When doing business in Africa, and gradually expanding into new markets across the continent, having the right business partner is of paramount importance. Moreover, in our space – payments and technology – finding dynamic go-to-market partners is a critical and difficult step. Indeed, it can’t be achieved without a highly strategic approach.
In Africa, as with any region, each market is vastly different, with various in-country dynamics and challenges at play. As a result, not only will each cross-border partner be unique and different, so too will your way of relating to and working with each.
Having worked at this for some time, however, we have certainly gained important insights into how best to approach the challenge.
To begin, we view the inception and development of this particular genre of partnership as a three-step process: Finding, Qualifying and Nurturing.
Get Involved: Finding the right partner
When embarking on the search for suitable go-to-market partners, it is critical to have a clear idea of what you’re looking for.
If you have a poorly formed or vague concept of what this partner might look like, chances are the right matches will elude you.
Armed with a vision, the next step is to ensure that you actually arrive in these markets, and get involved ‘on the ground’, so to speak. In our experience, you can only get so far over Skype or a conference call – it is so important to meet potential partners in person and assess the suitability of the relationship.
From there, both parties need to agree on a sensible escalation of what we term ‘actionable commitments’. These are essentially next steps that, while not too onerous, require both players to put some skin in the game and offer up a way forward.
Beyond Skin Deep: Qualifying the partner
Having identified a potential suitor, the logical next step is to delve deeper into what makes this company or person tick. For us, it is imperative that our go-to-market partners operate with integrity, and that each side operates with trust and transparency.
In these markets, the cost of failed cross-border functions is staggeringly high – and there is little recourse once the damage is done – so the trust factor is massive.
This naturally leads on to the question of culture and values: Do you align in terms of what each partner wants to achieve, and your long-term goals? When it comes to crunch time, even the most solid of partnerships can quickly fall apart if there are differing motives and ambitions.
Closely related to the culture issue is the question of Focus (with a capital F!). Quite often, because of the sheer size and complexity of African markets, companies dabble and work in multiple sectors and operations.
This can be hugely risky for a potential partner. We need to see a strong show of commitment to – and investment in – the partnership and the various requirements of taking a product or service to market.
Here, execution capability is key, and we look for partners who are adept at navigating things like customs, local tax requirements, human resources, fluctuating currencies, etc. Track records are so important…and strong track records are generally a sign of focus and commitment.
Direct Engagement: Nurturing your partners
The final element, which involves nurturing and sustaining relationships with chosen partners, requires a mix of established processes and natural evolution.
It is important, at the beginning, to ensure all the relevant team members are connected and quickly establish workable systems and processes. They also need to know who to turn to if something isn’t working – i.e. set clear escalation pathways.
Once certain structures have been established, most relationships will evolve naturally, and teams will gravitate towards the platforms and digital tools that they feel the most comfortable with.
That said, we believe that setting up regular, in-person meetings between partners should be non-negotiable.
Whilst communication (in any form) is indeed integral to all relationships, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings when nurturing critical business partnerships.
While establishing new relationships in any market is tough, finding the right go-to-market partners in Africa is undoubtedly quite complex – and requires the ongoing commitment of key resources…chief among them, your time.
Public Private Partnerships Can Work For Entrepreneurs
Property Point will develop 16 small business in the property sector of which two thirds are youth and women owned.
In a landmark partnership for collective economic growth in South Africa, the Department of Small Business Development (DSBD) joined forces with Property Point, a Growthpoint Properties initiative, to develop more small businesses for South Africa’s property sector. DSBD has allocated a R5 million grant to Property Point for a one-year small business development programme as part of its Enterprise Incubation Programme (EIP). This breakthrough initiative is the first public-private partnership of its kind in the property sector. It will develop 16 small businesses in the property sector of which two thirds are youth and woman-owned.
For this unique 16-business intake, Property Point’s programme is powerfully market driven. It will raise the profile of the entrepreneurs and strengthen their competitiveness, with a deep focus on market integration. The programme aims to create market linkages for these small businesses that will see them included in procurement opportunities in the broader property sector, as well as Growthpoint. It is expected to set new benchmarks for small business integration into private sector supply chains.
Estienne de Klerk, CEO of Growthpoint South Africa, says: “We believe in the principles of social and economic transformation and empowerment on all levels, and we are committed to achieving this. As a hands-on property owner, we own and manage our buildings – we recognise our unique position to develop small businesses to increase their access to market opportunities. We are proud to contribute to this pioneering public-private partnership designed to deliver on South Africa’s transformation, small business, economic growth and job creation objectives.”
Shawn Theunissen, head of Property Point and head of Corporate Social Responsibility for Growthpoint Properties, says:
“Property Point’s objective has always been to contribute to South Africa’s economic growth. Using a best practice model, we have delivered positive results in our new partnership with government. This will escalate our impact on transforming the economy at a crucial time when South Africa is dealing with high unemployment and low economic growth.”
The beneficiaries of the Property Point and DSBD partnership have advice on how other entrepreneurs can make the most out of similar programmes:
Advice from Zoleka Ngema of Senzee Trading
- Be honest this helps you define your position and helps you view the real issues in your business.
- Do every task diligently every business is different and what works for one might not work for you, so working diligently personifies the tasks and therefore adds value to your business.
- Lessons are continuous remember & do the tasks done as these will create a cycle of growth even after the course is over.
Advice from Sibongile Shikwambana of Sandwind Coatings
- Be fully present, participate and take advantage of every single opportunity
- Drive your own business agenda; recognise that you and no one else can make your business successful
- Build and maintain meaningful relationships.
Advice from Teko Motlhabi of Techmo Air
- Try to be present and involved with all the activities and opportunities handed to you
- Ask for help from the Programme Managers and the rest of the team when you need it
- Create relationships with your fellow entrepreneurs and collaborate.
How To Partner Successfully With A Younger Boss
Age sometimes seems a lot more than just a number
Just a few years ago, millennials surpassed Generation Xers to become the largest cohort in the United States workforce, according to PEW research. As a result, more and more young people are assuming positions of management.
Being managed by someone younger can feel uncomfortable.
I have to admit, I get into the habit of comparing myself to other people. Those who are younger than us who have advanced further professionally can make us feel inadequate or resentful.
At one of the start-ups where I worked, one co-founder was a decade younger than me. At first I felt awkward with the heavy slate of marketing, sales and social media duties she assigned me. It wasn’t too long, though, before we settled into a groove and formed a strong working relationship.
Creating a bond with a younger manager can have significant positive effects on your own career. Here’s how you should manage it:
Identify skills that helped your boss advance and develop them in yourself
Even innovative businesses will adhere to rules of thumb. One rule of thumb many business leaders believe, rightly or wrongly, is that experience is valuable in and of itself. If your manager is younger than you, it means she probably had to overcome stereotypes and false assessments to get there.
Rather than assume your manager is a young punk who had a managerial role handed to her, work on identifying the skills that helped your boss to succeed. By developing the same skills within yourself, you’ll be more likely to enter a managerial role as well.
To get started, consider asking your manager point blank to identify the skills that she thinks were most useful in propelling her career forward. Once identified, make it clear that it’s a goal to develop those same skills within yourself. A good manager will take this conversation as a sign that you are a driven professional.
Alternatively, you could have a conversation with the person who decided to promote your manager in the first place. As long as you position your question to ensure that it sounds like it’s coming from a good place, the senior manager should have no problem sharing this information with you.
Think of your relationship as a partnership
Your manager is not your parent or your babysitter. If it feels as though your manager is overbearing, have a conversation with her about it. Otherwise, you should treat the relationship you have with your manager as a partnership.
Chances are you are both being evaluated on the same or similar metrics. If you fail, your manager fails, and if your manager fails, you fail. By changing your perspective on this important professional relationship, you may find working with a manager who is younger than you to be more comfortable.
Related: Build Better Business Relationships
Most managers simply want to ensure that whatever they’re working on is completed in the best way possible. They’ll be happy to work with employees who are collaborative, open to new ideas and motivated to get the job done.
In return, a manager who is satisfied with your work can make it more likely that you will also find yourself in a management role someday. If nothing else, you can consider leaving your current company and listing your current manager as a reference if you are able to develop a strong relationship.
Trade experience for new ideas
Both you and your manager have important knowledge that can be made more valuable when put together. You probably have accumulated wisdom from on the job experience, and your manager might have a fresh perspective or innovative new ideas.
Together wisdom and innovation can form a valuable pair that propels both you and your manager to success.
Make sure you make it clear that you are open to new perspectives and new ideas, and offer your experience when appropriate to guide your manager to making smarter choices.
Encourage open feedback in both directions
Feedback is a critical component of professional growth. So much so that companies like Goldman Sachs are overhauling their feedback processes to boost employee performance. As a younger manager, she may feel anxious or conflicted about providing you with honest feedback. Instead, “manage up” and invite your manager to provide you with honest feedback.
In doing so, you will also set expectations that your manager should invite candidate feedback from you as well. By creating open dialogue between you and your manager, you’ll accelerate your professional learning curve and avoid passive aggressive moments.
Though your manager may be younger than you, she earned the privilege of managing a team for a reason. As an ambitious professional, it’s your job to understand why your manager earned that role and to begin cultivating the same skills within yourself.
Instead of feeling resentful, partner with your manager to share feedback and wisdom as you both work to achieve success.
By committing yourself to professional self-improvement, you may soon find yourself managing your own team of people who are older than you.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
The Case For A Business Partner Who Makes You Uncomfortable
Should you even have a comfort zone?
As humans, we love living within our comfort zone. Science tells us that our comfort zones are a place where activities and experiences fit a pattern and a routine that we’re used to. It’s a place of minimum risk for us, which is why it feels so good to stay in that bubble. The idea of adding experiences and actions that could be stressful, lead to failure or worse is not appealing to our minds. So, we get into comfortable routines and rationalise why we are not doing all the things we’ve dreamt and talked about doing in our businesses. This is a familiar pattern that we’ve repeated most of our adult life.
As you grow a business, there comes a point where it makes sense to bring in others who could help the business grow.
This could be a business partner, it could be a board of advisors, or it can be contractors that do tasks we’re not qualified to do. There is a safe route where you can bring in only what makes you comfortable and only entrepreneurs that are YES people – they agree with what you do and say even though they know it’s not right. Or, you can take a different path. You can explore the zone right outside of your comfort zone.
Charlie Munger is the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffet describes him as “his partner.” They have been in business together for 56 years.
Munger has been quoted saying, “we don’t agree totally on everything, and yet we’re quite respectful of one another.”
Over the years, the advice Munger has given Buffet has not been as a yes man to Buffet, and for that reason, both have flourished. They’ve built an amazing company that keeps growing every year.
In April of 1975, Bill Gates and Paul Allen formed a partnership that led to a little company called Microsoft. You are probably using some of their products as you read this article. Their company has become one of the largest in the world. These days, it seems their partnership is not what it once was but it was those early days of partnering with someone who made Bill Gates step outside of his comfort zone that helped the company grow. They complimented each other in different ways. They weren’t yes partners. They pushed and challenged each other and that’s what led to growth.
A wise man once said that if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not growing. We have run from discomfort when the reality is that there are situations in which the discomfort comes from growing. When you can learn to embrace the opportunity to get uncomfortably from growth, you can take your business to whatever the next level is for you.
There are things you excel in. There are things you’re not so good at. The right business partner – and business partnerships – can help complete the areas you lack. We know that we’re the average of the people we associate with. Traditional logic tells you to associate and partner with people that make you comfortable.
While we want to associate with people whose personalities match, we want to seek out entrepreneurs that will push, inspire, motivate, and challenge us in the ways we can’t do for ourselves.
You want a business partner that will call you out when you’re clearly making excuses. They will challenge traditional ways of thinking about growth strategies. They will inspire you through the actions they’re already taking in their life and business. They walk their talk and let their success doing all the talking for them publicly. They are sincerely invested in seeing you succeed without expecting anything in return. They have love for you. They will stay with you through the good times and especially the hard times.
Don’t pick YES entrepreneurs or add them to your circle. Pick entrepreneurs that make you uncomfortable in a way that leads to growth in life and business. You only get one life to live. You have a goal and dream for your business. The right partners or partners can help you get there in a way that helps you scale.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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