There us perennial debate that rears its head about why businesses started by black Africans, in particular, do not succeed. A popular belief is that black Africans simply do not support each other’s businesses and thus success is hard to find. To what degree that is true is a subject for another article. The question I want to pose is the issue of the roles of customers and communities when it comes to businesses, should customers support small businesses or is there more to it?
What is “support”?
As someone who has and continues to dabble in small business I feel it’s important we cut to the chase. The support that I refer to is support with your wallet or purse. Likes, shares, retweet and any other forms of hype are appreciated but let’s face it the bottom line is what matters. So we will interpret the statement “black (African) people do not support each other’s businesses” to mean African people do not buy from each other’s businesses.
I have every single person I have worked with on a small business of any type the simple question “why should people buy from you”? This is where ideas often fall apart. If your answer to the starts with you or your business you likely have a problem. The answer should be product-focused at least and customer-focused at best. So when people talk of others not supporting their businesses the first and most important question is why? And I’ve come to realise it’s actually the other way around.
Your business should support customers
This concept often gets lost in translation so let me make it as relatable as possible. In case you didn’t know Startupbiz Zimbabwe is a supplier of small and startup business plans. It supports those who intend to go into business and want to improve their chances of success. This is done for monetary compensation from customers. The business exists to support peoples choices. People do not exist to support businesses choices. Unless you are in the business of supplying some life-saving drugs people will continue to live without your business. Even then they likely have alternatives. Look at all the businesses you seem successful and/or supported. You will invariably find that they support customers. Delta supports our desire for beverages. Econet supports our communication efforts and lifestyles. And the more people the business supports in their choices and lifestyles the more successful it is. Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple, Alibaba and whoever’s else you want to throw in there. So isn’t it absurd to think customers should support businesses?
Let’s be clear
Just so we are clear on the idea, your business exists to supply some sort of product (good or service) which serves a specific purpose in a person’s life. This product supports the customer in fulfilling some sort of desire whether that desire stems from choice or circumstances. Even if you supply life-saving drugs as earlier stated it is highly unlikely that the customers day starts and ends with your product. What I mean is that customers have life goals and your product great as it helps them along the way, they do not exist for the sole purpose of purchasing your product.
Don’t be disheartened, they still want your product. The best lesson I ever learned in sales was “establish value before anything else”. To put this in relatable terms there is no such thing as too expensive but there are cases where the price exceeds the value. Your products are only too expensive if you fail to communicate value or overestimate yourself. Customers always think in terms of value and so should you. While marketing has blurred the lines the reality is people do not like those big brands they perceive value in them which they feel exceeds the price they pay.
So instead of complaining about people not supporting our businesses perhaps we should look at it the other way around. How are we supporting customers and the communities we operate in?