Six ideas to make a success of your African-based business in 2014

4. Build strong business relationships

According to Claude Edgard Zocli, country manager in The Gambia, personal contacts and networks are important for closing business deals in the small West African country. “You can have the best product, a strong brand, the most efficient sales force, but if a person doesn’t know or trust you, if your friendship network is not rich, you cannot succeed in business. People will not buy from you. Except if they don’t have another choice.”

In Madagascar, local businesspeople enjoy face-to-face visits with those they do business with. For this reason DHL country manager Mamy Rakotondraibe suggests that foreigners doing business in Madagascar should take the time to meet with potential and existing clients to strengthen business relationships.

Rakotondraibe adds that clients expect top management to be accessible and easy to communicate with. “You need to remain very simple and accessible to people, even humble, I would say… Be yourself… people appreciate that.”

5. Exploit the opportunities in agriculture and food processing

Nearly all the DHL country managers we spoke to during the year identified agriculture as one of the top business opportunities in their respective countries. Despite the fact that it has abundant land suitable for the cultivation of numerous crops, sub-Saharan Africa still imports large quantities of food products. Significant opportunities exist across the agricultural value chain – from basic crop cultivation to food processing.

“At the moment the agriculture industry in Africa is around US$313bn and we definitely have the potential, across sub-Saharan Africa certainly, to take that to a trillion dollars or more. Firstly because of the arable land and the water resource that are still available, and secondly simply because of the consumer demand and spend that is becoming available. It’s no secret that the middle class is on the rise in Africa and that’s also going to be driving a lot of the growth that we are going to see for the next 15-20 years on the continent,” explains Hennie Heymans, managing director of DHL Express South Africa.

6. Capitalise on game-changing events

Keep an eye out for big economic developments that could present opportunities for your business. Large mining and oil projects, and the subsequent influx of people, often create demand for many other products and services, from accommodation to consumer goods.

There are usually also opportunities to directly provide services to mining and oil companies.

One such development happened in Botswana this year. Diamond mining company De Beers has signed an agreement with the Botswana government to relocate its London-based sales activities to Botswana by the end of 2013. Diamonds from all De Beers’s mines in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Canada will now be brought to Botswana. Sales to sightholders – a select group of buyers picked by De Beers to buy rough gems – will take place in Gaborone. The world’s most influential diamond traders will fly to the Botswana capital 10 times a year from major centres such as Antwerp, Tel Aviv and New York to buy diamonds from De Beers, reports Business Day. It is expected that over $6bn worth of diamonds will flow through Botswana every year.

According to Mokgethi Magapa, Botswana country manager for DHL, the influx of top diamond buyers to Botswana, as well as other related businesses setting up shop in the country will create a need for numerous services, from hotels and restaurants to telecommunications and banking.