But which idea to follow? I could tell you that you need to solve the lack of adequate broadband internet access, water or even to solve logistical problems for NGOs. Maybe that the construction industry will boom as Africans move out of poverty and into the middle class, and so you need to become a trustworthy building contractor.
And although many risk taking entrepreneurs and companies will make millions in these areas in the next few years, very few of us have the access to enough start-up capital to set off such a project – or indeed want to take on something of that size and risk. Some of us would like to start something on the side and see where it goes. Preferably while not using all our savings while we are at it.
So, here are a few low cost business ideas that can be used with the only requirements being internet access, some free time and a little bit of money.
1. Staff relocation advice
Many expats are pouring into Africa to get their slice of an economy with incredible growth potential. Already in 2011 Wired magazine urged anyone who wants to become the next tech billionaire to relocate to Africa.
The problem these expats face (and the companies that send them) is the obvious one of relocating their staff or themselves. Things like visas, permits, housing, schooling, and so on, are always problematic.
It’s not a logistical problem, but an informational one. Who to contact, where to start, where to go?
Yes, there are big companies that have been working in Africa for decades that have staff relocating systems and support structures in place. But, most companies or individuals need to start from scratch and have to piece the relocation information together from various experts.
I used to work for a company that did regular work on the west coast of Africa, and even though we have had projects there for years it was always a problem to relocate staff.
So, become a one stop shop for staff relocation advice. Imagine a website you can log on to that tracks every step of the process. To bring down the start-up costs, you can do this in two stages:
1. Start with digital guides for your local country (PDF files, designed nicely, and packed with quality up-to-date information)
2. Once up and running, expand your site to a web platform where clients can track every step, review quotes for various services and tap into immediate online expert support
For inspiration look at Move Guides. Take this model and apply it to Africa and you will have companies and individuals queuing up.
According to their website, “Move Guides is a cloud platform for global mobility and employee relocation across Europe, Asia and the Americas.”
No mention of Africa. That’s where you come in. Go on, do it.
The business model: Start selling the guides as digital guides, then flip the model to a monthly subscription once you have the web platform going.
2. Market data
Data is non-existent in Africa. Any infographic map you see on any international topic will always depict Africa as an area where there is “no data available”. The way data and field research is done now is to hire expensive European consultancies to conduct the research on behalf of private clients. So why not set up a site portal dedicated to research data published about Africa?
Start by doing desktop research and collecting and curating data research that has been done by other companies and published on the web. Become a web portal which directs people to where this data can be found. Get permission and publish excerpts of the research on your site. It should not be hard to do as these companies want to sell their reports and you are directing traffic to them. The quality of your curation is what will make the difference. Do not just list any research you find. Make sure it is of a high quality.
The business model: Sell sponsored ad spots once you have established sufficient traffic.
The more intense version of this is to do your own field research and publish and sell these as reports. You will need some help with that and access to plenty of resources, so the cost will not be low to start. However, you can massively undercut expensive European consultancies. Once you have established a reputation, you will have plenty of work.
3. Start-up guides for foreign investors
Help out international individuals and companies who want to do business in Africa. It’s the same informational problem as mentioned in the first idea, but focused on companies that want to set up shop on the continent.
Answer questions such as:
- What economic changes in Africa seem very likely in the next five years?
- How can a foreigner become a part of the business community in a specific country? What is a good way to meet people and make connections?
- What should a foreign entrepreneur know in order to live and work in a country for a few years? Do they need a work visa, investor visa, tourist visa, or something else?
And so on.
You are selling information, but you are really selling time-saving and peace of mind. Most companies want to move quickly. Give them the information they need so that they do not have to go through the long process of learning it themselves.
This has already been done for Asia by woodegg.com. Go and do it for Africa.
The business model: Sell the guides as e-books for a premium price (no start-up printing costs or publisher needed). The information is scarce and so the price can far exceed a normal e-book price.
If you have any money to spend, use local journalists to do the legwork and writing for you. Act as manager and editor to pull it all together. Also, do not call it an e-book as you can sell it for much more if you call it a guide or report.
4. Contractor/professionals listings
Put together a website listing of contractors/professionals available in your country in various fields. However, give them an Amazon-style rating based on what is known about them in the country. Use local knowledge to determine this. Any corruption charges or bad press that only locals will know about? Is the owner known as a respected businessman? The real value here is to create a list of entities that can be trusted by outside companies.
But remember, one bad company on your list and the integrity of your service is lost. So, be very careful about giving anyone a high ranking. Make it prestige.
Most foreign companies who want to set up locally or access a local tender need to partner with a local contractor. The problem they face is in the time spent sifting through the contacts they cannot trust, or worse, finding out only later the partner could not be trusted.
The business model: Publish the list quarterly as a digital document at a fixed price, or run a freemium model (parts of the lists are free online but you have to pay for full access).
5. City guides
In depth and up to date city guides are still a scarcity for most African cities, especially the sort that expats require when they will be living there for lengthy periods of time.
The solution here is simple. Produce a guide for the city you live in that has no rival in terms of details and freshness of information. Update it weekly (not yearly) and make it rich in detail that only a local can know. Casual travel writers cannot touch you with that sort of knowledge. They scratch the surface, you will dig deep.
The business model: Attract traffic by blogging about your city and selling the guides as PDF/ePub guides on your site.
Expand to other cities by paying locals and journalists to do the legwork for you, as well as producing a mobile text based version for on-the-go advice and a safer option than flashing a tablet in public.
So there you go, you now have five low cost business ideas for Africa.