Interview with Titi Akinola, TEFConnect, the Tony Elumelu Foundation
How can entrepreneurs take advantage of the digital economy to expand their business beyond their country?
Let’s start by defining what exactly the digital economy refers to. In simple terms, it refers to an economy based on digital technologies; mostly perceived as conducting business over the Internet.
The rate of globalised trade is on the increase and has become intense with the advent of the digital economy. To scale your business for maximum profit, you will need to diversify your business and you can make this easier with the effective use of technology.
To achieve this, here are a few things to consider:
Get Mobile: Your business should never be tied to a single physical location. Enable your business’ global expansion with technology that facilitates “working from anywhere” e.g. laptops, smartphones, tablets etc.
Get Online: Who can see or access your products or services? Create a global presence for your business for maximum impact.
It’s in the Cloud: Augment your business by taking advantage of Cloud services. This will not only ensure you and your customers can access products and services globally, you will also save a great deal on cost of infrastructure, software, platforms, storage, security, databases etc. and not have to worry about associated operational cost.
Invest in virtual collaboration tools: Save travel costs and time by investing in online meeting/collaboration tools e.g. Zoom, Google Meet for meetings, Slack, MS Planner, shared calendars. The right combination of virtual collaboration tools will support cross-border project collaboration and advancement.
Find the technology that works best for you and your team: This is the most important of it all. There is a ton of digital tools out there. However, also be mindful that the technology that worked well for one business may not necessarily work for your business.
Don’t be in a hurry to overhaul technology you already have; sometimes an upgrade may be all you need.
Take time to choose the right technology/tools to accelerate your global expansion and your market reach will be inevitably astronomical.
How does TEFConnect, the platform, facilitate connections among African entrepreneurs?
TEFConnect is the largest online networking platform for African entrepreneurs and facilitating connections is one of its core foci.
We onboard different players in the entrepreneurship ecosystem i.e. Mentors, Investors, Buyers, Sellers, Trainers and Entrepreneurs across Africa; providing a platform for our subscribers to connect on varying levels. Interactions can be through the discussion forums, which connects people with common interests; the marketplace, connecting buyers and sellers; the training centre, connecting mentors to mentees and with study group options; and opportunity offerings, which connects investors to entrepreneurs.
TEFConnect is simply a giant connection-enabler for African entrepreneurs.
One of important things about expanding internationally is about finding the right partners and team members. How best do you think entrepreneurs can do that?
As an entrepreneur, ensuring you find the right partners and team members cannot be over-emphasised; even more so, when you are thinking of going global. This is very important and very difficult but not impossible. Try a few of these tips as you search.
Due Diligence: Ensure you do background checks before entering into a partnership. Do not be overtaken by the charm at first meet nor be swayed by immediate display of knowledge of the industry or country. Do not also be tempted to jump into a partnership for its quick gains. Take the time to conduct a proper due diligence on the potential partner/team member. Many business relationships have started great and gone sour as quickly as the relationship was formed. Ensure that your intended partner has the same values, expectations, objectives and conflict management style that match yours. How do they react when money is involved?
Follow their track record, their digital footprint; be careful not to stalk them. That’s just weird.
She’s my childhood friend syndrome: “My best friend” is not a good enough attribute to make them a great business partner. Business is a totally different ballgame and a partnership gone sour may ruin a good friendship and you lose on both fronts. I have witnessed many estranged friendships / partnerships that have stemmed from the childhood friend syndrome. Categorise all relationships appropriately and engage with focus. Friend, Employee, Consultant or Partner; where does this person fit in the business puzzle? Apply wisdom.
Trust and a Trial: Can you trust them with your life?….Ok, that’s a little extreme but can you trust them with your bank account? Perhaps, you may want to rethink the partnership if the answer is ‘No’. If you do want to try the partnership nonetheless, then let it be with someone you have worked with in the past with qualities you admire or a referral from a trusted source. Execute a partnership agreement for a short period to begin with. This way, you are not tied to the partnership should things not work out.
Complements of Strengths: This applies to finding a right business partner or team member. Make sure you and your partner’s strengths are in different areas. Make sure your team has a good cocktail of strengths. A great ideas generator may not be a good executor; a good salesman may not have good project management skills. Onboard someone/people that will complement your strengths.
Technology has made us closer than ever. However, to succeed, a business needs to adapt to the local culture, that may mean customising products or services to meet local customers’ tastes. What role can technology play in adapting to new countries and cultures?
With technology, we now have information at our fingertips, so use it to its maximum.
- Research: there is a world of information on the Internet. Navigate the Internet, Read & Learn.
- Network & Collaborate: You can do a lot on your own, but no man is an island. Join online communities and build relationships, learn from other people, ask questions, take polls/surveys to understand the country’s needs and pain points.
- If it helps, learn the language of the country of interest. There are lots of apps out there that can help you with this e.g. Babbel, Duolongo, Memrise etc.
With every new technological feature, the digital world is becoming even more important. How best can entrepreneurs expand their online presence?
Expanding your online presence can be seemingly slow, time-consuming and sometimes maddening but very important especially now that businesses and consumers have moved their focus online. Competition has also become fierce with the rapid growth of the digital world.
These tips never fail:
Show up Online: You probably have social media presence, but do you have a website? If the answer is no, start building one. Having a website is one avenue where you can show off your products online If you already have a website, optimize it, make it mobile friendly. This is crucial because by the end of this year, projection indicates that there will be 2.87billion smartphone users across the globe so searches will be done more on mobile phones than on laptops. Equally essential is the need to ensure your pages load quickly and perhaps include live chat functionality.
Embrace SEO (Search Engine Optimizer): Figures show that 75% of all online transactions start with a query through a search engine e.g. Google, so considering SEOs to get your website higher up on search engine ranks will give your business an edge. It is also worth noting that many people do not go past the first page of search results when looking for information on a search engine so the higher up your search ranking, the better.
The building blocks of SEO are using keywords relating to your business. Start by choosing 3 to 5 essential keywords that someone would search for that would lead them to your website.
Consistent Value: Steadily look to provide valuable content in different mediums e.g. articles, podcasts, publish an e-book/white paper etc. across different social media channels in your area of expertise. Be careful not to be everywhere on the Internet. Test the waters but stick to a couple of social channels that will best benefit your business and consistently provide value. Seek to become the authority in your niche. You know the saying, “if you build it, they will come”. Like a moth to a flame, followers are attracted.
Now, here’s the thing: content doesn’t always have to be your own original creation, you can also share content of value by another author. Have a good percentage mix; 60-70% of other people’s content and 30-40% of your own content works.
Engage: Don’t just post; engage with your audience/followers.
Network: Join online communities/groups with same interests as you; TEFConnect is a good place to start. Be an active participant in those groups (ask questions, provide solutions, give feedback), generally interact all with the aim of building relationships. Be seen, provide value, be known. Only then can people look for your social channels to follow and introduce you to other people or communities, invite you to conferences/events, refer you to others et al.
What advice does TEFConnect give to entrepreneurs interested in new markets?
Define your market: Define the location(s), demographics, and your target market; their interests and needs
Analyse your market: This is arguably the most critical step. Invest enough time to research your intended market thoroughly; who are your competitors? what are the potential entry barriers? what pain point are you solving?
Have realistic expectations: This way, you are not demotivated too early on in your venture.
Win at least 3-5 strategic accounts as early as possible: These are the fundamentals in the new market.
Invest adequately in Product Development, Sales & Marketing and Support for two years minimum. New market entries typically fail because they are starved of the resources they need.
Does TEFConnect have any other useful tools or guides for growing businesses?
TEFConnect, the largest online networking platform for African entrepreneurs offers an array of valuable tools for business management and growth.
Check out the:
Learning Page: Here you will find specially curated library of learning content packed with useful information to grow your business. Look out for our 12-week Entrepreneur Toolkit; a mini-MBA as it is fondly referred to by some of our entrepreneurs.
Business Tools: Take advantage of a few tools to help you manage your business better e.g. the Business valuation / Financial Management Tool and the Business Plan Assistant.
Community: Engage and collaborate with over 1 million like-minded entrepreneurs across the globe in a variety of discussion forums.
TEFConnect is undergoing an extensive upgrade and coming back to you bigger and better by November 2020. Here are a few things to look forward to:
- Tools: Find the right tool to grow your business from our directory of business management tools e.g. tools for: SEO, Content Management System, Sales & Marketing, building a website etc.
- Marketplace: Create a global presence for your products/service with our fully functional online trading platform (TEF Marketplace).
- Discover: Keep learning, Contribute content on the world-class online business library.
- Opportunities: Key into Partner/Investors opportunity offers.
- Community: Learn from and give back to a network of over 1 million entrepreneurs. Collaborate with international entrepreneurs, expand your market reach.
- Alumni All-starts: A dedicated Alumni page
The benefits and opportunities are endless on TEFConnect. Sign up today.