By Sammy Karanja, CEO, ISTAK
In my (nearly) two decades in the market place from 2002, I have learned a few lessons on Market Place Ministries. Some of these lessons had a very painful effect on me because, at that time, I didn’t have anyone to walk me through as a mentor. This was either by God’s design, my hard-headedness or even both.
I have come to a realization that the nation of business involves Industry (production of goods and services), Commerce (transactions done), and Finance (value accredited to a good or service) and monetized either with cash (money), or virtual/digital currency. This nation of business is a War Zone! The king of Tyre (Satan) himself supervises this nation. The victory is in the knowledge of how to plug into the most powerful, and most advanced business system of the Government of God. You can’t dismantle this nation as an individual – it has swallowed many because the gatekeepers are ruthless.
The other challenge I have experienced is how to effectively monetize my goods or services. Many of us don’t know the true worth of our services thus give out the services at throwaway prices. The world interprets this as sub-standard or as a sign of desperation no matter their good or excellent experience in interacting with your goods or services.
Lastly, in this nation of business oftentimes, the end justifies the means. The process of making a principality is ‘painfully painful’. Maybe some of us are quick to learn and adapt but as for me, it has been to hell and back. I actually think I will write a book on my experiences.
Looking back at my experiences, my strong advice to brethren is that you must identify a mentor to walk with you. You have to honor the grace in them and you will reap big at the end of the journey. There are people who don’t look like they know much but whatever they do will always blow like a nuclear powerbomb – that’s called grace. If you find such mentors, identify and honor the grace at work in their lives. Sit down and learn from them. You don’t need to go through what another person has gone through when you can humbly submit under them for mentorship and what took them twenty years can take two years for you.
HOW WILL BUSINESS LOOK LIKE POST-COVID19?
Post-Covid19 businesses will need to embrace more technology/online space. With the current situation, people are slowly getting comfortable with online services. While things might get back to how they were before, many people will already have settled online. The wise thing to do at this time while in quarantine is to invest time, effort and money in getting your business and ministry a better online presence. Then build infrastructure to support that. It could be a website, social media, delivery infrastructure, online learning/classes, webinars, etc. Any business that’s not set up for online presence is set up to fail post Covid19. There is a shift in buying and we must be ready to grab it.
Every effective business should have an online presence. Technology is dynamic and Covid19 has opened so many online businesses where you just walk through a store online, order and your goods are delivered in record time.
This is the time to prepare, build content, come up with educative blogs, strategic branding, etc in order to stay alive after the crisis and the storm is over.
As a Kingdom business, you should look out for partnerships that can push your business or ministry forward. Like the recent partnership between Posta and Jumia to deliver for free to upcountry people for the next few months. That will open something that cannot be easily closed later. This means that now you can sell to people in Bomet or Kitale or Meru. But to do that, you need to set up from your end.
KFC has also partnered with Jumia Food. The two brands even have shared branding. It’s a shared profit margin but by putting their brands together they are likely to push higher turnovers than they would individually.
Partnership is the new currency of business. You can think of it this way – eat the whole (small) grape by yourself or eat a slice of a big watermelon with others.
Business will bounce back with a bang, that is for sure and the next sector that will take a huge limp is manufacturing ie locally produced goods. The appetite for locally produced goods and services is going up and in this time of Covid19, our capacity has been tested.
China is closing down in many goods and services they provide the world because foreign governments have seen the huge dependency on Chinese products. So imports of even electronics like simple power switches will cost you more than if you purchased locally. This means it’s high time to plan and start migrating to cottage industries.
Cottage Industries Defined: These are the home-based units of production which rely on human or animal propelled skills and technology. They are characterized by accessibility to raw materials, low costs of operation, and proximity to markets. Examples include pottery, crude sugar production, brick-making, liquor production, quarrying and masonry, carpentry, traditional medicine production, charcoal production, basketry and weaving, baking, bicycle repair, flour grinding, shoemaking, and repair, etc).
It’s not that China has huge factories, not at all. However, China has embraced cottage industries where they produce pipes, toothpicks, matchboxes, etc that are exported to other countries all over the world. Such simple products but make huge economic growth for China.
We need to wake up and appreciate the raw sources of wealth that surround us. We have the advantage of coming up or making products that can also be exported outside the country at the right time. This could be the greatest season of new innovation. It’s a wake-up call even to importers in Kenya – we need now to migrate to local production.
As ISTAK, we plan on pushing for lower costs of power that will facilitate low production costs. I believe that the Government of Kenya has experienced the pinch so they will give this concept better attention. We have a great opportunity of using our own raw materials in coming up with products that also promote tourism in our nation. From production to packaging, to branding – all these need to be original and authentic.
A big challenge with manufacturing in the country is the cost of production especially energy. How can we overcome this? We need disruption in the energy sector.
Many governments are on their knees economically because, for many, the energy sector has been a cash cow. This is the same situation in Kenya currently. The conversation has recently changed because for any government to survive they must empower their own people. The energy sector will have a huge transformation I believe. We need new wineskins in this sector and it’s already happening.
As Kingdom citizens with the power of change, we need to speak and declare life into this sector as we pray and support new wineskins that can be used by God to bring the transformation that is needed.
Tax regimes in our country do not allow local manufacturing to be competitive. How can this situation change?
Kenyan manufacturers are heavily taxed. The Government can’t grow the economy on taxing businesses and people but through production. These are some of the things we are discussing with the Ministry of Trade and Industrialization. ISTAK facilitates local manufacturers, especially when importing raw materials. We are also looking into having more SEZ (Special Economic Zones) where one is provided with production spaces at very low prices and availability of power which is cost-shared. This will bring back life to our economy through manufacturing.
There are also suggestions for counties to be included and given more leeway to support industrialization in their areas of strength. This will boost manufacturing also at grassroots.
There will also be a big demand in consultancy services for businesses/companies/governments looking to mitigate risk, re-focus, and re-build. Therefore, for those able to offer knowledge it makes sense to position yourself during this time of quarantine. This would include updating your resume, websites, previous clients’ testimonials and getting the right registrations and licenses required for you to consult on various issues.
It’s also important to note that government agencies are looking for solutions to cushion SMEs post Covid19. You should use this time to draw strategies and document solutions to be ready when they are required. This will include economic stimulus programs to mitigate the deaths of SMEs. These will be some of the highly sought after services after this pandemic passes.
ASK SAMMY KARANJA
For those not already in business, is this season unfit to set up any outfit? The current talk in the Market Place is not to invest yet, but to hold the business concept until the pandemic is over. What are your views?
This is a time to watch the wave and identify the needs in the market. An example, after the pandemic, it’s possible that many people will opt to have their salon and barber services done at the comfort of their homes where they can control the hygiene of their environment. You can evaluate this by looking at the demand in blow-dry machines online and other hair-related equipment.
For now, I wouldn’t advise one to start any business but to set up a system where they will dive in when the right time comes. This is because timing is very important in any business venture.
Also, look for potential partnerships but don’t engage yet until you see their resilience and their come back. It’s true that many businesses will need partnerships after this pandemic is over.
What qualifies a business to the status of an SME worthy of joining ISTAK?
Any business that has an annual turnover of Kes 100milllion downwards qualifies to be in the SME bracket. We now have MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Entrepreneurs). From Mama Mboga who makes Kes 200-500 per day (ie. Kes 6,000-15,000 per month) to businesses that make Kes 8million per month. ISTAK is purely an advocacy entity and we litigate issues affecting our members with different government agencies.
Membership subscription is Kes 5,000 per annum because we want it to be affordable to all in the SMEs bracket.
What strategies did you apply in working on your own weaknesses/ boldly taking up leadership roles especially when you didn’t have the courage or the business know-how?
Boldness is not the absence of uncertainty but suppressing the latter to push what you believe in. I often do a very candid evaluation on myself because in the past I have made so many mistakes because of rushing into positions when ill-prepared. I am not where I am supposed to be, however, the many grievous mistakes I have made have informed my position today. When I realized that, now I always ask the Holy Spirit to expose me to me because He is raw in making us. I have also learned to listen a lot and speak less in order to plug into the frequency of each meeting. I read widely and research a lot to the best of my ability.
How do you deal with self-confidence when you sit in meetings with “greater minds”(meaning self-actualized entrepreneurs) who may not always submit to your leadership, especially owing to your Christian faith?
Self-confidence is a gift to overcome fear and one grows into it over a period of time. Though your voice may shake in the beginning, take a sip of water before making a point to calm your nerves down. My experience at Kingdom Academy helped me work on this also when I was an assistant lecturer and then a senior lecture for some time. It was such a great opportunity to grow my capacity. Concerning my Christian faith, I am bold enough to express my convictions because the world has no apologies for doing the same concerning their convictions.
How can Christian brethren pull their strength together in deliberate networking and partnerships amongst themselves?
Brethren should take time and share personal, business, and professional profiles. That way they can find opportunities to network and form partnerships according to their strengths.
Remember the adage;
What you need is two people away from you.
What kind of businesses are still running & seem to have risen as a result of Covid19? How can Christian brethren plug in?
As we discussed earlier, we are in a long stretch of fighting this pandemic and the immediate opportunities presenting themselves are in supply of sanitizers, face masks either to the government or on retail, food supplies like wheat and maize flours and the delivery business. If you can have a platform where people can have access to supermarket products, deliver to their doorsteps and receive payment on delivery, there is a huge opportunity there.
Kenya is also a huge consumer of cosmetics. With all the natural hairstyles by both male and female Kenyans, reliable products are a dream, including coconut, shea, etc. .
How can one measure a good mentor/partnership?
As mentioned earlier, the nation of business is “a war zone” and “the gatekeepers are ruthless.” This painful truth is usually not known until one is right inside and fighting for survival. So many people have (worthy) goods and services that are just stifled to death by this dynamic. Therefore, a mentor is critical.
It is usually challenging and costly getting someone to walk you through. Some are very expensive to acquire and while others may not charge, they may never give full attention or have limited experience in your area of expertise. I, therefore, believe whoever finds apprenticeship in an area or field of experience should value it immensely and glean as much as they can.
Even formal employment in that specific field is a worthy time-investment to actualize the dream. Unfortunately, very few people give themselves to the service of others. The Bible clearly states that we should be faithful in another man’s venture to demonstrate that we can be faithful in our own venture.
It’s also important to note that sometimes the best teachers don’t look like it but their journeys are worth an ear. Making a principality is “painfully painful” but it will happen for those that stay the course…
To some extent, life’s experience remains the best teacher. I therefore advise that DOING starts you on the journey.
Read books on people in your field, even in different markets for actionable wisdom. It has been said in the past that if you need to hide something important from an African, hide it in a book. This is slowly changing and as Christians, we should be good readers – of the Word of God and of other books to empower ourselves.
- The World is a Flat – Powerful book on workable business systems and the paradigms of captains in the Market Place.
- Four reasons entrepreneurs need mentors – Standard Digital News – https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2001366445/4-reasons-entrepreneurs-need-mentors.
- Jack Ma on Business Strategy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsQ7ysVt-0A
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR, SAMMY KARANJA
The Chief Executive Officer – Importers and Small Traders Association of Kenya (ISTAK)
As the Chief Executive of ISTAK, he hosts a membership of over 50,000 members country wide with it’s presence in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Eldoret.
The Association’s Mandate is advocacy, contributing to policy making by different Government agencies which directly affects Micro, Small and Medium Enterprenuers and disseminating the information from the Boardrooms to the Enterprenuers. They also host 15,000 Importers who do consolidated Cargo.
Mr. Karanja sits in the SMEs stakeholders Board constituted by the President to facilitate the free flow of Imported goods brought by SMEs and also a Director of ACUMEN LINK FREIGHT & LOGISTICS LTD which has Offices in China and Dubai. Our logistics company is efficient and we observe high levels of integrity including full payments of taxes. We also advice our clients on tax issues.