Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Personal Politics

When I first moved to Ghana a year ago, every Ghanaian I met was happy. Yes, everyone. But as the 2012 election moves closer, I am starting to see an uglier side of Ghanaians known as politics.

Now as we all know, I worked for Congress at one time, so I understand the necessary evil of it all. But what I don't think I will ever get is why people are so personal with it. Over a period of time, I have noticed that people don't understand that politics is never more important than people. During an election year, people will demonnize anyone who they believe has opposing political views, regardless of an invidual's character during non-election years.

I find this intersting because I have noticed most people are seasonal politicos, meaning they never want to participate until they think it is a major election or event. Now I applaud the fact that they participate at all, but after a while, I must be honest, I want to lean over and tell them to "Shut-up"; of course, in a polite way.

I also feel the need to point out to seasonal politicos, that you are not an expert on legislation or the political process if you have never read the bill/law, never participated in party conferences or assisted your party in achieving any of its goals, you are instead a loud-mouth jerk.

The bottom line is this, no country is in its current state becuase of one leader, it is a series of leaders and decisions that have gotten your country this far. Therefore, it is never the fault of one party. Am I the only one in the world who believes you are only as strong as your weakest link? If not, then I am sure once you examine your party you will be sure to find some points of vulnerability and, well, if you can't admit your party has just as many issues as the next then please do us all a favor and quietly vote without causing commotion.

In fact, I strongly suggest people start using the same strategy as politicians, vote for the individual or measure that will make you most prosperous and not the party. If we can adopt this strategy, we may be able to actually change the way the world works.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What You REALLY Need to Do When You Lose Your Job

This morning, I ran across the Loop21 article, "What You Need To Do When You Lose Your Job". Now with a title like this, I am expecting some great survival guide, but instead I found lackluster advice such as, spend time networking with professionals versus going to the club or bar and immediately update your public profile and resume. I don't want to sound like a cynic, but who the hell doesn't know that?!?! So since I have successfully turned unemployment into my biggest opportunity I think I should give you some real advice on what to do when you lose your job.

1. Don't wait to be laid off before you start looking. Most people have wind of layoffs before they happen. The moment you hear of cutbacks, assume you are on the list, unless you have an unstoppable monoply of information concerning the company, and even then there are no guarantees. That cute little intern you have been working with for the past six months, was just offered your job at a 1/4 of the salary. Getting a jump over all of your other unemployed colleagues may be the one thing that saves your life and your bank account.

2. Cutback non-neccisities immediately. This is the hardest one. Most people become unemployed and want to look at it as a mini-vacation versus a long-term circumstance. Great way of looking at it, but the reality is you have two weeks of savings,if that, which means Starbucks and the gym are unaffordable as of today. Hell, the only thing you really can afford is Ramen Noodles- in moderation. From the day you lose your job, start living like you have been unemployed for a year.  The internet should be the only luxury you can afford and you may have to eventually cut that, so savor it while you can.

3. Figure out your Retirement- Understanding how much you have in retirement and  how you can allocate that money for your benefit is crucial. Most people look at retirement as money set aside for just retirement. But to a newly unemployed person, it may be the one thing that helps you start a business or pay off your car so that you dont have a car note. What will you do for retirement you get old, you ask? Don't worry about it,  be assured that in 30 years when you want to withdraw the money, thaks to inflation, it will probably only be worth $5,000. So be wise and spend it today. Remember, in 1976 $36,000 meant you were in the upper echelon of society, where does it get today? That is right, the welfare line.

4. Look at moving outside of the country. You know I had to throw this in. Figured out you have at least $5,000-$10,000 in retirement funds you are cashing out? Why not look at moving abroad with that money and letting it last you 1-2 years versus 3 months. Also, if you have a degree, English as a Second Language (ESL) programs are big in Asian countries and they are always hiring. Some of you may even want to consider Peace Corps.  Bathing from a bucket isnt my idea of a good life either, but for the adventurous types it may be the right thing to buy you a year or two.

In the end, there are various ways to turn your unemployment into success. But updating your profile and resume and going to networking events where the number of unemployed people is greater than the number of employed people will not get you the results you hoped for, guranteed. So take this practical advice and make a move before you get run over.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mid-Blog Crisis

I am not going to lie to you. Sometimes I have a hard time with this blog. It is not because I don't like to write, it's just that sometimes I don't know what to write. I am sure one thing most bloggers can relate to is finding exactly what your niche is. You can also relate to the advice given by all successful bloggers, know your target audience.

Yet until today, I was confused about knowing the target audience and finding a niche. For some reason I was thinking my target audience had one particular niche and its not true. What I have learned is that I should really be writing the things that I want to and not the things I think others want to read. Why, you may ask?

Because I am sure you are just like me; an individual who has varied taste and thirst or knowledge on various topics. So as a result, I can tell you I don't know what I am going to write, but it will be interesting and intriguing and trust me it will all come together to help you achieve your greatest destiny.

So please make sure you are checking back regularly and sharing the blog with others. I would hate or you to miss out on the lesson o a lifetime. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Leg Up

Yesterday, I found myself locked in a bathroom stall. Yes, locked. If I was in the States, I would have just crawled under the door, but unfortuantely most fancy bathrooms in Ghana have wood doors and don't leave the marginal space I need to squeeze my size 14 body underneath. So after yelling for about five minutes, I figured I was going to have to get myself out. So what did I do? I climbed on top of the toilet and hoisted myself over the wall and into the next stall and on to freedom.

Looking back at the incident I had to laugh becuase I found it similar to my experience as  an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are different people I have realized. We typically don't make the best employees but sometimes we find ourselves locked in that stall, waiting on someone to open the door. But instead, why not just crawl out yourself?

Yes, you will need amazing determiniation and tenacity, but, hell, if a 31 year old woman can lift herself over the bathroom wall, you can definitnely lift yourself to a new environment. This incident also speaks to the importance determination when starting a new venture.

Determination is one of the most important traits you will need as an entrepreneur, especially if you are going to try the African terrain. I mean, you can definitely wait patiently hoping for the right partner/opportunity or you can just take matters into your own hand and create the right opportunity that will provide you freedom. The choice is yours. The only thing I suggest, is do it while you still have the energy to throw your leg over the wall.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

You Failed, Or Did You?

Now, when many young people think about becoming an entrepreneur out of the country, especially Africa, they instantly picture themselves broke, homeless and hungry; huddled up at the steps of the nearest American embassy hoping to get a ticket back home. And although this may be a possibility, there are also a lot of great things that can happen to you even if you fail.

1. You gain international experience. How many times have you gone to apply for a plush overseas job and realized your chances of getting it were nil since you never lived out of the country?  Taking the bull by its horns and creating your own opportunity on-ground will not only show a future employer that you welcome challenges, but that you are also familiar with the terrain, and that my friend, in this global world is priceless.

2. You get an opportunity to revise your plan. If you start your own business in Africa and fail, at least you have an opportunity to go home and revamp your strategy. It may also give you an ideal time to find investors for your project. People like to give money to someone who knows what they are doing, and with a good business plan and your former experience of living abroad, people may acutally think you know what you are doing.

3. You get to wait out the recession. So, you come to Africa, start a  business and it goes under in two years or less.  If nothing else, maybe by the time you return the economy in the States would have bounced back. Yeah, I doubt it too, but if nothing else at least your jobs propects have improved. Refer to number one.

So in the end, yes, you may fail. Yes, if you didn't plan properly or chose the right investment you may have to go back home. But in the end you get another notch on your belt and what entrepereneur doesn't need that?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Black Wealth, White Wealth

When I was in my twenties, I admit, in my mind,I was a revolutionary. With dreadlocks falling at my shoulders, I was into all the things good revolutionaries were: poetry, 70's movies and good black literature. I also, of course, always looked for an opportunity to support a black business. So when I went into a popular black bookstore in the mall, I couldn't help but pick up a book entitled "Black Wealth, White Wealth: A New Perspective on Racial Inequality."

Now, that was quite some time ago, but the information I gained from that book has always stayed with me. It was the first time that I realized in order to have the success I envisioned,  I would have to seek greener pastures. Not only did the book discuss the economic policies and practices that isolated the black community from being able to capitalize in an era where America was seeing tremendous growth, but it also notated that with current inflation and other economic traps, such as mortgages and credit cards, blacks would never be financially equal to their white counterparts. Yeah, it was definitely heavy reading. But not only did I absorb it, I took it to heart.

Since moving to Ghana, I can say that I can see myself, for the first time, making steady financial gains, with new opportunities presenting themselves each day.  Living in a place where only cash is accepted and interest rates are high (16%-28%), I no longer have the option to live beyond my means. With my rent paid for the next year and a half, the only bills I have are a water bill and electric bill, which are minimal. I don't have a car note or even a cell phone bill, since cellphones are pre-pay. And, thanks to the bootleggers I can get all of my favorite American shows, so there is no reason for me to get cable. Even more fortunate for me, my cellphone rental company, only takes foreign currency so it increases my standard of living without increasing my debt.

In fact, now I understand the key to financial freedom. Now the only question I have is, "Will you be, won't you be, my neighbor?"

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Scared Money, Don't Make Money

When I attended JSU one of my best friends, freshman year,  was Kenny. Kenny and I were inseparable, in fact, some people thought we were dating. Looking back, it is funny how we became so close. We were from opposite ends of the world. Kenny was from the Caliope projects in New Orleans, he had served three years in jail and was on probation. I, on the other hand, grew up in a middle class neighborhood and was on a full scholarship, but somehow we clicked.

On his right bicep, Kenny had a tattoo that read, "Scared Money, Don't Make Money". Now, of course, I was clueless to what this meant so one day I asked him.  "Cardie," he said in his thick New Orleans accent,  " if you ain't willing to get out there and take some chances, you ain't goin' make it."

Ten years later, I understand completely. With the economic downturn many people undoubtedly find themselves afraid. With the high unemployment rate in the black community, even among the most educated, I am sure many of my peers have endured sleepless nights, " Why me, God" moments and plenty of tears, and I can relate.

When I decided to move many people asked me if I was afraid. The answer was yes, I was. But I also knew that I had to take control of my life, in order to keep making progress. For me, that meant pursuing opportunity outside of the country. I didn't show up with a lot of money or even have a job. But I knew the money I had, would take me further in Ghana than it would in the States.

Making the decision to move out of the country is never an easy one. You will miss an opportunity sometimes to first-hand share in your friend's and family's greatest moments. Since I have moved to Africa I have missed my grandmother's funeral and the wedding of one of my dearest friends. Yet, I still know that it is all worth it.

So I encourage you today to look at life with a new perspective an international one that, yes, may be scary, but is absolutely necessary for some. Because it is definitely obvious that the only thing left of the American dream is crumbs.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Circle of Success

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.

Monday, June 11, 2012

30 Years and Still Strong

I often swear the only talent God gave me was good foresight. It has been my saving grace my entire life. Well, that and my uncanny ablility to say good-bye and never look back. After all, part of success is knowing when to let go. Another. much more important,  part of success is also knowing when to make a move. After all, timing is everything.

So when I read this article about the economic boom in Africa. I was once again assured I did the right thing a year ago. Just in case you don't have time to read, or just prefer clif notes ( I am not the one to judge) the gist of the article is that over the next five years African countries economies will make great leaps and bounds. it also states that Africa is experiencing its longest income boom- 30 years. I guess noone can call that a fad, huh?

With GDP rates expected to grow at an estimated 5% per year, it is that the only place to create real wealth is in Africa. Oh and let us not forget to mention that 7 out of the fastest growing 10 economies are in Africa...and guess who made the list. That's right, Ghana!

With gains like these, entrepreneurs would have to be blind not to see the opportunity that is really exisiting. What industry or company do you think you could create in Africa?

Friday, June 8, 2012

Disconnect in Diaspora

Earlier today I was having a conversation with a successful doctor in Ghana about recruiting African Americans to move back to Africa. He brought up the point that the focus should not be on those African Americans who are seeking jobs, but the ones who can create their own opportunities, and he is right.

When I moved to Africa, it was never my intention to work for someone. Having come a few months prior, I understood the vast economic opportunities that existed in this terrain. After all, here, you can start a business with an investment as low as $3,000. And we all know that it is almost impossible to do that anywhere else in the world.

Now although I wholeheartedly agreed with him, I felt the need to express the challenge of really uniting Africans with African- Americans was slightly more complicated. Not only do many African Americans not have passports, but they also don't have the credit scores needed to borrow money for many of the larger ventures that would be beneficial to the continent. And when you look at the fact that American media has made them to believe that Africa is some sort of open petting zoo, they are discouraged even more.

If you look at today's issues it definitely makes you think that NSM-64 was effectively implemented. However, it is time for African Americans to really start pooling their buying power and investing outside of their traditional investments. Not to mention advancements in technology and rules and regulations, have eliminated many of the risks of doing business in Africa.. So why not invest your money in a growing economy versus a stagnant one?

It makes me wonder, have people really truly considered the potential of Africa?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

I Love My Country, Maybe?

Since I was able to move about on my own, I have always chosen my cities of residence after one visit. Some people are more cautious, but for me when it feels right, it just feels right. After all, some might say this feeling is the key to successful relationsips, so why not apply it to life.

The first time I stepped off the plane in Ghana, I knew it was home. I had visited several cities before then as I weighed my options of moving out the country, but Ghana felt good to my soul.

It is only my love for Ghana that help me overlook the small things, like meddlesome people. Ghanaians are known for stating their opinion on a subject whether it has been asked for or not. But it is fortunate for them that I love the country so much I am willing to hold my tongue versus snapping out on them and telling them to mind their own business.

Loving the country also has made accepting the people easier. If you can't love the people you can't live there. After all, as an expatriate at times you will be at the mercy of the locals and if you can't communicate properly, undoubtedly you will be packing your bags and heading home.

Accepting the people is one thing, but you must then be able to accept the culture as well. Culture is the most important thing when relocating since they are the social norms that dictate how people interact. So for instance, if you have great legs and love your minskirts, Saudi Arabia isn't for you, even if the job is paying six figures. Just like if you mind high pollution and the smell of urine at every corner, Ghana isn't for you.

So, where are some of the places you think you could surive? Look at the list of country laws before you decide.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Making Moves

The number one reason people don't think of relocating out of the country is because of the assumed cost. People feel that in order to make such a big move you have to have 5 figures or more. And, well, this is not necessarily true. When I moved to Ghana I had around $5,000 USD. I know shocking, isn't it?

Now this didn't mean I didn't have other income coming in, it just means that is all the money I brought with me. One year later, I can tell you that is all that you need. With that money, I have been able to find a home and pay rent one  and a half years, in advance, at the cost of $4, 471 and start a business, In fact, my standard of living has not changed one bit, despite me no longer making over $70,000.

So how do you also set this pretty situation up for yourself it simple. First, look at cashing out all of your retirement. I know it sounds extreme, but the way economy keeps going the American dollar is bound to deflate and when it does it means that 40k retirement fund will really be worth around 10k. So why not take a small penalty, take the money out and doing something worth your while. Hopefully, you live in a country that allows you to do this. Yes, believe it or not Americans, not all citizens have the right to cash in their retirement funds- aren't you lucky?

The next thing is to secure an income that is in a dominating foreign currency (US dollars, pounds, Euros). Now this maybe trickier for some. However, if you have purchased property don't be afraid to rent it out, even if your profit margin is small. There are plenty of countries where an extra $300 will take you a long way. Others may even be able to collect unemployment living outside of the country, depending on your States rules and regulations. You can also try to set up a small business that specializes in a special product from your new country; e-commerce has made international selling easier than ever before, so take advantage.

Now all you have to do is sell your belongings, get a visa and buy a plane ticket. I know it sounds impossible, but it really isn't. The one downfall is that this plan only works if you are recently unemployed (6 months or less). Once you have been out of the market for a while and your debt has started to pile up, the move definitely becomes a little more complicated- but not impossible.

So start your plan today to make a better future for tomorrow.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Shrinking Job Market, Expand Strategy

Just in case you have been under a rock lately, there is a global job crises. That's right, global. Over the past few years, the number of viable employment opportunities for young people has shrunk considerably in developed nations. Unfortunate for the 30 something crowd, the shock of this recession is expected to be felt for at least a decade. In fact, some say, young people will never be able to make the same financial gain their former counterparts did.

But don't fret, you don't necessarily have to ride out the rough wave when you can move to a new beach all together. Right now, developing countries are what's hot. If you don't believe me just look at the global strategies many companies have adopted. So if companies are diversifying their marketing strategy and looking at greener pastures why aren't you too? If your favorite company isn't hiring in your home country why don't you see if they have any opportunities elsewhere. You may be surprised.

Now, here is my disclaimer.  I am not going to tell you that living in a developing country doesn't suck at times. After all, you will probably deal with poor water and power, along with poorly constructed roads and odd smells. You will also give up late night runs to your favorite fast food joint and have to build a new social network. But once you get past that, if you can properly match your skill set with the needs of the market you definitely have the opportunity to be successful. Of course there are no guarantees in life, but I would bet my last dollar that you will have a greater chance of success.