Just about every business I have done has been an eye-opener. I have had my fingers burnt and I have had some successes. At each level, I have encountered scenarios that made me rethink my strategy in that line of business. I have had my trust abused. I have made bad decisions that have resulted in financial loss. But I do not dwell on mistakes for they waste a lot of time.”
These are the opening notes in the 11th chapter of Innocent Nahabwe’s first business book, Treating small businesses: Lessons from my operations. The book whose writing only started four years after the thought explores the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. It came out of a short autobiography that his mother wrote on his 35th birthday. Published in Uganda in July, it recounts struggles that Nahabwe and his business partners faced to multiply their cash.
Told from the first person narrative for an easy and relatable read, the book is partially childhood memoirs, career, lessons learnt from investing in different businesses and tips for entrepreneurs. The expectation is that the book should stir a fighting spirit in a budding businessperson.
Raised by civil servants in the 1980s, Nahabwe tells of little acquaintance with the business world. Passing examinations seemed to equate to success. Other activities were only viewed as supporting academics.
“Growing up and you have to work for your pocket money, you value work. If you do not work, you do not get paid,” Mr Nahabwe says.
“If as a child you are not taught how to save, basics of knowing you have to work if you are to eat, you grow up feeling there will always be a free meal somewhere,” Nahabwe shares some nuggets of business advice.
In the combination of education, coffee picking, sale of snacks, shoe repairing in school, journalism, photography, marketing, the veterinary doctor simply focused on what would sustain a life in the city – extra sources of income.
“I was fed up of being the suited and broke corporate and the rat race was beginning to take a toll on me. In my pudgy fingers, the itch for self-employment could no longer be ignored. Pushed to the wall by the constant fear of abject failure, one day, I decided I had had enough,” Mr Nahabwe narrates.
In the years following the most difficult decision he has had to take, he went from co-owning an online dating company to owning none. At one point, he managed musicians and it was a costly venture.
He hopped onto the next idea – a mobile solutions company. He gave a hospitality business around Lake Victoria, and clubs and bars in Kampala a shot. However, the former closed shop later. Along the way, he invested in poultry farming, which later turned out another business lesson he lives to remember.
“If I lose money, I look at it as tuition for lessons learnt. I keep looking forward to where I can get more money,” Mr Nahabwe says.
Cost of poor accountability
It is because of this attitude that together with a partner, he went on to invest in an animal clinic and pharmacy. Success was registered for some time but lack of accountability soon ran the company down.
But he had other businesses going for him, a sports betting company, a mobile solutions company, media companies and real estate ventures.
For most if not all his businesses, Nahabwe sought partners. How about handling of finances among partners? “I believe every director should earn a stipend and have direct deliverables that can be used to gauge their performance. This takes away the issue of people taking money because it is available. Assigning deliverables also helps in checking one’s complacency,” he writes.
Finances bring down companies. That explains why entrepreneurs should differentiate between company and personal money.
“You do not start divvying up the company’s revenues more than the stipulated regularity just because the company is making more money than anticipates. There will always be a rainy day,” he says.
With examples from his experience, Mr Nahabwe goes on to offer 15 tips to businesspeople on diversification, employing relatives, partnerships, transparency, nurturing talent, supervision, self-employment, book keeping, knowing when to quit, balancing work and life among other things.
From offering important lessons to businesspeople, Mr Nahabwe encourages a small business and regards it as big business because the big companies need a small one to survive. If his experiences, told with a dose of humour, are anything to go by, anyone with the right financial principles in mind and practice can succeed and see their business celebrate its fifth anniversary.
In terms of remaining relevant in the face of technological advances, Mr Nahabwe says, “When I see an opportunity, I do not sleep until it comes to life. There is the realisation that business continues to change so when you learn that the business you have today might not be relevant tomorrow, you have to keep re-inventing yourself.”
Work with right people
Going back and forth in time in the book, the assessment is that every business has its own dynamics and every move made must be well calculated. It starts with partnering with and employing the people who believe in your ideals.
“Partnerships force you to be formal. They give a business a fighting chance. The biggest advantage is that partnerships tie you down to certain principles espoused by everybody in the set up,” he writes.
“You need people who complement you. You need people with a different skill set from yours.”