For those who have been following this column, you will recall that last week’s topic was “Developing Business Ideas”. In a previous article I defined a business as “A system through which a product or service is produced or provided to meet needs or solve problems.” Then I stated that if you want to develop business ideas, there are two things you need to do. Firstly, you need to observe and identify the needs and problems of society. What is one need or problem many people in your community, city or country face? If you think of a business as a problem-solving or need-meeting system, the playing field gets so wide that there is definitely one thing you can do. You will not run out of ideas. In fact, the only limitation will be your imagination. Or as people say, the sky will be the limit.
I have stated that after you have identified a need or a problem, the second thing you have to do is to assess yourself to see how you can provide a solution to that problem or meet that need with who you are and what you have. And I have discussed the importance of meetings needs using your natural talents, your hobbies and your special skills.
I informed readers at the end of last week’s article that this week’s discussion will be on conducting market research, but I feel I should dwell a bit more on business ideas because I believe that this area needs further elaboration. I would also like to share with readers my own personal experiences in relation to business ideas. Let me state right from the outset that the purpose I am sharing my experience is not to boast to you but to get you to think about what you can do for yourself.
Failed Attempts At Business
I have attempted several businesses. The first was a second-hand clothing shop. The second was operating a PMV bus. The third a piggery in the village. The fourth a fast-food outlet in the town I live. One thing that is common about these attempts at business is that they all ended up failing. There are several reasons why each of these businesses failed, which I will not get into here. But one thing I realize now is that I started all these businesses without any preparation and research. I started them mainly because I saw other people doing these things and seemingly making money from them. In other words, I was a copycat instead of being an original. Just because other people were making money, I thought I could make money too. I learnt the costly lesson that this was a wrong premise altogether.
In 2001 I tried doing consulting work and conducting training on coffee factory management, quality control and international trading (exporting). I based this business on my knowledge of the coffee industry, which I had worked in for some years. It worked for a short while but soon I realized that the market for my services was too small. Even though the industry is big, the number of players who would need the kind of services I was selling was small.
So I went back to the drawing board and started thinking about what I should do next. That was when I started examining what needs are out there, and my own talents, hobbies and skills. And that is how I ended up going into book publishing followed by motivational seminars. I realised that writing is one of the many talents I am gifted with. So I wrote Success After Graduation, my first book, and had it published in 2006. The book discusses issues which students do not learn about while in school, such as what the job market is like, how to write a job application and perform at an interview, how to develop work habits that will help you rise up the corporate ladder, what you do when you are fired by the boss, how to plan for retirement, marriage, and self-employment when job hunting becomes unfruitful. The book was self-published, and it sold out in the first lot within 6 six months. After reprinting a second time, I have expanded the book and am now in the process of publishing a second edition under a different title.
Young Money, my second book, was published in 2007. I wrote this book to help working class people manage their salaries in a way that can help them become financially independent and free. The need for such a book became clear to me when I saw that the bulk of working people were living in habitual debt due mainly to financial mismanagement. That book sold out within the first 3 months and I have had it reprinted twice already.
In 2009 I published Be Your Own Boss, my third book. This book has impacted most people that have read it. I am hearing that many people have started their own businesses after reading the book, which is exactly why I wrote it in the first place. Many of the articles in this column have been based on this book.
Steven Winduo, an academic from the University of PNG, stated in an article in The National of 16th July 2010 that as far as he is aware, nobody in PNG writes for a living. He was wrong, because I have been writing for a living for the past 4 years now. I am not saying that I am rich from this profession (hopefully one day I will), but I am making a living writing full-time.
Mr. Winduo was probably correct as he was discussing book writing for a living from the perspective of an academic. There isn’t a lot of money instance from writing poems, novels, biographies or technical papers. But I believe that if you write a text book and market it well, you can make big money because locally-written textbooks are a need in this country. You can in fact retire on one well-written and marketed secondary or high school text book that is in line with the new education curriculum. Most teachers have been complaining that the out-come based (OBE) curriculum requires teaching materials (text books and student workbooks) which are not available. Well, there is a need right there. If you meet it with your writing skills and teaching experience, you can literally set yourself up for life. Something for teachers and lecturers to think about.
Going back to my publishing business, I have identified so many needs in the country that I have a plan to write at least 10 different books to meet those needs. I will shortly be publishing 2 of my latest books, one of which is aimed at addressing the needs of students and the other the financial problems faced by church-going people. From the responses I have been getting from readers of this column, I have identified the need for a book on how to start a business, so I have started writing it. I have also been asked by many people how they can write books as well. I take that as a definite need, so I am writing a book on how to write a book. Two other books are on real estate and stock market investing.
Books are products I am developing to meet needs and address problems faced by many people in this country. Making money is secondary to me. If I can help people solve their problems or make their lives worthwhile, I know that money will come. That is the attitude you need to have. Don’t go for money first. Don’t start a business to make a lot of money. Do something that helps people, and money will find you.
When I published my second book, somehow Radio Australia’s Pacific Service got wind of it and did a live interview by telephone. Among the listeners was an Australian manager of Hasting Deerings (PNG) Limited based in Port Moresby. After the radio interview ended, he contacted me by email and asked if I could come talk to his employees. He also attended the launching of the book by Grand Chief Sir Paulias Matane.
In our discussions, he told me how much the company paid its employees, and how that the majority of employees were constantly running out of money and asking for company advances. He also stated how surprised he was to learn that many of his employees had been borrowing from more than one lender. He stated further that indebtedness was impacting on peoples’ performance, such that some people were not turning up for work on paydays because their debtors were waiting outside the office to collect their money. Some were even having problems in their families because of financial difficulties.
That discussion helped me realize that this was a nation-wide problem. It also brought back memories of observations I had made of the people I had worked with before. I also recalled how I used to run out of money too and borrowed several times when I was on salaried jobs. It further reminded me of a recent attempt by then Chief Secretary Isaac Lupari to stop public servants from borrowing money from finance companies, and how the borrowers colluded with the lenders to take court action against him because people felt that he was trying to cut off their sustenance.
I therefore designed a motivational training program called “Seven Steps To Financial Freedom” to address the problem. Financial freedom is the point in life where you do not need to work, either for yourself or someone else, and yet you are able to meet all your living expenses. You live the life of your dreams because your money works for you. This contrasts with what school has taught us to do, which is to work for money.
I am thankful to Hastings Deering for helping me launch the seminar part of my publishing business. The company took me to Lae, Port Moresby, Tabubil, Lihir and Kokopo to teach employees how to manage their fortnightly pay with a view to becoming financially free through budgeting, saving, starting businesses and investing. I have also presented this training to employees of the Coffee Industry Corporation, the Investment Promotion Authority and Barrick PNG’s Kainantu gold mine. This week I conducted pre-retirement financial management and investing training for PNG Power employees aged 47 years and over at the Yonki township. Next week will be in Hagen. I am in discussions with Air Niugini, PNG Forest Authority and Barrick Porgera as well.
Other seminars I have developed cover academic excellence for students, book publishing, real estate and share market investing. I have also been in discussions with several MPs about the possibility of conducting business training for unemployed young people in their electorates.
I am not telling you all this to boast about what I am doing. My purpose is to help open your eyes to look around and see needs and start meeting them with your unique set of talents and skills. After having tried several businesses which were based on what other people were doing, I think I am now in a business that is unique, because it is based on my own uniqueness. I am probably the only one writing and speaking for a living in PNG today. That places me as the first in the writing and motivational speaking market. I have two income streams which are complementary. I write books and design seminars based on the books. I get paid to speak, and I also sell my books.
I am enjoying every bit of it because what I am doing is inspiring other people to believe in themselves and realize their potential. People are using my ideas to start their own businesses, invest in properties and shares, etc. For example, I know of two recent university graduates who started their businesses after hearing me speak at a church. One of them has reported that he is now running a million-kina operation after only 2 years of starting the business! Many people have given up on betel nuts, alcohol, smoking and gambling, while others have come out of debt and have started to save money for the first time. And yes, I am making money from these seminars, which as I have stated, is secondary. I help people become successful, and I make a living in the process. That, I reckon, is the real purpose of a business.
If you do what others are doing, you will face competition right from day one. But if you do something completely different, you will be first in the market. That will give you a head start. My challenge therefore is that if you are really interested in starting a business, think of doing something unique. Think of needs which nobody else is addressing. In other words, think of carving out a niche for yourself.
However, if you run out of ideas and resort to doing what people are already doing, do it a little bit differently from the rest. Add your personal touch to it. Do something that will differentiate you from the others. This is the second best option available to you. The best, and more challenging option however, is to start a completely novel or new business.