Recently, a young graduate told me, “I want to start my own business but I am afraid of failure.”

“Well, if you fear failure you will never succeed; not only in business, but in all areas of your life,” I told her.

“That’s not the point. It’s the statistics that are making me a bit uneasy. If nearly 80 percent of businesses fail within five years, that to me makes entrepreneurship look like gambling… the sort of thing where success depends on luck,” she said.

I had a tough task explaining to her why so many businesses fail and why success in business is not a matter of luck but something that one can achieve by careful planning and having the right skills and tools.

What came to my mind is words from a book I had just finished reading: Sell Yourself First by Thomas Freese.

Mr Freese starts his book by stating that in the state where he lives, “you have to have a licence to catch fish or own a dog, but you can refer yourself as a sales professional without any credentials whatsoever.”

This speaks volumes of how people treat entrepreneurship and is a major cause of failure.

When I was growing up, our elders used to tell us, “you go to primary school and if you don’t pass to go to secondary school, you will start a business or go to a polytechnic.”

This notion still lingers in our society where many people assume that other than little capital, starting a business does not require any other credentials.

As a result, we have many people who venture into business without any skills and are not in a hurry to acquire them through learning. After all, they are in business and have titles such as CEO, director, entrepreneur, consultants and so on.

Today if you call yourself a medical doctor without the necessary qualifications and licence and try to treat people, you will be in trouble before you enjoy your fees. But you can go anywhere shouting that you are an entrepreneur even when ignorant of what you are doing and no one except your landlord, creditors and auctioneers will be bothered with your abode.

Success in business requires several business skills. Unfortunately, having some of them in great measure cannot compensate for lack in others. You have got to have the right mix to survive. I will mention some of them here.

Financial management is essential for success. You need to be able to forecast your cash flow, sales as well as monitor profit and loss. You need marketing, sales and customer service skills to promote your products and retain customers.

You need communication and negotiation skills to deal with your internal and external customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

You need leadership and soft skills to motivate, influence or persuade people around you to support your agenda. You must be a problem solver and a peace maker. You also need to have skills in management of projects, time, delegation of duties, supervising and evaluating performance levels and so on.


This article was first published in The Business Daily on June 11, 2019.

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