People often ask me – “why are you so passionate about African entrepreneurs?” It’s because, more so than any other period in African history, SMEs hold the key to unlocking the huge economic potentials of the African continent. With this in mind, I tirelessly raise and promote the profile of as many young and successful African entrepreneurs as I possibly can.
I want you to be an entrepreneur. More than that, I want you to be a successful entrepreneur. Part of being a successful entrepreneur is having as much information as possible about what entrepreneurship is really about, the good, the bad and the unexpected.
In this post, I will share with you 6 hard truths most people fail to tell you about entrepreneurship. These truths are things I believe you should hear and understand before you set sail on your entrepreneurial voyage.
I don’t want you to be navigating the entrepreneurial ocean and start sounding like one character in a popular Nigerian movie back in the days – “nnah, these people did not explain this thing to me very well.”
I’m writing this post so that when you embark on your entrepreneurial journey, you don’t harbor any illusions or false ideals about entrepreneurship. The goal is to inform you, not to scare you.
I want you to be prepared, not deterred.
Here are six pieces of insight that will adequately equip you, and maximise your chances of success on your entrepreneurial journey.
6 Hard Truths for Aspiring Young African Entrepreneurs
You will face many challenges
I suppose I should start from here – African entrepreneurs face many challenges. It sounds like I’m stating the obvious, but most aspiring young African entrepreneurs don’t grasp the magnitude of the challenges they must overcome to be successful.
You must prepare your mind for these challenges. There are endless opportunities for African entrepreneurs to succeed but the path is rough.
Take Chijioke Eze, for instance. He started his tissue production company when he was 25 years old. In an interview, he told me that electricity was one of the major challenges he encountered when he started his business in Nigeria. What can a manufacturing company achieve without electricity? The cost of running a power generator can quickly erode the profits and cripple a young company. Many of Chijioke’s counterparts and competitors packed up because they could not find a solution to the high electricity costs. But Chijioke held on, even when it meant working night shifts just to leverage on available power supply.
Today, he runs a successful production company all because he found a solution to his problems, found a way to work around them, refused to give up, and overcame them.
These challenges overwhelm a lot of people because they are not fully prepared for them. Don’t let this happen to you.
You are not your own boss yet
The business is your boss, especially in the early days.
Most young African entrepreneurs dream of ‘firing my boss’ and becoming ‘my own boss.’ They imagine going to work late and closing early, not stepping outside while it’s raining and not getting their hands dirty.
I know this because I once thought like that. The reality is jarring. More than that, it’s shocking. As I said, you won’t be your own boss, yet. Your business will be your boss, and in some cases, your wife, husband, mother and father.
You will be so consumed with establishing your business you will barely have time for anything else.
When you start as an entrepreneur, be prepared to work hard and make a lot of personal sacrifices. Be ready to spend long hours wondering where your next sale is coming from. If you have any ambitions of starting your day at 11am, please shelf it for now, or your entrepreneurial dream will be short lived.
The rewarding part is that in the end you will be working for yourself and owning that lucrative business will become a reality.
Your business plan is worthless at first
I say this all the time. A lot of young African entrepreneurs get hung up about owning a good business plan. I get tons of emails from my readers asking me to help them write a business plan.
As a beginner, you need good knowledge of how your business works more than you need a business plan. A business plan is merely a document of reference, unless you’re looking for finance from a financial institution.
It is an important document, no doubt, but a document nonetheless. The document is worthless if you understand nothing about the business. You run your business, the business plan does not run your business.
In my experience, it takes quite a while to write a perfect business plan, if there is anything like that. What you should focus on is learning as much about the business as you can.
My advice is to start the business on a small scale. Test, trial, make mistakes, analyse and then start all over again. That way, you will learn what works and what is outdated. You will get firsthand experience, which is more important than any business plan can give you.
If you are paying someone to write a business plan for you, make sure you are involved in every process. Your business plan must reflect you, your business and your current business environment. Without the personal experience, the best business plan in the world is only a document to you. The useful part of the plan is the implementation.
You don’t have to quit your job
Last week, I spent a few hours listening to some people debate on ‘who is an entrepreneur?’
One of them said, “An entrepreneur that has a job, is that one an entrepreneur?”
In between huge gales of rocking laughter, I explained to them that you can be an entrepreneur even while you keep your day job. In fact, you don’t have to quit your job especially in the early days of your entrepreneurial journey.
For a start, you need the job to pay bills, run your business and keep things going until you start making profits. There are profitable businesses you can start even while you work. What matters is how committed you are to the overall success of your business.
Remember you must stay committed to your current job and even more committed to your business. Running a side business while you are working is not easy, but when does anything good ever come easy?
Failure is possible
Nobody likes to hear this – you could fail!
Nobody prepares for failure, do they? But you should, because businesses fail all the time. In fact, figures hold that over 90% of new businesses fail within their first 5 years. Add the harsh African business climate and you see how those odds worsen.
I’m not telling you to go and fail. I’m only saying that failing is a possibility.
When I started my first business – a city magazine – I never believed I could fail. I had an iron-clad plan, my magazine was the best in the city both in design and content; I had willing businesses ready to advertise in my publication. But I failed in less than 1 year. Like most people, I never thought it could happen to me.
You must understand, failing is only an event. It does not define your life, it does not make you a failure. You become a failure only when you accept defeat and quit.
Successful entrepreneurs never accept defeat; they are not deterred by anything. The more they fail, the more they are motivated to find channels to success.
You must give your business venture your best shot. Try everything possible to succeed. But if you fail, hey, analyse what has gone wrong, dust yourself off, go back to the drawing board and start again.
Success is not permanent
Many people dream of a time when they can say, “I have arrived.”
There are two things you must know:
1. If you work hard and persist, you must arrive. Success is sure; money eventually comes.
2. That success is not permanent. When you ‘arrive’, you must keep on arriving. You must not relent on your efforts and hard work.
Remember the story of Nokia, Yahoo and Blackberry. If you think it cannot happen to you, you better think again.
The journey to financial freedom never ends. Even when you succeed, you must strive to hold your place at the top, or you risk tumbling down and starting afresh.
From personal experience and what I’ve observed from my entrepreneurial peers, these are some of the truths young African entrepreneurs must understand to become successful.
As I said at the beginning, my goal is for you to become a successful, informed entrepreneur. When you keep the above valuable pieces of insight in mind, your chances of success are even greater.