Botswana Guardian

No free lunch in business

- Grahame McLeod

A business owner also needs to choose the best way of marketing his produce, of finding a reliable market for it – should he sell it to a fresh produce market, large supermarke­t chain, general dealers, or street vendors? One farmer in Kumakwane once told me that for a farmer to be successful, he first only needs to know two things – the soil and the market for his crop. And how true that is; any business owner needs to know where he can sell his products! And many businesses overlook this crucial aspect of running a business. Business owners need to realise that buyers may not come to them, as if by magic, knowing that they have something to sell that they want to buy! Competitio­n is tight and fierce these days and small businesses so often fail simply because customers do not know that they exist! I have a garden and often decide to buy ornamental plants. Once I met one seller of such plants in the streets of Francistow­n and bought some plants from her. But I never saw her again. And I also once bought some plants from another seller only because she was showing her produce at a Farmers Day near Francistow­n. Again, I have not seen her since! But I liked her plants and would buy from her again and again! So often I see farmers driving bakkies loaded up with veggies to town and parking along a busy road where they may stay for hours hoping to sell all their produce. But at the end of the day, perhaps they may only sell some P200 worth of cabbages! And they wonder why their business is not doing well!

Similarly, all of these skills will also be needed in businesses in other areas of the economy if businesses are to remain afloat. Small business owners have to be a jackof- all- trades and may have to operate their businesses as a one- man show due to financial constraint­s. Hence, they may only be able to hire semi- skilled or unskilled workers, but not experience­d people who are best able to manage the different aspects of their business!

Many of the problems that face small business owners may simply be due to a lack of expertise. You may wish to start up a vegetable farm but have never studied agricultur­e in your life. However, your relatives have told you that you will make a great farmer ( of course, they will!) and can make a lot of money growing veggies! So, you buy a few hectares of land and then plant cabbages. But you then wonder why, after a few weeks, they are changing colour and drying out. Immediatel­y, you will come to the conclusion that it’s because of the heat or lack of water. So, you now decide to rectify the problem by watering the cabbages more. But the problem does not go away and actually becomes worse and finally your crop dies and you lose money. The farm then ceases operations and you go out of business and retrench your workers.

But if you had a knowledge of farming, you would have come to the conclusion that the problem might be pests. And if you had looked at the under surface of the leaves you would have seen the caterpilla­rs of the diamond back moth, a common worldwide cabbage pest. Having identified the pest correctly, you would then have been able to buy the correct insecticid­e that can successful­ly control it. With the pest under control, then you will have a much greater chance of harvesting your cabbages and making money and so stay in business.

And a person who has started up a textile factory also needs to be equipped with the necessary expertise. But not having studied Fashion and Fabrics at senior secondary school, or dressmakin­g at the local brigades, might be a serious drawback. For this reason, you might buy sewing machines that are not up to the job or buy the wrong type of fabric for making woollen jerseys or cotton shirts. Similarly, not having studied carpentry at the local brigades may lead you to make costly mistakes if you decide to set up a furniture business. For example, you may buy timber that is not suitable for making the types of furniture that you wish to make, or not buy sufficient tools or machines for doing the job. So, in both of these cases, the chances of business failing will increase.

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