What does it mean to be an entrepreneur in South Africa?



What is an entrepreneur?

It baffles me as to why such a complicated word is used to describe such an important part of starting and growing a business. All it means is someone who starts a business. So please don’t be scared by the long term. Let us rather use much easier descriptions such as a “small business owner”, “business man”, “business woman” or “business person”. Usually this person starts their business on their own or with only a few partners. The term is almost always used for business owners or managers who are starting and running new businesses, typically less than a few years old.

Sometimes you will hear about the CEO of a large corporation being described as an entrepreneur. That is a little misleading. They most likely have some characteristics that we would expect to see in an entrepreneur, and a large business might run a small new division like an entrepreneur would run their business, but large established corporations tend to run with a fixed set of systems, procedures and rules in place on how to operate the business. That is not an environment where an entrepreneur is likely to thrive.

What are the characteristics of an Entrepreneur.

An entrepreneur or rather a business person running a new business will generally have several characteristics that will make them do what they do. None are essential, but at least a few would be required before one would consider the person to be an entrepreneur. Here they follow in no particular order.

Creative. It is hugely advantageous for an entrepreneur to have a creative mind set where they can come up with new ways of doing things that are better than the competitors or where there are no competitors. Creativity results in new products and services which may attract new customers.

Determined. It is not easy starting and running a business on your own. You will face many challenges and obstacles on your journey. An entrepreneur will need to be able to carry on regardless and find solutions to these problems so that they can succeed and not simply give up at the first problem.

Brave. Now I don’t mean this in the sense of bravery in the face of physical danger, but rather that becoming an Entrepreneur can be scary and risky. You run the risk of shame of failure, the loss of money invested, exposure to debt and the fear of the unknown. It takes a certain type of character who is prepared to take on those sort of challenges.

Self motivated. An Entrepreneur will often be on their own. There is no one one to push you to work, no manager nagging you about a dead line. Yes, customers will apply some pressure and so will any suppliers if bills are unpaid, but an entrepreneur needs to be working hard long before these external factors come in to play.

Go getter. I’m sure there is a better word to describe this but I could not think of one off hand. An entrepreneur needs to make things happen. It is no use waiting for customers to come to the business, instead they need to actively search for new customers, actively research their product to make it better, actively improve their business model every day.

How is a South African entrepreneur different?

Quite simply the answer is that an entrepreneur anywhere in the world will largely be the same type of person. In South Africa the role of the entrepreneur has become supremely important. Government is facing immense challenges in financing their existing wage bill. Corporate South Africa is stagnant at best for at least the last decade. This leaves the vast majority of South Africans with only one option of meaningfully moving beyond poverty and that is by becoming an entrepreneur. By starting their own business, even if its selling a few items on the street, or tinkering with an online store, or doing some paid services work in your local community.

So the South African entrepreneur is the same as every where else, but extremely vital to our economy.

The big business entrepreneur.

Earlier I said that Entrepreneurs were almost exclusively small business owners. There are of course exceptions. The well known Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame is by all accounts an Entrepreneur. He has started and grown the aforementioned businesses within the last few years and although they are now huge businesses, his innovation, determination and self motivation are more descriptive of an Entrepreneur than a Corporate Business Person.

On the other hand the likes of Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, would not really be considered an Entrepreneur any more. When Amazon was new, then yes certainly, but now the business is run like a corporate with many managers overseeing its operation and growth. The business does evolve with new products and strategies, but at a much slower pace than what a new business driven by an entrepreneur would do.

Are you about to become a new South African entrepreneur?

South Africa desperately needs entrepreneurs to start new businesses and help develop our economy. The reality for many South Africans is that finding a job in the corporate sector is becoming incredibly difficult. A weekly or monthly salary is something that most South Africans will never experience. One option is to try and start your own business. It is not easy and it not a get rich quick option. Its going to take time and effort. So try and get started now.

If you don’t already have an idea for a business, take a look here for some inspiration.

If you already have an idea but require financing, take a look here for some ideas.

If there are other things stopping you, take a look at our home page for solutions.