- November 24, 2020
The illusion that young people have is that starting a business is the key to riches. And why not, when all the world’s millionaires are entrepreneurs? Now, if a business is that lucrative, how come very few people make it in this sector? That’s an article for another day. Today, I want to focus on the challenges facing young entrepreneurs in Kenya. Why has success in business repeatedly eluded many young people? Besides the usual culprit, lack of capital, there are several challenges.
Lack of business skills and experience
Lack of business skills is one of the major challenges facing young entrepreneurs. Sometime back, I was a business development service provider with an NGO. My work focused on training and mentoring micro-enterprise owners in basic business management skills. The project’s baseline data revealed that almost three-quarters of the target group did not have any financial records. None of the members had a business plan, and the majority had not registered their businesses.
This is not an isolated case. Many young entrepreneurs are in this same boat. Someone comes up with an idea or copies a business idea that they feel they can execute well. They implement it without researching the market to understand if there’s even a need for it. Things like market trend research, competitor analysis, financial projections, or marketing strategy are barely considered.
Most budding young entrepreneurs do not have basic business accounting skills, and therefore all the financial decisions are purely based on intuition. Without a coherent plan, it’s obvious that the business will barely take off.
Experience comes with know-how. Starting a business with no experience is a brave act, but there are high chances of failure. Most young people give up on the first trial, depriving themselves of the opportunity to learn and do better next time.
The age stereotype
Age comes with wisdom, or so we’ve been told, which relatively translates to the younger you are, the less wise you are. Because of this perception, some investors, directors, and institutions reject young people with grand ideas in the belief that they don’t have what it takes to nurture a business.
Most recently, I was part of an entrepreneurship mentorship program. Part of the program required participants to share their entrepreneurship experiences. One participant narrated how she presented a proposal to the manager of a company to help in their campaign to reach young people. The manager confirmed that the idea was great but couldn’t trust a 23-year-old to implement the project. How do you write a proposal to its completion without an idea on how to implement it?
The assumption has always been that young people are irresponsible, unsure of what they want, and will probably quit during tough times. This could be true, but we all have a quitting tendency during tough times. The only thing that sets us apart is our mindset. A quitter will quit, whether young or old.
Traditionally, there is a clear-cut process that one should follow. You should go to school, graduate, and get a job. If you are business-minded by any chance, you can explore something on the side, but you can never forgo employment and venture into full-time entrepreneurship.
This plan is a great idea since it cushions people from the stress, risk, and challenges business owners face. Everything was great until a few individuals defiled this norm and ventured into business without completing school. Others left employment and started businesses. Now, the one question everyone is asking, “Why is it so difficult to follow a simple rule?”
Your family and friends cannot understand why you would forgo a secure income source (employment) and pursue business. Since they can’t understand your choices, chances are, you’ll rarely get support. They will scrutinize every choice you make, second guess your decisions, and criticize any perceived areas of weakness. Let me not even get started on the ambitions you have for the business because they won’t see the light of day.
When there’s a setback, the common phrase “we told you so” will be the new anthem in your circle. Others will blame your age, lack of experience, over-ambition, and incompetence. Very few people will seek to understand what you are doing.
Compounding on the challenges of young entrepreneurs is self-doubt. When times are tough, and nothing seems to work, you’ll question your abilities, choices, and the business’ feasibility. The criticism of those around you further aggravates the situation. Slowly, self-doubt creeps in, and often most people wallow in self-pity and quit. The one quote that can help you rise above self-doubt is: “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”—Thomas A. Edison.
If managing a business is your true love, then criticism won’t change your mind. You’ll commit to learning what it takes to have a successful enterprise. You’ll seek mentorship from those who have gone before you. And before testing the waters with both feet, you’ll conduct market research, create a business plan, and start your business fully aware of what it takes to grow be successful.
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