"Without sales your business cannot survive. Sales maintains cash flow in your business. No cash coming in, no business.

"As you grow your business you can always refine your procedures and systems, but it cannot be the other way around. The perfect filing process or top-notch systems will not make the business survive through its initial stages. You have to keep bringing cash in and, when you can afford it, you can focus on refining the back end. Sales first. Simple."

Hire slow and hire right

Like all entrepreneurs, Andrea has made many mistakes and she knows she will make others in the future. But she's also learnt from miss steps and challenges.

Related: 5 Startup Lessons That Will Secure Your Industry Status

"Challenges help us grow if we can survive them and learn from them," she says. "For example, it was extremely difficult for me to find the right agents when I launched my business. I was small, and I had no name or reputation in the industry. I couldn't attract the calibre of agents that I wanted to, which made me desperate. I ended up getting anyone on board who I could, which turned out to be a severe mistake."

It was a quick but fierce lesson for Andrea: You can't just employ an agent (or employee) just for the sake of having an agent.

"Choosing the right people for your business is vital. The wrong person can destroy everything you've been trying to create in a fraction of the time that it took you to build it. Your team needs to share your beliefs and vision. You need to all be moving in the same direction. Hiring the wrong people can set you back in business and can cost you greatly in terms of time, finances and, most of all, your reputation."

Work on the business, not in it

And then Andrea learnt the single lesson that all entrepreneurs who really want to scale need to learn: You need to work on the business, and not in it.

"As time passed, the business was growing but not fast enough for my satisfaction," she recalls. "I needed to take a beat and analyse every aspect of the business, and I realised that I was working too much in the business, particularly on admin work that was never going to result in growth because it wasn't a revenue-generating activity.

"It's always difficult to let go of what you think your job is as an entrepreneur, which generally involves keeping the business operational. That's not your job. The entrepreneur's duty is to work on the business: Cast the vision, build a culture, lead your team and network.

Related: Why an Industry Reputation Will Help Your Startup Succeed

"Most of all, you need to constantly analyse, examine, and re-examine every part of your business to see if you're moving in the right direction, particularly in today's ever-changing world. If you're not constantly watching your numbers, innovating and keeping an eye on your competitions, you may quickly become obsolete in the market."

Your existing clients are the lifeblood of your business

Andrea's final piece of advice is to never underestimate the value of existing clients. "This was something I was neglecting for a while until I had a real "ah ha' moment. I realized that if I wasn't taking care of my clients, someone else would.

"Customers are the lifeblood of any business. Yes, we must thrive and do all we can to make sales and get more business, but never forget who is currently keeping you alive."

Andrea's top 3 tips for Startups

  1. It's a common misconception that you have to have a huge capital, a great education, an incredible support system and influence to make it in business. Yes, you can go to business school, you can read a ton of books on business but that alone will never make you successful. It's what you are prepared to do that will bring that success.
  2. Just start. If I could do it with minimal financial capital, only an average education, being a foreigner, not speaking my mother language, and with no network to start with, then anyone can do it. But you have to be in the game to win it.
  3. Vision comes first. You just need a clear vision in your mind, one which you are prepared to go for, and then don't let anyone stand in your way. Just go for it.

Related: Startup Lessons From A Mountain Bike Race Launched By Two Farmers And A City Guy

Nadine von Moltke-Todd

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor-in-Chief: Entrepreneur.com South Africa

Nadine von Moltke-Todd is the Editor-in-Chief of Entrepreneur Media South Africa. She has interviewed over 400 entrepreneurs, senior executives, investors and subject matter experts over the course of a decade. She was the managing editor of the award-winning Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa from June 2010 until January 2019, its final print issue. Nadine’s expertise lies in curating insightful and unique business content and distilling it into actionable insights that business readers can implement in their own organisations.

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