The top 10 management skills you need for your small scale business

Running a business is a dream for many of us. But it’s not a dream that materializes easily. Getting ready to start your entrepreneurial journey means that you’ll invest A LOT of time and energy. You know the drill: develop the idea, come up with a viable business plan, receive funding, launch, improve, get your first customers, etc.

If you’re successful your idea will turn into a flourishing small-scale business with great prospect of growth. But the hard work is not done yet. Managing your business day in day out actually requires a diverse set of skills and it’s challenging! Having set up the first tech company of its kind in Zambia three years ago, we speak of experience.

No matter if you just started to plan your own business or you’re already running it – there’s uncertainties and challenges all along the way. It’s tough, it’s exciting, and it requires a specific skill set from you in order to succeed!

Based on our own experiences, we compiled a list of the 10 most important management skills for running your business. Do you have what it takes?

1. Motivation

There’s going to be a lot of bad days. There’s going to be a lot of boring and tedious days. It’s essential that you figure out what keeps you going and what you’re passionate about.

For us, working in Africa meant that we were constantly putting out fires and dealing with unforeseen challenges. But we never stopped believing in the potential of our business model. After two years in business, we’ve already hired more than 100 young Zambians and impacted their lives in a sustainable way. Experiencing the impact of our work definitely makes up for many of the hassles in day-to-day Zambian business life.

2. Patience

You have a plan ready for sales, marketing, operations but every development just seems to take more time than originally imagined? It’s just normal. Things always take longer than you plan. It’s important that you don’t loose your motivation over the fact that things are not always running according to your plan.

Here in Zambia, being patient is a big part of our life. There are many things in the institutional environment that slow our plans down, from internet speed, to power shortage, to availability of maintenance workers. Of course, we would love being a huge company by now, but growth just takes its time as well.

3. + 4. Adaptability & Self-Awareness

Being a small team means you have to be a jack of all trades. Small businesses can’t afford to have separate departments to handle everything, so management often has to play multiple parts. You must be able to adapt to the variations of tasks that you are required to master.

But it’s also important to never forget that everyone has their weaknesses. As a manager, you have to know not just your strengths but also be self-aware where you need help. Consider this when you build a great team and find people that compliment your needs.

5. Organization

Since you’re required to master a lot of different tasks and departments simultaneously, staying organized and focused is vital. You must stay on top of your responsibilities! This works best if you break down tasks problems and come up with an actionable plan.

6. Humility

You will constantly be facing difficulties and failures. Humility often means accepting failure and adjusting to those obstacles. Your vision of success will be undercut but the obstacles of reality. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

When we first started our impact sourcing company in Zambia, we found ourselves challenged by even the easiest tasks. Our projects didn’t run smoothly at all and after a lot of frustration, we came to realize that we needed to reassess our business model and prospects.

7. Scrutiny

It’s important to be critical of everything happening in your business and figuring out how to make things better. Problems often need to be addressed early on before they grow out of control.

8. Curiosity

Leaders are always learning. Only if you are striving to improve yourself you’ll manage to become more adaptive, critical, and self-aware.

A while back we’ve implemented an internship program. Young graduates from all over the world and diverse educational background come to work with us on a 2-3 month rotation cycle. Thus, we are constantly exposed to new, fresh ideas and minds, which is one way for us to keep learning and improving ourselves.

9. Empathy

Being able to see the world from your stakeholders’ perspective is critical. You need to understand what your employees, partners, customers, investors, and suppliers think. And you need to be open to hearing their feedback.

At Impact Enterprises, we put a strong emphasize on keeping excellent relationships with our customers. Whenever we travel out of Zambia we try to visit as many of our clients as possible in person, to hear what they have to say.

10. Confidence

Last but not least: Remember that there’s always a bigger fish in the sea. It’s easy to start comparing yourself to your competitors and being discouraged by their success. Don’t let glossy marketing stories tell their whole story. They also started small and face the exact same challenges as you.

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IT guru of Impact Enterprises Steve tells us about his work, dreams and passions

Today we talked to Steve, IT guru of Impact Enterprises. Read about what he enjoys at work and his passions and big dreams.

How long have you been with Impact Enterprises?

2 years

What do you like about working in Impact Enterprises?

I face new challenges every day. Sometimes I meet a hard task but people believe I can do it so it gives me a great push and I do things I never thought I was capable of doing.

What are you passionate about?

I want to learn structural engineering and architecture. That’s my passion.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I want to go and study in USA, Russia, China or Japan. Then I want to come back to Zambia and work for a big company. I want to become a big man so that everybody will know who I am. And I want to build the first skyscraper in Zambia!

What do you do in your free time?

I used to play soccer and I like to play chess. I also enjoy writing code, just for learning.

How Investment in Internet is Changing Africa

Information and communication technology is driving the new “knowledge-based” economy in the developed and developing world. However, internet access remains comparatively low in Africa, with internet penetration at 20% for the continent.

The barriers to internet usage are many, including the high cost and lack of access, and for those who do have internet access it can be unreliable and slow. Zambia is no different, with an internet penetration rate of 16% for its population of 14 million people. Even worse, 75% of users are only in the capital city of Lusaka.

This creates obstacles for the small and medium enterprises and start-ups in the region, such as us at Impact Enterprises. Beyond just the price tag of getting reliable access, online services are rarely available making simple tasks cumbersome. Online payments and services are costly and rarely available and ecommerce is practically non-existent.

Countries are beginning to see that low internet adoption is becoming a hindrance to their economies, with 140 countries creating a specific broadband plan, compared to just 15 in 2005. As a result, many African countries, including Zambia, are looking to develop their fiber optic networks.

Expansion in Zambia

Internet in Zambia traces back to the Copperbelt Energy Corporation (CEC), which has provided power supply to the Copperbelt mining region of northern Zambia and southern Congo since the 1950s. Investment in the telecom infrastructure of the region eventually led to a joint partnership with Liquid Telecom Group to provide retail internet services.

Today, CEC Liquid Telecom is one of the largest companies contributing to fiber optic development in the region, which plans to lay 18,000 kilometers of cable on the continent by the end of 2015. The Zambia Electric Supply Corporation (ZESCO), the country’s power utility company, itself had installed 5,300 km of fiber network in the country by the end of 2013.

These investments have already led to great benefits. In February 2015, Liquid Telecom announced the launch of its Fiber to the Home (FTTH) service, which provides broadband services to homes and businesses. The new network means individuals gain access to unlimited data packages at speeds up to 10 Mbps with prices less than one fifth of the current available broadband options.

Success in Unusual Places

The increased fiber network and increased access has great potential to impact the local economy. By bringing data packages to homes and small business, it fosters the environment for the development of the technology sector in the economy.

According to a report by McKinsey on the impact of internet on developing countries, SMEs that leverage the internet have higher growth, higher profits, and productivity gains of 5-19%. Furthermore, for every job lost due to internet innovation, 3.2 new jobs are created.

Believe it or not, no place has demonstrated this potential better than Rwanda. Yes, that Rwanda.

20 years ago, the small east African country experienced one of the worst humanitarian events in history. Out of the ashes of the genocide emerged a well-organized economic restoration led by their visionary president, Paul Kagame. In cooperation with foreign governments, NGOs, and consultants, Rwanda laid out a clear plan for its future called Vision 2020.

A major chapter of the plan recognizes how critical ICT is for a country to compete in today’s world. Through major investment in infrastructure and partnerships, their telecom companies now provide coverage to 99.8% of the country, with user penetration predicted to be 95% by 2016. The capital, Kigali, even offers free WiFi across the entire city.

That’s an astounding accomplishment, considering the state of the nation just two decades ago. As a result of these reforms, Rwanda now ranks 3rd in Africa on the Doing Business rankings and is becoming a tech hub for entrepreneurs.

Looking at Zambia’s Future

The value that investing in the telecom network has on the economy is not lost on the Zambian government. The Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) acting Director General, Mulenga Chisanga, stated recently, “Broadband services would ease the way of doing business in the country and add value to the economy. There is therefore need for industries to embrace broadband services to complete on a global level to grow their businesses.”

According to the McKinsey report, governments need to focus on three types of initiatives – promoting access and literacy, creating a favorable regulatory environment, and e-government services. These all face challenges, including massive investments in curriculums and equipment and receiving pushback from incumbent parties who will be disrupted by change. But the benefits far outweigh the costs.

For us at Impact Enterprises, we are fully embracing the digital age in pioneering socially conscious outsourcing here in Zambia. The developments happening today are laying the foundation for success, but there is still a long way to go. Through our work, we hope to demonstrate the amazing potential the internet age has to offer the brilliant youth of this country and hope that will inspire a cohesive vision for the future.

Healthy March at Impact Enterprises as part of youth development initiative in Zambia

March is over and it was a very special month at Impact Enterprises. First, we introduced new activity workshop to our employees – Active Fridays!  We now kick off every Friday with some exercise and yoga early in the morning to get more energy for the last day of the working week. Apart from our employees getting health benefits and an extra energy boost, our employees are flashing lots of smiles and happy laughs.

Masida: I really love our Active Fridays! It gives me energy to start the day, and also helps to stay fit.

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After that success we decided to dedicate the whole month of March to becoming more healthy and introduced a new initiative – Healthy March. Apart from Friday yoga morning sessions we held a series of special educational workshops. The first focused on basic nutrition. We had discussions about types of nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, why sugar is bad, and what are the 10 healthiest foods. We had lots of great questions from our employees and lots of fun. Who said healthy eating is boring?

Buchy: After the nutrition workshop I feel more educated. I learned new things about food I absolutely didn’t know before. It took me from bad to good in terms of food habits. I taught my family about that because I want them to be healthy too.

The results have been very positive: many employees lowered their sugar intake and started drinking more water; others limited the amount of processed food they consume every day. A great help is that Impact Enterprises provides daily free nutritious lunch to the employees, which consists of meat, vegetables and nsima (the local specialty made from maize flower, the main source of carbohydrates in Zambia).

Thabita: I never thought before about what is inside the food that I’m eating, what it does to my body, we’ve never learned this in school. And learning in a group is fun and we get clear explanations and can ask questions, much more effectively than just reading a book.

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Another week we had discussions about health tips which are easy and effective. We talked about food, sleep, exercising, how to start the day, how to get energized and relax. We also had special female workshops about prenatal care and women’s cycle.

Why are we investing so much time into these activities? First of all, because we really care about our employees. On a bigger picture we believe that any private sector company should implement a holistic approach in engaging their employees. Youth today need more than just jobs and basic skills. They need holistic training and guidance, both professionally and personally, to achieve their full potential.

This is especially important in developing countries. Youth in places like Zambia have fallen behind on their health  because they have very few resources available to them.. Few people have access to internet due to high costs, there are few libraries, these subjects are not taught in schools, and youth are often embarrassed or shy to talk about those things with their parents or doctors at the hospital.

Companies like Impact Enterprises can provide a valuable forum for youth to improve their physical and mental health. Implementing a well-rounded support system within the private sector can create synergies and empower working youth in ways not seen today. Governments and formal educational institutions fail to provide that approach to the development of youth. However, the private sector has immense power, through their existing access and economies of scale, to impact youth.

We hope to continue expanding our workshops to fully develop our employees and prepare them to be vibrant leaders in the world. Let’s work together to improve ourselves and each other!

Mukala: New workshops were another reminder for me that I need to take better care of myself if I want to stay healthy and productive.