Avoiding the pitfalls of entrepreneurship: advice from an EMBA alum

Becoming an entrepreneur is an increasingly interesting career option for MBA graduates. Not only did EMBA alum Joep van Deutekom (EMBA’19) become one, he now coaches and advises fellow entrepreneurs on how to eliminate any hurdle that stands between them and realising their dreams. What are the most common pitfalls he sees in starting companies?

When he joined the RSM Executive MBA, van Deutekom believed he was on course to take over the reins at his medium-sized family business in home decor, he says. Things took a unexpected turn, when he discovered his love for coaching and met his future wife Grace Ge (MBA'20) during the programme.

They now run their own company Expat Opportunities, where Grace, with a background in HR and recruiting, focuses on coaching expats to career opportunities in the Netherlands and Joep supports expat entrepreneurs.

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Photo: Grace Ge and Joep van Deutekom

Having gone through both the startup phase himself on top of sharpening his business skills during an MBA have put van Deutekom in a great position to reflect on business decisions of budding entrepreneurs, he says.

In fact, the narrow focus he and his wife applied to their own portfolios of expats only, is something he advises his clients as well.

Be strict in targeting clients

“I have noticed that starting entrepreneurs are often scared to define which clients or customers they want to target. Excluding potential customers just feels counter-intuitive. Will serving a niche audience not get boring very soon? The result is that they try to help everyone and their messaging gets diluted.

Don’t be scared to focus on the challenges of exactly one group. We understand expats so well, because we hear about their struggles every day and that really helps us in tailoring our marketing and with just getting better at what we do.”

Don’t offer too many services

“It is tempting to inject your startup with every morsel of your professional and expertise, just because you expect this to create the most value for clients. Again, being specific helps to stand out from the crowd. In my business coaching, which typically takes six to eight weeks, I invite entrepreneurs to discover what element of their knowledge and expertise gives them the most energy. That should become their niche.”

Start with the ‘pain’ not the ‘idea’

“Entrepreneurs tend to fall in love with their own ideas or innovations and build their business around these notions. A more productive way of shaping a business model might be to start with the pain potential customers feel in their daily lives.

How can your expertise and skills offer relief? Spend some time to carefully research this, before developing any solution.”

Don’t overthink practicalities (looking at you, logo design)

“It seems obvious that you need clients or customers to have a business at all. Still, many entrepreneurs spend countless hours thinking about a company name, or designing a logo first. Outsource these activities. Or if you still want to go ahead and do it yourself, don’t spend more than 15 minutes thinking about a company name, for example.

In our case, expats tend to feel overwhelmed by the Dutch rules and regulations, which slows them down. Get this out of your way as quickly as possible, by using resources and excellent websites like business.gov.nl, which help to get you up and running a lot quicker.”

Stay away from platform sites

“Unless you plan to use them as a side gig, I always advise starting entrepreneurs against bidding on jobs on platform sites if you want to build a business. Apart from the, often lower, rates offered there, you are competing with so many others that there is little room to show off your competitive advantage and uniqueness.

Also, the digital interaction with clients on these platforms make it harder to build trust and relationships than it would be in a sales call. Growing a company means building trust, so that’s where your energy should be.”

Give before you get

“We write, vlog and get interviewed for social media articles very often. Don’t be afraid to share what you know and start with helping out before you engage in sales. For example, we decided to run a Facebook group for expats in the Netherlands, which now has over 1400 members that exchange tips and tricks.

We have noticed that this also really helps with building trust. Give before get is an old saying, but still holds truth in business today.”

Learn more about Joep's business coaching for expats on www.joepconsulting.com and Grace's career coaching for expats here: www.gracecareercoach.com

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Lida Dimitriou
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