Dear Dr Pesa,
I am a 32-year-old housewife and mother of three. I have been trying to start businesses over the years but they keep failing. The one that lasted the longest was about 6 months when I was running a boutique. I’ve tried catering, events management, daycare, grocery store, tailoring and several others but they never take off and when they do, they don’t survive very long. I always end up closing shop due to meagre returns and few customers. The other thing is, I am not always at my businesses. I hire people to help me run them. Is that why they are failing? What should I do?
First of all, congratulations on having the courage to start all the businesses you have been able to. A majority of people believe that entrepreneurship is easy, but on the contrary, it is one of the most difficult things you can do. 80 per cent of new businesses fail within their first year of operation. Starting a business is similar to taking care of a newborn.
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Newborns need a lot of attention, which sometimes may leave you feeling overworked and exhausted but as they grow up, they gradually become independent and all you have to do is monitor and guide them in the right direction.
Surviving past the one-year mark and ensuring your business is profitable is not easy but I have a few tips you can incorporate before and after you decide to venture into your next business.
My first tip would be to focus on your strengths or areas of interest. You stated that you have tried your hand in a number of businesses, all of which seem to be in different fields. Focus on what you are good at and don’t be quick to jump ship when hard times come.
While diversification of income streams is good, in the first few years of business, focus your attention on what you know best. Before you even start the business, take the time to evaluate yourself and find out what line of business most suits you then stick to that until it becomes successful and able to stand on its own.
Secondly, in entrepreneurship and especially small startups, you are your business. You sit at the director’s seat, and this means being involved in the day to day running. While you can employ people to assist with this, ultimately, you need to be in control of all aspects of your business.
Ensure you set targets for yourself and your team and have clear cut out strategies on how you intend to achieve those targets. Lead your employees by example and ensure they understand your vision for the company’s future. You do not have to be physically present at all times but ensure you establish processes that ensure smooth running all the same.
Discipline is the other distinguishing factor between a successful and a non-successful business. Being an entrepreneur might give you the flexibility to spend your hours as you wish, but discipline and having a plan will ensure you dedicate your time and effort where they are needed. People in formal employment have to stick to certain working hours as prescribed by their employers. As an entrepreneur, you do not have this luxury: no one will tell you when to wake up, open your business, when to close, etc.
You have to decide these for yourself. Creating a timetable is a good place to start. Ensure that it accounts for all your duties, both as a mother and an entrepreneur. Stick to your schedule and ensure you meet your obligations within the required time.
If any of your children are old enough, you can occasionally take them to your area of business just so that you get to spend time with them and they get to learn some business skills at an early age. Discipline is also knowing when it is time to take a break and spend time with your family and rejuvenate.
In conclusion, running a business is not as easy as most people believe. Unlike traditional employment, the effort you put in could determine your success or failure. You need focus, presence and discipline in order to increase your chances of success. Entrepreneurship is hard but if you prepare for a bumpy road, the bumps are likely to feel smoother.
Dr Pesa This week is Maryanne Ng’ang’a.
Maryanne Ng’ang’a is part of the Investments Team at Cytonn Investments.