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To the youths: How to start up a successful small business in Africa.

By Udeme Ekwere - Nigeria

In Nigeria today, it has become almost a routine for government officials, institutional heads and National Youth Service Corp officials to address youths on their graduation days at schools or passing out days after the mandatory one-year service on the need for them to prepare their minds towards becoming their own bosses.
Importantly, youths are usually advised by the government and private parastatals to think of starting their own businesses, rather than scouting for jobs that may not be there.

One of such corpers, Miss Justina Ogundeji, says she wants to start her own small business, as she does not want to join the growing number of youths looking for paid jobs in the country.
However, she expresses concern that she does not know the basics involved in starting up a small business.
Ogundeji seems not to be the only one facing this kind of predicament. A lot of people who are ready and willing to go into businesses do not have the faintest idea of how to go about it.

A lot of people believe starting a business is a mysterious process. They know they want to start a business, but they do not know the first steps to take.
However, experts say that the first thing that a would-be business owner should have is a burning desire to do it. They advise that you do not just go into business because everyone is trying to do so; but you must have the necessary passion for it.

In a recent study, where entrepreneurs were given a list of attributes and asked to rate their importance for success, the seven most highly ranked qualities were perseverance, the desire and willingness to take the initiative, competitiveness, self-reliance, a strong need to achieve, self-confidence and good physical health.

The Director, Entrepreneurial Development Services, Pan African University, Mr. Peter Bamkole, says that running a small business is not for the undecided or indifferent person, adding that one has to decide to be his own boss and transform his dream into reality.

He says, "Anyone, who wants to go into any kind of small business of his own, must first ask these questions: Do I really want to operate independently and be the person making all the decisions and shouldering all the responsibilities? Am I willing to work hard and make the sacrifices involved in starting a small business? Do I have the self-confidence and self-discipline that will enable me to persevere and build my new enterprise into a success?"

He notes that there are certain traits and attitudes that make some people more suited for running successful small businesses than others.
According to Bamkole, most entrepreneurs believe that they control their destinies; they refuse to be at the mercy of others or of events. As a result, they take the initiative in starting projects and getting ideas off the ground. But that may not be all.
Recent studies conducted by the Bank of Montreal Institute for Small Business show that the six success factors for starting a small business include self-motivation, business and industry knowledge, organisation and management capabilities, good marketing skills, customer/vendor relations and vision.

Bamkole adds that the knowledge of the business and the industry should be on the top list of requirements for success in small businesses by anyone desiring to go into such. He notes that a lack of knowledge is one of the prime reasons why so many new businesses fail.

He also says that it is important to develop expertise in business planning, money management, people management, directing business operations and sales and marketing operations directing.

He says, "Investing the time to learn the skills you need before you start your own business is especially wise because once you have decided to put so much energy into starting a small business, you are going to want it to develop into a viable, thriving enterprise. Sadly, there is a great percentage of small businesses that starts up each year that survives less than two years."

A consultant with Small Business Development Initiative, Mrs. Kikelomo Johnson, says that once the decision has been made on what kind of business to run and the location, the next step is to begin working on your business plan.
According to Johnson, writing a well thought-out and organised business plan dramatically increases the chances of the business owner succeeding as an entrepreneur, adding that running or starting a business without a business plan 'is like wondering in the dark.'
She adds that having a business plan is also essential as it will present the owner of the business as a serious-minded person. According to her, it may also assist such entrepreneurs in their attempt to source for funding.

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