There is a tendency for people to copy businesses that are doing well. More often than note they try to copy exactly what the other company is doing with no attempt whatsoever to improve upon it. We need to move away from this mentality!
Get Walking or Start Listening
My father's first big business was candles. He started a company called Candlex in the early '80s and it became a roaring success. When he started that business his goal was simple, to afford himself a basic car and to feed his family; he did a lot better than that. Do you know how he settled on the candle? He walked from shop to shop, analysed the products within and thought about whether he could make that product better.
You can do this exercise with ease. Walk into the many Chinese stores that have taken over every town and figure out what you can produce BETTER. Word of mouth is a very viable marketing tool in Malawi and when people get wind that you're doing good work they will come.
Alternatively, listen to your friends' complaints. Behind every complaint is a potential business.
The Government can also help to reduce Malawi's dependence on imports with duties, taxes or limited-time bans.
I am personally against excessive Government controls but if you have a genuinely good business idea you can lobby the Government to limit imports of specific goods using quotas or import duties.
It is critical that any such regime is for a limited time only because a) it makes local producers complacent and b) consumers lose out if they are having to tolerate lower quality produce.
Low Capital Ideas
So you're a youngster with lots of time but very little in the way of money? Turn to the internet. Internet usage is very low in Malawi so what you should be looking to do with any internet business is to either execute projects for companies or do things for Malawians in the diaspora.
For example, there are many Malawians abroad who would like to send friends and family members within Malawi gifts or presents on special occasions (birthdays, Christmas etc.). You can set up a website with images of the products that local companies sell so that people abroad can order via your website.
E.g. go to local flower sellers, take pictures of their flower designs, ask what the price is and showcase these designs with your profit added on top on your website. People pay you for the flowers either via a local relative or if you have connections abroad you can go into a joint venture with them so that payments can be received via a PayPal account that they manage. When the person abroad buys the flowers, they provide a phone number so that the intended local recipient can be called to collect or an address to which the gift needs to be delivered. You can offer to deliver to certain areas or within a given radius.
The same business model can be rolled out for baby clothes and children's toys. This is a business idea anyone with basic IT skills can start; it can also be a good forex earner.
If you decide to do this try wordpress.com or weebly.com for website creation; you can create professional looking sites within a few hours and with very little knowledge of "code".
"You are surrounded by simple, obvious solutions that can dramatically increase your income, power, influence and success. The problem is, you just don’t see them" ~ Jay Abraham
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.