27 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Make Informed Decisions in Business


Business, more than any other occupation, is a continual dealing with the future; it is a continual calculation, an instinctive exercise in foresight. -- Henry R Luce

Bruce and Rodney came to see me the other day. They had decided to start a new business together on the piece of land they had recently purchased. Bruce wanted to go into pig production. Rodney argued that pigs took too long to mature and preferred chickens which were more profitable. I asked Rodney how he knew that chickens were more profitable than pork and he said he had heard that from some people who had done it. He had no empirical evidence but just a theory.

Over the years the one question that I have been asked most often is, "What is the best type of business to start in Zimbabwe?"

Do you know the answer to that?

I don't know either; and I don't think you can get one answer to that question. Some experts recommend that you follow your passion.

Like other people running businesses today, I jumped into entrepreneurship, not from passion but because of circumstances. Of course it was a struggle to make money at the beginning, considering the state of the economy in 2008. I devoted myself to learning all I could about small business; reading books, magazines, newspaper and online articles and attending seminars and workshops.

I also spoke to some business owners to try and glean some wisdom from them. But the majority of them could not provide the enlightenment I sought. They were also struggling to cope in the hyperinflationary environment. Some offered what they called "street knowledge". That is when I discovered that there is not much to learn from the so-called "whales" whose business models are smoke and mirrors and are giving bank managers nightmares over whether they will be able to repay the "business loans" they used to buy top-of-the-range luxury cars and gadgets.

Knowledge is acquired in many ways. But now I really appreciate the importance of learning from those who have done it and succeeded through honest hard work and good strategy. Who better to learn football skills from than Peter Ndlovu or Moses Chunga? Who better to learn swimming from than Kirsty Coventry?

Lions and cheetahs are natural predators, but they are not born with good hunting skills. Young cubs go through a lengthy learning process, observing their mothers hunting and copying essential skills. The cubs start testing their skills on small game like rabbits and squirrels. With time they graduate to bigger game like kudus and impala. But to take on bigger game like a buffalo bull, a giraffe or an elephant requires extraordinary hunting skills and exceptional teamwork.

Lions acquire these skills when they live in dry areas or when there is a drought. Because small game is the first to disappear when conditions get arid, predators have to learn how to take on bigger game.

Once they acquire these skills, they can thrive in the most difficult of circumstances.

Take time to interact with your clients

Seasoned entrepreneurs have a wealth of experience that we can learn from because they have similarly survived difficult times. I follow the articles by Harvey Mackay through his newsletter. Harvey is one of those inspirational entrepreneurs. He became a multi-millionaire through making and selling envelopes. Yes, those brown packets we used to fold letters into before there was email.

There were dozens of other businesses selling envelopes in Harvey's day, but it was the way he did it that made him rich. His book, Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten alive is a must read for serious entrepreneurs. One lesson from Harvey is the way he remembered names; those of potential clients, their children and other important things in peoples' lives. Then when he called them, he would ask, by name, how their seven-year-old son was doing at school and whether they managed to get Tim the cat vaccinated. Wouldn't you buy envelopes from a person who showed so much care?

It's the small things in life that make the difference of whether a potential customer gets to like you and buy from you. People do business with people they like. If you are not getting enough business, it shows that few customers like you. Such little bits of knowledge make the difference between success and mediocrity. Even with floods of passion, you will not succeed if you don't master these basic lessons which great entrepreneurs have mastered over the years and are willing to share with us.

So make it your goal this year to learn some essential skills from true entrepreneurs. Reading books and online articles are inexpensive ways of acquiring essential business knowledge. You might also want to meet these entrepreneurs at networking events or business seminars which they attend.

Don't forget to share your feedback by email or on my website. Best wishes in your business.

Phillip Chichoni is a strategic business planning consultant who works with entrepreneurs and growing businesses. You may contact him by email on chichonip@smebusinesslink.com, or visit http://smebusinesslink.com.

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