A long time ago, before ever nurturing the idea of starting a business, I always had it at the back of my mind that it was the dream of everyone getting into business or starting a company to one day grow that business into something mega. I’m talking about the magnitude of a Fortune 500 company. These companies at some point were ideas transformed into reality and eventually grew larger. It was not until I met a young business owner who told me he was satisfied with the small supply business he ran and had no growth ambitions due to the possible added attention and headaches it would bring him. He was comfortable.
I then understood that people got into business for various reasons and it was generally needless trying to find out why some businesses are the way they are. Some businesses however are a cover-up for other unconventional businesses or practices which we won’t waste time dwelling on. Some business owners know while some do not. For those in real business either at a startup or growth phase in many African countries, here are 9 aspects about business that generally apply across the sub Saharan region where the business climate could be quite shaky and unpredictable. Of course for most of francophone Africa, great in potential but ravaged by corruption, the road has never been easy.
1. Dream of growth
For real business owners it’s a natural tendency to want to grow your business. For that to happen there must be a dream, a vision and finally a plan in place to make this happen. Starting a business without a greater goal envisaged is as good as going back to seek a job.
2. Master your business
This is the most important part of the business- knowing what exactly you’re getting into. Some people get into businesses they have little or no clue about because they knew someone or a bunch of people striking it rich in that domain. Some may get lucky. The majority will not succeed unless they hire a professional. Bankers and lawyers are usually best placed to know how profitable a certain business can be because they handle many of these transactions. That though may not be sufficient. Know it good enough to become a consultant.
3. Know your market
Mastering a business alone is not enough to deliver desired results. Knowing your market and its dynamics compliments your mastery of the business. African markets can be very shaky despite market surveys. Many startups with little capital may not take market studies into account, considering what they may have to pay consulting firms. A bulk of the Bamileke businessmen in Cameroon who started businesses in the 1960s and 1970s, many of which were unable to read and write still grew empires from mere wisdom, wit and a mind for business. With fierce competition worldwide nowadays there is little margin for guesswork or error, especially if a loan is coming from someone else.
4. Be present and micromanage
Owning a business without necessarily being on the ground to monitor operations and employees doesn’t really work in many parts of Africa. A few reasons for this are:
- Dishonesty and fraud (especially true if staff is underpaid).
- Lack or automated monitoring systems in our modern times.
- Employees over relaxed, not doing the right thing or being absent from work.
Having practiced as a physician in one of the top private clinics in the city, I routinely received prominent and well known businessmen in the city and Country. Some I would advise after a session to take a holiday away from stress for at least 2 weeks. This was an option most turned down, owing to the fact that in their absence the business would be heading for a disaster. Many seasoned business owners never take holidays.
5. Good leadership
Great leadership crowns most of the issues being raised being at the helm of a growing company. Some people are natural born leaders while others acquire leadership skills through various experiences in their lives and the lives of others. Some learn leadership skills in class. No matter how these skills are acquired, good leadership alone is strong enough to power up and drive a company all the way. Good leaders are usually good listeners and are also quick to receive a nod of acknowledgement from a majority of their employees.
6. Talent acquisition and Human capital
The personnel make up the backbone and support of the company. Without the right people, there is no moving forward. Human and talent resourcing is very critical to a business and is not always those with the highest number of degrees and certificates. It takes a combination of various qualities ranging from talent and the ability to think out of the box to experience and a certain self-consciousness as an employee. Some business owners focus on hiring family members with little or no skill while others thrive in a pool of tribesmen. Furthermore, it has been a long-standing practice for bosses to hire mistresses, directly or remotely, qualified or not, probably for booty-on-the-job. These practices yield the downfall of a business.
7. Embrace Innovation
Recently the world including Africa has seen a drive in innovation. It is strongest now than ever. Business owners have to step up their game to meet up with advancing technology which is also affecting businesses. Companies also have to develop new relevant approaches to business and stand out. Old fashioned methods at some point may no longer be relevant and could throw many out of business completely.
8. Quality and finesse
This is not only good for business, it also gives you credibility. Many business owners put profit before the credibility and image of their business. In doing so the quality of their product or service is compromised. It particularly becomes noticeable where demand is high or competition is lacking in the domain. For example, in the city of Douala, Cameroon where there is a high demand for housing and office space. The few property owners in the city centre or those in the building process have developed new habits. They either build crap (because the demand is present either way) or they neglect maintenance. Some businesses move offices every 3-4 years.
9. The success train
Whatever business you’re getting into, it is very important to understand that starting a business and succeeding is not always easy. Be open minded. The big names that make the news as startups are just about a little percentage compared to those who actually survived a long struggle before finally emerging. Not everyone shares their success stories, some because of the path they’ve had to tread. Making it usually takes guts, hard work, perseverance, failure (and acknowledgement) and sometimes- A stroke of luck. It’s not about seating on that “Soul train” and getting a smooth ride to success.