This is a guest post I wrote a few months ago, I’m the Owner & Designer at KILIFORI a communication agency in Cameroon. I think it really increases our learning curve and everyone involved can take something positive away from it. What we need in order to build successful Africa Businesses are inspiration, guidance, and instructions! It’s starting with a short interview that was conducted by Dr. Harnet Bokrezion for Africa Business JumpStart followed by my blog post.
Lionel, thanks for submitting a guest post, please tell us when did you arrive in Cameroon?
I left France and arrived in Cameroon in June 2012. This was actually my second attempt to come back to Cameroon. The first was in 2009, but I think I wasn’t ready yet at the time and it was a challenge to leave my comfortable life in Europe behind. I even had the opportunity to live in the US where I was back in 1999. But something was always calling me back to Cameroon. I have been here almost two years now.
Why did you decide to leave Europe and start a business in Africa?
I like to say that I love competition, but if there is no competition like in Cameroon it is an incredible opportunity and I simply wanted to use that. My business is in the area of ‘graphic design’ this is something that is fairly new to the continent at large. You don’t need to convince a Westerner about the values design will bring to his or her business. But in Africa it is a completely different case. How do you convince an African business that struggles with internet access, electricity cuts, and management issues to focus on design and branding? That’s the challenge. Yet I wanted to bring design into those areas and businesses, because they need it the most.
How was the process of setting up your business in Cameroon once you arrived there?
In Cameroon registration takes some time – about a month and half. The government does not really assist your business at any stage and neither do the banks. Huge companies are the only ones that get some attention, but not the SMEs. We are all start up owners really, most of the people I know anyway.
What are your lessons or tips for those who want to start a business in Cameroon or other African countries?
It is good to get some contacts and maybe even customers before you register, that will keep you going in the beginning. Opportunities are vast but everything in this country takes time. People are not ready for what you have to offer so you need to stop selling to them and start teaching instead. The real key to success is perseverance. I’d be glad to be in touch with Diaspora or foreign business owners who would want to settle down here – they can contact me.
How I Started A Graphic Design Business in Cameroon
There are so many good vibes I know about Africa. Its warmth, its generosity, its landscape, its people, and its art. African’s art is so vibrant and beautiful. But the reality is that much of this huge talent and potential often goes down the drain and that saddens me.
I’ll always remember the day when I visited my uncle’s house. We were sitting in the living room, watching some local advertisement on TV – it was a cosmetics ad, the visuals were ugly and badly executed, like they were made in the 70’s – and then my uncle mused. “I really admire Africans who are building things. I mean…real things,” he said. “There’s a great deal of creativity involved in manufacturing. I don’t know about your work, son, but there’s one thing that I’m sure of: It’s not the same. You do all that design stuff for businesses, but marketing is not creativity… and there are so many people who kind of do the same thing. I talk to them every day!”
His words left me aghast, it wasn’t the first time –and certainly may not be the last– that I’ve heard something similar since I landed in Cameroon, two years ago. But why am I still having a hard time to deal with it?
Fortunately, -I guess- I can explain it! Let’s go back to where we were: what did they tell you about Africa? It’s a rich and beautiful continent, right? Great tourist destination! Most people will tell you great stories about South Africa, Morocco, Ghana, or Kenya. But you’ll never hear much about other African countries. Here’s a fact: tourism is a major development factor. It can change mentalities, drive business, make the market in those countries more competitive and hence they will craft better products as a result. Those are the lucky ones, but what about the other countries? They clearly don’t have this kind of exposure.
Slowly but surely, their business owners became only driven by profits. Bear with me, that’s the most dangerous part: anything is good to make money and even mediocre products can make your business tons of money. “Creativity? Innovation? Competitiveness? Customer care? What for? We want profits, we need to survive! We’ll pump more and more products out there, make some import/export and staple food businesses” They say. “That will be great.”
I am not thinking that this is the “African way of thinking”, this is an issue all over the world, but the feeling runs deeper where poverty, lack of education, diseases, lack of energy and technology are involved.
Will the profits last forever? It’s easy to forget that good first impressions cement the path to good communication. Every step and every contact a company makes is a precious occasion to win new customers. I am just stating the obvious there but, unfortunately, things are not going this way. Because we live in a greedy society.
My business strategy for Africa: Teaching not Selling
So I start the way forward with my business in Cameroon by teaching. I am in it for the long-run, and this is what I ask my potential customers:
What is a company’s greatest asset to:
- Gain exposure
- Bring professional credibility
- Tell a great story
- Define a clear vision
- Differentiate itself from the competition
- Drive great marketing and management results
- Make people believe
- Make a long lasting impact
Take a wild guess?
It’s its logo !
Let me tell you what most businesses do. They ask interns to do it, or they buy cheap services. Why they do it? Because it simply does not as important as the business plan or the financial strategy in their schedule. So many in Africa get trapped into clichés.
Clichés are easy symbols we associate with things, people, cultures or countries. In Africa, eight or nine businesses out of ten will get an African continent as a logo. Make it worse, they use a country flag; and even worse than that, the planet earth.
[note by Africa Business JumpStart admin: Logo with African continent? Ok, we are found guilty of that]
So how can you increase your image and professionalism in front of investors or bankers when your competition already pitched to them with the same kind of identity?
Let me bring you a real case study: AGS
1/ The Brief
I will drive you through the logo design journey of the company Africa Global Strategy (AGS). AGS is a resin maker and supplier for the building industry. Their offices are in Cameroon and they are really great at what they do. In some parts of Africa, the humidity is so strong that the house walls start cracking and the paint forms crusts that can be removed with your thumb. ABS has a solution for that: its original resin solution can keep building foundations sealed to any form of moisture.
Problem: AGS did not have a logo.
2/ Ideas & Brainstorming
Resin is about chemistry, molecules, a perfect balance, symmetry, a harmonious blend of small elements. These are examples, just keywords.
I write everything that cross my mind on a board. Mind mapping ideas helps me to be more focused and specific about the actual issues raised during the client’s brief.
3/ The Pen is Mightier…
I always start my projects on a paper, it gives you freedom. You can erase, get a feeling of what is right or wrong, and make quicker decisions.
And it allows you to explore multiple ideas faster. Sketching injects a human touch to a concept.
4/ The Software
Once the sketching phase is finished, we can –finally- open our favorite software. Import our sketch and start having real fun. I use Adobe Illustrator. I find it to be very efficient. Corel Draw, can also do the job. The key is to master the tool, and stay in the vector world. Again, these are just tools. The software does not guarantee a successful logo.
“Molecules have perfect blueprints, shapes, balance and foundations”
“Building a house is also about chemistry and foundations”
“Then come the choice of typography. It can take hours, days to find the perfect one…”
“Until everything is fully assembled.”
5/ The Rendering & Presentation
Crafting a logo is one thing. Leaving the clients all alone from this point on is a really a big mistake. I think this is particularly the case in Africa where professional logos and branding are just taking off. So I really take care of delivering a presentation to my clients that tells their identity story, and the multiple directions they can take to give a better dimension to their products or services.
The best logos are those that leave room for some imagination. Clients can use them in multiple ways: animation, t-shirt design, print materials, anything goes.
“Great logos should stand the test of time….and colors”
“Give the client some vision”
I think that design is at the intersection of art and technology, and both are forms of communication. As human beings we need to express ourselves, point at what is wrong and make a change; make our lives better. Designers and artists feel that sense of urgency. Through the different and unique ways they look at the world, they are problem solvers.
Telling ourselves that creativity is only living in palpable things, -and only concrete products can make money- is denying the right to every company in Africa to be different without having to pitch their products or services at meetings each time.
My uncle is 60, he is old school. But hey, prospects say “No” too! He could still be your next big customer.
How will you make him buy your products or services?
If it is all about the price then you will become a commodity; he will buy from you once but don’t expect him to come back again.
What if he needed more?
Your logo gives away more than you think. It defines who you are, why you started your business, your vision all those things that make you different.
African customers are very brand aware, and this is why your company needs a logo. They would say: ‘We want to belong to a brand and be proud of it. We want to tell people around us that you are the best. “Yeah, yeah that logo with the blue bird flying, that’s them!” We’ll say. We will always bad mouth products or services we don’t know, and run to your competition with the brand. Because we don’t know you, but we know them.’
Are we in the end not all a little like that?
So how will you make us love your African brand?
I want to thank Ms Harnet Bokrezion for being such a beautiful soul, having beautiful projects for Africa, and giving me the opportunity to speak on her blog. I think that change will come one pixel at a time. And we are very lucky to witness it. I really love what I do –helping businesses get the most out of themselves through great design-, and I really love this continent. Maybe that’s what keeps me going. It can get really tough at times and you may face many disappointments along the way. Don’t worry, keep trying! Because as they say once you can drive in Africa, you can drive anywhere.
Lionel Thomas- Owner & Designer at KILIFORI