The idea of entrepreneurship has undergone some sweeping changes in the recent past, and nowhere more so than right here in SA. These are just a few of the reasons for, and outcomes of, people having an entirely different take on going into business for oneself…
Being an entrepreneur is no longer seen as being mad. It’s now socially acceptable, and even aspirational, to be in business for yourself. Look at the number of entrepreneurial publications and shows on TV, compared with 15 years ago. Everybody knows a couple of entrepreneurs, and in general, they sing their praises. The business owners in communities are now the role models, and no longer simply seen as the outcasts trying to ‘stick it to the man’.
Necessity. Sixteen years into democracy, it’s clear that the government’s not going to hand everything to you on a plate, so you have to look out for yourself. With jobs being cut across the board in corporates around the country, the situation of having no paycheque is becoming a stark reality for many. But if you’ve got mouths to feed, and bills to pay, what are you going to do? For many, going out on their own has been the answer, and they’ve never looked back.
People want to take back control of their lives. Clawing our way out of a massive recession has also shown people that you can’t even trust the biggest (supposedly safest) institutions to guarantee the sanctity of your money – and they’re wanting to take their wealth-building back into their own hands. One great way to do that? Invest in something you have control over – your own business.
People are starting businesses younger. If some pimply-faced teenager came to you with a business proposal way back when, the standard (and expected) response was to laugh him out of the door. These days, though, that young upstart could be on to something, and at the very least, he’s being listened to. More plugged in, more connected, the youth of today are flexing their entrepreneurial muscles in a big way. Hell, I started working for myself when I was 12. And starting younger doesn’t mean that they’re constantly swimming against the tide, either. Customers and companies are appreciating that they’re being engaged with by people their own age – in their shoes, in their schools, and in their communities – and the uptake has been a real boon for young businesspeople.
People are coming back from overseas to start businesses here. They’ve tried their luck, have seen that the grass isn’t always greener, and have realised that it’s in the emerging economies of the world where true opportunities lie. Worried about the ‘swartgevaar’ in the early nineties, they were on the first plane outta here; but now they’re returning – wanting to be here to contribute to the country’s growth (and make a good buck out of it, of course!) They’re bringing with them the accumulated knowledge of thousands of travelled kilometres, and applying it here. They’re approaching it from a place of inspiration, not desperation, and it’s making all the difference in the world.
Mixing it up in terms of race. In the past, you teamed up with your own ‘kind’, and that was that. Nowadays, you’ve got lots of guys coming together with their peers who happen to be of a different hue. Yes, this is a product of more integrated society – guys and girls of different colours working and studying together, which wasn’t happening in the bad old days – but they’re also tapping into the inherent benefits – think BEE opportunities, accessing and appealing to broader markets, making the most of multi-cultural approaches, etc.
Proliferation of small and micro-businesses. In the past, you either had to go big or go home. If you didn’t have your own premises and at least a handful of employees, you weren’t in business; you were just tooling around, or a hippie. These days, huge swathes of business owners are one-man bands, and happy to be so. And small doesn’t mean unprofitable, either. With the increasing reach of technology and the internet, you can have a successful, lucrative business running from a single laptop in your living room.
People are going back to basics. They’re realising that there’s more to life than punching in at work for 40 years, and then hoping that their retirement savings will sustain them. They want to spend time with their families and friends, maintain their health better, travel and see the world. People are now proactively following their dreams, with less fear of sanction by society. Only want to work 3 days a week? Fine. Want to go on holiday four or five times a year? Not a problem. The reality that living the life that you want to live is eminently more achievable by running your own show has kicked in in a big way, and is adding to the groundswell of entrepreneurship pouring over the land.