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What an entrepreneur does

A couple weeks ago was the Nyamuka Zambia National Business Conference, I was fortunate enough to be involved in the design and implementation of the conference.

Prior to the conference I’d already been questioning, both to myself, and with friends, if Zambia really has entrepreneurs. This was brought about by a visiting British DFID (Department for International Development) key senior official, who had mentioned he’d had a conversation with other Zambians (or people living in Zambia), and put the same question to the small group of people (entrepreneurs/business owners and others) gathered for the private lunch at Latitude, ‘does Zambia have entrepreneurs?’. At first I think we were all vocal in our support for the Zambian entrepreneur, but as I thought about it more, I also began to wonder if it was true…

Merriam Webster dictionary defines an entrepreneur as ‘a person who starts a business and is willing to risk loss in order to make money.

Hmmm well if we look at that definition, I question do the majority of ‘entrepreneurs’ here operate a business by taking on a great financial risk, or is it simply out of no other choice? We have a serious employment crisis and sometimes people have no choice but to start a business, but does that make them an entrepreneur?

I have fought with countless supplier and market stall holders about giving me a discount on mass purchase but they would rather I leave the entire purchase than give me a discount – is that willingness to risk loss in order to make money? Or is that stubbornness? I have too often seen people willing to lose a sale in the (miscalculated) hope that someone else will buy the product.

entrepreneur definition

Forbes.com in an article say Entrepreneurs, in the purest sense, are those who identify a need—any need—and fill it.”

So if you see your friends opening a car wash and you take the space next to it and open a car wash – does that make you an entrepreneur? Was there a need for another car wash? We see this a lot – it’s like that strip on the road to the Copperbelt, it’s like an endless stream of the same fresh produce, what makes the potatoes or the tomatoes at one stand different from the one right next to it?

An entrepreneur, as defined by, Sir Richard Branson is an ‘innovator, job creator, game changer, a business leader, a disrupter, and adventurer.’

This definition I prefer.

However, I don’t necessary ascribe to the need to create jobs, it’s a nice thing to do, especially in our economy, and to help bring people out of the cycle of poverty, but I’m not going to create jobs at the expense of my bottom line. I’m sure Sir Branson meant this too, but it’s easy to take things out of context to suit what you’re selling, especially if you’re an aid agencies.

As I already mentioned, a few weeks ago we had the pleasure of being part of the team to design and implement a business conference. The first thing that struck us was the criteria (or lack of) to determine the entrepreneurs who were to impart wisdom at this conference. The committee members were throwing out all sorts of names with nothing more than good publicity to back up their chosen candidates. Once we defined an entrepreneur by key terms, clear criteria, it got a little harder to choose.

But I then I understood where the British guy and his guests were coming from, perhaps we focus so much on the popularity of this term that any jim and jack can be called an entrepreneur now.

As I continued to struggle with this conundrum my sister sent me an article that really hit the nail on the head – 3 signs you’re a fake entrepreneur. It put even more things in perspective. The author, Dale Partridge, Founder and CEO of StartUpCamp.com, says you really shouldn’t even call yourself an entrepreneur until you have accomplished your first business goal. He added working for yourself does not necessarily make you an entrepreneur. According to Partridge, the three signs you’re not an entrepreneur (or you’re a fake entrepreneur) are:

You’re a freelance rockstar: You trade your time for money. That doesn’t make you an entrepreneur.

You’re an employee at your own company: I’mma just leave this here…(Ok this one made me cry…)

You’re employable under the right conditions: Let’s say government does create those 50,000 or whatever figure it is now jobs that they promise, and loads of other people are hiring, would you be able to get a job? Do you want a job? If you are willing to take a secure, well-paying job, over chasing your dream, you’re not an entrepreneur.

While there is nothing wrong with testing out your business as a side hustle while you still have a job, as Justin Chinyanta put it, “the lawyer who has a farm on the side, is not an entrepreneur, he is still a lawyer. Don’t confuse being an entrepreneur with a life-style choice.”

I could understand 1 and 3 but in my mind I tried to justify number 2. I mean, if we didn’t have such poor work ethics, and could find skilled labour, would this be such a problem here? It really is a bitter pill to swallow, hard as I’d like to, maybe it can’t really be justified, you’re simply not an entrepreneur if you’re an employee at your company.

So if I have to be asked again, are there entrepreneurs in Zambia? Yes. Just not as many as we think there are, and even those of us who call ourselves entrepreneurs need to examine ourselves closely.

I think I did start out as an entrepreneur – all my co-founders did. But at some point to ensure your survival (at least in the Zambian context), we had to become the technicians, the employees to ensure the business delievered. This happened more recently because of bad hires and then a fear of hiring the wrong people again! (Never underestimate the financial cost of hiring the wrong person).

entrepreneur quotes

But what do you think, do we have entrepreneurs in Zambia? And how do you define an entrepreneur?

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Someone said to me ‘If I got recognized for my work by a white person, I’d be so upset, I wouldn’t even accept it’. I laughed at first thinking they were being silly or upset by something (race is becoming more and more of an issue, everywhere).

I actually didn’t think much more about it until about a week later, another colleague in the office mentioned ‘African privilege’.   We had a huge discussion about this in the office, about how African’s have the privilege of getting away with sub-standard, mediocre products and services because the West believes that’s as good as we can do.

The same colleague cited similar examples as the guy who didn’t want his work recognized, citing people who get put on a pedestal by the West, whose ‘work’ is lauded as good, when we secretly wonder if they are dyslexic (lots of people are successful and dyslexic) or don’t have spell check on their computer (all hail spell check!) and other questionable traits.

African privilege. It doesn’t even spur us to be greater than we are, and why should we, if we still get praise, financial and other rewards by being sub-standard?

Harvey Spec meme

Zambia is so different from places like Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria, not only because they have economies bigger than ours, but the nature of their work. In Zambia, so many people are making their living through government or donor cheques. But in places like South Africa, they’re not even about that life. But yet they are still getting paid!

Their work is not judged through the tainted glasses of the donor community, who paved the way for African privilege, but in the cut throat, competitive commercial world, where private sector have dollars to spend and expect to get what they paid for. In fact speak to a top South African production house about a USAID or other donor contract and they have no idea what you’re talking about ‘who or what is USAID?’ they’ll ask, while trying to negotiate their next multi-million dollar deal to do an award show.

Our private sector has not helped matters. They aren’t willing to through ad-spend to local agencies but have no problem paying top dollar for the same people we work with in South Africa to come here. Because the donor agencies are supposed to empower local capacities, they generally have no choice but to work with locals and rather than do their own due diligence they end up working with just about anyone – to be fair and all. But then complain, behind closed doors, ‘what do you expect? It is Africa, you can’t expect the same quality you’d get in the US’. Well…

African privilege. It makes the mediocre feel good about themselves, and gives us something to hide behind when we invariably also mess up – it’s hard to stay winning all the time. It makes us complacent.

Sometimes I wonder, when your work is being recognized and given accolades and all, do we laugh internally and say ‘it was pretty ish, but I’ll take your rewards anyway’, or do the same people actually think they did a good job?

I know I have extremely high standards, as my sister says, we shoot for the stars and land on the moon, but I’ll beat myself up about those missed opportunities, about the printer not printing the highest quality, about having to work with a low res jpeg.   One of my suppliers, and good friend said to me ‘your passion is not paid for nor appreciated so why do it?’ The answer was simple, because I know I can make it better.

Making it better because I don’t live by African privilege nor do I want to – I don’t plan on being on the cover of Forbes for some sub-standard crap. But I’m also learning that there is no point in my running the company to the ground because I’m working outside of the client’s budget. So in the last half of the year, I’m on some ‘If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense’, that and if you don’t want to innovate or be creative, I’m just not interested.

Life is too short to live it in beige. I also have my legacy to think about it, and it can’t be based on African privilege.

As Justin Chinyanta said last week, African entrepreneurs must run twice as hard as the entrepreneur in the West and East to just stay in the same place. I’m not trying to stay in the same place so that means running even harder.

Ok, enough ‘talk’ from me, time for me to put my money where my mouth is – see you soon!

One of the things that I really used to admire about my former boss’ boss, was his ability to see things from the audience perspective. It wasn’t about whether he liked or understood the product but whether it would resonate with the audience. And he trusted the teams he had to know the product and to know the audience. It worked. It kept the brand in the top 4 of global brands.

Now that I’m in the business of delivering creative solutions to clients trying to reach their audiences, it shocks me how few businesses think about their audience but think about themselves. I’ve met clients who market their products, that are targeted to people of lower socio-economic backgrounds, with billboards in Kabulonga. Or other businesses that base creative designed on their own personal preferences. It becomes less about the brand and the product and more about them, and perhaps how they look to their peers.

In all my experience – and that of all the industry leaders who I’ve read about – the beginning of success is with knowing your audience. From a deep understanding of your audience can you know what they need and what they want, and then deliver it successfully to them. Perhaps if you yourself are your target audience, then maybe your personal wants and insights are indeed useful, but if you’re not, then it’s really not about you.

It is definitely a hard thing to do – to put the needs of others above your own – but that’s why having a marketing team or agency that understands your brand and your audience is paramount.

Another example I often face is when we’re editing a video for a client. Despite them filling in the creative brief and outlining the objectives of the video, the audience it’s supposed to reach etc, when it comes to the first offline, and the first chance they get to edit it, it’s like they forget their brief and their audience! Sometimes this can be seen when the team reviewing the materials have very different opinions on the direction of the creative or the edit changes. That’s when you should know that somewhere along the line, someone is not in tune with the audience or the objective of the creative.

I find whenever I’m coming up with a concept, and following it through, I have to pause several times to ask myself if this is right for the audience. Having a litmus person or group also helps, I can check in with them if we’re going in the right direction.

Of course the problem with the focus groups, or litmus person is that you have to make sure they don’t feel the need to tell you what they think you want to here. In this regard, this is probably why Media 365’s immersion process is so useful. It’s partly based on observational research. Rather than asking people specific questions, watching their behavior, how they interact with things and their products.

Even sometimes that’s why listening can be more useful than talking. I remember once, during all the election campaigning and the candidates kept talking about their agriculture promise being about paying the farmers on time, my aunt from the village in Lundazi scoffed and said while that was important, even just having a place to store their grains was important. Turned out that they lost a lot of their harvest because the nearest distribution point was too far for them to get to.

It was another aha moment for me. While the papers were reporting about the farmers complaining about late payments, no one was talking about any other problems the farmers were facing, so it became an easy campaign promise to jack, without talking to any farmers. I’m not saying the presidential candidates didn’t do their research but perhaps they chose the ones that made more sense in the media, than to the voting farmers.

It reminds me of another story about a man who tried to sell me a bicycle (don’t ask), the thing was he sold me on the benefits, but couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t buy the bicycle. That’s because he never even asked me if I knew how to ride a bike – which I don’t (don’t judge me).

I fight a lot with my clients – I do because I’m passionate about my work and delivering a good product – on seeing things from their audience’s point of view (I’d also like to win some awards in the process, but that’s another story!). Sometimes the client will listen when I point to the data, but sometimes they’ll ignore it in favor of pleasing their MD – this is probably also because they have yet to convince their MD that when marketing works, it does translate into sales and therefore your profitability.

When your business is up and coming, it’s probably even more important to understand your audience as you develop products and services for them. But as you grow, it’s equally important not to lose sight of who they are. Not knowing your audience and how to reach them will ultimately cost you financially and give your competitor an advantage over you.

Being an entrepreneur is not easy. It’s so easy to get caught up in the glamour – everyone speaks about being an entrepreneur like it’s sexy and so cool. But it’s not easy (yep I said easy three times!).

Even when you read or hear about times when entrepreneurs fail (usually the ones who are now super successful), you think, it can’t have been that bad because, well look at them now. Their definition of failure must be that they had to drink sparkling wine rather than Veuve Clicquot.

But failure is a part of the journey of being an entrepreneur and the definition of failure is different for everyone. Sometimes it’s the feeling of personal failure.

This feeling is what prompted my hiatus this month. Failure might be too strong a word, maybe dissatisfaction is what it was. I wasn’t where I wanted to be, the company wasn’t where I wanted it to be right now. But these were my personal ambitions so it’s easier to beat yourself up.

africa transformation

Either way my close friend’s wedding was a good excuse to travel and do some internal house keeping. Not quite a yoga holiday, but I envisioned lots of soul searching, reflecting and exercising.

What I did not expect was to attend a conference.

I believe pretty much all my time is valuable and it should be spent enriching myself – even if that is lying on the couch watching a movie to still my mind. But I also thought being in a city as vibrant as London, I should find ways to stimulate my brain. Reaching out to my contacts to go into their companies and find out new innovative technologies they are using, new approaches, just something that would re-energise me.

My sister asked me to visit her in Oxford – see her new apartment – ok it was more than that, she wanted me to visit – her dose of home to keep her sane. Honestly I wanted to stay in London – mope if I didn’t have anything else to do (which I didn’t). But I knew my father would never leave me alone if he knew I never went to check in on his baby girl.

She had arranged for me to go with her and her friend to this conference on Africa put together by the Said Business School and the Oxford African Society. iROKOtv were going to be present and I’m truly fascinated by them as a business. They really are proving that there is a demand for African content and online is a platform to feed this need. So I figured going wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

The conference started shortly after lunch with a keynote speech from Kennedy Bungane CEO of Barclays Africa (i.e. heads up all Barclays outside of South Africa). Mr Bungane did speak a lot of sense – actually his response to questions were better than his speech – but I have real issues with the lack of creativity and risk taking of the banking sector in Africa so I was a bit hostile to that talk. It’s great for banks to talk about supporting SMEs and entrepreneurs but it really is just talk, they need to put their money where their mouth is! My question – that I only thought about after his talk – was why can’t relationship managers have more of a function of helping to develop SME’s – helping them getting their ducks in order so that they can remain in business and therefore be more profitable for the bank? He did challenge those in the disapora to help local entrepreneurs by providing them with non-financial support, such as processes to operationalise their businesses etc – but why can’t the bank do that? That bank would add more value to their clients and might even take the lead with the number of banks they have to compete with in market – I’d pay more to have those services too.

african-internet2456-620x354

The next session we attended was on how technology was helping businesses transform. This session surprised me as it really focussed on the internet – which I didn’t expect – I thought it would be all about mobile phones, as that’s usually what is talked about when referring to digital technology and Africa. John Mathwasa CEO and founder of SEACOM really blew me away in his talk. It’s so amazing to listen to African’s working on the ground, succeeding and challenging the way we think about things. His big idea was about the skies above us, the fact that are orbital space is already owned by foreign entities with their satellites, but how else will we connect the rural masses if not with satellites?

He talked about the disruptive entrepreneurs who find an opportunity in chaos. For Africa this is particularly important because let’s face it, we live in a chaotic society. It reminded me of a talk I attended at Bongo Hive with Irene Banda from FSDZ talked about how as entrepreneurs we should be looking to address a problem (not, as Bob Collymore put it find a solution and then look for the problem to apply it to!).

But John didn’t stop there, he talked about the challenges of start up capital and how we could all become Angel investors, even if it means investing in your young nephew. It’s kind of that idea again of bringing people up as we come up – isn’t that just another definition of Ubuntu which we inherently believe in? We just need to act on it more.

This is something I’m also passionate about – seeing that the financial sector isn’t really working for us (to an extent), we do need to see a new way to support each other’s businesses and get businesses lending to one another, bringing each other up.

After the short coffee break, we went onto the Thinking Digital, Delivering Entertainment – the one I was really looking forward to – the iROKOtv panel. It was an interesting panel. There was Jessica Hope Head of Global Comms iROKOtv, Arthur Bastings EVP for Millicom and Audu Maikori CEO Chocolate City Group. Three different and interesting perspectives.

Audu Maikori CEO Chocolate City

iROKOtv are seeing huge traction especially with Africans in the diaspora, but the reality is that again, so many people on the continent are yet to access their services because of the challenges of the internet. Audu’s answer – for Africa, we still need a hybrid offering. We also talked about training. At the end of the day, the capabilities of the internet and other mobile technologies are a great platform, but we need the content for the platform, and the reality is that, a lot of people simply don’t have the formal training to produce the high quality exportable content (actually the moderator asked what we needed to do to make the content exportable, i was thinking, lady where have you been, it’s been exportable for ages! we just didn’t have the platform or the believed interest to sell it!). Audu agreed and spoke of his conversation with Nigerian officials to look into developing more centres of excellence for the arts.

I left the conference making new connections and feeling totally inspired. We can’t forget the numerous challenges that Africa still faces, but the reality is the opportunities are even greater! As entrepreneurs we need to be focusing on how to find those opportunities that also bring others out of poverty – either through job and wealth creation, or by creating opportunities for better qualities of life and that the African transformation is now. We need to take hold of it, or allow others (i.e. those not of the soil) to do it and make money off us, our rich resources, our creativity and everything else Africa has going for it.

I’ll have to write a part two of this blog as I have to run now – people waiting for me! For now, I’m inspired, and everyone should attend the Oxford Africa Conference at least once if they can!

Happy Africa (Freedom) Day (well weekend now).

2013

2013 has been a year full of ups and downs, massive successes, at huge prices. If you’ve been following me, I don’t need to remind you of the year I’ve had. But we’d finally been making progress – seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when two things happened that sent me reeling.

Loyalty has always been something that I value, in all aspects of my life, and most certainly in the business. The last week of the working year for us, I felt as though I had been stabbed in the back. The hurt I felt can not even be described, one act compromised the business and was just plain evil, the other was just a bit of a double cross. But put together, it was in short the straw that broke the camel’s back.

After discussing it, and thinking about it, we knew to grow, we needed to always put the business first. Even if it meant sacrificing.

There are definitely parts (and people) of 2013 that I’d like to erase altogether, and I think mentally I have done that. But as I believe every day is a learning day, I’m not mad (anymore), it’s just another lesson learnt that I’ll take into 2014 to build the businesses bigger and stronger.

Before going into 2014 we’re taking a much needed break, and we will be back.

Merry Christmas and a Very Prosperous New Year.

I’ve now been in Zambia for two years – well it will be two years next month, boy does time fly fast! I’m still getting used to both the way of life and the way people work here.

Zambia is an interesting place. We’ve suffered no real conflict since we gained our independence in 1964. While political leaders may have overstayed their use in power, by and large all our elections have been peaceful with power handover being free from any violence or unrest. This seems to be a good thing. But perhaps it talks to the passive nature we have as a people.

Most people I have met in Zambia are very laid back, hoping that somehow the work will do itself, and we’ll get paid for doing next to nothing, and one day we’ll be rich and financial secure. Sigh, if only.

Zambia operates as a cash based society, though most companies operate with a 30-45 day payment policy. The problem being that it’s a vicious cycle, clients have to pay, so that you can pay your suppliers, so they can pay their employees, so they can pay their employees and their kids school fees and so on and so on. When any part of that chain doesn’t work, it screws someone.

cash-flow-management

If you’re an up and coming company you don’t really have the cashflow to deal with late payments. The banks don’t extend credit unless you’re giving them something in exchange – i.e. cash or property to secure an overdraft or facility (zero risk for the bank, yet you still get charged a hefty interest fee), so if your clients don’t pay you, it puts you in a tricky situation.

This was a situation we found ourselves in the last month or so, our clients just weren’t paying and we couldn’t pay all our suppliers.

The first thing that I felt was huge embarrassment. There is nothing worse than not being able to pay your bills. It makes you feel almost like a failure, how did you not manage your cashflow, why are the client’s not paying, and not to mention the sleepless nights.

Then I started to talk to more experienced business owners, who asked me one question, what can you do about it? The reality was nothing. You can’t control when the clients pay, you can hope to manage your cashflow better – which you do learn – and you have to communicate with your suppliers.

At the end of day repeat business is better and cheaper than looking for new business. So you too want to manage your client relationships. Suppliers sadly to say are easier to replace, every day there is someone vying for new business. I’d prefer to keep my suppliers happy but when they too decide that they’re not interested in you as a client and treat you that way, why would you bother sticking to doing business with them once you’ve paid them?

I’ve talked about this many times – building relationships for long term growth – but I find it’s a recurring issue when doing business in Zambia, people just don’t value that relationship. It works even with friends and family you have credit terms with. As long as you sell a product, regardless of who the person is, you have to engage them as a customer and aim for repeat business.

Sadly most people don’t realise this. Today, I decided to stop buying shoes from someone who was supplying me. I don’t for one second doubt this doesn’t bother her, yet now she’ll have to find someone else willing to spend the x amount (:0) I was paying every time she brought shoes. Again I’m not doubting she will eventually find someone, but rather than adding to her bottom line, she now has to find more clients to keep her bottom line as it is now. But again, I doubt she’ll realise this or care right now.

This is how I feel about other suppliers who no longer enjoy our business – was the disregard for the company worth the loss of business? Perhaps it was worth it for them, but I know that when I’m dealing with my clients I swallow my pride a lot because my bottom line is worth it to me. I want my company to be here not only tomorrow but in 20 odd years and then some.

And when it comes to suppliers, I take the American stance, I simply refuse to deal with terrorists! It is never the intention of good businesses to not pay people or suppliers, sometimes ish beyond your control happens. And happens to all growing businesses. What is important is your word, which is why in situations like this communication is super important. Keeping everyone abreast of the situation helps, though not everyone cares for this, they just want to get paid! But what you going to do?

Then the hard decisions also come in to play. As a business that started really small, (we’re still small, just growing), we got to where we are because of hardwork and determination yes, but also because of the faith other bigger organizations had in us, this is something we’d like to pass on to smaller companies trying to come up. But if they can’t afford to give you the 45 days credit terms we need for cashflow management, does that mean we don’t work with them, and don’t give them the opportunity to grow too?

I guess there are other businesses out there more established, who can give the small businesses coming up the cash they also need to grow. Ultimately as business leaders, we always have to put the needs of the businesses first, regardless of the sacrifice – well, depending on your end goal.

Often times people use the phrase ‘it’s not personal, it’s business’. That might have worked years ago, but today I think business is personal. It certainly is in my world. Deals are made or broken not just by the financial gains but by the personal relationships we have with people.

I do think that people forget about the social capital – the social relationships/interactions that provide productive or economic benefits. We burn bridges without even thinking about it.

Working on this production – a 26 part drama series – has really shown me a lot about the nature of people. People I can trust, people who have my back and those who don’t. When it comes to business you don’t necessarily have to like everyone, but you should be able to recognise the economic benefits people provide. Sometimes the money today is not what you expect, but always look to the future, remembering that a bird in hand is better than two in the bushes.

As a business we remember how coming up not that many people supported us – saying we were too young to be taken seriously. And as a young person today, these prejudices still exist. But we believe in young people, we believe in supporting people that are trying to come up – after all, isn’t it how it’s supposed to be done? We must always be helping those coming up as we pave the way forward?

We have supported a lot of young businesses coming up, often giving them contracts that others aren’t comfortable giving them, and as an ethical business we have never done this with an expectation of something in return. At least not anything tangible. A little appreciation would be nice.

On this production it’s been clear that there really are no friends in business (in these people’s case) and that sometimes it’s even better to work with your enemies – no surprises when they backstab or betray you.

You do have to find a way to distance yourself and perhaps not invest so much in a project, which is hard when you are so passionate or want to deliver the best product possible.

The last month has been filled with tears, sleepless nights, anger, and the frustration that just keeps you silent, when the fight gets too much. But I am resilient, I don’t give up easily, can’t really afford to.

And like Maya Angelou said, ‘Still I Rise’.

After working for someone else for eight years, I do believe that the way forward for me is being my own boss, or at least working in a family business where my boss is someone I share the same bloodline with.

I do find the challenge of a start-up exciting, especially when it’s something you love to do. But it’s not easy, especially if you’re not blessed with buckets of money. Balancing the love of what you do and trying to make money from it can be a challenge. More so when you have to go to banks who only want to look at your financial statements to ensure you’re worth investing in.

I know the bottom line is the bottom line in your business, but understanding the vision and people behind a brand is just as important. I get excited when I talk about the work that I do and the opportunities for growth. But most of the financial institutions I was talking to weren’t interested in hearing about that. After awhile I thought, hold up, I might need the capital injection right now, but equally I need a bank or financial institution that believes in what we’re doing and wants to be there supporting our growth.

Too often SMEs, that is small and medium enterprises, are treated as unimportant, because their annual turnover is less than (by the standards of the banks I saw) $500,000. Though in a market where the majority of people live on less than $1 a day, I don’t think a turnover of $500,000 a year is not too bad. Plus there are so many examples of companies that were SMEs and are now the biggest companies in the world – pretty much all the biggest companies in the world!

The challenge of resource mobilisation can put a dampner on your mood and the mood of your staff in the office – if they ever get wind of what you’re going through. And that low feeling can suck the soul out of you. Yet your soul is exactly what you need to keep pushing forward.

Entrepreneurs can help stimulate the economy, not only because they are willing to take risks and innovate in markets that might not be stable, but they can also create jobs and new technologies to develop markets. This is something that the west is more comfortable pushing, but in Africa, where we didn’t even have the bulk of the economic recession, we’re still of the mindset that entrepreneurs are too risky to invest in.

In a market with limited job opportunities and a defunct welfare system and virtually no pension plan, what is there for the mass market to do if not to create their own employment? And if that employment can create more employment and stimulate the economy, the government should be investing in that. And the smart, creative and risk-taking banks should also be driving that opportunity.

It’s funny that even now, when there is more competition among banks, with European, American, Zambian, South African, and Nigerian banks in the market, they still act like there is nothing to compete for – like they are the only players in the market. I’m big on loyalty, so if I find a bank that is good to me now when I’m in need, I’ll be loyal and stay true to them. But that requires working with a bank that is like-minded, and preferably one that can make decisions locally. It doesn’t help me if your bank makes its decisions from the UK, where they only care about businesses with an annual turnover of $1 million.

So I’m trying to stop getting frustrated with the banks, but rather re-think my strategy, I’m not looking for a bank who can help me, I’m looking for a bank who I can work with to grow my company, and therefore their business too.

I may ‘only’ be an SME today, but as Chris Bridges said, here’s a binoculars and look out for me!

Peace and love

I’m addicted to watching Brandy and Ray J’s reality show “A Family Business”, not only because I like Brandy as an artist, but because there is so much to it that I can relate to.  The fights, the love, the tears, the laughter, the support, the division.  Running a family business is a reality show on it’s own!

I have always liked the thought of being part of a family business, because I am so family oriented and I like working for myself, and why shouldn’t the money be kept in the family? But I didn’t realise how hard it would be, especially after you’ve been apart for so long.  

Families are still made up of individuals.  These individuals might have different values, work ethics and perspectives from each other, which obviously can cause challenges and friction within the business.

As a family we’ve never been good with confrontation, we shy away from it and hope that the problem with resolve itself, without us having to do anything.  But like with any conflict, resentment and frustration is bound to build.  The good thing about a family is that you can overcome these feelings, because your love for each other usually is the over-riding factor.

However, from my experience over the last 11 months I’ve been in the company, I’ve also come to realise that the things people love about a family business can also be it’s downside.  There are certain things you allow people to do because they are family, whereas if that was done in a public owned corporation for example, they’d be fired for.  I always remember one episode in A Family Business, when Ray J rocks up for a management meeting late, drunk (or possibly hungover) and completely derails the meeting by either falling asleep or strumming on a guitar (I can’t remember which).  We haven’t had exactly the same experience but similar…

I think for any start up to flourish – family owned or otherwise all the business partners must be committed and have a shared goal or vision (more than to just make money) and have to put the time and effort to realise that vision.  If you don’t all do it, then that’s when the resentment starts to build and you have to nip it in the bud before it overcomes you.

Know each other’s strengths and respect it, but make decisions based on what is best for the business and not what is best for the individual, there might be an m and an e in team, but there really isn’t an I.  Sometimes as the ‘team leader’ these decisions seem hard but you can’t afford to bury your head in the sand, not if you want your business to grow.  And other times you have to let go of the business, because it might be the right thing to do for your health and your sanity.  Find like-minded people to work with, who will want to succeed as much as you and put in the effort to do so.

These are my learnings from my own family business – there are so many successful ones out there so it’s best to learn from those to really grow and be sustainable.  But always remember that the business should be before the family – unless the business is just a hobby for the entire family!

Demarco’s song I Love My Life is definitely my new theme song. And it’s fitting that I’m listening to it right now, on Zambia’s 47th Independence Day.

The last few months have been full of learnings, both good and bad, but on this day, I feel like I have a lot to appreciate, I’ve learnt a lot and I still have so much to look forward to.

Today, we had some family friends over to visit my dad, and I was so happy when I heard him tell them that he had accepted that he has cancer.

I think the cancer diagnosis was hard on all of us, but even though it’s still early days as he still does more and more tests to figure out the best treatment options for him, I’m happy that he isn’t letting him get down.

At his age (70 something), he has lost a good number of his friends and he says he is grateful to have lived as long as he has. Which is such a great and positive attitude to have, but I hope it doesn’t meant that he won’t fight his disease anyway. As annoying as he sometimes can be, I’m definitely grateful to spend these days with him, especially now as he opens up to his life during Kaunda days and before independence – he actually is enjoying having a captive audience these days. Though sometimes I worry about him giving his opinion willy nilly. Right now the country seems to be split – you’re either PF or you’re not. The point of an opposition hasn’t fully sunk in to everyone – but that’s a side bar.

I digress. My father’s illness has been one challenge. The other challenge has been running our business Media 365. I don’t think there is anything more rewarding than owning your own business, especially if it’s something you are passionate about (though can be equally rewarding to work for a company that is unlike anything else 😉 ). But it is no easy feat! It comes with all sorts of challenges and sometimes I feel like I’m out of my depth – my almost complete MBA did not prepare me for this! Just when you think you can’t swim any longer and it might be time to sink, something comes up that makes it all worth it.

I’m so excited about the new opportunities that have come our way and that in the next few months will really test us but will be the beginning of a very exciting path for us. The thing that stands out to me about our business is that we don’t just care about the money (though we do want to make it) but we truly love what we do. We have been blessed with the ability to follow our dreams, and now it’s just about putting in the hard work to make it reality. And boy is it hardwork!

I’m also learning to put myself first now, for real, I know I say it all the time, but I do think I’m getting there. Slowly but I’m definitely getting there. It’s about learning to prioritise your needs and getting people to work around that – no more guilt trips for me! The reality is that I’ve been able to work this hard and get to where I am in just over eight years, then why haven’t you? We all have the same opportunities – in different forms, but opportunities nonetheless – so what have you done with them? We’re all born with some talent or another, how have you used them to your advantage? Only you can determine how you shape your life, don’t think the world owes you anything, because it doesn’t. And frankly, neither do I. I just made the decision that other people’s problems are not my priorities, as adults you make the decisions in your life and you must live with the consequences of those decisions.

I’ve also learnt when it comes to family that perhaps not everyone’s priorities are the same, and I can’t blame people for doing their own thing, but I’m also not going to be the glue to hold it together. You either want to do it, or you don’t. That’s just how I see it. Anyone with a (large) family will know what I’m talking about, whether it’s emotional support, financial support, or just communicating with your family.

I’ve also learnt to let go and just relax, not always analysis everything or need a definitive plan for where my life and areas in my life are going. This is really working well with Mr Mature, 4 months strong and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a huge learning curve, but like he says, we’re both learning, so we take each day as it comes and just see where it leads. I can honestly say, I’ve never been in a relationship like this before and that’s a good thing. For now, I’m just going with the flow.

On this independence day I also vowed to myself that I will get my financial goals in check and really begin to work on them. Paying off my debt and building my house will be my biggest priorities. I’ve already got some plans in mind for my house – it’s not going to be my dream house just yet – maybe if I ever get married that will be my project with my man – but for now, it will be something that I can call my own – and that Mr Mature can spend the night at, because sneaking him into my parents house would not be cool! My worry is that the rainy season is coming soon, so I have to work fast – at least get the foundation done. So fingers crossed I get all my cash in hand in the next few weeks (hope springs eternal!).

Right now, I feel like I’m in a good place. I might not be in the best place financially but emotionally, I think I am. And sooner or later, the finances will come together too! For now, I’m enjoying the moment and living in the present – it is the gift of today!

Have a great week ahead and don’t feel bad to put yourself first. You do matter!

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