I’ve been asked this question a number of times in the last couple of months. My initial response was when I started my business, I wished I had a single resource I could tap into, get access to or be directed to for the correct information. The more I think about it though, this is not 100% true and is only part of the reason I wrote the book.
I’ve realised I don’t have a single answer to this question, so I’ll take you through a retrospective journey and connect the dots.
The truth is, I enjoyed exploring, learning and networking in the earlier parts of my entrepreneurship journey. This period of discovery laid a strong foundation for what I have in place for my business today and continue to build on. I should also acknowledge that my work and educational background made the writing process easier for me and opened a few doors along the way.
Yes, it was frustrating at times and it may not have been straight forward, but I usually knew where to research and who to speak to. Even when I didn’t, there was someone in my network who was able to connect me with someone knowledgeable or who could direct me on the right path.
This is not the case for the average (aspiring) business owner in South Africa. Historically, the majority of people (outside the formal education system) in this country have relied on traditional media – mainly the radio, newspapers and below the line activations to get access to information.
This is still the case for many South Africans, despite having access to the internet. The reality is that for many, it is not easy to access information unless you have the means to. It’s also not only about having the means, but about knowing where to find the information.
My work has afforded me the opportunity to connect with entrepreneurs and business owners from all walks of life, from whom I have gained insight. In my lectures and workshops for entrepreneurs, I frequently get the following feedback, “Where did you source this information?”; “Where do I find this?”; “Information is not available or accessible or too expensive.”
Highlighting the issue that many don’t know where to source certain types of information.
What my work has also shown me, is how much people don’t know about business management and the fundamentals. Let’s take finance for example. I’ve sat through many business plan presentations and honestly – about 90% of the people presenting can’t comfortably talk about or present their numbers. It’s disheartening to see business owners who don’t understand and know how to manage their finances, yet business is about making money.
It wasn’t until I started to think about a new strategy and direction for my business that I began thinking about creating content – practical content. I recall two separate bits of feedback which I think kick-started this book idea. The first was two ladies who completed their incubation at a programme I was coaching on, and then continued to see me once a month at their own cost.
When I asked them why, their response was “You are able to take complex information and make it simple and understandable.” The second incident was at the end of a module I’d been teaching, where another entrepreneur came to me and said, “You shared so much information, I wish I had recorded you or that there was a DVD of your session for me to listen to in my car.”
It was from these interactions and other incidences that the seed was planted for the Small Business Handbook. From questions in class; judging business plan presentations; to discussions around marketing, finance and human resource topics in group coaching sessions – this is where I got the insight and direction of what needed to be included in the book and how it needed to be written.
So why did I write this book? Well, I believe that access to knowledge needs to be more inclusive and that business content should be practical; easy to understand and (in South Africa specifically) available in as many languages as possible. We need less failures; less survivalist business and more businesses that are innovative, that will grow, remain sustainable, competitive and employ a whole lot more people.
As Steve Jobs once said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
Nokwazi Mzobe is author of the Small Business Handbook and founder of Motoyana, an entrepreneurship development agency.
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