Doing business is not easy. Not in Europe, not in Asia, not in the America’s, not in Africa and certainly not in Ethiopia. I happen to know a few business owners that are doing relatively well. I Occasionally I like to sit down with a business owner and discuss how he or she runs the business and what he or she does to make it a successful business. I remember a particular occasion during which a good friend of mine, who became a successful business owner, shared some of his thoughts and factors that contributed to this success story. Without pretending to be exhaustive, I’ll try to highlight some.
Not taking “No” for an answer. When my friend returned from abroad with his business idea, all he heard from others was that this would not work in Ethiopia. Isn’t this the kind of response people often give to somebody with a new idea? In Ethiopia, things are done the Ethiopian way and new concepts from elsewhere will not work, is the consensus. New ideas are only picked up after somebody has proved that it works and becomes successful with it. By then the idea is copied by everybody else. This man didn’t allow himself to be discouraged though and went ahead anyway, cashing his first cheque not too long after that.
Having a vision and remaining focused. He came with an idea that developed into a vision and that vision became his dream. Next, he made sure that all he did was to make that dream come through and he didn’t allow himself to be distracted from that. There were plenty distractions and discouraging moments on the way of course but the vision stood out and the entrepreneur continued to pursue it.
Taking time out for strategic reflection. After the first few successful years there was a moment that the upward curve began to flatten out and even go down because of internal as well as external factors. My friend realised he needed to look into finding ways to jumpstart the company again and looked for support. With the help of a facilitator he sat down a few days with his employees and held a strategic planning exercise, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the company and the opportunities and treats surrounding it. As a result, he could make some important strategic decisions and indeed the company jolted into gear, never to stop again. Strategic planning is something that every business should do regularly, lest it will lose its competitive advantage and niche.
Taking responsibility. When he realised that things were a bit shaky the business owner took real management responsibility resulting into action that turned the situation around. No whaling and pointing fingers to others but considering ways out of the situation.
Involving the staff. The strategic planning exercise became a success also because employees were part of it, felt recognised and became all the more creative in their thinking. This attitude of involving employees remained a lasting management strategy, resulting in them feeling part of the company, having a sense of ownership and taking responsibility.
Not settling for less. Having said that, the company also made sure it recruited employees that had the potential and the motivation to be what the CEO refers to as “A players”.
Delegation. Recognizing potential in employees is a very important skill of a good manager, followed by the ability to unleash that potential, facilitate its further development, gradually giving away more responsibility and letting go, while providing effective coaching support on the way. Some workers will pick up the opportunity and develop into managers and leaders themselves.
Appreciation. In his own charming way, the business owner manages to encourage his staff and make them enthusiastic about the work they do, followed by generous appreciation for their effort. PPPP is an important principle here: Praise in public, punish in private.
Globalisation and relocation. The business owner had lived and worked abroad for a number of years and took the opportunity to learn as much as possible from the ways things are done there. Coming back to Ethiopia he brought along with him all this baggage of knowledge and skills, while realising all too well that applying blueprints wasn’t going to work indeed, adapting them to the Ethiopian context instead.
And so, a rather simple business idea that resulted out of the recognition of a certain need, developed into a mature company providing effective services to a growing number of clients, even setting up shop in neighbouring countries now. Consistently applying principles as some of the above will indeed increase your chances to run a business successfully and grow.