Need Success in Doing Business? Don’t Ignore Some ‘Soft’ Areas

Running a successful business is quite challenging, but for young entrepreneurs running a business can have even more complications that make it difficult to get basic tasks done.

There is a fallacy that Kenya, East Africa and Africa as a whole lacks entrepreneurial youth because our education system is focused on preparing the young people for employment. As much as this may look like a truth, my current job has shown me a different picture!

I worked for the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), specifically at the YALI Regional Leadership Center East Africa, where I interacted with young people from 14 countries in East and Central Africa. One outstanding observation from these young people was that they are brilliant, energetic, and hungry for success. Most of them were from college, others had set up their businesses, while others were working for big corporations and were considering stepping out of employment to do business. There seemed to be a common understanding among a majority that real success in life could be available in entrepreneurship, and the networking opportunities presented by the YALI RLC East Africa program becomes a stepping stone for them to venture into or grow their business.

But, what makes a young entrepreneur successful? It is not just networking, skills and access to finance. When you ask anyone about the biggest challenge entrepreneurs face, access to finance and lack of skills would come top of the list. I do not dispute that these are essentials for success in doing business, but there are other “soft” areas that an entrepreneur should build on.

One of them is ethics and values. Almost every entrepreneur is raw and weak at the time of start. They have little knowledge and even meagre resources, besides being pitted against heavy odds like established players in the market who may have little respect for ethics. There is no denying that Ethics will win in long term, provided you survive that long to benefit from that win. For short and medium term, it is “hook or crook” attitude which brings business success. Given that ethics means moral principles that derive from beliefs about right and wrong, it is critical for young entrepreneurs to define what is right for them and what they will not do. Getting it right in ethics will help the entrepreneur move beyond the narrow focus on technical competence and financial goals, which are fundamentally important, but not sufficient for business success. The entrepreneur will also be able to resist self-centred approaches in doing business, and focus on the customer and the community at large. We all agree that a customer-centred business reaps the biggest fruits in the long run.

Another essential aspect for success in entrepreneurship is the entrepreneur’s vision. Rarely does an entrepreneur start with a 10 year vision in place. Almost every entrepreneur starts small with basic survival or “little riches” as the aim. The vision, mission and all such management jargons erupt only after a reasonable level of success is attained. Some young people are losing it by trying too hard to have a long-term vision in place, while they only need an idea to run with. Yes, you will need to spend time to research on your idea, but be humble enough to start small and focus on business survival as you craft a strategy for long-term success.

Every literature on entrepreneurship elevates the role of innovation in success of new businesses. However, I personally consider Innovation fairly low in the entrepreneurial element basket. Innovation helps in achieving success in business whether it is 10 generations old business or an entrepreneur’s new enterprise. An entrepreneur is one who starts a business enterprise of which he had no previous experience. Most entrepreneurs start with a routine business activity without any innovative idea. It may be as common a business as a videography and photography services provision. So, if a young person sets up a company that offers videography and photography services while they actually studied, say education in college, there is no innovation but it is entrepreneurship. What is key is for a person to venture in a territory little known to them but through continuous research and improvement, they perfect the art of service delivery or product development in that field. Young people might be lost in the idea of wanting to do something no one else has done. This is a noble course to follow, but I think there should be room to replicate ideas from one place to another, and simply improve on already existing ideas.

Having interacted with so many entrepreneurs from East and Central Africa, I think it is critical for young people to remember that perseverance plays a big role in the success of new business venture. They have to appreciate that the start is tough and initial failures are a common phenomenon. I have come to understand that if someone ventures into entrepreneurship without having a steely resolve and perseverance to keep going against all odds, their failure is not a question of if, but when it will come.

Hard Work

Every entrepreneur I have interacted with in the course of my job tells the same story: the initial years are sweat and sweat and even more sweat. Resources are scarce, finances are scanty, knowledge is sketchy and goodwill is zero. They all confess that untiring work bordering on the madness is a common element in their lives. Some will talk of packing a 48 hours work schedule in their 24-hour day, and time never seems enough to do all what needs to be done.

Despite the much work and little possibility of success, young entrepreneurs should learn that self-confidence would help them overcome every odd and be successful in their ventures.