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EE Interview: Marion Freijsen of E.factor (Part 2)

marion-freijsen-2This is the second part of my interview with Marion Freijsen, Co-Founder of E.factor. We had an enlightening conversation about business development and the role of entrepreneurs in the current economic crisis. We also discussed how entrepreneurs can succeed in raising external financing, among other areas of Marion’s area of expertise.

Marion, what makes a great entrepreneur? Define their essential characteristics, personality and skills.

This is one of the questions that many academics have tried to answer, but no one has yet been able to bottle it! I do think there are a number of factors that each entrepreneur has and they are equally true for myself. Passion is number one, determination closely following; you need to be stubborn to a certain extent and not care about what others will say or think. You need optimism, and a deep belief in what you are doing. In terms of skills, many of these can be learned, but you cannot learn to be an optimist or to not take no for an answer or never give up.

So, what exactly is business development? What does a Director of Business Development do?

Business Development is looking at ways of developing new clients, new territories, new channels and even to look at ways of developing new products. All of these make up “Business” and so ought to be part of the role.

What are the biggest mistakes you think entrepreneurs make in the area of business development?

The most common mistake I have seen is that many entrepreneurs believe that they have the best product out there (which may be very true) and therefore that people will automatically come and buy it from them (which is never true).

You have to go out and Sell! Sell! Sell! Never give up selling, and don’t hand it over completely to someone else either. After all, you are the one that knows the product and company inside and out–you are the master sales person.

What is the best strategy entrepreneurs can use to get new customers under the adverse conditions of the current economy?

Use the tools that you have available to you via the internet. Many entrepreneurs still fear presenting themselves on the internet – but you need to get an online presence. There are many ways that allow you to control what your potential clients read about you on the internet…taking the fear out of the equation.

What is the most effective way entrepreneurs can penetrate a new market in today’s economy?

Find a local connector. You can’t do it all yourself, and you can’t begin to grasp another market’s intricacies without some help in the beginning. Do make sure though that you don’t just simply sit in meetings set up by the other person, without working hard on establishing a relationship with your new contact yourself. If you don’t get a personal bond, you will lose the contact the moment you stop working with the introducing partner (see more on this in The N-Factor, authored by Adrie Reinders and myself, which was published in 2007).

What role does business intelligence play in an entrepreneur’s success? How should an entrepreneur best approach the process of gathering business intelligence?

It is crucial to your success. Without proper background info, you are relying purely on luck–not the best basis for success, right? Always do your homework, on people, on markets, on products on anything and everything. If you don’t know your prospect – google them before meeting them. Going to a conference? Google the attendees and make a shortlist of who you really want to meet. It’ll save you a lot of time.

What are the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make when executing their business plan and other strategic initiatives?

To think that it is set in stone. A business plan is a guide and laying it out is great preparation and forces you to think about your goals. But it is a living document and you need to constantly fine-tune it based on what you encounter, changing market conditions, new competition, etc.

What do you think an entrepreneur must do to survive the tough times? What is your recommended formula for success in general?

Be creative, be flexible and be strong.

You can survive, but don’t expect to do it the same way you did last year. For instance, funding is not going to come from banks or VCs as easily as it did before; you have to look for people that will invest in YOU, that know you and that trust you.

What role do you see entrepreneurs playing in the county’s eventual economic rebound?

A big one, it is essential that we continue as entrepreneurs to build our companies and hire people and expand our businesses. We are the engine of the economy. Don’t expect global corporates to really be able to contribute in terms of growth much for a couple of years. They are laying off people and saving costs. However, entrepreneurs–when they start a business–don’t really look at interest rates. They just know they have to start and see it as another challenge to work with. This is the attitude we need in these times.

What do VCs want to see in a business plan that entrepreneurs overlook?

In a business plan you have to make it as easy for a VC as possible, clearly put the key financials in the first page (executive summary), make it easy for them to understand your differentiating factor. Most of all, you need to understand that these days a VC is much more interested in what you and your management team have to offer in terms of relevant experience and skills than in what your product is like. It is YOU they bank their money on and then your product/service.

What other advice do you have for entrepreneurs seeking external financing?

Be as clear and concise as possible. Take time to LEARN how to prepare your pitch the best possible way. This could be the most important thing you do in your entrepreneurial life, and just assuming you know how to do this well would be just as bad as not doing any market research.

What is the most frequent advice you give struggling entrepreneurs?

Don’t blame anyone else for failures, always take a hard look at yourself and learn from the process. That way, you will grow and grow and ultimately you will be successful. And never be afraid to ask for help or advice; we all need it from time to time.

Are you an entrepreneur that would like to tell EE readers about your business? Click on the interview form at the top and feature your business!


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