How African Business men and women rise to the top

Top tips from Africa’s entrepreneurs

What is the secret of success in business? During Africa Economy week, BBC News asked entrepreneurs across the continent to give us their “top tips”.

You have to think fast in business.

If someone asks – “Are you selling your blouse?” Sell it!

You can always buy another one.

“ You need lots of patience and nerves of steel ”

The first day I opened my shop, I only had five bunches of roses.

My first customer didn’t see the flowers I had – all he saw was water.

So he asked me: “Are you selling water?”

I told him – “Yes!” That 20 cents he gave me was my first income.

You have to be brave. You have to be aggressive. Don’t be embarrassed.


Nigeria is driven by nepotism.

But you have to hang in there.
When you have the right product and you wait long enough, the rainy day will come.
Also, putting in the street style works well for me.
Formal training can help. But businesses are driven by passion and innovation.

Even if I’d been to the best business schools, my business would still be driven by my goals.


My advice – persevere.

I remember very well the first day I opened my restaurant.

I did not have any chairs. I did not have any tables.

My customers had to eat in a standing position. I told them – you’re going to have a “standing buffet”.

They laughed and continued eating, and that’s how my catering business was born.

Today, we have 16 eating places in Lusaka and we have opened a college training students in hospitality.

It is important to say to yourself – I am as good as the other person. If that person can do it, then so can I.


You don’t need to save a huge amount before you start your business.

You can begin working from your house, or even under a tree.

We started with a small amount – buying two or three dryers, chairs and other equipment a customer might need.

Anybody who came, we gave them good hair.

Then, by managing well, we have grown bigger.


My secret is hard work.

Being honest with my customers, telling them the truth, honouring my bills, and knowing what is the customer’s need in the area.

Now, I not only run a book shop, I also supply women’s book clubs, and I’m an agent for major UK academic publishing houses.


You need lots of patience and nerves of steel.

When you’re setting up a business in virgin territory, you are on your own.

Six years ago I set up a small company, producing TV, radio and graphic design for the local market.

We needed the help of the government and private sector.
It hasn’t happened yet. There are no structures in place to support local productions.

I feel discouraged. But at the same time I understand the country is in transition. Maybe soon we will reach that point.


You have to network, network, network.

Families, friends, classmates, schoolmates, the people you met in church neighbours – they are all your prospective customers.


Set goals and go after them.

Value your customers – deliver what you promise.

Have confidence and believe in yourself. I always go for what people think is not possible.

Readers of the BBC News Website have been sending us their top tips about running a successful business.

Here are some of the comments we have received:

Business is about setting goals; having a mission and vision for the business you want to start and working with passion for the business. With all these factors and trust, I was able to start a pharmacy in a shopping mall with less than $200.
Francis, Port-Harcourt, Nigeria

All it takes is an ambitious and self driven spirit. Four years ago, as young trainers in Kenya, our employer was not meeting all our needs, so five of us opted out and registered a tertiary college. When I look back, we had no office, one classroom, no furniture… but the students trusted in the competence of the trainers. It was a challenge but our ambitious drive has now seen the emerging Global Institute of tourism and management studies in Kenya.
Lydia Ouma , Kigali, Rwanda

Don’t get carried away by one successful year. One year’s profitability is no indication of future years, so don’t get excited and spend all your profits. Maintain effective cost controls.
Mustafa, Tripoli, Libya

I am running an elevator engineering business in Zimbabwe, with a significant presence in Zambia and Mozambique. My company’s resilience, consistence and unwavering commitment to my customers’ equipment has catapulted my company to the number one slot. Careful selection of strategic alliances has also helped. I have reaped the benefits of sticking out and offering outstanding service. I always tell myself: united we stink, divided we shine.
Colin Jeche, Harare, Zimbabwe

The right skills, the right place, the right time. When a buyer meets a seller then we have business. Focus and determination is the key for me.
Adekunle, Johannesburg, South Africa

I sell kiln-dried timber to furniture makers. Suggestion: be honest with your suppliers and customers; don’t promise what you can’t do; be as helpful as possible.
David, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa

If you look at the history, entrepreneurs have emerged in recession. Innovation is the key for entrepreneurs to drive the business more successful than old business houses. Dare to dream and take initiative of what you can believe to do. Customer satisfaction should be the most important factor. No compromise to quality at any stage. Always put conscious effort to meet maximum customer needs.
Mohd Naveed, Hyderabad, India

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