Starting Right in Africa Tip #2

 

So you’re at the second stage of your brilliant business idea? Done a bit of homework and research and are ready for the next steps?

Let’s share a few:

Your Business Concept Statement

After gathering all your data, I’ll suggest you summarize to form your Business Concept Statement. Recently, I stumbled on Alana Muller, President of Kauffman FastTrac‘s version of what a business concept statement was and quite liked it. She said:

a business concept is a bridge between an idea and a business plan and allows the entrepreneur identify the specifics of his/her proposed venture.

In my opinion, I think documenting this process (be it by drawing, doodling , writing or typing it out) enables you describe the critical components of your business idea, which may help fine-tune your research before writing your business plan.

The favourite part of my documenting our initial business concept (and we still do when considering new products and services) is looking back at it years later and seeing how far we’ve grown as a business, based on market changes, clients expectations and our constant quest for innovating our products and services.

It always amuses me how we start off trying to conquer the entire galaxy then realizing at take-off that we’re nowhere near conquering our continent talk less of conquering our planet!- but I think ambition is always a good attribute when you start.

Sometimes in developing our Business concepts and ideas, we may forget basic information such as the target demographic and the unique selling proposition that gives your company an advantage over competitors. A business concept may involve a brand new product/service or simply a novel approach to marketing or delivering an existing product (The Business Dictionary).

Our Facilities Management Service was not new to Abuja, Nigeria but in our research, we saw how rapidly the city was growing and noticed that only the upper class was getting proper Facilities Management for their properties. Our strategy was to target the fast growing middle class and offer just as good a service as our competitors provided, on a tailored budget. Thankfully, it paid off.

When you feel your concept is mature (well thought out), it can now be incorporated into a business plan but before then, Alana goes on to list the vital questions that your business concept document must answer:

a. What is my product/service?
b. What does my product/service do?
c. How is it different or better than other products/services?
d. Who will buy the product/service?
e. Why will they buy the product/service?
f. How will the product/service be promoted and sold/offered?
g. Who are my competitors?

Saying A Lot With Few Words

When all is said and done, and all questions have been answered truthfully, I think the best way forward will be to sum up all literature in one to three sentences.

This, in my opinion, will help as a guideline when developing your business plan as well as letting you be concise enough for your stakeholders (potential partners, investors, employees, advisers etc) to fully understand your business idea without boring them.

I’m sure many of us have gone on verbal rampages about an exciting new business venture only to recognize that we may be the only ones on our cheer leading squad? In my experience, “short and sweet” is most effective.

Business Concept Meets Product Diversification

In my Entrepreneurship journey, I’ve always been intrigued (and have taken personal lessons) at how separate businesses start off with similar business concepts and due to innovation, some become more successful than others.

A friend of mine runs a business called Hawatt Creations. I remember the first time I met her, she expressed her passion for ethnicity and her plan to use her Architectural background to bring African designed fabric (we call them African print) to life. Now I had my reservations about it because I knew for a fact while working with the Village Weavers Network that it may be a challenge convincing Nigerians to patronize home-made/hand-made products- they seem to prefer anything perceived as foreign.

To my surprise, she is doing quite well for herself and her business is growing stronger by the day. Her business concept? – She produces about ANYTHING from the African print! She has different ranges of products- children’s schoolbags, office folder jackets, furniture, beddings, laptop bags, iPad stands, jewellery, stationery, cooler bags, running armbands for iPods and more.

Now I know a lot of Architects and a lot of people who are passionate about the African print but this is the first time I’ve seen a combination of both! She “Africanised” her clients appeal for foreign products and maintained the same quality at lower prices, creating a demand for her new products.

Just goes to solidify my opinion that each concept has its unique core customer, value proposition, cost structure, revenue model, key success drivers, and eventually, investment profile.

Branding Not The Same As Packaging

I’ve noticed that “Branding” and “Packaging” are usually mistaken for one another by start-ups in Africa. Your brand entails every single aspect of your business- your employees and their customer service, your products and it’s packaging and your relevance in your chosen industry. It is a name/identity, a term, design or feature that separates your products from others.

It must effectively communicate the message of your business or product. Usually, for Entrepreneurs, your personality and business persona tie into the soul of your company as well because you are actively an ambassador of the business.

Your brand should appeal to your target market, communicate your value proposition, as well as position your business strategically to fill the gap you have created the product/service for.

I would advice that the concept of your brand should be designed and established first before your packaging is developed.

Packaging on the other hand, is a subset of Branding, and is part of the visual effect of your brand. It is your opportunity to make an outstanding first impression. In many cases, it acts as an attracting tool for new clients, endears them to your brand and also retains loyalty in old customers. It is the emblem of your brand strength, a symbol of continuous commitment and in my opinion, just as important as the brand.

It is well worth noting the difference so as to develop your business plans around this.

Your Business Plan

I remember sitting on my desk trying to start my business plan. It took me about three days to even start a sentence. The very word “Business plan” seemed so daunting!

By the end of the second day I had to change my mindset. You see, schooling in Nigeria (the most populous country in Africa and most populous black country in the world), I was a fervent overachiever, struggling for the few positions offered to the many. That unconsciously cut across all aspects of my life and so in writing a “Business plan”, I felt it had to be exceptional! It was only after attending several courses ( business and otherwise) outside Africa that I have come to appreciate the beauty of simplicity; and so on that second day of my “Business plan” brain freeze, I tapped into what I had learnt and wrote a simple version of what I thought my business would be. I wrote it just as if I was explaining my passion to a friend in the hopes of an investment. I still use that strategy today.

I believe your “Business Plan” should serve as a blueprint to guide your organization in its decisions, policies, and strategies in the near future, especially between the first and third year. It should summarize the company’s financial and operational goals, and clearly illustrate how they will be achieved.

Of course this is not set in stone and can be reviewed over and over again as your organization and the environment in which it operates evolves.

Don’t Forget Quality Of Service

African businesses are still struggling with customer service. If I were to try to answer why this challenge still persists, I would have to say that in my opinion, it is because Africa’s culture is so communal ( there’s a popular saying in Africa that goes – ” it takes a village to raise a child”) we most times blur the lines between professionalism and kinship.

Having said that, I think that as an African business, it is essential to realize that to maintain standard practices, clear lines of distinction have to be adopted and that it is almost imperative to wear two “hats”- a work/professional “hat” used for when you are in the office and a home “hat” for outside work. It’s not as hard as it sounds.

While businesses suffer for not having proper customer service ethics, on the flip side, if you enter the African market with quality customer service embedded in your business plan and focus on it being a selling point of your business, coupled with standardized products/services – I can bet you’ll have a steady flow of clientele.

 
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