"Iselle, why are you mad at Trump's remark?" Asked a friend laughing at my frown. After all, Africa is definitely writing its own history, thanks also to entrepreneurs. We are redefining the landscape. It is not enough. Less words, more action.
Actually, many of us are all mad at him for having –or not- made some comments about developing countries. As an African woman, Made in Gabon, I got mad too. Then instead of jumping into the divided wagon of those who confirm his opinions and those who contest it, I decided to refocus my thoughts, to embrace the land of self-improvement needed from each one of us to truly Transform Africa on the economic, social and political level.
The biggest gathering of African CEOs is held in Davos, Switzerland. I see many jumping up and down and I ask myself why the major economic and entrepreneurship forums concerning Africa are held abroad . Can we expect westerners to come to African summits when they want to find solutions to their issues?
Don't think so...
Sometimes, when I look at the state of corruption snatching open tenders to the profit of the wealthy ones, the politization of the private sector for the benefit of politicians propaganda, the lack of financial support from banking institutions and even the lack of serious commitment from young entrepreneurs themselves, I cringe and dream of those days back when I was living in the U.K.
Nevertheless! Entrepreneurship is spreading fast, with Africa holding the highest entrepreneurial population rate in the world, 27%. African female especially, with 36,1% rate in Uganda, 39,9% in Zambia, 22,2% in Angola. Moreover, we are also producing, thanks to mentoring initiatives and access to information, an outstanding breed of competent, hard-working, mentored and determined business people, who find in every challenge of our countries an opportunity to do business while bringing solutions. Mike Herrington, executive director of Global Entrepreneurship Monitor and professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa says in an interview "The entrepreneurial landscape in sub-Saharan Africa is absolutely excellent, on the increase because Africa, at last, has been emerging and the economies are booming." I thing that another missed reason is that seeing the lack of tangible developing actions from governments, has motivated us to leapfrog and kick our creativity in to find solutions for ourselves. Rather than wait more decades on public initatives, we might as well start with what we have to have access to energy, health, education and so on, providing jobs along the way. Entrpereneurship allows solutions to reach all areas, all needy neighbourhoods. Who best than a fellow from a village or a corner of a town, to capture the needs and devise how to answer to it?
And this is what makes us overcomers. In every trial, we see a reason to keep going.
As a matter of fact, we might be shithole countries, but the number of expatriates coming from rich countries is not decreasing at all. In spite of all our flaws, we are still the most promising continent of the planet. Jack Ma, Alibaba’s founder, said during his last trip to our motherland: “Entrepreneurs have to get used to failure. If you can’t, then how can you win?”
Yes, we can fail. But to use failure as a springboard to reach higher heights!
How will we go about it in 2018?
1. SCALABILITY/ GO DEEPER
You business' scalability is its capacity to be enlarged, to accomodate growth. Do not just settle for a brilliant idea. We all have ideas, that is why all of us do some kind of business, formal or not. Go further. Don’t think about how it can work in the now, but how it can keep evolving in decades to come, in size, profit, workforce, product content, how it can keep multiplying, and by which process. Can your business idea evolve and be replicated? Can it reach a larger audience in time?
Get dirty. It takes more than willpower and good ideas to make it. There many of us out there, and it is raw. Sweat your business. Aubin, CEO of Solarbox Gabon, said "I stydied electrical engineering to find a solutions so my family would not suffer all these powercuts anymore". Today, an increasing number of villages and even houses in town, are having access to energy thanks to his solar kits.
We cannot do business in times of crisis the way we do it in times of recession! Have you refined your strategy?
We must redirect our steps, ideally with the expertise of professionals or the helpful feedback of our customers. Everyone knows someone, and internet access is spreading, so the “I cannot afford a consultant” one is a lame excuse to remain in the same strategic path, while the market environment is quickly evolving. When did you last go on the field, out there, at the front, to speak to your potential customers, to study the market, to go and get the information where it is so you know exactly what to do, taking risks and at the same time mitigating business hazards?
Just like when playing chess, the majority of our failures are due to us not foreseeing what our adversaries have played to win. Who is your competition? Can you actually join your capacity with them through alliance ans grow? Or study them so you know what added value and differential advantage to bring to the market? What is your true positioning strategy, how do you rate on the scale of your customers profiling?
Align. Brainstorm. Review. Focus. I am not so much for plannification which tends to lead to over-planning. So Just stand up and move!
In 2018, move from production to transformation, if raw production of cocoa can feed ten families, transforming this cocoa into chocolate will feed fifty families: you will need to increase the workforce all along your supply chain process, from chocolate producing to Quality, testing, packing, transportation and so on. And you will increase the offer on the market.
Mali has just topped the list of cotton producers. Good? But not enough. Now they must jump in the wagon of prosperity to be at the top list of manufacturing, cosmetics or food industry, cotton is a very large field of economic development!
We should not be buying these expensive swiss chocolate while cocoa trees are rotting in our back gardens!
4. BUSINESS INTEGRITY
We talk much of business integrity as a degree of transparency in doing business with others. I think there is a higher degree of integrity that we all miss: Personal business integrity. Saying that personal business integrity is one of the reasons many businesses fail before the two years lifespan is an understatement. Personal Business Integrity is a painful and brutal form of self-honesty: Look at your business. Stop from a moment. Refrain from the mire priduced by the number of likes on your facebook or instagram page. Is your Business thriving, for real? Are you producing? You just KNOW when it doesn’t feel right. You can feel in your guts when you are misplaced. Are you only going through road bumps, or are you just not efficient enough? Remember that you only get what you plant the most.
If you are planting much publicity, what you reap is notoriety, not profit. You might eventually get the exhilarating feeling or being invited as a speaker to the many entrepreneurship workshops and forum organised , but most of them do not pay you for it, what experience can you share of success at this stage?
On the other hand, if you go on the battlefield to personally meet your potential partners and stakeholders, you reap contracts. You create employment. Long-lasting value.
We have over 9000 followers on my consultancy facebook page, but we have NEVER secured a business deal thanks to it. The page's aim is to share bews, not get customers. Is your business TRULY succeeding? Social network are not the best marketing tool. Don’t focus so much about virtual communication. The wealthiest of my customers don't even use social network...
Face to Face and word of mouth are the best tools to spread the word about your business.
5. FINANCIAL LITERACY
We are still playing in the small field but want to kick it with the big ones. Too many of us don’t even know how to set a the right price for their service or product, how to be competitive, how to reinvest or manage fixed and variable charges, profit and loss. We must go deeper into numbers: cost-price analysis, production costs, budget and reporting. Too many of us are suffering from what the brilliant Ndubuisi Ekekwe has labelled as “lousy pricing mechanism”. Too many of us have not sat since a very looong time, with the team, a calculator, the numbers of the last few months and anahead projection. If you do not know your numbers, your business will fail, PERIOD. And if you are scared of talking money, you will not make money. Check your books. Ask your accountant to not only help you do your tax declaartion, but to explain to you what you have done and where you are going.
Train yourself. Learn. Again and again.
I believe no one can call himself, in this Africa of today, a successful professional, if he or she is not mentoring someone. This is part of who we are. Don’t even think for a second that you will succeed if you do not mentor someone else, or get mentored yourself. We must make mentoring a part of our business acumen: it allows the entrepreneurship community to exchange advice, technical competency, networks, complementary knowledge, best practices and values while sharpening of our skills, while all parties benefiting from it through progress.
Giving is the Lifestyle of the great.
A door opener to affluence.
As a last, and hopefully, encouraging word, a few months ago, I looked at my figures. They were not where I wanted them to be. It was painful to prepare a full powerpoint presentation that detailed where I had failed: Commercial Strategy. Communication. Negotiation skills. Technical capacity. Market positioning. I went through every single bit of what a business woman who wants to succeed is supposed to work her butt at, and explained to my best advising board - meaning my husband-, where I thought we failed. It was the most excruciating process ever, yet I grew thankful for it. I learnt very quickly from many months of failure. I had been working hard, but disaligned with my main objectives and purpose as a consultant.
We are used to say “my dream is”. Truth be told, I have never dreamt about my business. I mean, like actually dreaming of what I am going to become, or what I have have been designed to produce. I rarely remember my dream, and when I do, they make little sense or reflect the thoughts, emotions and victories of the day.
I feel it in my loins when I am right away, in situ.
I have aspirations. But no Dreams. My aspirations are real. My Dreams are foggy.
It is difficult to say this, because every single motivating post you find on the net tells us about pursuing your dream. So I think that, at some point, it might have led some of us to think we first must sleep and see before we foresee.
Here, I dare to say it: Don’t dream it. See it with your eyes wide open. We do not have the right to fail endlessly. Which law gives you the right to give up? Would you take something that belongs to someone else? No, because you know the consequences of breaking the law. The same goes on here: You do not have the right to fail definitely.
You are hereby Condemned to Succeed!
Vous êtes Condamnés à Réussir!