5 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before Starting A Small Business

These days starting a small business has become an acceptable alternative to getting a job and being employed. It almost seems like a trend – being a start-up entrepreneur. I’m personally glad to see that more individuals in Kenya are looking at other options of generating income in their lives, other than getting employed, not because it is a bad thing, but mainly because for some people – it’s very difficult to find a job. It is important to note though that starting a small business, especially in Kenya, is not for the faint-hearted. It is very good to be honest with yourself on whether you are ready to take on the challenge of being a start-up entrepreneur.

There are at least five questions that I think you should ask yourself before taking the step to starting a small business of your own. This will not only put the reality of owning a small business in Kenya in perspective for you, but it will also help you get very honest with yourself on the journey ahead.

Am I cut out to be a business owner?

Being a business owner means a lot of things and you need to be prepared for it. First, you have to be able to persevere tough times that may seem to last for a long period, this could be having cash shortages or cash flow issues – constantly. Can you be able to not only handle the stress of those issues, but also find solutions to your cash flow challenges in order to progress? The other thing you have to be aware of is a lifestyle change; you have to realize that as a small business owner, you will wear many hats. You will be an accountant, secretary, sales and marketing personnel, etc. This will mean sacrificing your social life in some way; if you’re friends go out every weekend – you won’t be able to do the same since you’ll be busy building your business. You will sleep late and wake up early more often. If you are married and/or have children; you have to look at your life and see what you can plan early and do; how to make time for your family, as well as time for your business.  You have to know that you will have to adjust your life drastically and be willing to be flexible as well. The other important thing to know is how to manage stress levels. You will encounter challenges often and you will be forced to make tough decisions as well; can you be able to handle that stress without breaking down? As a start-up entrepreneur; you have to find different ways of managing your stress levels in order to keep going.

Talking baking for business while eating cake

As a business owner: I’m not only doing the practical work, I’m also a marketer for my own business as well ^_^

Do I have the skills required to run the business?

This is a question that is very important for anyone about to start a small business. This will depend on the type of business you have decided to start. Most people start businesses based on the skills they have e.g. a baker will start a small baking business, an accountant will start an accounting firm, etc. Make sure to sit down and write all the skills required in the business for it to run well, then evaluate yourself and see if you have any of those skills required. For the skills you don’t have; you have to find a way to ensure they are available in order for your business to run properly. This means that you either have to outsource those skills, hire a person or even learn the skill yourself. In this day and age; you can also get software that can assist you in certain aspects of your business e.g. accounting and inventory management (e.g. Quickbooks Accounting Software), you can also visit other sites that can help you with the skills to run your business e.g. photo editing, marketing, customer service, etc. Just to mention a few skills that you might require for business; people skills (in order to persuade potential clients to buy your products or services, practical skills pertaining to your business (e.g. baking if starting a bakery, photography skills if you will start a photo studio, etc.), book-keeping and accounting skills (these are good to learn even if you don’t have them – it’s necessary to be aware of your financial position at all times), marketing skills – this is important to learn as well, even as you think of getting someone to assist with marketing your business. Learn how to also do it yourself since you will be the most passionate person about the business since it’s yours. You can find many resources and tips online on different skills you require that you can learn from.

Bakerette Faith garnishin black forrest cake - Amari Baking classes

If you want to start a bakery; make sure you have the baking skill, if not, take some baking classes

Do I have the funds to start my business and if not, can I be able to fund-raise?

You truly have to get very honest with yourself about this question; do you have enough money to get started? The best thing is to sit down and find out how much you will need to get started, you can do this while writing your business plan. In the financial part; have a detailed budget on all you need to actually set up your business and get started. You also need to know how much working capital you’ll need at least for the first 3 months – this is money that will be used for monthly expenses, etc. Once you find that out; you’ll have a clear picture of the total amount of money you require. Check your finances at that time and see if you have that amount; if you don’t, don’t worry – you can make a plan on how to get that money to get started. Come up with several ideas of how you can come up with the money and write them down; if they’re individuals you need to approach, write down their names, if you can be able to save for a period of time, etc. Once you have a list; make a plan on when to fund-raise from each source. For example; maybe you need a total of Kshs. 500,000 (Starting-250K & Working capital-250K) and you have found that you only have Kshs. 20,000, you can decide that within 6 months – you can save Kshs. 120,000.  You can choose to save per month and keep the money or once you get the money at the end of the month – you can purchase a particular item, equipment, etc – required in your business. That means that within 6 months; you’ll have Kshs. 140,000. You may have identified a family member who can lend you Kshs. 110,000 within those 6 months to get started. That means that you can actually start your business after those 6 months. For the working capital; you can also look for 2 or 3 sources to fund-raise from. Example; you can find a friend or another family member who can fund you the first month of operation with Kshs. 150,000 to get you some working capital and you can maybe get some grant or government funding of Kshs.50,000. You can then discover that within the first 3 months of operations, your business can have Kshs. 50,000 to use for working capital. This will ensure that you are at least set for the first 3 months of your business start-up.

Amari Biz plan template

A business plan is very important

Am I willing to do the research and be fully prepared before starting my business?

This is a question that a lot of individuals, especially youth, are not asking themselves before starting a small business – it’s also a major cause of business failure for those who start without doing so. I think it’s a very important question because in order to set your business up for success, you really have to do some research on the industry you want to do business in, the location and also on what you actually need to get started. A lot of people feel too lazy to do the research themselves and want to get answers without doing their due diligence. Choose to either do the research in order to be fully prepared i.e. visit and talk to business owners in that industry, research on equipment, legal requirements, labor requirements you’ll need to start – you can get this information in industry blogs, talking to people in the business, online government portals, you can even inquire at your county council office on legal requirements. If you’re not willing to do all the work; hire a consultant who will let you know all you require to get started. If you don’t have the money to hire a consultant and you don’t want to do the research; then don’t bother starting a business in the first place.

ResearchKey

Do your due diligence – make sure to research every aspect of your business idea

Am I willing to keep learning and not be afraid to fail?

As a business owner; you have to be willing and open to learn, at all times. This is what helps you grow as an entrepreneur and in turn, it helps your business to grow and progress with time. In business, you also have to be aware that you will fail at times; sometimes you’ll lose your money in failed projects, but this should not stop you from getting started. Starting and running a business is taking a risk, but it may have great rewards as well. Part of learning in this journey and growing wiser involves failing at times; I believe that you should look at those failures as learning moments instead of just pure failure. The challenges you encounter will teach you to be a better entrepreneur and will also help you learn faster and therefore be wiser and make better business decisions. You have to have the courage to take that risk, be willing to meet challenges head on and learn from them in order to be successful.

learn-on concrete

Every challenge you encounter should be a learning moment

I hope that you will ask yourself these questions before starting your small business and you’ll answer them as honestly as possible.

If you have any questions on starting a business that you have or you think one should also ask oneself – feel free to share below ^_^

If you liked this post and found it helpful, make sure to ‘like’ it below and also share to your networks – it’ll help someone else.

4 Important Things that Start-Up Entrepreneurs need to always remember

I haven’t been posting consistently on this blog lately (I have decided to break the silence – and follow my own advice ^_^)

I was inspired to blog due to an interview I was invited to during the week of the GE Summit for a radio program called The Conversation for The BBC World Service. I was proud to be part of such an inspiring program and I met a lovely lady who was also guesting on the program; she is a co-founder of Closet 49, Serah Kanyua.

Our lovely hostess; Presenter Kim Chakanetsa, asked us several questions. One that really stood out for me and I thought was very important (enough to warrant a blog post ^_^) was: ” What do you think are the top tips for aspiring business women and men out there?” I will share my four top important tips for those who want to be or are starting out businesses.

1. Planning

Make sure before you start your business to plan ahead; make a business plan, including your start-up budget. Make an action list of what you need to do in order to get started properly. It’s also important to plan all other aspects of your life; if you’re an employee quitting a job to start a business, your personal life will change as well. Depending on what you were doing before starting your business, you need to adjust your life accordingly in order to focus completely on your business venture.

It's very important!

It’s very important!

2. Research

While you’re in the planning process for your business start-up, you also need to do a lot of research. It is imperative for your business’ success to conduct research on your business industry, your target customers, business location, whether your product or service is viable in the market and many other important aspects of your start-up. The reason it’s very important to conduct research is to reduce your business’ chance of failure. When you research thoroughly and plan properly; you have knowledge and insight that will increase your chance of success.

3. Mentorship

At any phase of starting up your business; whether it is during planning and research, after starting your business or during your entrepreneural journey – I think it’s important to have a mentor (or if you’re lucky, mentors). Mentors can be different types of people who help you gain insight into entrepreneurship. They can be individuals in your industry who guide you in the right direction while doing business; they can even be your customers or family members who also own businesses or among other individuals who offer insight and positive guidance to help improve your life. Mentors can help you “fail fast” as an entrepreneur – or at least help you avoid some business failures that slow down your business’ success. I can personally attest to the importance of having a mentor in your life as a start-up entrepreneur.

Get your own Yoda ^_^To guide you on the right path

Get your own Yoda ^_^To guide you on the right path

4. Self-Motivation

I said it on the interview and I will say it again – sometimes you don’t have someone to give you a pep talk; or to support you and inspire you daily. You have to wake up everyday and motivate yourself; you need to get up and tell yourself that you’re going to make it. You should be able to find various ways of getting inspiration to keep going; especially on those tough and challenging days. Whether it’s your favorite inspirational music, quotes that motivate you to do better or just an amazing pep talk to get you revved up for the day. Find your motivation daily, from within – then go out there and succeed!

Motivate yourself to succeed

Motivate yourself to succeed (Image Credit: BusinessDailyAfrica)

I hope those four business tips have helped you, especially if you’re planning on starting your own business soon. Make sure you are prepared before starting your venture (or as prepared as you can be).

Do you have any other important business tips to any aspiring start-up entrepreneurs you would love to share? Please do so below on the comment box – feedback is always appreciated ^_^

Don’t forget to share this awesome post with your friends – I bet they’ll thank you for it ^_^

5 Important Lessons Learned At The AITEC Mobile Money Conference

About a month ago, I discovered a gold mine of information from a business blog; the best thing about this blog was that it was a Kenyan blog. Now it’s not that I didn’t exactly know about this site, I’ve heard of it and seen some links online about it – but I had never really checked it out. I’m always on the look out for information I can always share about business start-ups these days, so I decided to really see what information the site offers. I meant to spend about five minutes on the blog but I ended up reading different blog posts for almost an hour! The content was just amazing and insightful – both the blog posts and the videos. Which site you wonder? Kuza Biashara blog.

Fast forwarding to my main point; I was able to win VIP tickets to the AITEC Mobile Money conference from them and it was a very unbelievable opportunity that I am very grateful to have had thanks to the great team at Kuza Biashara. I met them and they are awesome! (yup – that’s the best word that can describe this team of amazing individuals that work there.) Their founder and chief mentor Mr. Sriram Bharatam is an amazing individual as well as a great speaker and listener. Mr. Karthi Raj, the vice president is easy to talk to and very engaging; it was an honor to meet them.

With the Kuza Biashara team at AITEC

With the Kuza Biashara team at AITEC

The theme of AITEC mobile money conference held at the Kenya School of Monetary Studies in Kenya this year was – ‘Finance SMEs and fire up the economy’. AITEC is the region’s leading banking forum and this is its eighth year in existence. Now you may wonder what a small business owner such as myself would benefit from attending such a conference; however, it was an invaluable experience that led to a lot of great insight on my part. I can honestly say that true to Kuza Biashara’s motto; I learned, connected and will grow after attending the conference. I want to share five very important lessons I learned at the conference and I hope it will give you insight into your business start-up as well.

1. Small businesses should start using mobile money payment platforms for their businesses if they don’t already
A major point of discussion in the conference was the adaptation and success of mobile money in Kenya. Banks in the region have realized the potential of the mobile money platform in the region and have started using the platform to offer more solutions for their customers. They are also continuing to discover ways in which they can start serving SMEs better using the same platforms in the near future. A very interesting way that one particular company, G-analytix based in Zimbabwe, is using mobile money usage & other small business analytics input to benefit small business owners is by creating a ratings programme or if you may – credit history. The point that Mr. Alan Goodrich the company’s MD was making, is to be able to build a credit history that can be used in lending money to small business owners based on their mobile money history and other small business operations inputs.
A perfect example of a company that is putting the mobile money credit history usage to great use is Kopo Kopo Inc who created the ‘Lipa na MPESA’ platform used by businesses in Kenya.

Lipa Na Mpesa by KopoKopo

Lipa Na Mpesa by KopoKopo

It’s a great platform especially for small business owners like myself; I can say that with great confidence since my bakery uses it to receive payments. Kopo Kopo has now introduced Grow, which is an alternative lending option for their already existing customers. They use the mobile money history in the business account to determine the amount of money they can lend to the business. Another great feature of their payment system is that they recently added a feature where an account holder can make payments to other accounts – bank or MPESA lines. This is a great feature because it gives a small business owner the convenience of being able to pay an employee or vendor directly from their Kopo Kopo account. This in time will build a history of business transactions in and out of the business – which is literally a more detailed credit history of the business.

Kopo Kopo is making mobile payment easy for SMEs

Kopo Kopo is making mobile payment easy for SMEs

Bottom line: If your small business does not already have a mobile money payment system; you need to get one right away. Not only is it convenient for your customers; but very useful to your business as well and possibly for future bank lending purposes.
2. You should have a strong and solid social media strategy in place for your business
An interesting point that was made in the conference by Mr. Amarnath Chowdary, CEO of ModeFinServer, India; was that social media banking is the next big thing after mobile money. Most banks have recognized the fact that a very high percentage of their customers are constantly on social media. Banks therefore want to provide even more convenience by tapping into social media just like most businesses have done and start providing banking services to their customers. I believe that this integration of banking into social media will benefit businesses as well; therefore, businesses should ensure they are also on social media. If your business has a strong social media presence; it will make it easy to benefit from the social media banking experience and in turn your customers as well. This may turn out to be another payment platform for businesses to take advantage of.

Ensure you have a great social media strategy

Ensure you have a great social media strategy

Bottom line: Make sure your small business has an effective social media strategy in place so that when banking hits the social media platform; you’re ready to integrate it into your payment systems efficiently.
3. Market research is very important for your small business
At the conference, Ms. Debbie Watkins – MD Africa and Asia Regions of Fern Software; shared her experience of doing market research in different parts of the world on how small business owners run their daily financial operations. Banks in the past believed that small business payment operations are simple; however, due to the nature of a small business, it has been discovered that their operations are even more complex than believed. As banks research the habits of small business owners even more, they discover that in order to survive; business owners have to apply complex strategies due to their limited financial resources. This kind of discovery through market research should apply to every small business out there. No matter how simple; small businesses should always conduct market research in their specific industries in order to find out what their customers really need and serve them better.
Bottom line: If you’re not constantly researching what your customer needs to better understand them and innovating your products & services to suite them; someone else will start solving their problems and you will lose your customers.
4. Small business start-ups don’t always need funding, they need capacity building.
A point that was made by Mr. Habil Olaka, CEO of the Kenya Bankers’ Association was that start-ups don’t always need debt finance which banks offer. Start-ups may actually be in need of capacity building instead of financing. They may also be in need of a different kind of funding instead of bank loans; funding such as angel or venture capital funding. It is necessary to point out that Kenya does not have a lot of options when it comes to angel or venture capital investors; most of the ones available are not even Kenyan-based but foreign investors.

Kuza Biashara help SMEs be the best they can be

Kuza Biashara help SMEs be the best they can be

Bottom line: If your start-up is constantly having cash flow issues and you keep looking for different ways to get funding; you may not necessarily require debt financing since your small business may not be able to handle it. It may be a lack of information and a need for resources that will help you to run your small business better.
5. Small business owners in Kenya need to use capacity building resources available such as Kuza Biashara in order to learn.
In reference to the point made above; start-ups don’t always require funding, sometimes they need capacity building. This is true of a lot of small business owners in Kenya, including myself. Like the founder of Kuza Biashara, Mr. Sriram Bharatam, says: “A lot of small business owners don’t know what they don’t know.” That was true for me especially last year as my business went through a challenging time. I realized that I required knowledge in order to deal with the challenges the business was facing and not necessarily funding; since that was not really solving my problems. I have been learning since and have gained a lot of insight on how to focus and run my small business better through the methods that I have learned. I am continuously finding more resources that help me learn and grow as a business owner and Kuza Biashara is one of those resources that I believe will help in that journey.
Bottom line: If you are a small business owner in Kenya, you need to make sure you tap into the resources that Kuza Biashara offers and you will learn, connect and grow as an entrepreneur.

It was a privilege to be able to attend the AITEC mobile money conference and it was a great to meet the Kuza Biashara team; they should keep up the great work they are doing.

Keep learning, work hard and most importantly work smart.

How Authorpreneurs in Kenya Can Connect and Gain Loyal Followers

As an authorpreneur in Kenya, you may be wondering how to connect your brand (you as an author) to your target audience in order to gain loyal followers who will not only purchase your books; but also share your fiction works with their friends and networks as well. You will need to apply a kind of marketing called inbound marketing in which you attract, convert, sell and delight your target audience. There are various ways of engaging with your target audience and achieving those four goals. Today I want to share four effective ways in which an authorpreneur can do so.

Authorpreneur 101 pic

1. Create a blog and post on it consistently
As a fiction writer if you don’t already have a blog, you need to create one right away. There are many reasons why any brand should have a blog, and for a fiction writer such as yourself – this applies to your brand as well. It is a very effective way of connecting with your audience; as well as sharing your sample fiction works and updates about your brand or any other interests you would like to share. You can write short stories in your blog which your audience can read to get a better understanding of your talent and style of writing as well as the genre in which you write in. A great example is this blog on Romance in Nairobi. You can also choose to share helpful and relevant information in any topic; whether it is geographical information about locations you write about, or helpful tips to writers who are beginning to write fiction stories. This is your own space online that will attract your target audience and let them know more about yourself and possibly convert them to become your loyal followers.

2. Create social media pages and engage with your audience
Once you attract your audience, it’s very important to engage and interact with them. The best way to do this is on social media since that’s where most of them are as well. If you don’t already have accounts, create pages for your brand in which you will connect and engage with your audience. You can choose two or three social sites that you feel comfortable to start with, instead of opening numerous accounts that you cannot keep up with. Examples are; creating a Facebook page for your brand image, opening a Twitter account and then you can add another social media site such as Pinterest or LinkedIn depending on whether you want a visual based social site or you want to network with other authors. You don’t have to get a third social media account, if you are comfortable with only two, stick with that. Make sure you post consistently on your social media sites and use the 80/20 rule; 80% helpful and engaging material and 20% promotion on your brand products i.e. Fiction books.

Elly Kamari - Author FB page

Elly Kamari – Author FB page

3. Create accounts on self-publishing sites
As a writer, you need to be available in sites that are used in your industry because that is where majority of your target audience will be as well. Two main examples of these sites are Smashwords and Amazon. They are important since they sell fiction books to their customers and this is a ready market for you to attract. This is very important especially if you are a self-publishing fiction writer. If you don’t already have accounts in these sites, make sure you open them as soon as possible. You will be able to create a profile for your brand as well as share your writing to your target audience as well.

Self publish on smashwords.com

Self publish on smashwords.com

4. Visit industry-related events and festivals
As a fiction writer, it is necessary to connect with other writers in your genre and area; as well as readers who have a major interest in your industry. Great places to connect with such people are poetry and spoken word events, festivals such as the Storymoja Hay Festival which offers a chance to meet great authorpreneurs in various genres and master-classes that offer insightful discussions and information on various industry-related topics. These kinds of events will be visited by both your potential target audiences – avid readers interested in meeting authors and learning more about their interests. You will also meet and network with other authors; those who have been in the industry for long or new fiction writers beginning to write seriously such as yourself. Therefore ensure you are always on the look out for such events; so make sure you attend the Storymoja Hay Festival in the Nairobi Museum starting on the 17th of September this month.

Come to the Storymoja Hay Festival in Sept. 2014

Come to the Storymoja Hay Festival in Sept. 2014

Get started on doing the above things and you will be on your way to creating a strong and loyal following for your brand as an authorpreneur in Kenya.

Do you have any other sites or tips for authorpreneurs to visit or follow? Please feel free to share below.

This post appeared originally on the Storymoja Hay Festival Blog

6 Important Steps to Take Before Starting a Business in Kenya

Becoming an entrepreneur in Kenya, especially a female entrepreneur in Kenya is never an easy decision to make. When one makes the decision however, it’s important not to rush into a business without taking a few steps in preparation. Business plans don’t always work as planned, but they are a great guideline to follow. Make sure to take these six steps when starting your small business in Kenya.

1. Research the industry well

Whatever industry you’re in, you should ensure to research it thoroughly. This is so that you find out who your future competitors are and what they are doing specifically, in terms of marketing and what products or services they are offering. You should find out how the market is doing whether it’s profitable or declining; is it a fad that has run its course? It’s also good to find out if it’s too saturated a market; if everyone is doing it. Before starting my bakery, I read many bakery blogs for recipes to try our for my menu, I researched what cake and bread products were being sold at the time, the bakeries that were popular in Nairobi and what they were selling in their menus as well. I checked the price lists of about ten bakeries and their websites to see the kind of online marketing they were utilizing.

Research is necessary in your business (Courtesy: iserotope.com)

Research is necessary in your business (Courtesy: iserotope.com)

2. Decide what your niche in the industry will be for your business

Every successful business in Kenya has a certain need it addresses in its industry. Finding a niche in an industry is important since it helps a business focus on solving that particular problem. An example; Citizen TV in Kenya focuses on regional shows and audiences. Therefore their shows are mainly African show such as Afrosinema and many other Kenyan shows that local Kenyans relate to. Another example is my baking business; one service we’re offering is teaching people how to bake with a charcoal oven. Many people offer baking classes; but since more individuals who want to start small baking businesses are baking with charcoal ovens because they are economical, our focus is on those who want to learn how to bake with it. Choose a niche in which you are certain you will solve a specific problem and that will set you apart from your competition.

3. Find out the necessary requirements to run your business legally in your location

After you’ve decided what your business will be, you need to find out all the legal requirements to run that kind of business in Kenya. Whether it’s registering the business name or a company; to city council permits and certificates for the business premise. Find out all the necessary documents and start working towards getting them before starting the business. When I started my bakery, I first started by registering a business name for the business, then I went to the nearest city council office in my location and inquired on the necessary permits and health certificates needed to get started. If you’re able to, you can approach a person who has a business in your industry and inquire about the requirements. Get started on it.

Visit your local city council office to inquire about requirements

Visit your local city council office to inquire about requirements

4. Find out the equipment required in your business

It’s necessary to know the basic resources required in your business to get started with. For example if you’re starting a cyber cafe business; you should know the least number of computers you’ll need to get started, printers, chairs and tables and any shelves required. You should also have money for expenses for at least three months; however if you can get money to cover expenses for six months – it’s preferred. If you’ll need to hire anyone to help you run your business, decide the kind of skills you require them to have and then start looking for someone to hire. Find out what all your operational requirements will be and plan accordingly.

5. Write a business plan

This is a must for any entrepreneur in Kenya who wants to start a business. Make sure you write a business plan; this will not only help set down your plan in paper in an organized manner; it will give you a guideline for the direction of your business in the future. I will be writing a post soon on how to write a business plan for you to use. To get a free business plan template, sign up via email by clicking on this link.

Start writing a business plan

Start writing a business plan

6. Get the capital required to start up your business

After you have written down a business plan, you will be able to know the exact amount you require to start your business. You need to get that capital; maybe start with the amount you have saved, then find out how much you need to fund-raise to get started.

Get start-up capital

Get start-up capital

if you follow the above steps to getting your business started in Kenya, you will be more prepared as an entrepreneur.

If you have any other suggestions on steps to take before starting a business, please feel free to comment below.

 Make sure to share this post on your networks, it might help a friend ^_^