Tip for entrepreneurs: Farm out the legwork to speed up growth of your business
Tarig El Sheikh is both a father and a serial entrepreneur, so he speaks from experience when he says starting a company is literally like having a newborn.
“There are three hellish months which take up to 20 hours a day,” says the former Lehman Brothers employee. He has started several businesses, the latest of which, Beneple, was acquired by a financial services group last year for US$15 million.
“Being a solo founder is literally like being a single mum or a single dad. It’s mental. It’s doable but it is very, very difficult.”
For each of the companies, which also includes Istashir, a corporate finance and management consultancy, which he exited in 2013, and Knot Standard, an e-commerce custom clothing company, of which he remains a shareholder, he has had partners. He partially exited Beneple.
But that is not to say it made the process easy. He says he still had to do a lot of the legwork in the beginning before the businesses could afford to take on more staff, taking on take multiple roles himself and learning how to prioritise.
But he is not alone. In the beginning entrepreneurs often assume the role of five or six people, says Aya Sadder, lead organiser for Startup Weekend Fashion Dubai and Startup Weekend Fintech Abu Dhabi, which is running at GlassQube on Reem Island in December.
“They would be HR, they would be admin, they would be finance, they would be sponsorship manager, they would be social media. They would be all these different positions all at once, so their time becomes very tough,” she says, adding that the effect of having to wear so many hats can effectively slow down the growth of the business.
So what is the solution?
Warsha Joshi, founder and managing director of Platinum VA, argues it lies in hiring a virtual assistant. They do anything from managing a client’s calendar, to filtering emails, conducting research, tracking projects, managing expenses and raising invoices.
Virtual assistance companies provide fully trained experienced executive assistants who work remotely, which Ms Joshi claims can save up to 30 to 40 per cent of a client’s time, increasing an entrepreneur’s productivity and relieving their stress.
“It’s a bit shocking, but studies show that 67 per cent of business owners struggle to focus on the primary purpose of their business due to the administrative burden,” she says.
By saving a client or executive’s time by helping them concentrate on key tasks, companies can speed up their business’s growth faster and make sure that their team members are motivated and happy, says Ms Joshi.
“While employees want to concentrate on their priority tasks they can spend up to 41 per cent of their time on paperwork, admin tasks, travel planning and other daily activities,” she adds.
“Time is money, and when so many hours are wasted, especially in a corporate world, companies start looking at ways f keep ing non-core costs to a minimum. Virtual solutions give businesses the freedom to pay only for what they need and avoid hassle with hiring full-time staff, buying additional software or investing in training.”
Mr El Sheikh says that while there is a place for it, a virtual assistance service should be considered a short-term solution to a long-term problem.
“You really have to ask yourself, what is the best use of my time?” he asks. “That is the most critical thing. And you don’t just apply it to yourself, you apply it to the team as well. It’s all about time. You need to add as much value as quickly as possible.”
He places his tasks into quadrants: important and non-important and urgent and non-urgent. Anything that is very important and urgent he does immediately. Anything important but not urgent he tries to outsource to an employee.
“The early days are all on you. You have to be super-ruthless with your time. You have got to really be good at prioritising and knowing what is upfront, what adds value and what needs to get done now or can wait a week, a month or a year,” says Mr El Sheikh. “The early days are all about testing [but] a lot of people tend to spend the early days with admin and setting up the company.”
Ms Sadder suggests one option to relieve the initial burden is to work with incubators such as Astrolabs in Dubai, which does not take any equity, or GlassQube in Abu Dhabi, which offers similar support.
Bernard Lee, co-founder and chief executive at GlassQube, says incubators help start-ups through offering affordable workspace and support services such as IT and secretarial assistance. Prices for a co-working desk at GlassQube, for example, start at Dh950.
But whatever an entrepreneur decides to do, they should seek help.
“Entrepreneurs shouldn’t be alone in the beginning because sitting alone with your thoughts could potentially destroy you,” adds Ms Sader.
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