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*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!

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I feel I’m constantly behind in updating my blog. Every time there is an issue I feel passionate about, I get bogged down in work – that thing that helps pay my bills.

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So I might be late on the tomato issue – even though I did share thoughts on social media – I still want to talk about it in more detail, because it is something I felt very strongly about when the issue first came up.

Unless you’re not Zambia, or you have been living under a rock, you would have heard about Stella Sata’s tomato comment. In case of the above exception, let me recount it for you. University of Zambia graduates were protesting against the government’s failure to create jobs for educated Zambias – basically the premise of the students got educated, graduated and now can’t find employment and this is the government’s fault.

UNZA-Students job protest

Stella Sata, daughter of the late President Michael Sata took to her social media profile to condemn the protests and suggested that the students could create their own employment by selling tomatoes (I’m sure I’m paraphrasing).

This of course enraged students (not only the protesting ones), saying that Stella was entitled and what did she know of unemployment as the privilege of her name could open many doors and get her a job if she wanted. And other assertions to do with her perceived wealth etc. Soon after Stella bowed to the pressure and apologized.

Personally I didn’t see why she apologized. If anyone is entitled in this scenario, it’s the UNZA graduates. I won’t generalize all UNZA graduates but a lot of them believe they should be given a job simply on the merit of being the cream of the crop because they were fortunate enough to surpass all their classmates to gain enough points to get into UNZA. But that’s about it.

Some UNZA graduates who I have interviewed or who have even worked with us don’t do much to justify them having a long-term position with us. They might know the theory but they can’t do the work and find that the work is not as easy as they thought. Or because they are UNZA graduates they don’t believe they should intern or work their way up but instead should be given a managerial position simply because they have a degree from UNZA but nothing else.  Besides, it’s a very narrow minded person (and I would hope not the educated ones) that believe that going to university is about getting a job.  The very essence of education is to help you in life, develop you as a person, so why should you be bitter if you got educated but didn’t get a job, acting like your time at university was a waste?

Anyway, I’m digressing and don’t want to focus on the entitled attitude but rather on the tomatoes. I didn’t see why people were offended at being told to sell tomatoes but realized that it’s because of our myopic view of the world, and the fact that we still look to the government to solve our problems.

For me what Stella was talking about was about being an entrepreneur and creating jobs and wealth for yourself. Selling tomatoes didn’t necessarily mean at Soweto market (though why not? Elias Chimipo Jnr in his book talks about selling tomatoes at Soweto and later on eggs and cakes – he is now a presidential candidate after starting and running a very successful legal practice), but in fact, if you thought about it, why not sell tomatoes?

Everybody buys tomatoes so it’s a guaranteed market – albeit a crowded market. But I know people who grow acres and acres of tomatoes and make a killing. And then diversify – from ordinary tomatoes, to tomato juice, tomato sauce, sundried tomatoes – all sorts!

tomato field

The fact of the matter is while governments role to create jobs should be to create an enabling environment for private sector to create jobs, government itself can not create jobs – we already have a bloated public sector that the small tax base can not afford.

But more than this, it is time for us to look past government being the solution to our problems, but us solving our own problems. We have to move past the stage of relying on government because they have proved, time and time again, that they aren’t the public servants that we hoped for, but really are here to serve themselves. So as citizens we need to empower ourselves and then demand better from our government.

This is one of the reasons I’m supporting the Nyamuka business plan competition because it’s using the concept of entrepreneurship to take people out of poverty. For many years we have had donor agencies pour money into government programmes or NGO programmes to alleviate poverty and that hasn’t done much. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some achievements but not enough for the amount of money put in (yes I am in the anti-aid as it’s been done in the past camp).

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But if you can empower people with their own businesses, give them skills to ensure their businesses are sustainable and can grow, then you are taking that person, their family and their employees out of poverty. It’s a no-brainer.

I argue with some of my family members on what type of entrepreneur we should be supporting – the ones who just want to own one corner shop that supports them and their family or the one that wants to grow from one corner shop to a chain of stores and manufacturing/agriculture business that employs 100s to 1000s of people and supplies their shops and others. Obviously I’m a go big or go home kind of girl, but I do see their point of also empowering the one person who can look after themselves and their family and not need to hire loads of people and there’s no shame in that.

But I do think that if us Zambians can go to the model of the employer of 100s then we can take ourselves out of poverty. So we need more of these business plan competitions because getting money from banks is almost impossible. We then need to be our own angel investors too – disrupt the banking system and their crazy interest rates.

In order for these competitions to work though, the donor agency can’t operate like a donor and give the money to who they think are the most needy, or who looks good for PR photos. But to bankable businesses that we can go back to in 5 years time and see them ready for growth. Only then will the business plan competition be taken seriously.

It’s like a certain fellowship programme (yeah I was going to let it go but I can’t), or even award show, they don’t choose people based on merit but on popularity, losing all credibility for it. I remember someone saying, ‘if I was offered that, I would refuse it because it celebrates mediocrity, or given for effort as opposed to achievement”. We need to move past that and not settle for ‘ok’ but let’s strive for excellence and celebrate success. But not success at the cost of mediocrity. OK I went off on a tangent there, again.

For now, I say, all hail the tomato!

For now, I say, all hail the tomato!

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