*This post is not endorsed by the Nyamuka Zambia Business Plan Competition – All views are my own

There are a couple of things I’m very clear about when it comes to my entrepreneurial journey: Not everyone is (and should be) an entrepreneur; and you don’t need a business plan to get started. Imagine my surprise then, when I was asked to be a champion for the Nyamuka Business Plan competition! But it also spoke to my core belief that it is entrepreneurs that will build our nation and fix our economy – just look what entrepreneurs did for America, why can’t we do it too? Nyamuka Zambia logo However, had I not chosen to be a champion, I would have been submitting my own business plans right about now – I think, like my sister, I’m becoming a serial entrepreneur, I’ve got the bug now! Nothing gives me more joy than owning my own company and setting my own course, and making a difference in my community.  There are so many opportunities ripe for the picking, and technologies that allow us to do more, and do it better!  Today, innovation and disruption are really more than just buzzwords. Not unlike most people in Zambia (of my generation) my parents weren’t entrepreneurs or business people, they were public servants, so I didn’t have the spirit for business until I did my MBA (which I really started in order to move up the corporate ladder and make bank). But I was fascinated. I loved strategy, I loved hearing about the story your financials tell about your business, and I thought, why not me? Fast forward four years and while I wouldn’t trade a thing, I also wish I’d had way more practical experience than just theory. I met with someone from Bank of Zambia yesterday (on an unrelated matter) and he said something that struck a chord with me. He said, people say doing business in Zambia is hard, but those are people who haven’t tried to do business in other markets like South Africa or Nigeria. I kind of saw his point, but still, we have our own challenges. Getting financing is one of the biggest challenges in Zambia. Though I’m of the school of thought that you don’t need money to get started. Media 365 was started with just enough money to register the business. It’s not yet the success story I wish it would be, but it makes enough for us to still be in business! Obviously there are some businesses that you do need money, and a lot of it, to launch, but there are many that don’t. So when Shalin and Namaya (from Nyamuka Zambia) came telling me about the opportunity for start ups, or existing businesses wanting to expand to a new service or product line could apply to win K250,000 and it’s not a loan, happy days! Now what’s the excuse not to start your entrepreneur journey?! BIZ-PLAN-NYAMUKA-PRESS-phase1-app However, for me what was even more important than the money (because if there’s only a couple of winners…) was the mentoring and business coach support, to really ensure your business is sustainable. As an example, if you hired someone – a really good person – to write your business plan, expect to pay about 8-10% of the amount of money you’re looking for – so if you want the K250,000, you could easily pay K25,000 just for an expert to write your business plan. There are people who are cheaper – but remember you pay for what you get (in the simplest, most crude terms). Now through Nyamuka Zambia you also get business coaching and mentoring support to write your business plan– for free! Again, if you know my thoughts on entrepreneurship in Zambia, you know that I believe deeply in the need for mentorship, coaching (from those already in the game) to provide necessary and practical skills and techniques for success and sustainability far more than I think we need the money (though we do need the money too).  You can still get so much wrong with the money and no guidance. Sometimes when I’m asked to speak on entrepreneurship, I worry I come across suicidal! Not because I bemoan all the challenges and play the blame game and complain etc, but because I keep it real. It is not easy being an entrepreneur. They say you have to survive the first 1,000 days (do the maths that’s almost three years), and then after that it’s plain sailing. Well, again, is anything in life ever that simple? But in the four years that I’ve been managing Media 365 there are key things that I have learnt as an entrepreneur: Plan, plan, plan: I did just say that I don’t believe you need a business plan to start. I don’t. But you will need some sort of a plan that outlines your vision and how you plan to achieve it. As you get into the groove of your business you have no choice but to have a business plan so that everyone is on the same page and your investors and banks can understand where you’re going. Obviously the sooner you can do your business plan – even before you start the business – even better. Your clients are your life-line: It’s easy to just want high paying clients (especially when you’re in the service industry) but don’t treat your smaller clients badly too – they often pay on time and sustain you! Your suppliers are equally as crucial, the credit facilities they offer help manage your cashflow, and they can be instrumental in your ability to deliver to your clients. So treat them nice too. Always treat your clients nice! Word of mouth and bad reputations can kill your business, and especially if you’re in the creative industry – it’s a small industry. At the same time, know your worth and don’t allow clients to exploit you. Know your financials: Don’t make the mistake of leaving your finances to your finance manager, accountant, financial firm or your bank! Know what’s coming in, what your expenditure is, your gross profit margins, everything! Check your statements regularly and keep your bank charges in check. Understand your balance sheets, and all the financial reporting.  Know your money and know the story your accounts are telling you – and don’t be afraid to ask your accountants to explain things to you. Be complaint: As you move up in the world (get more and more clients and more established firms), your clients will want to make sure you’re complaint and the government will want its money! Compliance can make the difference between landing that job that makes you coins, or with potentially losing your business due to not being compliant! Growth and Sustainability: We always want to grow as business owners – ok maybe not all of us, but the more ambitious of us do! But don’t grow at the expense of risking the sustainability of your business. Plan your growth, and retain your profits to allow you to grow! However, in all things you do, think about sustainability. Mentors, Cheerleaders, Friends, Family: They are all important as you try to realize your dreams. Mentors are super important because they give you advice that’s important for your business – why make mistakes that can be avoided? – and they can open your eyes to other opportunities. Mentors can help you see above the noise – making sure you’re not getting lost by it all; when you can’t see the wood for the trees. Cheerleaders, family, friends can all support your vision and give you the motivating boost you need when things get tough and they are just the necessary support to keep you sane. And stay awake from the negative people. Nothing more ugly and energy sapping than negative people who don’t want to celebrate you. Though you also want to make sure your cheerleaders, friends, family tell you the truth – no point in someone flattering you to make you feel better when your product, service really is shite. Be passionate and have fun: Running a business is not all about doing what you want to do, when you want to do, and disrupting industries just for the fun of it. You have to pay the costs of running a business – staff, overheads, taxes etc.   So it’s not all fun and games! But if you don’t have the fun, if you don’t have the passionate, you’re not going to want to be there for the long-haul and the sleepless nights, the depression, the failures (because they will exist). You have to love what you do, be proud of your achievements and celebrate them, and be prepared to roll up your sleeves to work for that vision! That said, I wouldn’t change my career choices, including becoming an entrepreneur, for the world. So start yours, or strengthen it and apply for that business plan competition – download the forms today, deadline is on the 6th of May!