Last week was a special week for me. One year after starting my blog, I organized my very first offline community event in London, which I titled: ‘Jumpstart your Business in Africa in 2015!’. About twenty-five people attended, two young women from East Africa took the train all the way from Coventry to be there (it’s a 2 hour train drive!) and one participant had travelled all the way from Norway just to attend. I feel humbled by the trust they put into my ability to assist their endeavours. It was a wonderful and successful day. I am grateful for all the wonderful engagement, feedback, and the spontaneous dinner we enjoyed with some of the participants later on in a huge British pub. It was a day filled with learning, exchange, and time to connect and several participants decided they wanted to start their Africa business this summer with my help.
It felt great making such tangible progress with my own Africa business start-up in a meaningful way.
But there is a particular reason why I am sharing my small victories with you today: I want to make you aware of the journey it takes to turn an idea and business concept into a start-up….and make progress. The offline event was not some kind of random idea, but part of my overall long-term business strategy to reach out to more people, build community, position myself as an expert and grow my business in meaningful ways. I had clearly planned and envisioned it for some time – and that’s precisely why it took place.
I started my Africa business research three years ago, back in 2012. About one year later, I started building my business concept, and because I was new to the whole world of doing business, it took me a year and a lot of mentorship, entrepreneurial education, and dedication to finally understand what a strong business concept looks like, before I decided to implement it. I even completed a six-week distance university course with coursera.com on entrepreneurship .
But here is the truth: Success is a mindset and it requires to depart from your old ways of doing things and find new perspectives in regards to how you look at (your) life. It requires that you leave your comfort zone behind. Entrepreneurship and success are closely interlinked with stamina, resourcefulness, and making an impact on the wider world, and none of that is built when one remains stuck in his comfort zone, mediocrity, fears, or procrastination.
When you grow a business, you first need to allow yourself to grow alongside it – as a person.
For me – someone who had been used to a life of charitable work and education – the shift was rather radical. Starting the path towards entrepreneurial success meant to set my priorities completely different. It meant to part ways with people who were not able to accommodate my new choices or the ‘new me’. It meant to ditch watching TV and socialising and instead using the time to educate myself about the art of entrepreneurship, to develop my character traits in this regard, and to focus my energy on the business I wanted to build and the person I wanted to become in the process.
Entrepreneurship – I learned – was a conviction, a lifestyle, an attitude more than a means to make money for the sake of it. The money usually flows as a result of the changes. Rarely the other way around.
And this is precisely why you will need to worry less about the mechanics of your Africa business (although they are also important) and instead make a conscious decision to build the following cornerstones to your success when you get started:
Clarity is like your compass. Without it you will neither know where you are going nor understand why you are doing what you do. It is vital that you spend a lot of time on developing clarity when you start your Africa business. One important ingredient of clarity is information. That is the kind of clarity that will help you put a strong business concept together and make informed decisions regarding the next steps you want to take. You win that kind of clarity by investing time into understanding your market, your buyers, and related dynamics. The other crucial aspect to win clarity is ‘context’ – the ‘why?’ and the ‘what drives me?’. It can have a wider communal context (for example the impact you want to make), but above all it needs to have an internal context: The very reason (or combination of reasons), why you have chosen to leave your day job and pursue your Africa business ambitions instead. Be very clear about it – because absolute clarity of what you want and why you want it, will keep you in the game when the playing gets tough.
Starting the journey to entrepreneurship cannot be misunderstood for getting a licence for your new business. Entrepreneurship is about impact, contribution, community, and collaboration among other – and building that takes regular courage at your part. Entrepreneurship in the 21st century is a very personal choice. The choice of how you choose to build a significant part of your life’s legacy. If you want to grow a business idea into a successful venture, build a grand lifestyle for yourself, and positively impact on others you need to raise the bar. You need to increase your own expectations, your commitment, your productivity, and the investment you make into yourself to get there.
Nothing will happen without action. If you dream, plan, and research for too long you may sabotage your own intentions. Action is measured by progress. If you do not make progress it is usually because you have taken no action or you have made a series of insignificant steps that were not vital. Procrastination and perfectionism can both lead to a stagnation of taking decisive action. Action is your engine, and it is therefore paramount that you 1) act to put things into motion and then more importantly, that you 2) regularly act upon the most relevant aspects of your business in order to make visible progress.
Focus is the level of attention you spend at any given hour of the day and at any given day of the week to implement your plan of action. One step at a time. Focus is your presence, your undivided mind’s attention resulting in increased productivity, effectiveness, and ultimately results.
If clarity is your compass, then vision is your journey’s destination. It’s where you want to go and who you want to become in the process. A decade from now and before you depart with this world at the end of your life. Vision is the visualisation of your life’s mission. The mistake that many people make is that they believe life happens to them or they wonder what will be. I was one of them. But what I have come to learn is that you are in charge of designing the greatest part of your vision and then you you make the first steps to travel that path. And for that, you need…. clarity, courage, focus, and action.
Today I want to take this opportunity to thank the many of you here at Africa Business Jumpstart for your trust, support, and enthusiasm. Our journey has just begun. Let’s keep marching and growing!