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Starting a Business: Tips from Dr. Thommie Burger

Posted on February 2, 2023 by Sara Kremsar
1363 | 2 Feb 2023
Starting a Business: Tips from Dr. Thommie Burger

Starting a business is a daunting undertaking and can be an exciting and challenging journey. With the proper guidance, it can be a fulfilling and profitable endeavor. But you too can embark on an exciting entrepreneurial adventure with confidence! Our expert-guided article will show you the ins and outs of starting a successful business. Learn how to overcome challenges and turn your passion into profit. 

At Optimod, we believe in the power of collaboration to gain the most insights and knowledge. That's why this article is based on collaboration with Dr. Thommie Burger, the founder of JTB Consulting – South Africa's Number 1 Business Planning Company and the Business Planners of Choice since 2006.   

Starting a business is a challenging yet rewarding journey that requires considerable hard work and dedication. Below, Dr. Thommie Burger will share his thoughts and advice on the topic of starting your own business. We are excited to share this information with you and hope it will inspire and guide you on your entrepreneurial journey.


Inactivity yields no progress, take action to make it happen. Instead, successful people go out into the world and accomplish goals through their actions. Typically, entrepreneurs enjoy challenges and work tirelessly to find the most viable solutions to the problems and opportunities they have identified. Often you will learn that a complete vision drives successful entrepreneurs, and it isn't easy to steer them off the course.

You can find a huge list of entrepreneurs who took major risks and made history. Entrepreneurs are risk-takers and always ready to face uncertainties, but they also keep backup plans to deal with unknown situations. Taking risks shouldn't scare you. It's necessary to achieve goals, and successful entrepreneurs understand what needs to be done to reach the final destination. Understanding the needs of your business is one thing and staying current with market trends is another. Successful entrepreneurs know when to pivot as per the changing market scenarios and are always ready to absorb as much knowledge as possible. Successful entrepreneurs welcome all suggestions for optimization that may enhance their product offering and satisfy the needs of their target market.

Being dedicated may or may not guarantee success, but being inflexible about market needs will lead to failure. Adaptability requires a willingness to listen and consider others' perspectives and an openness to constructive criticism. Being adaptable allows one to respond efficiently and effectively in any situation. An entrepreneur may not always know what lies ahead of the curve; thus, implying adaptive strategies can keep you afloat and navigate you out of trouble.

This is obvious, but it takes time to make any business idea profitable. An entrepreneur with solid money management skills will know how to plan effectively for present and future financial obligations. Even after securing funding, a successful businessperson keeps a complete handle on cash flow and uses every bit of it wisely. Most first-time entrepreneurs swear by a solid Business Plan to monitor their success and business model implementation progress. Good connections can make a tremendous difference, and a successful entrepreneur knows how to tap into the right network for solutions. As an entrepreneur, you must reach out to people with experience and extensive networking access. Their valuable advice and contacts will help you set up a strong foundation and be potentially beneficial in the future. A good entrepreneur is only as good as those who support them.

Starting your own business means that there are many costs involved. Employee costs, the cost of funding (capital), the cost of marketing, and the cost of monthly expenses. 

But why do we never discuss the biggest and perhaps most crucial cost – the emotional cost of starting your own business?

Imagine if we could express how much "emotional capital" we have in the bank in numerical terms. The amount of endurance, the amount of positivity, the amount of joy, the amount of physical wellness we have left. New entrepreneurs and start-ups need more financial and emotional capital when starting a new business. Starting your own business may sound fun and easy, but it does take its toll on you. The problem is that we don't discuss how we run out of emotional capital. It is a taboo topic in a world where every second Instagram or LinkedIn post shows a successful entrepreneur (or so it seems). It is easier to hide this "empty emotional bank account" from the world. Failure is arguably our biggest fear. In a world where success (real or not) is thrown in our faces on social media and television, why would we want to share our failures?

The Cost of being Numero Uno, Really Alone.

If you worked for a boss in the past, you had three things you took for granted: guaranteed salary, peers and co-workers. As a result, you arrived in the office every day, mingled with people, were introduced to countless more people, enjoyed lunch and happy hours, complained about your boss, and most of the time enjoyed being able to sympathize with co-workers that are in the same situation as you.

Being the founder of a start-up is like being the new neighbor on the block, yet no one ever comes knocking on your door with freshly baked cookies. It is a genuinely lonely feeling. No longer do you have peers or co-workers. And now, you are the boss, and you can't complain about the boss anymore. Staff meetings are primarily between you, yourself and the voices in your head.

And when you manage to go home after endless hours of burning the midnight oil, things don't get any better. Your better half may not fully understand the battle you are going through. Likewise, your family and friends still can't understand why you left a stable job, gave up a career and are heading down this path of being a lone wolf entrepreneur.

The Cost of Playing the Long Game (Waiting. More Waiting. And Yet More Waiting.)

When you started this dream business, it felt amazing. You were full of energy, having almost found that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. You are free. You are your own boss. You can do what you want. The money will roll in! Every task you completed felt like significant progress.

"Yay! I registered a website domain! Whoopee, my website is up and running. Hooray, I got my first call".

These first wins came quickly, and you were on cloud nine! But then this period wore off. These weren't a bunch of wins day in and day out. It is a bunch of waiting for wins and praying for wins. That little devil on your shoulder is telling you that you can't be sure there will be more wins. That first client that signed with you was excellent, but it took a while for that second client to sign up. And where in the world will you find the third?

Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and months into quarters, and still, every morning, you woke up believing that the breakthrough, that real victory, was just around the corner. And apart from your empty bank account, your emotional account is nearing zero. 

Never in a million years would you have thought how absurdly long this journey would take.

You probably knew that starting a new business would be fast-paced, but no one ever told you that fast-paced wasn't synonymous with rapid growth and quick gains. Fast-paced was another term for constant late nights and a truckload of work. Your expectations probably needed to be correctly set to start with. It doesn't take five months to reach success. It takes years, if not decades, to grow a business. Be honest with yourself. Are you in it for the short-haul or the long game? Perhaps it is time to realign your expectations with reality and facts.

Middle of the Month (Almost Zero Bank Account. Going Broke and its True Cost.)

Playing the long game will require emotional stamina that you may be able to gather, but you may not be able to have control over the financial stamina. So, when the clouds disappear, and that cloud nine feeling wears off, you sit at 1 am with three browser tabs open. One highlights your bank account balance which is freefalling to zero. The second is your credit card balance which is nearing its limit. And the third shows full-time positions advertised on LinkedIn, inviting you to return to the corporate world.

You're past the point of convincing your better half or family members from whom you borrowed money that "we're investing in the future!" and onto the point of "Soon, I'll have no idea how we will keep the lights on". Although, you don't have to answer that question, as Eskom will answer it for you with its regular load shedding experienced across South Africa.

What exacerbates this emotional cost is that it never seems like anyone else is facing the same problem. I find it laughable and sad at the same time that there are entrepreneurs out there that portray a picture to the world that it is easy to get rich (e.g., posts of so-called entrepreneurs standing next to a new Range Rover saying that I have finally made it). What's more sad and laughable are the hundreds of comments I read of individuals praising this post as the measure of success as an entrepreneur and saying that these "Social Media Toxic Posts" presents the wrong message to would-be entrepreneurs of what success really means.

In my opinion, if you started your business to get rich, you should probably close your doors right away. However, that should never be your goal. Instead, it would help if you considered your business (start-up) as a means to an end. The eventual 'end' of the journey as a start-up will one day leave a small legacy you can be proud of with enough food on the table. But, the 'means' right now are doing everything possible to keep the lights on until that day eventually comes. Sometimes that means another part-time job. Other times that means living below your means.

Common Misconception When Starting a Business

Misconception 1: You Need to be Niche
You have to reinvent the wheel. You have to be another Facebook, Apple, Tesla or Uber. You have to bring an incredible, never-before-seen differentiation point, product or service to the market that will outwit and outsmart your competitors all of the time. No! You don't. The sad reality is that a 'niche' does not guarantee success and won't save your business from failure. Your business should be built if you have a valuable product or service at a reasonable price that potential customers want to buy. Period! Don't reinvent the wheel. Some of the most successful businesses have a similar product/service to their competitors. However, they do things better, offer a little more, and satisfy a few more customers.

Misconception 2: You Will Become an Instant Success
Unfortunately, many prospective young entrepreneurs think they will become overnight successes. But I've got news for you! Some of these young entrepreneurs are only inspired to start their own businesses by witnessing individuals that are currently successful. They look at business owners standing in front of a new vehicle, posting pictures of their latest trip to Paris, wearing fancy clothes and thinking this means success! But unfortunately, they study the 'false' success story (the one posted on Social Media) instead of the origin of that success story, which often includes massive struggle, long hours, tears, anger and a roller coaster of emotions before the breakthrough. It takes at least 7 to 10 years to become an overnight success (tongue in cheek).

Misconception 3: You Make Your Own Hours
No, you don't! If that is your point of view, stay in your 9 to 5 job. Of course, your boss makes the hours, but at least you know what hours you are expected to work. I've heard it countless times before, people often tell me how great it must be for me to run my own business because, as the owner, I get to make my own hours. They don't realize that since it is "my own business", it's incredibly difficult ever to turn it off. During the first two years of starting my own business, I worked, on average, 18 hours a day, seven days a week. So, get ready to answer emails at 1 am, meet clients at 6 am, field a Zoom call at 7 pm or take a call from a prospective client during a rugby game at 5 pm on a Saturday.

Misconception 4: You are Rich, Sexy, Unstoppable and Taking Over the World
Entrepreneurship is not sexy! Entrepreneurs don't get rich instantly, nor are they unstoppable. And most certainly, they don't take over the world. In starting your own business, you will meet a client, make your coffee, do all the administrative work and knock on doors for business. Wearing all the caps and transforming yourself by taking on various roles is part of the challenge. In most cases, you won't be able to pay yourself for months (and sometimes years). So, if you want a guaranteed salary, stick to your day job! Don't focus on taking over the world – rather, on improving the industry bit by bit or making a small mark in the lives of a few people (customers).

Misconception 5: Starting a Business comes with Complete Freedom.
The biggest lie is that running your own company allows you to set your hours and gives you total freedom. If you want to start your own business for freedom, think again. The freedom of starting a new business is the opportunity to implement your business idea and the joy of watching your business take shape and solve real problems people have with time. Of course, you have the freedom to change direction as you deem fit, but most of your time will be taken up by meetings, appointments, events and everything else required to run a new business successfully.

Misconception 6: You Need Lots of Money to Get Started
In the current age of an abundance of free business resources, you can start a business with little or no money. You don't need the help of an investor. There are hundreds of free resources, tips and blog posts about bootstrapping your business that you can access. Funding, in any case, is no guarantee for success.

Misconception 7: You will Attract Lots of Customers from Day 1
No, you won't. Most start-ups I work with only make their first sales after six months of starting the business. Plan for the worse but expect the very best. Most businesses fail because they've made plans based on exponential growth right from the beginning. You shouldn't expect customers to flock to your business, even if you think you have the greatest idea in the world. Never stop marketing, and make sure you have enough money to continue marketing just in case some customers find it difficult to find you.


Thommie is a Certified Financial Modelling and Business Valuation Analyst. He holds a PhD with a specialization in Entrepreneurship and Business Management and an MBA specializing in International Business Management. 

Thommie has personally been involved in the successful execution of large-scale Business Analysis, Management Consulting, Business Valuation, and Business Plan projects, ranging from start-up companies seeking as little as R1 million in bank financing to companies requiring more than R1 billion in investor funding to fund their growth strategies. Before establishing his company JTB Consulting in 2006, Thommie worked for several multinational companies based in South Africa, Africa, and the United Kingdom.


Optimod Team extends a heartfelt thank you to Dr. Thommie Burger for sharing his expert tips and real-world insights for starting a business through this article.

In conclusion, starting a business is a wild ride, filled with twists and turns, but don't let that discourage you! The journey to building a successful business is one of the most exhilarating and fulfilling experiences a person can have. Sure, it can be tough at times, but with the right mindset, a solid plan, and a relentless drive, you'll find that anything is possible. So, if you're considering starting a business, take a deep breath, lace up your entrepreneurial boots, and get ready to embark on a journey that will test your mettle but reward you in ways you never imagined. Just remember, starting a business is not a sprint, it's a marathon, and the key to success is taking things one step at a time.

Building on Thommies' advice, I would advise you to embrace the challenge, relish in the uncertainty, and never stop learning. With each obstacle you overcome and each victory you achieve, you'll become a better business person and lay the foundation for a thriving enterprise. And who knows, you may just surprise yourself with what you're capable of. So, go out there, make your mark on the world, and turn your business dreams into a reality!


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