One of the fundamental lessons to draw from small businesses (SMEs) in Zimbabwe and Africa in general is that there is more talk and statistics about businesses that die than those that survive.
This is quite evident in the prevailing situation in Zimbabwe where we read more of company closures than successful stories. This trend has forced me to explore why Zimbabweans start businesses in the first place.
I conducted a couple of qualitative group discussions and in-depth interviews with Zimbabwean SME business owners in Zimbabwe and in South Africa. Listening carefully to all, I distilled four distinct theories, among others, for what triggers business start-ups in Zimbabwe, namely:
Unemployable personality and
Most people start businesses because they feel they have reached a stage in their working life where they now know enough technically to stand on their own. So they leave their employer and set-up their own shop.
This, it appears, is the commonest reason why Zimbabweans start own businesses. A second category of business owners who started businesses because they had capital they wished to invest in a business of one form or another.
A common sentiment is that a significant number of Zimbabweans in the limelight have over the past few years, amassed significant money through both orthodox and unorthodox means. The third motivation for starting businesses is an unemployable personality.
These are people who cannot work under anyone because of their character.
They always fight or clash with all sorts of superiors. So their profession becomes job hopping until they ultimately resort to setting up own shop. These are entrepreneurs who can succeed with exposure and skilling on the dynamic of business. They tend to fail as they have the will and technical know-how but lack other business traits.
The last reason for starting business is also employability but this time, it is because the people involved are unemployable because they tend to not have adequate formal academic qualifications or formal skills needed for formal employment but are innovative. If you bother to check, one can see that there are many such in Zimbabwe and many African countries. Most of such organisations have low entry barriers and attract huge following (“customers”) very easily.
What is, however, mind boggling is that when you analyse chief reasons why many African businesses die prematurely. You come to the conclusion that it is also academic knowledge without experience of running a business along proper and basic business principles.
In other words, the business owners tend to listen to themselves and themselves alone.
Some experts say for success, business need ‘critical mass’ at the top. In street lingo this means you cannot do it alone. You need diverse skills at the top to be able to mitigate risk sufficiently as well as pull necessary resources.
Most successful businessmen tend to have one thing in common, that is they have a perfect blend of three crucial skills namely, technical, interpersonal and conceptual, the ability to apply long-term mindset and see opportunities today that will be enjoyed in the future.
However, all this must translate into a customer-centric approach to business.
The customer is king philosophy seems glaringly lacking in many business in Zimbabwe today.
Just do an audit of a few available businesses and see how easy it is to associate the word arrogance with them.
Arrogance comes from a self-centric strategy, that is the “I know what I am doing, you don’t know what I went through” mentality. The world is no longer about Mr Know it All. It is now about Mr Find it All.
A strategy that has no genuine mechanisms for listening to crucial customers is certainly on a downward spiral no matter how it looks today.
The online platform is not making it any easier for self-serving organisations. Looking at the much documented and much talked about Zimbabwe’s socio-economic challenges, many local organisations would do well to introduce mechanisms to formally listen to customers to remain relevant.