Frida Owinga is the CEO and founder of the Kenyan-based PassionProfit School of Entrepreneurship that helps aspiring and existing entrepreneurs turn their passion into profit-making business ventures. If you have an ambition to become a successful entrepreneur, here are seven tips from Owinga.
1. Entrepreneurship can be learned
Are people born entrepreneurs or can business skills be learnt? Owinga believes the basics of entrepreneurship can be taught. However, it is essential to have the ability to identify opportunities, a business mindset and a passion for whatever venture you want to pursue.
“In this environment there are a lot of people who are employed but they have a dream to start their own business. But at the same time they feel they don’t have what it takes. I believe the skills and behaviours of entrepreneurship can be learned. You can learn how to plan and strategise, how to attract, convert and retain clients and how to network and form partnerships,” says Owinga.
2. Be ready to face harsh realities
A positive attitude is crucial to be an entrepreneur but Owinga says you should also be able to recognise and deal with harsh realities.
“You need to have an attitude that can recognise brutal facts when things are not working. Don’t just close your eyes and say it will work… What you would need to be asking is ‘what can we do and what can we change to make things better’. You are not changing the vision, you are just changing the strategy.”
3. Don’t just exchange business cards
The right way to network, according to Owinga, is to keep your eyes open and look for people that you could collaborate with, strike-up a conversation, explain what opportunities you could share, and keep in touch.
“You need to be willing and able to network and I don’t mean exchanging business cards, but cultivating relationships and forming strategic alliances. To survive in the business place today you need to be able to collaborate with others.”
4. Failure is part of the journey
According to Owinga, failure is not the end of the road if you are still alive and willing to give it another try. If anything, she adds, failure comes with a lot of learning that can be useful in your next venture.
“In entrepreneurship failure is not a problem; it is part of the process. The first step to success is failing,” says Owinga. “Are you willing to try something else? If the answer is yes, you have not really failed. As long as we are alive we can get to our goal if we don’t stop. However, if a business collapses you need to find out why, before you embark on another business venture. You should speak to someone in that industry or someone who has done that kind of business so that next time your venture will not collapse for that same reason.”
5. You need staying power
Owinga says the most common mistake entrepreneurs make is “giving up too soon”. She attributes this to unrealistic expectations and poor planning.
Entrepreneurship is a tough journey that may involve working for months with little or no money, investing millions and losing it all, and facing ridicule in society for failing. Those who choose to walk the journey, Owinga says, should “be willing to endure” through the hard times.
“You need to have the attitude to stick to what you are pursuing. You can’t jump out of the boat every time a storm comes.”
6. Don’t fall for the romanticised fairy tales
Entrepreneurship is increasingly gaining acceptance in African society. The success stories of self-made billionaires, such as Nigerian industrialist Aliko Dangote, have been told again and again.
Owinga says you should not fall for the fairy tales and recognise that for all these celebrated icons it took long hours of work, tons of perseverance and even a dose of failure before the billion dollar success.
“A lot of people go into business with unrealistic expectations. We are surrounded by pictures of people who are making it. Bill Gates dropped out of school so we think we can drop out of school and tomorrow we will be a Bill Gates. What you need to find out is after he quit school did he stop learning? There is a difference between stopping school and stopping learning,” notes Owinga.
7. Being an employee can be just as satisfying
Owinga says some of her clients have “freaked out and stayed on at their jobs” even after receiving training and coaching in entrepreneurship.
“Sometimes people feel a job is more secure than a business. They want to have the comfort of a pay cheque and the other benefits a job offers. They know going into business has high potential but it takes a while so they think ‘if I am earning Ksh. 120,000 (US$1,365) a month, why rock the boat?’”
The business coach says there is nothing wrong with working for someone else as long as you find satisfaction in it. Although entrepreneurship has been romanticised and magazine headlines scream of self-made billionaires, you should not go into business if that is not where your passion lies.
“Not all of us can start a business. Some people will be employees and there is nothing wrong with that. The honourable thing is to earn a living, which you can do by working for somebody else or working for yourself. It is a choice and people should be allowed to choose,” says Owinga.