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Entrepreneurs: Be an employee before starting on your own #HeshdeSilva

Heshan S

Entrepreneurship is hard. That in itself is a huge understatement. Many young people and those young-at-heart take the leap into self-employment without understanding just how challenging the space really is. My piece this week is to shed some light on what awaits you on your entrepreneurial journey and to hopefully give you a few pointers to make your path to self-employment a little less tumultuous.

WORK FOR SOMEONE ELSE. Odd, when the notion of entrepreneurship is to be your own person, right? Wrong. I think this is the single most important thing any entrepreneur can do when starting out. In our arrogance of wanting to be our own boss, we forget that every great company has a greater TEAM behind it. Do you have the skills off the bat to hire the right people, manage them efficiently, and keep them working towards a big goal? Chances are you don’t if you have never been part of a team. Well, not immediately anyway, and if you think you do – you’re probably fooling yourself.

“But Hesh, it’s so hard to get decent paying jobs in Kenya”. Yes it is, it’s the case all over the world. And it’s even harder to make a solid living out of your first company. Volunteer at companies. Offer yourself at entry level jobs. You must be a willing learner. There are programs in Kenya such as those offered by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) and United Nations Volunteers (UNV) that place you into internships around the country. GRAB opportunities. When you’re working for someone else you’ll learn crucial lessons about employee morale, waste, strategy, resource management and so on. The list is endless. Get stuck in and learn, it will open your eyes to how naive you would have been had you jumped head first into entrepreneurship.

THERE’S NO EASY ROAD. We are a shortcut embracing culture. From falsely acquiring odd qualifications, to our hustler mentality. As an entrepreneur, your odds of surviving beyond your first 3 years are roughly 15%. Terrible odds. So why do so many startups fail? I want to focus on Kenya and give you a few points to look out for.

1. Waste. If you’re spending money on rent you cannot afford, a large team in anticipation of large orders coming, unnecessary infrastructure (eg. Core i7 laptops when an i3 will do), and any other overheads that are unnecessary towards your direct goal – you will most likely fail.

2. Sales are King. At the end of the day, if you’re not making sales, you’re finished. Doesn’t matter how glitzy everything is, if you can’t get clients – nothing else matters. When you find yourself sitting at a desk twiddling your thumbs, get up, go out and start looking for clients. Go door to door with what you’re offering. It may sound exhausting, but if the client won’t come to you – go to them.

3. Do not lose focus. It’s too easy to say “This isn’t working right now, let’s try this as well” every time business is slow. The problem with that is you do not have enough time to manage more than one thing exceptionally, especially when starting out. When you find you have a lot on your plate, you’re already well and truly in the quicksand. Stay focused, work on the original goal, learn what you must from the shortcomings and adapt. Don’t think that starting something new on the side will help your short term shortcomings.

I hope you realize that there are many more hidden challenges that await you on your entrepreneurial journey. Did I mention that it’s HARD? It is not a journey for everyone, and it will knock you repeatedly. Just remember, every knock has a lesson to be learned. Learn the lesson and adapt. This is why I encourage every wannabe entrepreneur to get out and get a job first – the lessons that you learn through employment will save you a lot of grief on your journey to being your own boss.

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