Tuesday January 14 2014

Develop an eye for business opportunities

A hibiscus  beverage producer shows

A hibiscus beverage producer shows off one of his packaged products. Seeing and seizing opportunities is a key entrepreneurship attribute. Photo by Rachel Mabala 

By James Abola

Imagine for a moment that you are in high school and want to become a doctor or a lawyer. Will you need to study for the profession? Will you need to pay fees for your studies? Will you need to give it your all? The answer to the all previous questions is “Yes” but many people think all that is required for them to become successful entrepreneurs is for them to rent a shop, put in 3 hours a week and the money will come flowing in. They are wrong. Very wrong.

Successful entrepreneurs are not just fortunate; neither do they engage in business as a hobby. Often I am contacted by readers who want to improve their income by engaging in business and many ask me for advice. Well, I actually earn my living from advising people about business and money so when I tell these intending entrepreneurs that I will charge them for the advice they are seeking, a few pay up but the majority grumble that my charges are too high.

Entrepreneurship is as serious a career choice as medicine or law or teaching. Successful entrepreneurs all over the world display common character traits; and most unsuccessful entrepreneurs are so because they lack these very character traits. One of these traits is seeking opportunities.

The year was 1985; a young man went to buy a spare for his car from the only shop in the city that had them in stock. When he got to the shop he was shocked to find a very long queue of people who wanted to buy car parts from the same shop. He finally got what he wanted about 2 hours after joining the queue.

Many of the people who braved that queue came out grumbling and cursing but it was different for the young man. He got out of that shop with only one thought in his mind, “It would be nice to own a business where customers line up to pay money!” The young man saw a business opportunity where other people were seeing problems and that is one of the defining character traits of successful entrepreneurs.

Here is the essence of a business opportunity: it is something which allows you the entrepreneur to sell products or services to customers and the sales can be big enough to enable you make profit. To the young man, dealing in car parts was not just an opportunity but a great one too, because there was a big need for genuine and affordable car parts.

Business opportunities are revealed in different ways. I recall the entry of MTN into the Uganda mobile telephone market in the late 1990s, the player that had got in first had a very expensive product; getting connected required about Shs 1 million then. Then MTN comes with the cheap Alcatel handset which cost about Shs 50,000. The opportunity here was an affordable product.

There are opportunities in quality; providing better quality service or product. For example a private school could aim to provide better quality education than a UPE school.

There are opportunities in going into new untapped markets; if you are brave and connected enough you could be running into South Sudan while other people are running away.

There are opportunities that come from using appropriate financing for example using an equity financier for a young business instead of getting a loan which impose a heavy burden of interest payment before sales have picked up.

Seeing opportunities is the key attiribute of street smart entrepreneurs. If you cannot even see a business opportunity then you should either train yourself to do so or forget about entrepreneurship altogether.

James Abola is the Team Leader of Akamai Global, a business and finance consulting firm.