Tweet The most valuable lesson I learned while living in DC was the power of a good social network. A good social network will elevate your career, present ideal opportunities and most importantly get you paid. So when deciding to start a business in Africa, it is essential that you take the time to develop a network that can help ensure the success of your business.
In fact, I will even go as far and say that without a good on-ground network in Africa, undoubtedly, your business will fail. Several things account for this, 1) Africa is based on class and just like in the Western world, money travels in the same circle2) In most African countries business is still done face to face and 3) You are a stranger so you will need someone who can provide good consul and insight so that you don't go broke setting up your business.
So how do you build your social network. There are several ways.
1. Leverage Social Networking to Meet Like Minded Individuals. This comes with a disclaimer. You should not seek nor accept deals via online from individuals whom you have no direct connection with; it is a sure fire way to get scammed. However, making friends with people in the country you are interested in living will provide you with valuable on-ground information. It will also give you an chance to asses opportunties in various sectors and maybe even spark an idea for a new businesses. After all, part of creating a successful business is understanding what your target market needs and wants.
2. Talk to Your African Friends. I am sure if you think about it you know at least one African you went to school with, and I am sure you know at least three first-generation Africans (people born in the United States to African immigrants). These people are crucial to developing your social netowrk. Not only do most of them come from wealthy families, but most of them still have contacts on the ground that may compliment the business you are exploring. However, use discretion when sharing business ideas, lax IP laws make it hard to keep an original idea. Always just provide a brief overview with limited hard facts, unless you are confident that there is a colloborative effort.
3. Leverage African Institutions Existing in the States. Believe it or not there are many organizations in the United States that are helping private businesses enter the African market, such as Corporate Council of Africa, Business Council for International Undestanding and the U.S. African Chamber of Commerce. All of these organizations and others can help you find opportunities and viable partners. They can also start to put you in contact with people on ground.
4. Find Americans Already There. Most successful American immigrants who move abroad return to the United States regularly, and in fact, many of them engage in businesses in America and Africa. Figure out who they are and reach out to them. Before I came to Ghana I met Ambassador Erieka Bennett, who runs the AUDAF in Ghana. It was the catalyst for my business (ghanacellphonerentals.com). Not only did we work a deal to target students visiting Ghana, but she has introduced me to a whole new network, making my transition in Africa that much easier.
Of course, these four steps aren't the only way to build a network, but they will definitely put you in the right direction. Once you build your network don't forget to assess its value, becuase that is really what counts. If you are unsure how to do this, Black Enterprise has offered some great advice for assessing the quality of your network. Now, you just have to put it into action.