Uchenna Bassey is the Group CEO of Kimberly Ryan Limited, a Human Resources Consulting company operating out of 17 countries in Africa. The company provides end-to-end HR and business consulting to clients on two continents, with a big focus on Africa. Creating a footprint across a major portion of Africa, Kimberly Ryan helps old and new entrants into Africa gain an understanding of the market place, providing business advice and helping clients navigate the cultural, labour and legal nuances of doing business in Africa. Here are Uchenna’s five tips for running a successful African enterprise.
1. Come with bucket loads of patience
“You will not make a lot of headway unless you have it. The timing of business processes in Africa differ even within countries, the cultural differences have huge impact on how business is conducted. Countries in the same region process differently, timing in Uganda is very different from Kenya. It is necessary to understand individual entities before deciding on a prototype of doing business. You might require mental yoga…”
2. Be flexible
“No size fits two in most of Africa, you have to be very bendy in most business dealings. It is perfect to have set standards and it is appreciated, but the corners of your box might require some curves to succeed. Customers want more or less or in a different way and will test your limits, and unless it is an absolutely unique service you are offering, it will not take too long to have a local option available.”
3. Acquire a sense of humour
“You will need it; there will be many days you might think you want to tear out your hair, if you have any to begin with). Environmental, cultural and procedural frustrations about doing business in Africa abound. You will need thick skin to let many little things wash off your back and laugh about it: excellent communication skills will save you from many mishaps.”
“The African knows what is best for the African, starting a business in Africa does not mean you know what is best for the African because it has fixed the problems elsewhere, you have to understand that what you are representing as added value does not move things forward in many countries. You have to respect the knowledge and know-how in the countries you operate in, ask for and accept input constantly, inclusion in how business is conducted and transparency in a high degree of operations and procedures with partners/ employees with help with engagement for the long haul.”
5. Glass half full
“You will need optimism, if you have doubt in the potential of African countries or the African, you might as well be DOA. The optimism will carry through you and translate to partners and employers, the wealth of knowledge, potential and survival instincts in Africa is immeasurable. If you believe hard enough and put hard work into it you will pull through doing business, and as others have said you have to continually build and cultivate relationships, business relationships, friendships and networks that will contribute to your business. Many potential business deals are not settled sitting in a formal setting, word of mouth and reputation contribute greatly to the perception of who you are and what value you bring to the marketplace.