The modern world is changing at blinding speed. Much of this change is driven by technology. The fast pace of technological developments is hard for entrepreneurs in the developed world to keep up with, talk less of those who are struggling with basic challenges of emerging markets.
Despite the difficulties of the operating environment, young African entrepreneurs must take advantage of technology to leapfrog over their more privileged peers in other parts of the world. This post focuses on essential software tools and gadgets for achieving business success in Africa.
It's hard trying to run a business in Africa. The fast growing urban landscapes of our emerging markets are like minefields seeded with multiple challenges. Some of these challenges are:
- Irregular Power Supply
- Poor Data Connectivity
- Poorly Trained Staff
- Limited Access to Financing
- Poor Logistics Services
- Unavailability of Economic Data
Despite these challenges, millions of young entrepreneurs continue to survive, barely. Are you one of these struggling young entrepreneurs? Well, there's good news for you in form of readily available technology tools that can help you to start thriving.
Toolkit for Success
The criteria for recommending these tools are as follows:
- They must be readily available online
- They must be affordable
- They must be accessible, i.e. easy to use
The tools are organised into various categories: business planning tools, project management tools, human resource tools, computers and communications, office administration tools, web servers, research tools, marketing and e-commerce tools and logistics tools.
One of the keys to succeeding in a challenging business environment is proper planning.
As a young entrepreneur you probably can't afford expensive consultants to develop your business plan. Even if you could, I strongly urge you to do this critical task yourself in order to get a good handle on the nitty gritty of your own business.
When I first started out as an entrepreneur, I invested in an expensive software package called Business Plan Pro which cost a princely sum of $99. It came in a hefty package complete with multiple CD-ROM, a hefty book and brightly design d package. There is a much better option choice for today's entrepreneur in the minimalist and appropriately named Leanstack.
Leanstack offers a 1-page business modelling tool called the Lean Canvas. The basic plan is free for unlimited collaborators, unlimited projects and unlimited Lean Canvases.
- Price: Free
Once you have a business plan you will immediately be faced with the challenges of implementing that plan in the face of the communications and logistics challenges of the African environment.
With your staff spread out across the city on multiple assignments, battling traffic and inconsistent access to data, how do you effectively coordinate them, send instructions and receive feedback? There are many many great options for project management and team coordination apps but I recommend Asana or Trello, both of which can be integrated with Slack for team communication and collaboration.
You must use one of these apps- you will not regret it.
- Price: Free (basic features)
- Alternative: Asana
Finding qualified staff is often a challenge in emerging markets. Unless you have the deep pockets to hire full time technical and professional staff you will invariably find yourself relying on the services of freelancers for things like software development and graphic design. Upwork is the best option for this if you have the requisite forex in your pocket
Once you've recruited staff, how do you bring them up to speed quickly with company policies and in-house training programs? The best solution for this are the free company policy templates available from the excellent Workables website which also has tons of other useful resources.
- Alternative: Upwork
Computers and Communications
When it comes to choice of computer, you can't go wrong with an inexpensive Chromebook which runs at about --- .
Many young African entreprenuers dispense entirely with desktops or laptops and do all their computing tasks on mobile phones or tablets like the less expensive Android phones or tablets. The added advantage of the Android platform is that its software is open source unlike Apple's iOS platform. This option is valid and will still allow you to seamlessly use G-Suite office applications discussed in the next section.
Recommended: Android OS
- Price: Free
- Alternative: Microsoft, Apple, Linux
I have been using Google's flagship G Suite office solutions from day one when it was still known as Google Apps. Google were arguably the pioneers of cloud-based computing and their offerings in this space are unparalleled. Every young entrepreneur should be using the G Suite office applications like Google Docs (for word processing), Google Sheets (for spreadsheets and forms), and Google Slides (for presentations). With G Suite you will also have access to cloud storage space and deeply integrated collaboration features on Google Drive. Docs, Sheets and Slides come with beautifully designed free templates for your correspondence, presentations and forms.
One great feature of G-Suite is that you register with your own domain name and then verify and point that domain to Google's name servers to give you a customised email address like firstname.lastname@example.org instead of the email@example.com email address you might get with the free consumer version (Gmail).
Google even offers the option of registering a domain with them at the time of signing up for a G Suite account but this option is not yet available to users in Nigeria as at the time of writing this article.
G Suite costs about $5 per month but there is also the option of using the free consumer version which I mentioned earlier. However, no self-respecting entrepreneur (who understands the value of branding) should be using free email services like Gmail or Yahoo. If you are forced to use these options due to budget constraints, you must have a plan to upgrade as soon as possible.
Recommended: G Suite
- Price: Free (Basic Features)
- Alternative: Office 365, LibreOffice
While this post is not targeted primarily at technology start-ups, many non-technology focused businesses also have to make the decision of which web development servers to use for various essential web development services.
Recommended: Google Developer Cloud
- Price: Free for trial period and basic usage
- Alternative: Heroku, Digital Ocean
Research is vital for the success of any business enterprise. The World Wide Web is the main research tool nowadays and as you accumulate links, download files, images and other resources, you will quickly realise that you need some means of managing the huge volume of useful information at your fingerprints.
The best solution for this in my opinion is the excellent free app Evernote which is available for iOS and Android and also as a web app. Alternatives include Microsoft OneNote and Google Keep which are also free.
For more targeted market research needs use Typeform to generate online surveys.
- Price: Free Basic Account
- Alternative: Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep
Marketing and E-Commerce
The populate photo app Instagram is a great free app for marketing your products and services which now also offers paid adverts to expand your reach. Other options in this space include Twitter and of course Facebook.
- Price: Free; Paid Promoted Ads
E-Commerce and Payment Solutions
If you require more custom tailored e-commerce solutions, you should consider signing up with Konga .
For payment solutions there are numerous options. Many entrepreneurs just starting out simply provide their bank account details for online or mobile transfers. Others require more tailor made payment solutions from providers like Paypal or locally developed payment gateway like Interswitch which are offered through many Nigerian banks. One new product in this category is Moneywave, a payment solution offered by the new generation Nigerian payment platform Flutterwave.
The poor state of mass transportation and logistics in many African cities has led to the rapid adoption of Uber by young entrepreneurs. There are a number of locally developed competitors in this space but they are yet to rival the design, simplicity and attention to details of Uber. This is a challenge to our young entrepreneurs.
Leveraging available tools and technology is essential to business success in challenging environments in emerging markets, particularly for young entrepreneurs with limited resources and support systems.
This post has tried to identify some readily available solutions.
For easy reference, here is a summary of the tools we've talked about:
- Asana; alternative: Trello
- G Suite
- Google Developer Cloud
Do you have any recommendations for great technology tools? Please let me know in the comments. I'm always on the hunt for new things to try out.