The Sunshine Squad will tell you that small businesses are the future and that if you are unemployed you will have to go out on your own. But the reality is not that simple, says Andrew Robinson.
The loss of jobs due to the Covid-19 pandemic has been extreme. The International Labor Organization (ILO) reports that global working hours fell by 8.8% in 2020 – the equivalent of 255 million full-time jobs and about four times more than during the global financial crisis in 2009. The local economy has lost between two and three million jobs. Four in ten South Africans who should be in paid work remain unemployed, which is not a good prospect in our current economic climate.
The “experts” say the solution is to become an entrepreneur, start your own business, be your own boss, and achieve your own success. Entrepreneurship is not easy and not for everyone. I am an entrepreneur; Trust me when I tell you this.
After a very short time as a commodities analyst for a global banking group, it was clear that the corporate world was not for me and I have been living the volatile, stressful and exciting life of an independent businessman for 20 years.
My everyday. I go to war every day. I eat what I kill.
Entrepreneurship is not as easy as the seven steps you can find on Google. I’ve read them all and the advice they give is misleading. Almost all of this information is based on getting your great idea from your garage to your local exchange. It’s about focused strategies and business plans, as well as financial models and daily routines. People like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates are used as examples to follow.
Yes, this is useful if you have always dreamed of being an entrepreneur, when you had a great idea and worked in a formal job to save your startup capital and make your dream come true. But when you have bills to pay and children to feed and business ownership has never been part of your plan, that information is irrelevant and scary, and it may make you think twice about your ability to succeed.
Let me make entrepreneurship easier for those who see it as a sustainable solution for the future.
- Just start and always act quickly
You can do all of the planning in the world, but you won’t be going anywhere unless you really start. Get the basics right like what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it, who you’re going to sell to, and how you’re going to reach them. And go. You will find out very quickly whether or not you understood these basics correctly. If something doesn’t work, change it.
- Be open to new ideas
Change with the times and the market. Little did I know a year ago that today I would manufacture and distribute world class sanitizer stations, but I ship tens of thousands of units locally and across the continent. I saw the need and acted quickly and it is paying off.
- Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket
I’m not just disinfected. One day (I hope soon) this product will no longer be so badly needed, so I’ll trade all kinds of goods, from petroleum products to lemons. I’m interested in a wine farm, investing in the future world of work, and passionate about technology, and work with global technology disruptors to help them enter the African market. When I have multiple business interests, I am protected from business cycles. This is important if you are not guaranteed a corporate payroll at the end of each month.
- Sell your product or service for more than it costs to buy or create
They do this to make money. So don’t think about selling yourself or your product. Being an entrepreneur is hard work. So make sure that you benefit financially from the energy and emotion that you invest.
However, there is no magic formula for how much you should mark for your product. It varies by industry. So do some homework if you can. It doesn’t matter if you are the most expensive or the cheapest, just make sure you are making a profit. Numbers are the language of business. If you don’t understand your numbers, you won’t survive in business.
- You’re only as good as your last deal
Would you revisit a restaurant that serves bad food or go back to a store where the assistant was rude or unhelpful? The same goes for what you sell. If it’s not what you promise, or if you sell too much and under-deliver, or let your customers down in any way, they won’t come back. So really focus on your service and remember that often it’s not what you sell, but how you sell it.
- The power of partnerships
In each of my companies I work with partners whom I trust. These are people I have known for a long time, smart people who have a work and life ethos similar to mine and whose skills and areas of expertise complement mine. We invest time and energy equally because we have the same aspirations for the outcome. If you are working with others and your goals are not aligned, stop and reevaluate your partners.
Andrew Robinson is the CEO of TradingHouse and the founder of SiSebenza. The views expressed are his own.