In Malawi there are many opportunities: we are highly import dependent and for those goods that are locally produced the quality tends to be low.
Even for simple things like bricks and cement people prefer the versions produced in Zambia or Tanzania, our very own neighbours, because the local version is thought to be complete rubbish.
As I have stated in a previous column, if you go into business purely to make money your product will state that purpose loud and clear. Your prime concern in any business should be customer satisfaction. If you create a product with a view to making the customer happy, you'll produce quality. The problem is that this quality needs to be produced at a good price.
Here are a few simple ideas:
I'm very much stating the obvious here but every single person in Malawi needs to eat. The production of a food-related item is very scalable provided people like it.
Animal rearing - whether it's pork, beef or goat can you rear these animals and sell them to the big retailers? Selling to big shops is a great way of selling a lot all in one go; however, if the big buyer chooses not to renew a contract you'll also lose a huge number of sales all in one go. Ensure that all the while you're selling to big stores retail buyers know your business and will look for you even if you disappear from shop aisles. This is where branding and radio advertising comes in.
Condiments - new and innovative herbs or spice mixes are something that urbanites frequently buy. You don't even have to imitate something that is already being made, e.g. Nali or the Royco mixes, do something completely new. I hate it when people simply copy things that are out there: don't imitate, innovate.
Basic school bags are something that every child in Malawi needs. Can you produce something of a high quality at a low price?
You don't even have to produce this yourself. You can travel to China and source quality products. Many people moan about the poor quality goods from China but China produces a whole range: those fabulous clothes in UK and US stores also come from China. You get what you pay for and if you can buy large volumes you can get heavy discounts on quality products from the very China that currently sends us its cast offs!
Ceramics and china dishes are not scalable in Malawi. However, if you can source or create quality plastic or metal utensils different to what is currently available, you can do well.
The types of plastic and metal plates currently available haven't changed in years; it's the same thing year in and year out. If you can design your own range and get that produced you could do well.
4. BASIC PERSONAL CARE: SOAPS, LOTIONS, BODY SCRUBBERS etc.
Another scalable space. Makeup is less scalable because most budgets cannot stretch that far.
My own father used to operate in this space and by producing a basic quality product he was competing with Unilever (Lever Brothers) an international company. Don't be intimidated by the presence of multinationals; in fact, in the current economic environment many international companies are deciding to leave. This presents opportunities for Malawians to produce goods for their own people. Look at who's leaving and see how you can fill the gap.
"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on." ~ John F. Kennedy.
For 2 years until early 2014 I wrote a weekly personal finance and business column for Malawi's leading media house, The Times Group. The target is middle-class, working African women.
This is a reproduction of the articles that appeared in the weekend edition of Malawi News.