Have you wondered how to find reliable and professional Africa business partners? You may not know where to look, or you have worked with African partners before, but you lost trust, because they let you down.
I have heard several such stories, and just recently a couple of you asked me for advice in this regard. This is why I decided to address it in today’s post. So stay tuned, in the end I will tell you exactly whom to contact and what to do.
First things first – a question:
Do I really need business partnerships in Africa?
My answer: If you want to increase your potential for success – absolutely!
Building partnerships is invaluable for any business, but it has a particular importance in Africa. On a continent where decision making processes are less institutionalized and where you face a much wider range of risks on the ground as compared to the West, partnerships will go a long way. They will considerably increase the impact you will have with your business and mitigate risk for you. Building partnerships should be part of your Africa business strategy right from the start. And that is specifically true for entrepreneurs and companies that are coming into Africa from abroad, the African Diaspora included. Partnerships will help you to navigate, to increase outreach, and win greater acceptance for your products within the local market place.
But getting the wrong partners on board can have devastating effects, and it happens regularly.
This is by no means a typical African phenomenon, you will come across not so trustworthy or shallow partners everywhere in the world. Having said that, the lack of opportunity, prosperity, and transparency that has plagued most African societies for decades and centuries will naturally have left their mark: many have turned into hustlers. These are people who incorporate tricks or are get involved everywhere to reach where they need to be – not necessarily because they are bad people, but because they have learned that this is the way to get by in Africa. If you don’t, you loose a lot or even go hungry. Others may be simply so keen to find opportunities that they overestimate their skills and dedication when they agree to your proposition.
But the good news is that there are many, many professional, reliable, and hard working Africans out there who have business skills and integrity and who will make great business partners. People who are ready to do their share, so your venture can go to the next level. Well, you just need to find them.
Here are 4 steps how to achieve that. I have summarized to a great extent the experiences of my own successful partnerships, which I have built on the ground:
1) Say no to African family – say yes to partner capacity
I think this is truly one of the most important rules. Many African entrepreneurs or business start-ups commence their ‘partnerships’ with family members, and I believe the main reason for that is convenience. You know the person already, so you do not need to establish a new connection, you are in most cases either older or more educated than the person, which gives you some kind of authority in guiding the other one towards what has to be done. Or you may simply think your money and business are in safe hands with someone, who after all, is family.
Yes, family businesses can work well and Africa is home to a big number for family-lead businesses, but most of them are following traditional business structures and were handed down from older generations, which gives it an entirely different context. In your case, seeking a relative as your business partner – which is often done in a spontaneous conversation – is too often simply not a good idea and does not guarantee reliability.
He or she may have good intentions and even be excited at first seeing a new opportunity, but after a while the commitment may fade.
Don’t be driven by companionship or convenience when looking for a business partner, but by professionalism and capacity. Does the person really have the capabilities to work with you hand in hand and bring your business to the next level? Does he have the knowledge, the connections, the professional conduct, the finances, the assets? Someone who is lacking that and who brings in only good will or some ideas for action steps is lacking competence. You should be foremost driven by everything that the person can bring onto the table in regard to professionalism and capacity, not by who the person is. If that person then happens to be your own brother, you are lucky.
2) Don’t look simply for ‘a partner’, look for an industry player
Now, you may find someone who seems professional and interested and pretty reliable. But in order to increase your success rate when building partnerships in Africa, I think it is vital to look for a partner who is in your industry already. It is simple: If you are looking for potential partners who are already established in your industry not only can they contribute in a way that is really relevant to the progress of your undertakings, but more importantly, they will remain committed to the job at hand because they are stakeholders in your industry and they won’t throw the towel when things get tough.
You may think that you are only getting started and no-one has interest to partner with you, but this is not true most of the time. Make sure you clarify and communicate what you have uniquely to offer. I think selection is vital. Only go ahead if you deal with capable industry stakeholders and you will immediately see the benefits.
3) Don’t become the instructor, but create a mutual objective for your African partnership
The other problem with family, non-professional, or non-industry partnerships is that you turn quickly into the instructor. This can often be a warning sign. Good African partnerships like elsewhere in the world need to be based on mutual give and take – a clear (and fair !) win-win situation. In fact it is this very dynamic of equally giving and taking that will create a strong and meaningful business connection, which does not only allow you to get the job done, but will enable you to grow further together towards success beyond your initial agreement. A good partner is someone who pro-actively contributes towards your success and who does not wait in line for the next instruction.
4) Get organizational help to find your African business partners
No, don’t post on LinkedIn stating that you are looking for local partners and then assume that the guy who wrote ‘send me more info into my inbox’ is a great match. Yes, you can write to companies out of the blue if they look interesting to you, make a proposition or suggest a meeting – then follow up with a call and a visit. I have done it. Successfully.
Here are some of the best ways to get in touch with professional and committed potential African business partners:
– Visit your local industry associations and chambers and introduce yourself – Chamber of Commerce, Association for Dairy Farmers, Manufacturers Association, Export Council, Chamber of Mining, etc….Choose two or three that match your industry best. They are in close contact with their members and know their needs. It’s one of the best and safest ways in Africa to be put in touch with reliable companies. And when you approach your new potential partner you are backed by a referral, which also increases the trust in you at the other end. This can work as a start-up and an already established company, but don’t ask for help, instead, communicate what you have to offer that adds value to them!
– Visit local tech and business hubs and apply for membership. Again, a wonderful way to find reliable and committed partners, especially in the start-up scene. People who are members in these hubs are usually hard working, visionary, and committed and they know each other well. If you are from the Diaspora, some of these hubs offer short-term membership (paid daily or weekly) – make the most of it during your next stay.
– Try the local government investment authorities, and crowd funding organizations to find investment partnerships. KenInvest in Nairobi for example provides all that service and advice for free.
– Visit renowned conferences and trade shows in your industry in Africa and elsewhere – people who attend these events have invested into tickets, travel, and even exhibitions stands to be there. An excellent platform to find reliable and professional African partners who share your passion for the same industry!
– Look for media partners or business partners among those who run popular African blogs or publications online. You can even integrate a so-called affiliate link into your company banner on their website if they agree. This allows both parties to track all customers and clients that came to your website through them – and if they buy, your partner gets a percentage from you.
– If you live abroad, visit your Western embassy in a given African country. Many of them offer business matchmaking services against payment. Some of them even offer product promotion and other services to get you started in Africa. The US embassy for example does a lot in this regard.
Don’t give up building African business partnerships, be professional in your search and always openly share. Remember, put out there what you want to reap. In the end, building dynamic African partnerships will ensure you stay ahead of the competition.
Now, as always, dear Africa Business Jumpstart community, we want to hear from you. Do you have additional tips how to find reliable partners in Africa – or which bad and good experiences did you make in the past?
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