Despite a number of notable challenges, some macro in nature and others unique to South Africa, a variety of young entrepreneurs are making their mark on the local small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector.
Their ability to succeed in this challenging climate is a prime example of the resilience of the next generation of South African business leaders.
Taking inspiration from successful SMEs, Kevan Govender, regional investment manager at Business Partners Limited, shares his top three tips for aspiring young entrepreneurs to get ahead:
Be open to learning from other business leaders
“Some of the world’s most successful business leaders have leveraged the advice of mentors to help them make better decisions,” says Govender. “Steve Jobs mentored Mark Zuckerberg; Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey; and Christian Dior mentored Yves Saint-Laurent.”
Much emphasis is placed on the fact that young entrepreneurs need to learn from their mistakes and apply these learnings to their decision-making process. But learning from the mistakes of predecessors can be just as enlightening.
“Accepting feedback is a skill that requires patience and open-mindedness,” continues Govender, “but good advice from someone who has more experience is invaluable.
“An extensive body of research suggests that entrepreneurs who have mentors are twice as likely to succeed in achieving their personal and professional goals than entrepreneurs who do not leverage the power of mentorship.”
A study by Standard Bank indicates that the benefits of mentorship often extend beyond the professional arena and help entrepreneurs to improve in their personal lives as well as to become successful business leaders. Mentors can provide young entrepreneurs with outside perspectives and unbiased opinions, both of which are indispensable to the business growth process.
Hone your negotiation skills
“Entrepreneurs are required to balance effectiveness with cost-efficiency on a daily basis,” explains Govender, “and this is particularly true of small businesses in their first few years of operation when business owners will begin forging relationships with partners and suppliers as well as first recruits and key individuals within their sector.”
Navigating challenges depends heavily on an entrepreneur’s ability to negotiate. Skills like effective communication, planning and strategising, mutual co-operation and the ability to be persuasive are the underlying factors of any successful business deal.
“For young entrepreneurs,” says Govender, “learning how to negotiate is a powerful way to boost your confidence, resolve disagreements and build trust with stakeholders. There are a number of online resources in the form of studies, e-books and courses that young entrepreneurs can access in to help them perfect the art of negotiation.”
Have a long-term vision
“For many young entrepreneurs who are eager to enter the realm of business and build a legacy, success in the short-term can seem like the most important goal to focus on,” says Govender, “while short-term success is crucial to fledgling SMEs, particularly within the South African business environment, where many SMEs fail within their first two years, understanding the importance of the long-term view is equally vital.”
From the onset, young entrepreneurs need to establish where they would like to see their business in the next few years, and plan accordingly.
It’s important to set short-, medium- and long-term goals for every business; it helps to stay on track and ensures there is always an achievable goal to reach for.
This long-term vision needs to be shared with all business stakeholders, including employees, suppliers, funders and partners, to ensure that everyone involved is working towards the same objectives.
This level of preparation will provide young entrepreneurs with a strong and stable foundation that will serve as an important buffer against the effects of macro-economic factors that are beyond their control.
Small businesses are the backbone of the South African economy, and with the record high unemployment rate, young entrepreneurs can play a vital role in job creation and the economic development of our country provided they receive the required support from their communities, government and the private sector.
“As we commemorate Youth Day, I would like to remind young entrepreneurs of the many occasions in our country’s past when actions by young people changed South Africa for the better.
“I encourage them to take up their space and play their part, however seemingly small, in the economic growth of South Africa,” Govender said.