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Rory Atkinson
 
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Challenges Facing Young Entrepreneurs in South Africa

29 September 2014, 11:26

I need to start off right here by saying that this article could have gone on for around fifty pages had I listed everything, however I decided to focus down on some basic core aspects and challenges. These are my opinions and views as a successful young Entrepreneur, Businessman and Business Consultant in South Africa.

South Africa's alarmingly high (and growing) unemployment rate has finally encouraged the government to turn to promoting youth entrepreneurship as a solution. Included in this promotion thereof are tax subsidies and other government incentives, as well as various initiative programs to help heighten the entrepreneurial spirit that seemed to be lacking in our youth.

As positive as this seems in theory, there are major practical barriers that lie rooted deeper than simple incentives are capable of overcoming. There are many more barriers, many that are not that obvious, that need to be addressed and overcome concerning youth entry into entrepreneurship, that seem to be overlooked  at this point in time. I speak out of my own experience as a young entrepreneur when I say that those in power have next to no idea of what is involved in establishing a business from scratch. With this in mind, how can it be expected that these people, without experience in the field, are the ones who are incentivise upcoming entrepreneurs to take the plunge.

The answer is rather simple: it cannot be done without the advice and mentorship of those of us who have walked that road already, and emerged as successful entrepreneurs.

Now please bear in mind that when I say this, I refer not to the ou balie who piggybacked his business off the end of the apartheid era, or to the lucky innovator of a one-shot brilliant tech-based idea (and who is now worth many millions) or the politically connected black man that landed that “Special Deal”. Instead I speak of the current young and old entrepreneurs who, with buckets of blood, sweat and tears, finally managed to grow their small business into what it is today and continue daily to fight the good fight to make it more successful every day.

So what are some of the challenges these people faced along the way? One of the pivotal issues revolve around South Africa's lack of a culture promoting entrepreneurship. The country's older generation typically creates the idea in the youth that not having a university degree means imminent failure in life, and implies one is uneducated and doomed to a inferior life. I say this boldly because my own mother is a prime example of this, despite my constant reminders that I earn more than most of those I studied with. However, I am not insinuating that attaining a university degree is a bad thing, and in fact it can only aid an entrepreneur to achieve success. All I mean to say is that it is not the be-all and end-all that will determine the rest of your life, if you play your cards right. By pushing your children to get a degree, you are pushing them to being shackled to a job. If that is what they want to do, then there is clearly no problem. The advantage of going that route is that of job security, but it is worth keeping in mind that their earnings will be far lower than the owners of the company.  There are so many great places for people to learn, and people that the youth can learn from, that are not universities or colleges. Consider the great work that Serial Entrepreneur, Andrew Smith, is doing with his CEO Programs and GAP Entrepreneur Program. Or the American JT Foxx, the world’s #1 wealth coach, who arrived here little over two years ago, if that,  and has grown his influence and business to inspire and teach people of all backgrounds how to be more successful. Now if you think coaching works or does not is not the point here. The point is that these are all sources of knowledge that help grown the entrepreneurial culture that so lacks in this country.

Another challenge facing the youth of South Africa is this concept of “I can’t”. It has become a sentence used far too often by South Africans, both young and old. “Here is a great investment opportunity in a business deal; do you want to take the offer?” “Unfortunately I can’t because…” We have excuses for everything. This pattern of excuses is not limited to just the older generation anymore, but has now been inherited by the youth, too. They have been told by so many people that they will fail or that "it is a bad idea" that they eventually start believing “I can’t.” This in turn eventually leads to them to stop trying, and this belief becomes their reality.

On the note of excuses, I have noticed a growing trend in them, one in specific:  “I can’t because I’m poor.” “I have no money.” “My parents didn’t give me the opportunities that you had.” The list is endless. To quote a great mentor of mine, JT Foxx, “I can forgive someone for being born poor, but I cannot forgive them for dying poor.” That one sentence changed something for me. It made me realise that if you have nothing to offer financially to a business or company, then you have only one thing you can offer, namely your work ethic. This is an important thing to realise because we as a country have so many unskilled or poorly educated people bleeding this nation dry. This is not to say that they didn’t get the short end of the stick back in the day or that they are stupid. Every person can add value and insight into a business if you give them the chance or the education or guidance. The primary value anyone in the world can add is their work ethic. This is something that we as a country have lost. Here people pretty much do everything and anything they can to avoid work, be it striking for an increase (deserving or not) or just sitting on Facebook while at the office. This lack of work ethic has been fostered by the wrong belief that success can just be given to someone, and for most of us this is not true though granted if you become a high ranking politician in any African or European country you pretty much set for life from day one on the job. I have built my business from scratch with no support from my parents, and yet I manage to do very well for myself. Why is this? It is because I work as hard as I can on my business and leverage my deals to get maximum gain for my company. No one but yourself can make you successful, and the only way you will get there is by spending 16 hours plus a day working. Short term sacrifice for long term gain is the key. Yes I could watch mindless TV for two hours a day for the rest of my life and sort of enjoy it, or I can work those two hours and in just a few short years I will be able to rent the cast of said show for the afternoon. You look at all the people with real wealth and you will see they are hard workers. You will also note an interesting trend; most of them had no money when they began but they got what they have by working hard.

Most young people are soured by the older generation’s constant attention to racial issues and things that happened 20+ years ago (but that the younger generation did not partake in). Usually when a young Entrepreneur succeeds, they are told it is because of either their race or their background. While sometimes this may aid or hinder them, a rule that is always true for any entrepreneur is that they have worked hard to get what they have.  News flash to every South African entrepreneur: business does not care what my grandfather did to your grandfather or vice versa. It cares only about one thing: profit. If you want to be successful in business you need to ignore race and gender completely. You have to focus on one thing and that is: “How much profit am I making today, and how can I make more profit tomorrow.” While this may sound like a very easy thing to do, believe me it is one of the most difficult mind-sets to get yourself into. I have never met a single truly successful person that has given a damn about race or gender. Does your skin or your “bits” have any say what so ever on the end profit of a company. NO! So why the heck is it an issue? I know many competent black, Indian, coloured and white; men and women that spend their lives stressing over the issues of race, sex, gender etc. And all I can think is what has it got to do with profit. All I see them doing is spending valuable time and energy on something that is not an issue. Did white people oppress black and coloured people in this country? Yes we did. Have black people throughout Africa oppressed each other and more recently white people as well. Yes. Has the human race as a whole been oppressing each other for thousands of years? Yes. Has worrying about any of this helped my business grow today? No. Business does not care. Only politicians and people who want to live off other people’s taxes care. So simple answer here is just ignore it and move the hell on. Am I white? Yes. Are you Black? Yes. Are we both successful in business? Yes. Ok let us do business then. What was the important question there? See where I am going with this?

Although I would love to say that the list of challenges ends here, but once all the aforementioned have been overcome, more awaits. This comes in the form of not actually knowing anything about the 'real' world when you leave high school. There is no thorough education from schools on tax systems, labour laws, health and safety laws and so forth. We have laws for laws in this country and most people know very little about them when they start up or invest in a business. Most of these laws are more detrimental to business growth than anyone will admit however every country has to deal with its own idiotic government so again there is no point moaning about it. The best advice I can give to a young budding Entrepreneur is to find a mentor or business coach that can teach you the ins and outs of what to watch out for.  While they may cost you a bit of cash or equity in your business, they will save you a fortune further down the road. This person cannot be a family member or even a family friend; they need to be removed from your life and world so they can be objective and unbiased in their assessment of your business. (If you need more information on coaching I strongly advise the JT Foxx coaching organisation or GAP Entrepreneurs.) While these two companies might not give you a diploma and fancy graduation hat, they will teach you many skills to grow and improve your business - something that a diploma does not hand you in a ready-made package.

So what can a young Entrepreneur do to overcome these challenges?

The first thing you need to do is cut away the negative people in your life. Be it family, friends , a boyfriend or girlfriend, if they're holding you back, let them go. Anyone that keeps telling you that "you can't" for whatever reason, will drag you down and keep you from reaching for that Entrepreneurial dream. Remember, though, that this is not always because they do not care, but rather because they are afraid. Fear is a powerful obstacle in business, and your own fears will often hold you back. Why make it worse by piling on the fears of those around you? Remember also that hate, racism, anger; jealousy, pessimism and envy are all negative aspects that will impact you and your ability to become successful. Always be the most engaging, constructive and positive person in a room. Please note the words I use, I do not encourage you to turn into a happy maniac but rather a positive individual. When someone asks you how was your day, tell them it was “Great!” Then tell them why it was great if they ask. People like to see happy busy people that are successful and other successful people will want to spend time with you. You will become what those people you surround yourself with are. To quote someone very successful, Dr Nido Qubein, “If you want to be happy, be around people who are happy. If you want to be successful be around people who are successful. You want to be rich? Find out what poor people do and don’t do it!” This is just good old common sense but believe me it works.

The second thing you need to do is get a mentor, consultant or coach to help guide you through the process of building a business. The learning curb to building a business is steep, so why not make your life easier and ask for help from someone who has walked that road before? It's well worth the price in the long run. I wish when I first began my business that I had a coach, for I would not have made so many careless and uninformed mistakes. However, be sure that whoever you are getting advice from is truly more successful than you: never take business advice from someone less successful than you. Again they cannot be a close family member or friend. This person needs to be object. They need to be the person that can tell you to stop being such a doos to your staff, or the person that can tell you how best to avoid something stupid the government came up with. They have to be strong and successful.  This person will also hold you accountable for your actions or lack of actions. Remember speed of implementation is everything in business. Most of us, myself included, are not very good at putting good ideas into action immediately. This person can help drive you to succeed by holding you accountable.

Finally, stop focussing on the money. Focus instead on the vision. Note that I say "vision" and not "dream," as dreams very rarely come true (I have been dreaming I would wake up next to a supermodel for years, yet no luck there yet). What I mean by 'focus on the vision and not the money' is that in order to get somewhere, you have to clearly see the goal you have in mind. Only then can you strive towards it. Money is not really a goal, as it is so bountiful and easy to come by (although some doubt this). Visions, on the other hand, are hard to come by. Visions have another added benefit, best described by Apple co- Founder Steve Jobs, as “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” This comes back to what I said about hard work. If you have a vision the hard work becomes enjoyable and then stops being work. When I go off to consult or buy a business I bounce out my front door because another deal is about to happen and more success is about to happen. To me it is not work. To me it is just a step closer to my vision.

In summary, here is what you young Entrepreneurs need to do. Cut out the negative influences in your life. Get a mentor with experience and finally, focus on the vision, not on the money. Get these three things right and the success will flow bountifully. If you want to help the youth, promote these three things and tend to the other issues mentioned above. Only then will we grow a group of young successful people in South Africa and only then will we have a successful country. If reading this has still not convinced you that these three things are what our youth need then I would ask you watch the following video and even if you are watch it anyway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xm3HU5f3vzQ

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