A few months ago, I bumped into a long time friend while picking my son from school. Apparently, he came to collect some money from the school having supplied dressed chickens. He seems to be making good monies and he was telling a success story of how this side business has helped him to buy a lorry and build a couple of houses. He mentioned that he has been doing this for the past three years. I learnt one trick from him—he has been reading a lot on how to manage a small business. You see, you do not necessarily have to go into class to gain these skills. Just visit your local bookshop and buy some good book or two on small business management. Gaining such skills is an important step when you wish to be a boss of your own.
This week, I wish to share a few tips on skills to manage small businesses. I hope you find the tips useful. By the way, life on a salary alone is hard. Yet a considerable proportion of the Malawi population is heavily reliant on salaried/wage income for survival.
So do you have the skills it takes to run a small business? A considerable number of small businesses start but they hardly finish the race successfully. One can hardly point out a small business that grew into a reputable business with its entrepreneur having little knowledge of running the business. All too often, businesses fail when an entrepreneur dies and it passes onto the spouse or child. The reason is simple—those inheriting it do not have the necessary skills to run the business or they never bothered to learn the tricks whether formally or informally.
To make the advice more practical, let us assume that you are planning to go into poultry farming—actually a very lucrative small business currently. Though not exhaustive, here’s a look at some of the skills you will need to have if you are to own such a business:
Market research: Before you start your business, you’ll have to find out who your customers are and where they’re located—are they in urban or rural areas? Are the customers middle or low income? Is there somebody else supplying your potential market? Should you concentrate on layers or broilers? You may also have to conduct market research at various times during the life of your business, such as when to introduce a new product like supplying chicken livers in entertainment centres.
Sales and marketing: In addition to having to plan your marketing or advertising campaign, you’ll have to carry it out; you may write advertising copies, visit potential customers like companies that have cafeterias, and make sure existing customers stay happy. You may have to join poultry business groups and just generally network with anyone who could help your business prosper.
Accounting; You’ll have to know a lot about accounting, otherwise if you leave it to others, azingokupondani (may steal from you). You’ll have to know which records to keep and how to keep them; Until you grow big and have an accountant, you’ll have to know how to prepare and interpret all of your own financial statements. Most Malawians don’t trace their cash flows and ignorantly think that they are making profits when they aren’t. By the way, use your spouse or child as an accountant as much as possible—train them if need be. This will ensure sustainability of the business.
Note that most of these skills are basic and can be learnt through reading and by practice or from peers. Better still, if you can afford the time and cost, enrol for a short course with any of the reputable small business management training institutions in Malawi and beyond.
So you ask me why your small business failed? Examine your skill levels. You got it? Great! All the best with your new business ideas. Can’t wait to have you share experiences!
Blessed weekend to you. n