3 Things about Business in Africa

2013 has been a kind year to me and I had the opportunity to do business in East Africa; miles away from home. Well it has opened up my eyes and changed my perception of things quite a little, here’s 3 things about conducting a business in africa

3) Time is important but not of the essence

The problem

Timeliness is often the no. 1 factor of businesses in Asia; Japan, Korea, Singapore and other Asian nations.Time in Africa though, is a whole different affair altogether. Meetings are often delayed anywhere from 1 – 3 hours if you’re lucky; they might be delayed or put off by weeks at a time.

The Solution

Send reminders about meetings a day before and on the day itself to try to avoid the situation. Patience as well in this case is important as often attendees will try to wriggle their way out of meetings with the worlds worst excuses. Logically, it also makes sense to try to adapt to their culture and work around it, i.e planning for buffer periods in your lead time and timeline. Risk cutting deadlines close at your own peril, especially if you are performing government tenders and projects, the incidence of blame will always fall upon YOU. 

2) Relationships are more important than delivery

The Problem

Business often cannot be separated from relationships. You have to take the time and make the effort when you are looking to develop a business. In Africa, this is amplified and often nothing is given to the best bidder or service provider, this is true no matter how professionally apt you think your firm is. Priority is always given to someone with a relationship to the decision maker and of course there is also the factor of reputation of an individual/entity, which is key, losing it means never coming back.

The Solution

Outlay some costs on business development, and by costs it means you have to spend both time and money. Either one on its on will not yield very much returns. Often, before doing business you have to do the whole wine & dine affair, often spending hours chatting and getting to know each other. Lunches and dinners over there can span over 3 – 5 hours per time. Do also get someone with good public relations and business acumen to handle your meetings, as people there often take offence of certain views or statements.

1) Don’t mean what you say, Don’t say what you mean

The Problem

In Africa, you can be promised one thing and given something else entirely during a business transaction; this is commonplace in quite a few economies, including Central Asia. People are cautious with the conducting of business and often, you will find that you face problems if you are completely honest about the business that you are conducting over there. This can be attributed to a host of differing subjective reasons; lack of potential, lack of funding, etc.

The Solution

Answer questions intelligently. When someone asks questions, do not listen to reply, listen to understand what their underlying queries are. Try to preempt these as much as possible by planning and giving specific responses that are secure in nature. Do not always mean what you say, and do not always say what you mean; even where they are potential clients or potential vendors, it does not matter. Framing your pitch or discussion is of utmost importance as once you lose your credibility over there, it is almost impossible to come back to the business scene.

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