I’m not one to preach the gospel of entrepreneurship that is belted from the pulpit of the many entrepreneurship seminars these days. As an almost-former entrepreneur myself, I think I have been dancing this dance long enough to know it takes a particular skill, grit and endurance to make it to the end of the song. And to top it off, every new song comes with its own dance, and before you can find your footing another song is cued in.
But as it stands, our environment, by design and by inadvertence, has pushed many people into seeking these ‘non-traditional’ career paths. The rise of small entrepreneurs in the age of social media seems to have been particularly prominent. This is nothing new. In Cameroon, people have been doing hand-to-mouth jobs for the longest time. I daresay that as the population has grown over the last 20 years or so, the proportion has remained the same.
The only difference now is the structure and the innovation that has been brought into the sector. People have learned to open Facebook pages for their businesses, create logos and brand tags and just generally been able to throw in a bunch of things that have given this hitherto rustic sector a certain shine and seriousness. Many people have had access to formal education as well, and the internet and cable TV have helped imbibe most Cameroonians with a notion of higher levels of customer relationship management. That they put this notion into practice is a story for another day.
That being said, a lack of gainful employment, and access to information technology and the many new working opportunities it has created have produced a wave of newly-minted entrepreneurs who are loud and proud about it on their social media bio. Unfortunately, it has not worked out for everyone and many have hit their teeth on the sheer difficulty of the work. I have seen many food delivery services and food catering business fold like a pack of cards while the unedited bio saying ‘CEO of Tasty Delights’ is the only thing that alludes to that person ever running a business.
Many who failed, had jumped into entrepreneurship because of social media posts preaching the liberty of “being your own boss” and warnings against “being a slave in a corporation” made people feel like it was the best option for them. Very few were aware of how tough it is to start, build and scale a business.
But for those who did their homework and put all their ducks in a row before they jumped into entrepreneurship and are now having some measure of success, what next? What’s the next move?
In one of his standup specials, Chris Rock made a joke about people with jobs and people with careers. He said if you have a career and you are invited to a dinner party you should avoid talking about your career there because people with jobs may also be present. And people with jobs do not like hearing people with careers talk about their careers.
By extrapolation, many Cameroonians in entrepreneurship could be likened to those having jobs. This is because quite many got into it as an opportunity to make some money to keep the lights on.
The question we ask here is how one can turn that into a career.
In my experience, the first X factor is VISION. If you do not know have a clear direction when you start out, you are setting yourself up for potential failure in the future. You must have heard the advice “follow your passion.” More times than not, this is not good advice. There are people who are passionate about music but cannot sing to save their lives. Others want to play football mais le diable ne fait queee…. If there is any advice I can give you it’ll be to “follow your skill set.” Your passion is something you can always do in your spare time to add something to your bank account or just live a more fulfilled life.
I am passionate about marketing and music but my skill is writing. It is on that basis that over the last five years, I have shaped what I now know is the right career path for me, in all its specificities. And that is because, lucky for me, and even unknowingly, I pursued both my passion and my skill. I had no clear vision when I started out, but now I know exactly where I am headed.
What am I saying exactly? I am saying as an entrepreneur even if you do not know what your career will look like, putting your skill to full use will give you a great measure of clarity when you get to the point of deciding what the rest of your working life will look like.
The second thing you will need to factor in is thinking like a POLYMATH. A polymath is someone who takes a serious interest in many disciplines – mathematics, physics, medicine, architecture, psychology, engineering, music etc – all at once. What most polymaths do is learn the founding principles of a discipline deeply, and then learn the founding principles of the next discipline, and then the next, and the next. Sometimes they do two or three at the same time.
By virtue of being an entrepreneur, you are forced to act like a polymath. Imagine you run a catering business. In the early months of the business, you have to do the cooking, the packaging, the delivery, the accounting, the customer relationship management, the personnel management, the marketing, and what have you.
Learning to learn how to manage these different sectors of what constitutes your business is the ultimate way to find where your greatest strength lies and how, with business growth and better help, you can re-orient your skill set and coordinate things perfectly, while focusing on what you can do best. This means that even if you leave that business for something else, you will know exactly the kind of position best suited for you in a different organisation. And you will know how best to grow in it.
You can perfectly start a catering business and you realise that a career in communications and public relations is what you are best suited for, based on how well you related with customers and the success you had with talking about your business online, and in public. You can even leave your business and go work for the communication department of a food manufacturing company with a track record to show for it.
But if you want to continue with your business, then the next X Factor will be for you to find the right TEAM of people. This is very crucial. It is important that you get with persons that have a certain level of self-abnegation and that are willing to stick around for the right reasons.
If we are here today, it is because when Tino started PoiseSocial 5 years ago, I decided to join him on the journey because I believed in what he was doing and I wanted to be a part of the journey for no reason other than just that I believed in his vision. There have been times I wrote articles alone for one whole month when Tino was occupied with other stuff or was going through a block. It never mattered to me. All I wanted and still want, like him, was to have an outlet to share my thoughts. Money was never a consideration. Things have changed a bit now, some money has entered into the equation but the core is still the same.
Getting the right team that will allow you to focus on the skill that you must have found by now helps you to put that to the service of the organisation and helps you build a career for yourself in the field in which your skill is found.
After you must have put together a team, what you need next is STRUCTURE. You should establish rules and regulations, assign clear duties and functions, and put in place a standard operating procedure. Even if you are running a 10-man operation, have in place a sure and clamped-down system of operation. Have these written down and let everyone be in possession of it. Doing this early on will establish a good basis for professionalism and growth.
Many Bamileke-owned businesses that were thriving in the mid to late 90s have fallen apart because some of the owners did not believe in professional management and structure. They invested in and wanted to directly control businesses which they could not fully do. They put in family and acquaintances to manage sectors of the business that these people were also not apt for. And because of this, family members did not act professionally and subsequently ran promising businesses to the ground.
The last factor will be for you to SCALE AND GROW. When you start growing by selling more of your products or services and getting more opportunities, your business starts to thrive and can be scaled. If your business stays on that thriving part and lasts thus for 20, or 30 years, you begin to narrow down your duties to a specific thing or a very select number of specific things.
Even though you still understand how the different components of your organisation work, the one component in which you excel is definitely where your career lies and you can successfully call yourself a so-and-so person because by then you must have found yourself professionally.
- Wandji Wilfred.