Gazing out at wild elephants quenching their thirst at a watering hole from my hotel balcony I think if this is one of the perks of starting a business sign me up!
I am in Kenya. More specifically I am in Tsavo National Park. I’m here to meet a manufacturer. It is a stop on my two-week whirlwind race to meet suppliers, manufacturers, and distributors.
It is daunting. I am new to business, new to the fashion industry and new to suppliers, manufacturers and distributors and so much more. But I’m not new to Africa. That’s just about the only relationship I can say is old and going strong.
My amateur status has meant weeks of preparation for this visit and months of preparation for starting the company, still a few months off, as I’ve got to return to my “real job” until January. Then it’s the big bad world of business!
So what can be done to prepare for starting a company? Moreover, what can be done in preparation for starting a company in one country when you’re in another? The answer: lots!
The Chinese philosopher and war strategist Sun Tzu wrote: “know yourself and you will win all battles.” There is no conclusive research on this but many experts agree 80% of a business’ success depends on the entrepreneur’s attitude, knowledge and skills. It is absolutely vital that you analyze yourself and determine if entrepreneurship is right for you and the business you are choosing to start. Without knowing yourself properly it is difficult to know your strengths and weakness, needs and wants, knowledge and skills and where you have gaps.
Skillshare, Udemy, and Cousera are just some of the websites offering free or low-cost courses on just about anything. I’ve personally used them all and been very pleased with the quality of teaching, breadth of subjects and depth of course material. There are likely classes at your local community center, college, business association, or perhaps there is a startup network you can join. Classes are perfect for filling in your knowledge and skill gaps. They also provide an excellent opportunity for networking.
Devour Books and Magazines
There is no shortage of great books on business. Some of my favourites include: The Lean Start Up, The Startup Owner’s Manual, Start Something That Matters, The 40-Hour Work Week and The $100 Startup. Biographies are also a great. They are not only informative; they are also inspirational and motivational. Subscribing to business and trade magazines is another route. Fast Company, Inc., and the Harvard Business Review publish tips, insights, case studies and so much more. Be sure to subscribe to specific trade or regional publications if you are setting up shop in a particular market or region as well. For example, I regularly read The New African, The Africa Report. African Woman and Forbes Africa.
Use the Internet
There’s no doubt in my mind you already do this. It’s a no brainer. There are ways you can do it better though when it comes to laying the foundation for your company. When you search Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other sites your queries are logged (for better or for worse), slowly the search engines start to make suggestions and feature advertisements inline with your previous search topics. A little Big Brother yes, but having a big brother has its benefits. He treads a path for you.
Sharing is Caring
There are two schools of thought on this. The first: don’t share your business idea. The second: do share your business idea with anyone who will listen. The former school fears the idea will be stolen. The second believes it will be sharpened and improved by every person to hear it. I am of the second school of thought. Now this is not to say that there is no risk in sharing your idea. There is risk. However, it is minimal if you’ve already started the process of turning the idea into a plan and the plan into action. By sharing your idea you receive feedback and garner support, whether it be moral, financial, or technical. Every little bit helps!
Friends, acquaintances, colleagues, and just about anyone else can connect you with someone. Often that someone can assist you and your business. Connecting with lawyers, accountants, mechanics, graphic designers or any other professional is valuable when starting a business. In Kenya and many other developing states the best person to be connected to is a “fixer.” Fixers are people who survive off their connections and savoirfaire. They know the who’s who, what’s what and where to go for what and they get you there and through quickly. Basically they give you the lowdown for a fee. A good fixer is worth every penny. Fixers have worked with journalists for years but you can now find fixers for business. They navigate the registration and legal process, which is often complicated and convoluted in developing countries, hook you up with the right people, and work out just about everything and anything else.
Build and maintain your network
Connections are worthless unless they are transformed into relationships. It is vital that you build and maintain your relationships. Today with the Internet this is easier than ever. There is no excuse for not sending a quick message via social media, an email, or making a Skype call. However, nothing beats meeting in person. A relationship grows and strengthens faster face to face than through a computer screen. Make the effort to meet someone with whom you’ve been connected or whom you’ve met online it will make a lasting impression. Relationships are your greatest asset.
Just do it
You’ve researched, studied, read, reached out to individuals, made connections, and built your relationships now it’s time to act. Just get out there and turn your preparation into execution. As long as you feel 80% ready that’s good enough. The remaining 20% or at least part of it will come with time. We never know everything and do everything perfectly. There would be no fun in that.
Effort is never unrewarded. You will see. One class, book, email, call, or trip, and above all, the energy you put out there will lead to rewards. Remember nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Now I’m going back to watching the elephants and zebras, giraffes, warthogs, and buffalo at the watering hole from my hotel balcony. I’m of course formulating the questions I’ll be asking the manufacturer tomorrow too!
Tanya Castle is a writer, journalist, women’s rights activist, world traveler and soon to be entrepreneur. She has lived, worked and visited more than 50 countries across 5 continents. Tanya has reported on human rights and social justice issues for various media outlets from Rwanda, Cameroon, Kenya, Lebanon, Canada and more and promoted women’s rights with organizations in DRC, Kosovo and Yemen where she is currently based. From her Sanaa apartment she is planning her next journey: starting a social enterprise.