Why school leavers should start a business

You’ve finally finished school; it feels like you’ve waited your whole life for this. What’s next?

Perhaps you want to go to university, but that’s not an option for a lot of matriculants: of the 624,000 students who sat for the National Senior Certificate exams in 2018, only 172,000 can enrol for further studies at a university. For many young South Africans, studying further after school is out of reach, either because they can’t afford it or because they have families to support financially and need to find a job.

The average salary for a Matriculant is R6,000 per month. But with 58% of unemployed South Africans being between the ages of 15 and 34, you can expect competition for these jobs to be fierce.

There is another option: entrepreneurship.

There are many advantages to starting your own company, including a chance to learn new skills, an opportunity to earn money doing something you love, and the honour of creating jobs for others and contributing to economic development.

Why entrepreneurship?

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs for two main reasons:

  1. SMEs contribute 36% to the country’s economy, comprise 40% of all businesses, and are expected to provide 90% of all jobs by 2030;
  2. Thanks to technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, it’s estimated that 50% of today’s jobs won’t exist in the next decade. By then, there will also be a host of problems that don’t exist today, and we’ll need fresh thinkers and doers to solve them.

Here are a few reasons why you might consider starting a business:

  • You can set your own hours, be your own boss, make money doing what you love, and have more time and flexibility.
  • You get to use your knowledge and creativity to change lives and leave a legacy.
  • An opportunity to develop yourself and others. Owning a business means you never stop learning and refining your skills – both business and interpersonal. You’ll wear many hats, including director, finance and HR manager, administrator, and marketer.
  • There are no limits to how much you can earn and learn.

Before you start…

80% of small businesses fail within the first three years. Here are a few ways to avoid becoming a statistic: 

Know your customer. 42% of start-ups fail because there was no market for their product or service. Is there one for yours?

Gather your resources. Improve your chances of success by improving your business skills, accessing funding (start-up and cash flow), finding a mentor, and getting support from friends and family. Find out what business incubators offer support in your industry.

Dive in. Identified a market? Accessed the resources? Good. Now, start. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Try, fail and try again. You’ll get better every time.

But test the waters first. Start small and test your idea with real customers. Implement their feedback – especially if it can improve your product or service – and test again.

Get a job. The best way to build a business is as a side hustle while you’re in full- or part-time employment. This gives you valuable workplace experience and also lets you build up a financial safety net.

Get an education. You need basic business management, marketing, sales, communication, accounting, and HR skills to run a successful business. As an entrepreneur, you’ll wear all these hats until you can afford to hire dedicated resources. Read books and sign up for free online courses.

Be patient. It can take up to three years to establish a business. Until then, you might not have a lot of free time or money but hang in there, it will come.

Start here

Coming up with a unique business idea can be challenging. If you can’t think of anything different, think about how you can do something that already exists, better. How can you make people care and how can you use your passion and skills to help people solve problems or add value to their lives?

Maybe you’re:

  • Good at Maths or English and can tutor schoolchildren;
  • Have a knack for fixing computers and gadgets and can offer repair services in your community;
  • Love animals and children and can become an au pair or pet sitter;
  • Passionate about writing and can help small businesses with blog and social media content.

Building a business is hard work. It requires sacrifice and resilience in the face of failure and unexpected challenges. Success doesn’t happen overnight but, when you are successful, it will be even more rewarding and fulfilling.

You won’t always feel motivated and there will be tough days when you feel like giving up. But stick with it, and remember why you started your business in the first place.