Entrepreneurs – Start owning it!

Entrepreneurship in today’s South Africa is no longer only the access to an opportunity to start our own business, but more so the belief that each individual can still do something about our own personal circumstances.

Why this statement, you may ask?

During the last 12 months I have had the privilege of engaging with entrepreneurs at all different kind of levels.

I clearly remember preparing for my very first training session of this year – bullet pointing my key discussion points and what I thought to be the challenges that my audience faced each day. Boy did I get it wrong!

Over the course of the 4 weeks that would follow, I got to know my rather rural audience pretty well and had to quickly adapt my perceptions of which factors determined success for these individuals.

It was not that they didn’t have great ideas to start with, or that they lacked the know-how of how to deliver their products or services to the market. Nor was it a lack of opportunity – most of the candidates I met were finding new customers on a weekly basis. They had access to smart phones, internet connection and some basic financial skills. Bullet points that I had previously identified as some of the major limiting factors on their success.

What they didn’t have was the self-belief that it was possible for them to actually start a business, run it successfully and provide for their families. Change their personal circumstance AND own the process. Not only they, but also the startups I consult with, continuously search for and cling to the limiting factors that justifies their feelings of helplessness.

When asked at the start of the 4-week process, what the biggest obstacle was that stood between themselves and success, lack of funding was the resounding response.

I tested the water and asked one entrepreneur, that if we had access to unlimited funding on the day and could simply fill in the value of a blank cheque, what would this value be?

R10 million was his answer! So I proceeded to ask him a few critical questions.

“How he did you arrive at this number?” His answer? “R10 million is my number!”

“Do you have a business plan to show the investor how the money will be utilized?” “No, my business will work, I just need someone to give me the money!”

“If you don’t have a business plan, how do you know how much your profits will be and how much you’ll be able to repay the investor?” “I am going to make lots of money – all I need is the funding so I can start my business. I’m not worried about the payments”

This was quite an enlightening conversation for the rest of the audience but also for me. I realized there and then how a dependent a society we’ve become. We always look towards someone in what we believe to be a position of power to make things happen for us.

So I am under no circumstances saying that he may not have been sitting on an idea well worth the R10 million investment. What I am stating is the obvious fact that this entrepreneur was still trapped in the vicious cycle of self-doubt and was looking for any excuse why he couldn’t start his business and become successful on his own terms.

Not everyone starting a business is guaranteed of significant wealth. Not everyone is born an entrepreneur. But everyone that sets their minds to it and with the right support network, can be a very successful business owner.

We need to cultivate more opportunities where people learn to utilize the resources at their disposal and build their businesses in a scalable fashion. This will empower them to realize that they can make the necessary decisions, utilize resources and not having to look towards 3rd parties to change their personal situations. The sad reality is that even if all of these candidates sat on R10 Million ideas, they would not be ready for that level of overnight success and the business will fail faster than you can say “snap”. Allowing them the opportunity to grow their business ideas from within their own capabilities and resources, they will end up growing as individuals in line with their business requirements.

The end result? A more sustainable model for change and entrepreneurs that in general are more capable to deal with the everyday challenges of being in business.

Maybe even an entrepreneurial community that has learned the skills of what it means to take ownership for their own fate, and not look towards Government to provide that security.

Apart from looking to Government, I hear many wannabe entrepreneurs express their earnest wishes to get into some or another incubator program. Here they generally have access to a range of free services and products. This could range from free mobile devices with internet access, shared office- or work space, mentors, financial services etc. Most of the Government initiatives are also grant based and simply puts some cash in the entrepreneurs’ pockets, without any real support structure to teach them how to actually run a successful business.

I know of incubation programs that approach this differently and more in line with what I believe to be a more sustainable method.

If the bulk of the programs out there however approach development of our future entrepreneurs on this basis, we won’t see any sustainable change any time soon. Throwing money after the problem hasn’t worked in many other sectors, and it won’t work in this instance either.

Yes, all the money Government makes available stimulates the economy through the goods and services acquired by the recipients, but once the money has run dry, the spending stops and the individual is more often than not in a similar position that he or she was in previously.

Until such a time that we can get business owners supported and mentored to such an extent that they can start turning real revenue from which they pay for their own infrastructure, support services and actually employ someone, the real question that remains for now, is…

“Are we sustainably empowering entrepreneurs or is this just another form of charity?”

It is time to own our mistakes and weaknesses and to make a positive change for ourselves and for the world.

November 4, 2016 | Luan van Ryn

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