Imagine that you are a successful entrepreneur who has been asked to share some of your experiences and business advice with aspiring young African entrepreneurs. While the request is flattering, it can also be daunting no matter how successful you are.
Africa is an emerging continent with resources and opportunities waiting to be identified and developed. As entrepreneurs succeed and mentor others to success, Africa blooms and establishes itself as an international economic force.
When surfing the Internet for information on African business, you notice that an array of international media outlets have published content from some of Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs. The personal business insight that they share reveals certain key elements to the success stories of African entrepreneurs. And it is interesting to note that what makes these entrepreneurs alike is, in some ways, what also sets them apart from one another.
10 Essential Pieces of Business Advice for African Entrepreneurs
African Entrepreneurs’ Similarities:
- Knowledge is Power – Like many successful businesspeople elsewhere in the world, African entrepreneurs don’t always have an alphabet soup of college degrees appended to their names. Some are university educated but many are not. Folorunsho Alakija is Nigeria’s wealthiest woman entrepreneur whose worth is stated at $2.6 billion. She developed her diverse business empire without a college education.
Become highly knowledgeable about your service, product, or invention, and your potential market. Take advantage of books, online resources, education and training opportunities when and wherever possible but understand that your body of knowledge comes from diverse sources including:
- Your own successes and failures.
- Studying the successes and failures of other entrepreneurs.
- Learning from mentors.
- Learning from the people you seek to serve.
A final thought about knowledge – you are never done learning. It is an ongoing process to be treasured, cultivated, and put to good use.
- Positivity – Capitalize on, or develop positivity in yourself. Positive thinking may be the single most important element of an entrepreneur’s success. It can sustain you when something has failed and boost your momentum as your success starts to grow. Positive thinking opens your creative thought process to present and future opportunities.
- Don’t Try to Do It Alone – Few entrepreneurs can honestly say that they succeeded entirely on their own. Africa’s successful entrepreneurs understand the value and importance of developing and maintaning a collaborative network of colleagues, partners, friends, family, mentors, and others. They also understand the importance of working within the existing framework of their community and government(s).
One caveat mentioned by a number of entrepreneurs regarding building a supportive network: seek out people smarter than you and don’t hire or network extensively with carbon copies of yourself. Diversity helps develop creativity.
- Be Funding Creative – Take advantage of traditional funding resources like family and financial institution loans when possible but be aware that non-traditional funding is more the norm in Africa for most entrepreneurs.
Consider that Kodjo Afate Gnikou, an inventor from Togo, harvested components from discarded electronics (e-waste) and generated $4,000 from crowd funding sources to develop a low-cost fabricator. The result? The world’s first fully functional 3-D printer that costs less than $100.
- Network – If you don’t know how to network, learn how to, and keep refining your networking skills. Network with your immediate circle of influence (family, friends, colleagues) and every prospective customer, client, decision influencer, and knowledge source.
- Take Action – Nearly all African entrepreneurs interviewed for various business publications state that an entrepreneur must be willing to take action. It is too easy to over-think and over-prepare. There comes a time when action must be taken or your enterprise will fail because you failed to launch it.
- Manage Your Time – The time you commit to developing and implementing your enterprise is sacred. Don’t let people and non-essential interruptions rob you of your valuable time. Learn to effectively prioritize and manage time for each task including taking regular breaks from your venture. You need to recuperate and reflect.
African Entrepreneurs’ Differences:
What sets African entrepreneurs apart from one another is in how they identify opportunities. It is easy to be lured by big industries and flashy/trendy technology, but let’s look at identifying opportunities from an entrepreneur’s eyes.
- Find the Niche in the Hot Markets – Certain businesses may already be rapidly developing or expanding within a major industry or geographic region. For instance, one significant centre of development is Rwanda’s information communication technology (ICT) industry. The creative entrepreneur follows that momentum, identifies the additional/linked products and services currently being overlooked, and finds creative ways of addressing them. This will become your unique selling point.
- Identify and Work with the Trends – A major clothing retailer is facing possible collapse of its long-established business because it has not learned to respond quickly enough to the challenges of fast fashion retailers. The alert African entrepreneur learns to spot the trends and quickly respond to them.
- “Local Problems Need Local Solutions” – Some of Africa’s best opportunities may not be in developing the next great app or tech product; it may be local in origin – a new approach to an old system or industry or a service that solves a key African problem and makes a positive community impact. Remember the slogan of industrialist, Henry J. Kaiser: “Find a need and fill it.”
One final thought. How do you respond to failure? Successful African entrepreneurs know that failure is part of the process of success. You only truly fail if you don’t learn from your failure. Africa is considered one of the world’s fastest growing continents where entrepreneurial opportunities are limited only by one’s imagination and one’s willingness to apply the lessons learned from both failure and success.
Put in place these key pieces of insight and realise your true potential as an African entrepreneur.