Profile of a Zimbabwean small business owner

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Kudzai Mubaiwa
We looked into various important aspects of small business last year, namely the undoubted contribution of small business at national level, the current policy situation, business growth stages, different types of business models, capital raising, marketing and strategy for small business.

Each of these aspects is implemented by the promoters/owners of the enterprise and it is fitting that we focus on the profile of such a one. Behind every successful or struggling company is an individual who is the visionary and championing the cause.

That person must possess or attain particular skills and abilities in addition to the intrinsic ones. Astuteness in business is underpinned by soft skills and intangible qualities such as grooming, etiquette, time keeping, networking, negotiation, money and management.

A serious business person must be well groomed. While the champion or promoter of any enterprise is a very busy person, they must make time to be clean and presentable. They live in a world where they interact with others, stakeholders such as suppliers, customers, workmates and fellow business people.

There is not much room in the Zimbabwean space to be an overly eccentric character when one is running a small enterprise, you will be judged by it and more likely than not lose business.

Today’s business person is no longer wearing a full double breasted suit with a matching briefcase, but they must be clean and presentable even if they are wearing their hair in locks, a shirt without a tie, jeans or loafers.

Moving along with grooming is etiquette, the ability to speak and act well, using the appropriate protocol, decorum, propriety, politeness, being well mannered. Realistic or not, there is an expectation for those running businesses to conduct themselves in a cultured manner, fitting all occasions.

Being ambidextrous and flexible in all manner of situations is of great benefit, for in the course of building up a company one will meet many people, from all walks of life literally and you must thus train yourself to interact at any level.

It is quite sad that the typical African is said to have no regard for time. In fact, sayings such as “There is no hurry in Africa, after all we are two hours ahead of London”, are oft backed by empirical evidence.

Time is money for the staid business person. Keeping time for meetings — both arrival time and length of meetings, is a virtue and a discipline one does well to ingrain. There is nothing like being “fashionably late”, if anything, the most successful owners of business have a great respect for time in that it is a finite resource, and seek to leverage it well so as to preserve and create additional financial resources. Be deliberate about being early for engagements. I worked for a year in a sector where we had to have weekly or monthly meetings with other stakeholders. I noted a particular gentleman, who would always be on time for the meetings, but he would also always leave 30 or 45 minutes in, and each time he would excuse himself by saying: “Well I had budgeted 30 (or 45) minutes only for this meeting.”

In truth everything we would discuss after his departure tended to be fluff stuff and from him I learnt that meetings need not be long to be productive, in fact some meetings should really be telephone calls or even emails! Having many meetings and a busy schedule is not a measure of productivity; it may actually be a symptom of underlying inefficiency!

People are difficult to avoid in any type of enterprise. Some have dared say that your most valuable of assets are the people you know, and one must actively seek to grow their associations through networking. You must be deliberate in reaching out to those that are the definition of your potential customer or partners for the enterprise.

Interacting confidently is the biggest thing and this is important from the time you reach out, possibly through cold calling, to strangers who are new to what you do, but also for maintaining a database of loyal customers. Networking should be both deliberate and somewhat accidental.

You may have a dedicated marketing person, or team, but most business people realise that they are the default deal-makers for their product or service. Practical steps include developing and practicing a very brief pitch to introduce yourself and your work in any social situation.

Attend as many events as are strategically possible, where decision makers are present and confidently speak to them. Carry brief, concealed notes or prompts if you must as you start out, but with time the pitch will flow from you with ease. Also learn the art of listening and affirming it by speaking back what whoever you are with has said, people love folks that listen to them.

Have business cards on you to allow people to contact you in need, and this is a better way when you ask to exchange cards — implying you too have value to give — than just asking for them. Appreciate that some contacts you make today may not convert into business the next day, but reach out with an expectation to obtain business in the short, medium and long term.

The idea is to make yourself memorable to someone and be entrenched in their mind as a service or product provider, but still follow up on the cards you get by sending an email.

Negotiation is an art every business owner must learn early. There is absolutely nothing that cannot be negotiated, always ask for a better deal or a discount on everything everywhere.

In business one has to keep speaking to both the supply and sales side so as to maximize profits but ensure that one continues as a going concern with a sustainable model.

Body language cues are worth investing in, both yours and interpreting those of others. Fairness must guide one as well so that you do not obtain a good deal that leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the other party, aim for mutual satisfaction or a win-win arrangement at all times.

No one ever got rich by being greedy. Finally, the bottom line of any business is making money. The business owner must actively fight against the demons of money mismanagement that pursue them. Financial literacy is an important skill to attain, and this is reinforced by simple actions — living within your means, keeping records, returning loans when they are accessed and appreciating the fact that your business money is not your personal money and must be separate.

All of these things listed above can be learnt through deliberate training, formal or informal (through interaction with others) or the use of online resources easily found on Youtube.

In the digital age, every entrepreneur can present themselves in the best way possible, and increase the value of both their personal and company brands. Conclude the year with an investment towards making both yourself and your business better!

Feedback: Twitter @kumub, Email kudzi@investorsaint.co.zw

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