Friday, August 28, 2009

Do or Die

When you start a business and its a Do or Die agenda the possibility of you succeeding is much higher than when its done as a side hobby. For instance, if payment for where you stay and what you eat is dependent on the business you are doing, trust me the chances of you failing are reduced substantially.

However, even if Do or Die, I came to discover there are many other additional things that will affect the success of your business. According to the Ministry of Trade (Kenya), those additional things include "being able to craft good strategies that can exploit the opportunities in the environment". These strategies don't just come by you, they are based on theories made practical.

How are we expected to get these theories made practical?

Well its simple! A number of us (small business owners) don't look at training as an asset. Training well done can substantially increase your profitability. And am not talking about an MBA or an talking about very practical workshops that increases your knowledge of the day to day challenges of doing business.

4th September 2009 is therefore an important date to note for SMEs. This is the date when the British High Commission together with AFRI Business Development will kick off a series of trainings that provide practical advice to SMEs. These trainings will include courses in areas such as Starting and Running a Profitable Business, Selling Your Product Successfully, Running a Business from Home and many others. All of the workshops are open to ANYBODY thinking of starting or already running their own business and are suitable to ALL types of business idea.

These trainings should provide you as a business owner the essentials of doing business. Remember when starting and running a business it’s important that one gets the essentials right.

For more information on them contact the trainers at T: (254) 20 2515001, M: (254) 726 057212 or email

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The CEO Janitor

I’m a self confessed holiday hater, but today as I still wait to be counted I am grateful for this holiday. Besides dreaming up some crazy ‘tribe’ which I’ll tell the enumerators I belong to (I’m leaning towards Kryptonian) I get a chance to take a breather.

You see the last two years have been a non-stop 24/7 marathon to keep ahead of an economy battered by the combined effects of post-election violence and a global economic recession. Although 2009 has had its upsides compared to last year, the scarcity of food, electricity, and water continue to take their toll on business. One can even say that it’s been stressful. Stress however is not necessarily a bad thing, like Jon Voight acting as a bad guy in 24 says “stress is the fertilizer of creativity”.

Indeed I have had to be extremely creative in 2009 to ensure that my business continues to be relevant in the face of a depressed economy and with all this rationing. By forging strong partnerships with other entrepreneurs I launched Incorporator the online business registration service and AFRI Business Development Consulting, the UK firm that specializes in supporting SMEs. The idea behind these two businesses, together with Genius Executive Centre is to provide an end-to-end business solution for SMEs. An entrepreneur who wants to start a business needs to get it registered and comply with tax obligations, takes care of that. He will need a place to operate from, meet clients, browse his email, and generally call his workplace – Genius Executive Centre can do all that. His business will need support in planning, securing financial assistance, netting clients, retaining clients, promoting its products, recruiting staff and other activities necessary to ensure the business becomes successful, AFRI handles that.

The businesses are converging nicely and the synergy is great but the toll on Harry has been extreme. It’s hard enough starting up and running one business, but to do this for three has required some super-human effort (maybe that’s why I’m thinking of calling myself Kryptonian). In addition I’ve had to ensure that SoftLaw my legal publishing company; Genius Forex, the currency trading advisory firm; and BetonStocks, the online betting/trading service don’t wither away and die from neglect. I’ve had to do all this while I nurture ShenZen Cars my low-cost internet motor-vehicle sales company and keep experimenting with other businesses.

All this takes me back to 2004, before SoftLaw took off. My partner and I were negotiating with Kenya’s then biggest company, East African Breweries Ltd to take up our SoftLaw Citator, Laws of Kenya software. EABL being an international company had a raft of procedures and one of them was that the procurement manager required to visit our premises before any purchase could be made. We knew that clinching EABL as a client would pay dividends with future prospects and we were determined to make a good impression.

At that time our ‘office’ was located at a friend’s rarely used cyber café which also served as a store for his structured cabling and network administration business. This meant that it was choked full of cables, boxes of cables, networking equipment and a whole lot of other of computer equipment. A healthy layer of dust covered most of these items, and only because we had no walk in clients were we comfortable enough to put up with this.

With the impending visit of our VIP prospect, we knew that this had to change. We hired one of the building’s cleaners to pass his broom over the place after his normal work hours. As CEOs, naturally we could not remain in the office with all the sweeping and the dust, and strolled to the nearest café to enjoy a cup of coffee. At around 7:00 pm we returned to the office expecting to find it sparkling clean. We were instead shocked to find that the cleaner had decided the 200 bob we had promised him did not justify the work and was AWOL.

Knowing that the future of this deal and our business was in our hands we put those hands to work. It was slightly past midnight when after plenty of sweeping, heavy moving, mopping, window cleaning and arranging that the place finally looked like an office. The next day the procurement manager came and despite having had our power disconnected early that morning for non-payment (story for another day), he was satisfied enough to give us business.

It is a fact that when starting your business you must be ready to take up several roles to ensure that you get the job done and the business makes that sale. While I would not recommend running several simultaneous businesses to anyone as a business strategy, it is what I love doing and I wouldn’t change it for the world. There are disadvantages to this besides the obvious fatigue and none is more readily manifest than having to do several jobs simultaneously. But if you do decide to start and run your own business even if its only one be ready to be the janitor as well as the CEO.