Start a business: A recipe for success. Or not

“Unlike baking a cake, there is no single recipe or formula for business success.”

This series of articles takes a realistic and practical perspective of business start-up using lessons from my extensive start-up experience and those of hundreds of South African entrepreneurs I have worked with across every industry over the past 15 years. It is also why I can admit that unlike baking a cake, there is no single recipe or formula for business success.  

There are dozens of reasons for starting a business. Essentially, though, these fall into two categories: either you can’t find a job and need to make an income to survive or you have a burning creative desire to grab an opportunity to build something or solve a problem for others. Often the true reason is a combination of the two.

What is more important than the external reason for starting is the inner passion and purpose to see it succeed. The size and strength of this inner passion is what provides the energy to push forward and keep on pushing to success.

You will often be told that the first step in creating a new business is to write a business plan. The trouble is that because of the many variables outside our control, no business proceeds exactly as the business plan predicted. It is the very inconsistency and unexpected nature of business that makes it exciting and challenging. In my experience, this is one of your last tasks because a business plan can bog you down and keep you busy planning when what you need to do is step into action.

Given that entrepreneurship is a life-changing experience and a commitment (I often liken it to a marriage), it’s important to be sure that you are creating the life that you want. So, before you put a ring on it, here is an all-important checklist:


You are launching into a journey that will require you to dig deep, call on all of your skills and develop self-mastery. The more you understand yourself, the easier this journey will be.

The first step I recommend is to reflect on who you are and uncover what is really important to you. Do a personal vision exercise, taking a moment to dream a little to clarify what you want to achieve.

Next, identify your values. Values are the inner guidelines on which we measure ourselves and those around us: values like respect, honesty, courage etc. Make a list of your top five (not more than seven) core values. Chances are that these will also be central to the business you create.

Lastly, go deeper still, setting specific life goals in the seven areas of life, creating a personal “map” to guide your journey. This exercise will help keep you aligned to your true passion which is where your energy is stored. I do this at least once a year and any time that I feel I need a tune up.


In my experience, business ideas tend to jump out at you and entrepreneurs often struggle with too many options, but if you are looking for a good place to find a business opportunity start looking at where there is market demand by noticing your own irritations. Does it frustrate you that your local shop keeps running out of fresh beans or that you have to drive across town to get a decent cup of coffee, or perhaps that your internet is always down? These frustrations represent a gap in the market that could be a business opportunity.

If this is your first business, make a list of all the business opportunities you can think of. Some might be wacky and silly but among them will be one or two that hook you and feel worth a deeper look.


As an entrepreneur your new business will depend heavily on you and your talents, so do a personal skills audit.  Write down what you bring to the business – your experience, skills and talents. Include those things that you think are obvious – these may be your winning shot!

Next, list your networks, these are a great asset for any business so make a list of all your personal connections such as high school, university, Dad’s work, the church, your old work colleagues etc.

Lastly, make a list of the resources you have. Include any car, house, machinery – either your own or something you could easily rent or use. If you have money or know someone who will lend you money, add that too.


A business is only viable if you have clients that want what you are selling and have the money to pay for it. Avoid a market demand that isn’t matched with buying power.

You can test the market potential by following a market research plan or by asking your target audience if they would be interested in buying what you want to sell. This step is crucial – too many entrepreneurs invest time, money and energy into building their dream business only to realise that there is no money in the market.

In summary, to be successful as an entrepreneur you need the passion and purpose for business so the more you understand yourself the better you will be in matching your personal drive to your business idea. Finding a business opportunity can be as simple as looking around you at the needs of your family and friends and growing from there. Business requires skills, networks and resources and often our greatest asset is something we take for granted. Lastly, a business is only a business if there are customers that want and can pay for what you are selling.

About the Author:

Catherine Wijnberg is the CEO of Fetola, a leading provider of scalable, world-class entrepreneurial support programmes for African entrepreneurs. Helping people build businesses that last through scalable solutions that deliver social, environmental and economic impact. Fetola means “change” in Sesotho – and they aim to empower people by supporting the growth and development of sustainable, empowered and thriving small and medium enterprises (SMEs) at scale.

Thank you for reading this article. Catherine regularly writes about small business development, sustainability and circularity, and has a passion for effecting scalable impact at the ecosystem level. To receive updates, please sign up here.