And we are in 2021, the launch of African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) passed without a whimper, anyone hoping for opportunity will be disheartened at the rows of trucks stuck at the border, rendering the whole agreement moot, proof once again (as if it was required) that “One Africa” is a pipe dream and the African Union, unlike the EU, doesn’t make any difference in their citizens lives. It’s up to the individual to make a difference, not the provincial government, not a national government and not even a continental body can help you.

Here are real business tips for 2021 (I hate these as they are usually generic but I’ll keep it as real as usual)

  1. You have to put in the legwork
    Legwork is defined as “active physical work (as in gathering information) that forms the basis of more creative or mentally exacting work”, this is in the context of starting your business. Most entrepreneurs want suppliers and clients to fall onto their laps. If things were that easy there would be no unemployment in South Africa. Most if not all industries have well-established incumbents, it is going to take effort to compete against them, and it is going to take effort to make sure newer players can’t easily compete with you and steal your lunch.

In his book “The Dip” Seth Godin calls “the dip” a “a temporary setback that can be overcome with persistence” so starting a business has all these legwork and setbacks and the more you overcome the harder it is for people to compete with you because they are going to give up before they are succesful.

Let me give you a few examples, many people are making a lot of money from the salvage food industry, in this business, your competitive advantage is securing a supply of dead stock, close to expiring, damaged stock etc. The clients’ line up outside your door once you have stock, demand exceeds supply due to South Africa’s economic situation. Many people want to enter this business but they literally want the salvage stock to come to them. Common sense tells you, that you have to approach manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, even retailers and you need to approach across the food industry, most salvage people have many different suppliers, one for coffee, one for canned goods, one for cereals, one for sweets and chocolates etc. That is the legwork involved, yet people want to buy their product mix from a depot, in that case, you obviously going to pay a premium because the depot is a middleman.

We’ve been through this before, you look at who you know, do they work in an industry that has salvage goods ask them, even if you are shy to knock on doors at the very least post an ad online looking for salvage goods, it’s not going to beat knocking on doors but sitting back and waiting for suppliers not going to happen.

Another example, we discussed the business of tracking down owners of plots for interested buyers, first questions: “err are there lists of people looking for owners of plots”, obviously you have to find them!

  1. There is money to be made linking buyers and sellers
    Back to point number 1 many people B2B, B2C just can’t be arsed to do proper research and work and literally want a product or service to come to them, and some are willing to pay the premium, both when it comes to selling something and buying something. This has opened an opportunity for brokers or agents or middlemen to do the actual legwork and make a commission with little to no outlay, no need for materials, skills and equipment. In many industries agents and brokers that do the legwork are common like in B2B where the players are so big they leave the legwork to smaller companies, and in B2C we have property which is usually sold via an agent, but in SA, there is so much opportunity if you are willing to do legwork. I middleman all the time, its money for nothing and people are making money selling anything this way, vehicles, firewood, anything.
  2. Don’t try to be too clever
    The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence. – Charles Bukowski

So many intelligent people I know are struggling to start and grow a business they overthink all kinds of permutations and try to see around corners always wanting to be one step ahead but their business is going nowhere, whereas stupid people that that just do are successful in business. Don’t want to believe me? Look at the people you buy products or services from, how many of them are generally on top of things?

Many entrepreneurs when pitching or marketing a business also fall into this trap by using long convoluted strategies when a simple one will do. Stop trying to be so clever. South Africa is not a place to try to be too clever, leave that for Silicon Valley.

  1. Don’t wait for perfection. Just do it
    “Do it, then fix it as you go
    Too many people spend too much time trying to perfect something before they actually do it. Instead of waiting for perfection, run with what you go, and fix it along the way.” – Paul Arden
    For many people (and even for me when I started out) is like this, something must be perfect in their head. The real world doesn’t work like that because there are some things that you won’t know until you actually start. And that will also tell you whether or not it will work. So they spend a year planning, and then after a week of starting they see nope, it won’t work the way they had it in my head. A year down the drain.

5. Remember why you are doing what you are doing
Starting, running and growing a business is hard. There will be long hours and often your only companion is loneliness.¬† However, you don’t want to be poor and at the mercy of the government, waiting for their help or have to use their healthcare facilities and that is why you HAVE to succeed in South Africa.