Liberia: Starting a business in an environment with capacity constraints

Tianna Sherman-Kesselly

Tianna Sherman-Kesselly

Starting a business is already a daunting task; beginning a business in a ‘least developed country’ (LDC), well, that’s not meant for the faint of heart. Although the usual business risks exist as it relates to the finances, products, market, execution and team, it tends to be exponentially tougher and the marketplace is generally harder to navigate.

In the Liberian fashion design industry, for instance, many business owners are responsible for managing the design process, sourcing materials, manufacturing the products, marketing and retailing their merchandise. This can prove overwhelming, and in many instances, prohibitive. In order to successfully run their businesses, owners must put a solid team in place and ensure proper staff development, leadership and management all along the aforementioned supply and value chains.

For someone living and working in a developed country, assembling a solid team probably sounds easily attainable. However, in a country like Liberia, where education levels are low, this can prove far more challenging. While there are talented individuals available to hire, many lack the expertise and experience required to help build, sustain and operate a business in today’s fast-paced global economy.

As an entrepreneur entering a market with similar capacity challenges, here’s how to help mitigate some of the potential constraints.

1. Be clear about your needs

Prior to recruiting and hiring staff to create your dream team, develop a proper plan that includes well thought out terms of references for all potential hires. Hire a local HR consultant, if possible, to help vet applicants. Make sure that you are clear about your expectations when engaging your new hires.

2. Be realistic; assess your staff’s capacity

Do not make assumptions about your staff’s knowledge base. Introduce a three-month probation period to closely monitor all new hires.

3. Be prepared to provide training

Tailor training and coaching for each role. As you will likely introduce your staff to a new line of business thinking, constant reinforcement is necessary to get the results you are seeking.

4. Create a team environment

In order to ensure smooth operations, it is important for staff to understand the connective flow between their functions. Additionally, it is vital to distribute responsibilities on several fronts, so that chaos doesn’t ensue if one person doesn’t show up for work.

5. Give staff a stake in the business

An incentive-based or commissioned-based approach may help to get the best performance out of your staff. Additionally, we all like to feel important, so solicit their feedback, and engage them in the decision-making process.

6. Be willing to change

If an employee is not meeting your expectations, and you’ve provided the appropriate level of training and coaching, it’s ok… let them go. As was illustrated in Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese?, don’t hold on to things that will only waste your time and energy, and leave you feeling disappointed. Rather, take action quickly, and move on.

7. Put in the time and get your hands dirty

One of the best things you could do, especially when first starting your business, is spending one-on-one time in the trenches with your staff. This will help you better understand the nuances of your business.

Tianna Sherman-Kesselly is an entrepreneur and a Tufts University and George Washington University trained international development and public healthcare expert. In her capacity as an entrepreneur, she established Afropolitan Boutique five years ago in response to demand in the Liberian market for contemporary African fashion. Sherman-Kesselly and her staff utilise vibrant African prints to produce designs, which are offered online and at its store located in Monrovia. In addition to Afropolitan’s line of clothing and accessories, the Boutique also provides custom orders and showcases other Liberian fashion brands.