Being a career-oriented woman can be tough because of the pre-conceived notion about a woman’s role in our culture and tradition. Because of this advancing in any field can be quite challenging but setting up your own startup is especially difficult due to gender bias, work-life balance, receiving a loan, inadequate support system, unfavorable business environment and limited knowledge. Even if you have a superb business plan and a great support system, the chance of being told ‘no’ is exceptionally high if you are a woman filing for a loan.
However, more and more women wish to enter the field of business at various levels and they are being facilitated (particularly with programs like Kamayab Jawan) to make their ventures easier and successful. In this regard, there are many questions that need answers for a new entrepreneur. Here are some guidelines to help women in order to establish a successful startup in today’s competitive market:
• First identify your passion; this will help you identify the business market you want to target. Another approach is to focus on thinking what you can solve instead of what to sell. Fixing a problem or fulfilling a demand gap in the market or certain market niche will help you gain a customer base that is solid and ensure that your business will thrive.
• Validate your idea by conducting detailed and systematic market research, do surveys and questionnaires, find out what is it exactly that people want, what possible competitors are offering in that regard and how can you give your product an edge in the market.
• Keep your idea simple and take calculated risks. Test your service/product on a small scale, build on what works, adjust what shows potential and toss out the disasters. It is easy to let your ideas snowball into a complicated mess with all the fancy features you can offer. So start small and solidify with narrow focus, try to develop a good quality product and service. As your business grows, it will be easier to add different and more complex features to your product/service.
• Make a business plan; it is the road map to your business. It should contain well written and clear business goals, how to achieve those goals, at least first three years of business strategy, goal achieving strategies, timeline, financial projections, etc. In short, it should be a detailed plan of your company’s future. The business plan will also help you with the remaining steps. The Kamayab Jawan website provides a model business profile template, a balance sheet template, a cash flow template, income statement template and loan repayment template, so be sure to use it as a guideline to get a good idea about all kinds of expected expenditure and nitty-gritty of business.
• Look for mentors to help better understand and navigate the rules of business. While it is not necessary, having a mentor helps to understand the process of what it takes to turn your idea into a product and launch it. Surround yourself with people who can help you launch your startup company in terms of business support and moral support. The aim of Startup Pakistan Program (under the umbrella of Kamayab Jawan) is to provide chances to be mentored and trained in order to mature your business plan.
• Starting a business does not mean you have to be an expert at everything, seek professional help, hire some staff, a manager or an accountant, and financial advisor to help navigate the tax obligations and legal matters, depending on the industry. Based on your product/service you might need to lease some equipment and property. Hire a lawyer and know the legal aspects of beginning with a startup.
• Identify the operational needs of your business and prepare for them in advance. Most individuals’ sole focus is what to sell and who to sell it to; they don’t take into account the actual procedure of making a product/service and getting it to the customer. For example, who will handle shipping, delivery, distribution, customer support, invoices, customer complaints, social media presence, means of payment, problems if shipment doesn’t arrive on time, follow-ups, etc. You might need to hire an assistant or a virtual assistant to help with such issues.
• Build a website and look for a location — a physical address for your company. You will need an accessible location to conduct your business and a strong web presence. Use all social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat. It lets potential customers know of your existence and the product/service you plan to offer. Make sure your website is fast and has a clear layout, which is easy to navigate for the customers.
• Become a marketing expert. Your startup cannot succeed if nobody has ever heard the name of your company, what it is about or what you are offering in terms of products/services. Acquire the knowledge of marketing techniques. Use television, billboard, radio, print ads and social media advertisements like search engine marketing, pay-per-click advertisement, email marketing and affiliate marketing.
• Once you have established your business you need to make sure your customers keep coming back and you get good word of mouth publicity. In short, build a good customer base for an excellent customer service. Customers are the lifelines of your business and should be treated as such; make their satisfaction with your product/service your main priority.
Due to the policies of the current Government of Pakistan, the odds are growing manifold in favor of women, minorities and youth in fields like education, skill training, employment and entrepreneurship. Recently launched Kamyab Jawan initiative was introduced with the main aim to create ample opportunities for the youth, to empower them and help them apply innovative and enterprising methods for socio-economic development of the nation. Under the umbrella of Kamayab Jawan, the Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES) provides subsidized business loans for budding young entrepreneurs. It is a transparent program, which means that the application process and details are available online with Artificial Intelligence (AI) system so that there is no prejudice during selection. This allows everyone a fair chance.
This program allows females to be given a chance of launching their own ideas and to develop their businesses as the government has set a fixed quota of 25% exclusively for women. That means 25 crore is available for the women to help them expand an already established business or to launch a new business.
The amount of loan is categorized at 3 levels; interest-free loan, micro loan and small loan. The first level, i.e., the interest-free loan, is 10,000 — 100,000 rupees. The second level is the micro loan, also known as Tier-1 Loan, which is 100,000-500,000 rupees with a 6% markup, and third level is the small loan, also known as Tier-2 Loan, which is 500,000-5 million rupees with an 8% markup. During the first year there is no demand to return the loan, after that there is a 8-year time period to return the loan in monthly, quarterly, bi-annual or annual installments. One additional year may be given as grace period. The criteria for getting the loan is based on merit and eligibility. The age range to apply for this loan is 21-45 years and 18-45 years if required for the field of IT. The loan application process will take up to 15-30 days; No educational background is strictly required unless it is the field’s requirement. Any private jobholder or unemployed person can apply for the loan, individually or in a group of two or more people. Three banks of Pakistan will be providing these loans: National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), Bank of Punjab (BOP) and The Bank of Khyber (BOK) at a 100-rupee non-refundable fee required for the application submission. Business idea, need and business setup will be considered. Moreover, the business should be ethical and permitted under the law. Small and Medium Enterprise Development Authority (SMEDA) feasibility report is not mandatory to apply for loan, but needs to be submitted once you have been approved for the loan and further processing is required.
In short, going into the business world well-prepared will give your startup a likelihood at success. Akhuwat foundation established by Dr. Saqib Amjad can be taken as an excellent example of women at success in small businesses. The foundation provides microfinance loans whose primary beneficiary are women. The rate of return and success is 99%. It is uplifting the social standard of society and similar outcomes could be seen when, if successfully, done at a massive government scale by a scheme like Kamyab Jawan. HH
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