Monthly Archives: March 2015

Business has Seasons

I opened up a small DVD burning business in November last year, experienced very good sales in December and early January but thereafter business slumped and each time I tried to find out why, customers simply said they had no money. Its now march and am just beginning to see a change for the better.” In this email, the proprietor was expressing fear for his business thinking that it was bound to fail. After assessing all aspects of his operations, I realised that it wasn’t much about what he was doing wrong but merely the season.

There are always competing forces for the money held by customers. To spend their money on an item or service, opportunity cost sets in. December being virtually a holiday period, the customers were in a better frame of mind to spend on Movies and Music Videos hence the surge in demand for the services. However, as it is typically in Uganda, after spending so much during the festive season which lasts till early January, concern is now shifted to raising school fees for children and other pressing needs like paying house rent and basic survival considering that many are usually broke by this time. Hence if one were told to choose between purchasing a DVD Movie and paying School fees, the latter would obviously take precedence.

It’s always important to know the crests (peaks) and troughs (lows) of your business cycle. Every business has them and they are unavoidable.

Business Peaks and Troughs

Business Peaks and Troughs

The table below illustrates the Crests and Troughs of some common businesses in Uganda;

Common business seasons in Uganda

Common business seasons in Uganda

Taking the case of Wedding Decoration, most weddings are held in the latter part of the year while the first half of the year is a pretty low season. This could be based on reasons like the difficulty of raising finances in the first quarter of the year since it is a school going season that comes right after the heavy spending of the December Christmas festivities.

The latter part of the year is a more likely period for one to get financial support from friends and family while at the same time conducive for family members based abroad to attend since they can come during the Summer holiday or Christmas break.

As you get into business, it’s important to understand this principle of seasonality in order not to be caught off guard. You may be wondering how these seasons can affect you. These are some of the ways;

  • Failure to pay office rent on time
  • Failure to meet salary obligations of your staff
  • Failure to remit overdue taxes to the authorities
  • Poor Cashflow
  • Loss of staff morale

However, it is also possible to insulate one against these troughs to a certain extent. You can do so by;

  • Ensuring that there is a reserve of finances built during the Crest(peak) seasons for use when revenues have dipped.
  • Creating promotions to entice customers during the low (trough) season.
  • Adjusting your staff contractual/hiring terms to reflect their availability during the low and peak seasons.
  • Diversification. This enables you to take on another product or service whose low and high seasons do not coincide with your main business. This helps level out the cash flow.

Embrace seasonality and work around the troughs if you are to last in business.


Grow your business using Supermarkets

Are you toying with a business idea but are probably stuck on how to eventually sell your products? Do you lack the money to start up a shop nor the experience to run such a fully fledged operation. Take heart, don’t feel defeated, there is a way out for you.

One of the most prevalent business opportunities in Uganda is the trade in physical goods. From imported electronics, garments, furniture to imported and locally produced food products. Twenty years ago it was the in-thing to own a shop if you were to prosper in business and the mentality is still largely similar today. Shopping for home supplies was a process that involved hopping from shop to shop buying sugar in one, beans in a second and margarine or bread from another shop.This required one to have a mind map of the shopping area you were going to and knowing what to buy from which shop off your list. While I don’t discount the benefits of these Mom & Pop shops, they have over time not lived upto the demands of the ever changing society that we live in. Some of the challenges they pose are;

  • Time: Due to the need to hop around in different shops, alot of time is wasted in the process. Most shoppers lately prefer a one stop point where they’ll pick up all their groceries for example and head home.
  • Variety: They tend to lack variety since today’s customer wants to have the luxury of choosing among numerous options of a similar product range so they get the semblance of value for money.
  • Customer Service: The increasing sophistication of today’s customer demands ever improving customer service quality. Due to the very nature of these shops, they hardly grow in this regard and hence lose out on a number of potential customers.
  • Convenience of Access: With the increasing number of motorised consumers in urban areas, facilities like parking area access, security or even ease of reach to public transport all play a key role in shopping destination decisions. Most of these shops are severely limited in this regard and tend to rely on non gazetted roadside parking.
  • Market Limitation: This is more of a challenge to the proprietor. To have a fixed geographical location of operation automatically creates a limit on the customers one can reach out to. This has an implication on the potential growth of the business. However, hopefully with the ever increasing usage of online services, this challenge can be addressed.
  • Unwarranted Overheads: Another challenge for the proprietor is overheads of the business. To be competitive in the price sensitive Ugandan market lately, one has to keep margins as minimally acceptable as possible while looking at churning out volumes in order to make it. The shop approach definitely creates limitations in this regard if you have to pay for rent, security, some employees, electricity among others.

A look at most of the shops littering the various shopping arcades in Kampala reveals a gloomy scenario, you will be hard pressed to find profitable ones. With over reliance on walk-in customers, many of these arcade shops hardly make profit if we are to consider the book definition of the term. Rates of rent are usually high and in US Dollars yet goods are sold in local currency, a good section of the target clients hardly patronise arcades lately e.t.c. A friend of mine who is a seasoned trader in down town Kampala intimated to me that most of those arcade shops are actually ’employment’ channels for wives of working professionals and are run like NGOs. No expectation of profit and whatever is earned is consumed by the proprietor leading to a new infusion of capital by the ’employed professional’ when the next stocking cycle is due.

It was until 2009 while trying to find a way of selling packaged and processed food products that I chanced upon the idea of retailing through Supermarkets. Initially I was apprehensive about the fact that I had to surrender control of my product sales to a third party and have faith to be paid without interfacing with the actual consumer. Having been groomed in the Shop Keeping era, I initially thought of opening up my own shop and selling the products. However, six years down the road, I must say that I am proud of having decided to use the Supermarket outlets. Supermarkets make a better proposition for any producer or seller due to the fact that by their very nature they;

  • Increase your market reach at a minimal cost. The major investment required of a supplier to supermarkets is product delivery and credit. Other than that, the supermarket exposes you to customers all over the country by virtue of their foot print. Imagine a supermarket that has branches spread out in Namugongo, Ntinda, Kampala Central, Lubowa (Entebbe Road), Gaba, Old Kampala, Mbarara, Gulu and Mbale. By supplying that one supermarket, you are sure of accessing a very wide market thereby increasing the possibility of business success.
  • Allow you to operate with a low investment.  Apart from investing in procuring or processing your products and distributing them, you are unlikely to be weighed down by the burden of fully fledged sales and office operations.
  • Third Party Marketing benefits. Most big Supermarkets heavily invest in advertising their outlets as a way of attracting customers. They even compete to open up in the new malls. All this is beneficial to a small supplier as you become a direct beneficiary of any increased traffic into the supermarket. Right now, when one wants to buy some of my products, I simply read out a list for him/her of the Supermarkets where to find them.
  • Ease referral sales. Most of your new sales are likely to come as a result of referrals by existing customers. With a presence of the products in leading supermarket chains, it becomes easier for a satisfied customer to direct a friend on where to buy the same product.

Using Supermarket outlets to retail one’s products allows you to make money without having to be present at the sales points and the trick is usually in having splendid packaging that stands out on the shelf.

Package attractiveness plays a key role in the Supermarket product sales.

Package attractiveness plays a key role in the Supermarket product sales.

The prevalence of supermarkets in Uganda today is a sign that shopping trends are changing in that direction and as a budding entrepreneur, this is food for thought.

Forget Suicide, Jesus Christ is the Answer

I was a naive 18 year old pursuing my High School studies at Makerere College School when I met him. He happened to be the flamboyant Chairman of Lumumba Hall at Makerere University. He lived the high life that any juvenile would admire. A chance to have him as my friend was a good dream come true. When I was suspended by the school for a week, he offered to host me in his room at the University. I loved the opportunity to smoke and drink alcohol freely while there. I also admired his talk about the Engineering course he was doing. This encouraged me to also read harder and ensure that I got that chance to join Makerere University on Government sponsorship (to the young, there was a time when tertiary education in Uganda was strictly Government funded and you either got the government support or experienced a halt in your studies).

The following year I happened to join the University and I was given Lumumba Hall as my residence. This even made me happier because I now had a chance to rub shoulders with someone who had inspired me to read hard and pass my exams (I know he didn’t know this and is probably learning about it now if it isn’t too late). Life in the fast lane saw him collide with the law and I was one of those that shed quite some tears when he was incarcerated for some time at Luzira Prison. That was the last time I heard of him and it took me close to 14 years to rediscover him. When I joined Facebook, he was all over the place and as usual had never lost his darling of the crowd character. I tried a number of times to touch base with him on my visits to South Africa but somehow failed. We however continued communicating online.

I always knew him as this bravado, cow boy never die kind of guy. Fearless yet loving, Intelligent and a go getter, A doer and challenger of the status-quo. Two years ago, in an emotional outburst on Facebook about his family, I noticed that beneath that bravado outlook lay a normal man, vulnerable like anyone else, yearning for something that never was in his past. I had been all along wrong to assume he was a ‘kyuma kya steel” (a steel rod). 

Life can have turbulences but there is always hope in Jesus Christ

Life can have turbulences but there is always hope in Jesus Christ

I woke up today only to find some disturbing posts on his Facebook timeline and hence the reason to pen down my advice. He says;

“OK let me say the truth from my heart. The only reason I’ve been living up to now is my children. They love me so much and I love them double. However I feel whatever I’m doing is for them and then I’d like to go and rest. I would like to go and rest but I want my children to be taken care of. If you are my friend or family, take care of my children. They are the only reason I’m living.”

Brother, you are right to be honest with your innerself and this gives others a chance to share with you. You didn’t come to this world merely because of your children. We are all sent by God for a certain purpose and true fulfilment is in pursuit of that purpose.

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” God definitely has a good and great plan for your life. You just have to trust Him and avoid taking control. Without Him, all you do will come to nought. 

Proverbs 16:9 “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” We may plan things our way and do them based on our will but God is the perfect one at establishing what is best for us. He governs over all that we can imagine and attempt to do. So it is important to seek His counsel. It’s God that enables you to do what you do for your children. Even the love you have for them is God given. 

Have you taken time to discover that mandate God gave you?

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  There is work God prepared for you and if you choose to ‘rest’ now you’ll have interrupted His plan for you and for mother earth. Remember there are many people you already inspire, yours truly inclusive. Any decision you make will have far reaching implications beyond your immediate family. We may not be with you physically but we mind when we hear that something bad has happened to you and rejoice when something good also happens. Such coverage makes us proud of you.

You continue to say;

“… But Anne is also the lady who kept quiet when I made all the mistakes I made and caused much pain to her. Anne was the quiet woman. I bear the responsibility for that much pain.”

You definitely are carrying a heavy burden that is sinking you. It seems to be eating you from the inside and you don’t seem to know what to do. There is a way out brother. This is why Jesus Christ dies for us. His word says,

Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Christ calls upon you to reach out to him and exchange your heavy burden for his light one. He’ll sort you out if you only have a contrite heart. God’s word says in Psalms 34:18-20 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all; he protects all his bones, not one of them will be broken.” Turn to the Lord and you’ll be safe from all these demons tormenting your spirit. You have tried it all on your own and now it’s time to give God a chance.

In another post you say;

“… I always tell God that “look here. I’ve done my part in the world. Why don’t you take me away and I go and rest? But He doesn’t.” I want to go and rest. I feel I’ve done my best, the others can continue. I really want to rest.”

According to you, you’ve done your part but have you done God’s part? Have you fulfilled his plan for your life? This reminds me of the parable of the young rich man in the Bible that came to Jesus and wanted eternal life. Apparently he said he had done everything and fulfilled all the commandments. Jesus then answered him, If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” In your case this means that you may have seen it all, done it all and no longer see what else there is to achieve in Life but this is the time for you to put aside all your achievements and follow Christ. Believe you me, you’ll get the fulfilment you are yearning for. God needs you alive for now and the fact that you haven’t yet been called to rest, there is still some incomplete work.

“I tell God that ‘I love you. I’ve done what you want me to do. Why don’t you now take me away?’. I don’t now have to prove anything else.”

I am not here to judge you but use these yardsticks to assess your love for God:

  • You first and foremost have to know Him. How do you know Him? By reading His Word (The Bible)
  • To love God is to put him first. Mark 12:30, Psalm 73:25
  • To love God is to desire Him and yearn for his righteousness. Psalm 42:1, Psalm 19:8-10
  • To Love God is to Obey Him. This isn’t an issue of merely following rules and doing good deeds. It’s about having God’s love written indelibly on our hearts. John 14:15, John 14:23, John 15:10

“Whatever God asked me to do, I’ve done. I’m simply tired.”

Brother, I don’t really think so. If you had done ALL that God told you to do, you wouldn’t be weary. You’d be basking in joy with the accomplishments. In Christ is Peace and Love, No strife. I believe that you need to take a closer look at your relationship with God and see how you can know the unfinished business He has for you.

 Its also not upto you to decide when to ‘rest’ like you state in your posts. The giver of Life will also be the best person to decide when to take it away.

So, for starters, I request that you consider inviting Jesus Christ into your life and allowing Him to take charge of all you do because the word says;

John 14:6 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well…”

John 3:16-19 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

Romans 10:9 says If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

And Jesus further assured Nicodemus that, “… Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

Now if you haven’t yet embraced Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Saviour, just speak out these words;

“God, I recognise that I have not lived my life for You up until now. I have been living for myself and that is wrong. I need You in my life; I want You in my life. I acknowledge the completed work of Your Son Jesus Christ in giving His life for me on the cross at Calvary, and I long to receive the forgiveness you have made freely available to me through this sacrifice. Come into my life now, Lord. Take up residence in my heart and be my king, my Lord, and my Savior and my Guide. From this day forward, I will no longer be controlled by sin, or the desire to please myself, but I will follow You all the days of my life. Those days are in Your hands. I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Saviour. Amen.”
Congratulations brother for taking this step forward in your life. I believe you have begun treading the path that will give you peace, joy and ultimate satisfaction. Its no longer about you from today onwards. Its all about HIM (God). You’ve earned a ticket to eternal life.

It’s never too late to earn Business Expertise

I am not a fan of the current education system. A fact known to many that have followed me overtime. In my life, I chose to self-teach, guided by my curiosity. However, there is one bit of my journey I have come to regret. As I mastered and gained expertise in programming computers, I missed building expertise in business which is a key component in monetizing my skills. Given the opportunity to go back in time, I would start a shop or any other business on the side while I mastered computers,” lamented a friend of mine.

For all I know, this young man can never be classified as a loser. Infact he is a leading thinker among guys I have meet of his generation. Largely self taught, a dreamer that pursues his dreams without fear, I was taken by surprise reading this message from him. On the flipside, this could be a reaction of a fast thinker who believes he/she must notch up various accomplishments as soon as possible.

From personal experience, I concur with him. Many times we spend alot of effort polishing our expertise in numerous technical areas and forget to understand business. In 2006, I had a heart to heart with a leading Consulting Engineer in Uganda and he told me, “James, avoid the trap of the mechanic. You spend too much time repairing customers’ cars and leave someone else to collect and count the money for you. That someone will earn the money leaving you at sea.” I never understood that statement and even didn’t bother to seek clarification. Two years later, when an accountant I had hired, in a bid to cover her tracks of stealing company money set my office on fire, I vividly recalled this discussion and vowed to change my approach. I always wondered why Indian shop keepers never leave the till, but after this experience, I realised that you ought to be where the money is or else you lose out.

So, if you don’t have business skills like my friend just stated, what do you do? Start acquiring them. These are some of the ways you can do so;

  • Reading books. There are lots of self help books out there that can teach you lots of tricks on “how to” or “how not to” do business.
  • Interaction. Make it a point to meet at least two people per week who you believe can share freely with you their business journeys. They don’t have to be superstar businessmen/women because there is equally as much to learn from those that are riding the tide of success as well as those that have failed.kiosk_in_india
  • Pet Projects. Like he rightly put it, “… I would start a shop …” There are always some basic businesses one can engage in to master some basic skills. These could be selling Airtime, Mobile Money Agency, a roadside kiosk, commodity trade among others. They teach you how to handle cash flow, bargain, manage creditors and debtors, price your products or services, deal with workers, detect fraud, swallow losses among others.
  • Apprenticeship. Find someone or people who can mentor you in specific areas. You can talk to them about spending an hour or two with them to learn through observation. This can only be realised if you are in good standing character wise and have people that trust you.
  • Training. Even when you are fed up with the formal education system, it doesn’t mean that it is entirely bad. There is always something to learn through some of these formal structures. You may not be after the certification that is provided but at least get the skills the training offers. Careful selection of what suits you is important.

For an entrepreneur, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you have been at your game, you can always learn something new. As opposed to the formal education systems that put time frames for acquiring knowledge/skills e.g. You need three years to become an accountant, in this space even a few days are enough to arm yourself with relevant knowledge in a particular field of endeavour. You don’t need to master all the details of double entry book keeping in accounts. Being able to understand and interprete a bank statement, profit & loss statement or a balance sheet is enough to steer you into making prudent decisions.

Back to my brother, its not too late. Appreciate the fact that you have realised this need early. Even to you that may consider yourself too old to learn, change your mindset and you’ll be on course to run a wildly successful enterprise.

Why the Sebagala Vs MTN Uganda case is good for Uganda’s Intellectual Property

copyrightactIn 2012, the media was abuzz with news of Kampala City’s Ex Mayor suing MTN Uganda over some ring tones mimicking him. Ringtone Case: Sebaggala wants UShs8Bn screamed one of the headlines. Many thought that for once someone was going to floor the mighty MTN in a landmark copyright case. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case three years down the road when the ruling was made. Here is why.

I am a student. Can I do business?

“… I am a 14 year old student currently in my Senior 2. I am very much interested in doing business but every one I talk to discourages me including my parents. They say that I will not study well if I start business right now. Is it true that students can’t do business?”

This is an inquiry I received a while back and it sent me thinking. I will start by recounting two efforts I observed during my days as a primary school pupil in Buganda Road Primary School.

The first one was of my elder brother who having observed how people with cars in our residential area were ready to pay for any one to wash them approached our father and asked him for permission to wash cars. He had a decent albeit verbal proposal and it was one of him washing cars during the holiday season, saving the money and using it to contribute to his school fees. My father being the traditional civil servant who believed in ‘studying hard and looking for a job thereafter‘ vehemently objected to this proposal. Being the obedient son that he was, my brother dropped the plan.

Two classes ahead of me in the same school was a young man by the names Salim Uhuru. Each time class ended, he religiously found his way to downtown Kampala to work in his father’s restaurant performing menial tasks like taking orders from customers, serving, manning the register among others. When we completed primary school, as some of us were proudly embarking on our new lives in the then prestigious secondary schools, his father took him to a day school in the city so he could continue with his school/practical business education. Today, he is the proprietor of Uhuru Restaurants, having inherited his father’s business and has gone ahead to more than triple its worth.

These two stories teach us that young people too can have business ideas and even actualise them given the chance. We also learn that given proper guidance, the young can also run business and grow it alongside their pursuit of traditional education.

Teaching the youth how to earn and manage finances from a young age is crucial

Teaching the youth how to earn and manage finances from a young age is crucial

I grew up in the era where parents believed that successful people had to be Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers and maybe a President. Any one who deviated and tried to do anything out of the ordinary was looked at as a loser. This is the mindset society had then about musicians, DJs, Sportsmen and Sportswomen among others. Business was regarded as a route for failures who couldn’t get employed. Its probably the reason why for many years the known rich people in Uganda were mainly those with low formal (western) education.

The fear of money derailing a child in school is justified but it can also be managed. After all, from experience I know too well that even if you are shielded from making bad financial decisions as a young man or woman, the time comes when you have to make decisions independently and the mistakes you would have committed earlier with less repercussions come back to haunt you this time with even bigger repercussions.

So, my verdict is that as a student, you can do business. However, you need to study the circumstances under which you will operate. Your approach to this as a student in boarding school is different from that of someone in a day school.

There are numerous possible ‘light’ business ventures one can embark upon in a school like;

  • Selling Snacks: You can invest your pocket money in buying long lasting snacks, keep them for sale to students at a time when they have run short of theirs. I bet you they’ll buy like crazy depending on the choice of snacks. My son in Primary 6 and my daughter in Primary 4 when offered their favourite bottled Hibi Juice decided to start selling their allocation to other pupils for a profit. To-date, whenever they stock this bottled juice, orders from their classmates simply overwhelm them.
  • Selling Branded Clothes: With lots of cartoon caricatures and celebrities that have a cult following among the youths lately, one could print T-Shirts with these images/pictures and offer them for sale.
  • Scholastic Materials: Pens, Pencils, rubbers, sets, rulers, exercise books are some of the highly consumed items in any school. By stocking and selling to fellow students, a decent sum could be made. My daughter did stock Pens and Pencils in her Primary 3 and used to sell to fellow pupils that were in need at school.

Since business is best done based on identification of a need in one’s environment, your task will be to find out what that is around you that can be exploited to make money and yet also offer a much needed solution to the community. Just make sure that you do not slacken on your academics as they are equally important.

To the parents, develop an open mind, start exposing your children to finances as early as possible. The earlier they learn financial prudence the better because they’ll start making more concrete decisions earlier on in life and have a good head start. It’s not so much about how much one earns but how wisely one utilises what they earn.

Try your business idea below the radar

When one gets a business idea, there is usually this urge to do alot in so short a time. We live in a world where overnight success is highly celebrated simply because of the fast pace at which we expect to do things and achieve results. The regulatory environment has not made things any better. When you see the official requirements to set up a Garbage Collection business in Kampala for example, you just as well might not be able to start at all. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) does require:

  • A registered business entity
  • Human Resource capacity (Skilled and unskilled staff)
  • Logistical capacity (kind of machinery and vehicles available)
  • Financial Capacity (Assets, Financial statements and Tax Returns)

While I am a believer in compliance with authorities, I also believe in harmonising textbook requirements with the reality. If you want to start up a venture and believe the requirements from above are going to bog you down, then you seriously need to consider the option of operating below the radar. By this I mean, test your idea even without undertaking company registration, acquisition of the Trading Licenses, an Office among others.

How do you do this? With the garbage example, you could start by providing services to family, friends, relatives and neighbours. This will help you understand the dynamics involved, make mistakes on a clientele that is likely to correct you before abandoning you, acquire some operating capital as well as help you identify the right human resource and operational machinery that can operate at a bare minimum.

Of course you have to be shrewd when approaching business this way and don’t expect any business book to give you such knowledge. What am sharing is ‘street knowledge‘ based on my and friends’ experiences. This stealth approach also helps you build confidence, understand your pitching points, identify the gaps in the competition as well as position your service provision in a more competitive way.

Due to the lean operation that tends to characterise this approach, price competitiveness can easily be achieved in case you want to break into the market from that perspective. Another benefit of doing it this way is the gap you get to operate before your competition knows about you. Many times when you jump into the market with a big bang, you don’t only grapple with the need to offer services but also have to counteract the assault that your competition puts upon you. So, use the element of surprise, pursue some ignored market niches such that by the time the competition wakes up to your presence, you have a stronghold.

A small business in one of Kampala's arcades.

A small business in one of Kampala’s arcades.

A young lady with the dream of being a Publisher set up her publishing business two years ago and has been supplying different kind of books under her own brand name. She has been operating below the radar all this time but now that the business case is viable and she’s starting to eye the regional market, she’s ready to get out of the woodworks.

A visit to Nasser Road and Nakawa will reveal many small business owners operating below the radar. Printing, Clearing and Forwarding, Design, Software Development and Event Management are some of the businesses one can easily operate below the radar.

Good Luck.

MTN Uganda Cornered by the Regulator

For years, Ugandan consumers have complained about Telecom and Content service providers expecting the Regulator to act upon their complaints but all in vain. Just when many had resigned to fate, a regulator that had been deemed sleepy and a stooge of the Telecom players decides to strike. 3rd March 2015 will always be remembered as the day the Uganda Communications Commission redeemed its image. Find out why in this article.

How much money do I need to start business?

A week hardly goes by without being asked how much money it takes to start a business. On each occasion, I labour to explain why you just can’t sit and come up with a figure out of the blue.

Prior to August 2008, Mr. David Kabiswa was leading a near peasant life in Masaka district. As a wood curver, he made some income by selling crafts while complementing his meagre income with subsistence farming and occasional moonlighting as a teacher in a Primary school. Life was slow and money that others spend on an average shopping visit in a supermarket was a pipe dream to him.

One day, he was invited by a Women’s Group to an event in Kitaka, Nyendo. That is where he met a team from the Uganda Health Marketing Group and Base Technologies (now Barefoot Power Uganda Ltd). His interaction during that event earned him an opportunity to attend a Solar Micro Entrepreneur training that had been scheduled by Base Technologies. This training was a very big eye opener for him as he was able to realise the potential that lay in extending clean energy solutions to his rural environs.

Armed with UGX 110,000/= that August, Mr. Kabiswa invested in his first purchase of Solar Lamps to kickstart his new venture. What started as a ‘let me try and see‘ kind of activity turned into serious business which is now fully registered as Kabiswa Genuine Solar Solutions operating in over three districts with five branches located in Bukuya, Maddu, Bukomansimbi, Kiwangala and Bijjaba. Six years down the road, his operation earns him at least UGX 11,000,000/= (Eleven Million) monthly and offers direct and indirect employment to hundreds.

Now I know the debate begins here on whether actually he started off with what he claims or not. We could choose to get as detailed as we can if we want to, however, the moral of his story/experience is that from an insignificant financial investment he has been able to get so much. Just like a seed, what he invested has given birth to much much more.

We therefore don’t need to always focus on the financial outlay of our intended businesses otherwise we are likely to become non starters. Business is dependent on Opportunity and Resources. How well one harnesses the resources around them determines how far they get. It’s important for one to appreciate that money isn’t the only resource required to start a business. Resources come in-kind like skills attained, property, network of people, location among others.

Have you identified a challenge in your community? Are you passionate about addressing it? Lets take the case of the ever growing rural-urban migration. It has a direct impact on food demand and production. One might want to tap into the supply of beans since it is a commonly consumed sauce in Uganda. If you looked at the opportunity in its entirety, you’d stop dead in the tracks. Questions like;

  • How much do I need to purchase the beans from the farmers?
  • How will I store them and at what cost?
  • How will I transport the beans to Kampala?
  • What do I need to bypass all the traffic officers along the way that need bribes?
  • Where will I store the beans once they reach Kampala?
  • What sales outlet will I use to wholesale/retail the beans?

Depending on your mindset, you would be led to imagine that this opportunity requires at least UGX 15 Million simply because you are considering purchasing a tonne of beans for starters, hire/rent a store in the village, hire a truck to bring your beans to Kampala, hire a warehouse in Kampala to store the beans and finally rent a sales outlet. This might freak you out and cause you to either postpone implementation of the venture or abandon it entirely. Whenever you’re preoccupied with the money as you plan for that new business then know you aren’t ready yet. Don’t focus on the money, focus on the opportunity before you. Identify ways of pulling it off with the least use of financial resources as possible.

  • Do you for example have a rural home with some empty rooms that you could use as a store for the purchased produce?
  • Are there suppliers you can deal with on the basis of trust and pay them after selling off the products?
  • Can you bargain for a discount when it comes to upfront cash payments?
  • Can you partner with other produce dealers and share transport costs by hiring a single truck?
  • Have you explored the option of reducing the initial quantities purchased?
  • You could market your produce in advance such that its delivered to the customer(s) upon arrival in Kampala (This could save you urban storage costs)

From another perspective, you might be planning to set up a business in the City that offers services. Looking at your Business plan, the financial outlay could freak you out as it involves renting an office (6 months upfront rent), buying furniture, acquiring relevant licenses, hiring employees, day to day costs of the business, salaries, the list is endless. Don’t get held up by these figures. Think of ways you can avoid certain cost centres for starters. Case in point;

  • If your customers don’t need to visit your office, can you operate without fixed office premises for starters?
  • Do your parents, friends or acquaintances have an abandoned garage in their home that you can use as an operational base?
  • Can you hold on hiring staff and carry out multiple tasks until the cash-flow situation improves?
  • Can you opt for some cheap furniture especially through the second hand market?
  • Can you use the online world especially social media to build your business and interact with potential clients?
  • Can you get a friend with accounting skills to help you with finances on a pro bono basis in the meantime as you also counter offer them some services?
  • You may consider parking that car and using public means to move around as you work.
  • Consider scaling down on your personal expenses so they don’t hurt the potentially available money to incubate the business.
Business is usually rugged but there-in lies a crevice leading you to success

Business is usually rugged but there-in lies a crevice leading you to success

Will it be as easy as I just stated? Of course not. In such situations, one should be ready for a bootstrap approach. Spend minimally, delay the outflow of cash if possible, try as much as possible to sell on cash basis, you might be required to compromise on your comfort e.g. travelling on the back of the truck in the night as your cargo is making its way to Kampala, among other measures. They may seem mean but hey, who said entrepreneurship is a roller coaster? Its the reason we have more Worker bees than Queen bees.

St Francis of Assisi said, “Start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”

Mrs Enid Tuzaire a member of CELAC Bushenyi is an enterprising farmer who decided to save the UGX 2000/= that she had been paid as transport allowance to attend a workshop and use it for purchasing Tomato Seeds. She initially planted on a small piece of land but today boasts of 5 acres of Tomatoes.

If you believe in yourself, anything is possible,” once said Miley Cyrus.

Don’t be bothered by the money. There are always ways around it.