Marieme Mbaye, co-founder of Greenwash Africa, an eco-friendly car wash in Senegal, lists the factors that went into setting up an ecologically sustainable business.
Begin with a great idea
Greenwash Africa is an eco-friendly car wash that uses absolutely no water. We use only biodegradable products, and we also clean home furnishings, such as rugs, carpets and couches. The idea came to us when we were living in France, where we saw people dropping their cars off at eco-friendly car washes while they did their shopping. When we came back to Senegal, we noticed the way people here washed their cars, and we thought there was an opportunity to do it better. So we built a car wash that adopts a similarly eco-friendly approach to those we saw in France, although we are not necessarily close to shops.
Make being eco-friendly an advantage
As with any business, promoting an eco-friendly franchise means doing something people will remember. During Ramadan, we gave our customers water bottles that held the amount of water they had saved from getting a waterless car wash. This was really surprising for our customers and stayed in people's minds. In fact, many customers said they felt good about using Greenwash and doing something for their planet.
People here in Africa used to look at us with big eyes when we talked about being eco-friendly. But now the media, companies and customers are all talking about the environment. Still, the ecological aspect comes second to our customers' desire for a high-quality service.
Be sincere and hone your presentation skills
It might seem obvious, but how you carry yourself with clients is extremely important. You need to come across as comfortable and confident from the moment you say hello. The trick is to be patient, and treat the customer like royalty. Obviously we want happy and satisfied customers, but we must also listen to complaints. The idea is not to get into conflict with customers but to understand the problem and find a solution. Doing so can only improve our service and lead to more business in future.
If there's one other thing that I've learned, it’s that a product must be sold with sincerity. This means all our sales reps must know their work inside and out. Clients can be very demanding and ask a lot of questions. So we train our staff to make sure they know and understand everything about what we do.
Good presentation skills are also vital. It’s a good idea to research the different ways to formulate a pitch to potential investors and customers. You need to think about how you present and defend a proposal. Keep looking for ways to improve your presentation skills and get feedback where you can.
Hire the right people and follow up with training
It’s important to surround yourself with the right people and structure your team effectively. We look first for committed individuals who show a real interest in our company and have similar ambitions to ours. It is important that everyone – including top management – get their hands dirty when necessary. Of course, we also need competent people.
The hardest thing about our work at Greenwash Africa is managing staff. We differentiate ourselves as a business not simply because we are eco-friendly, but also because we want to ensure high quality. And human resources are where we have a tricky time in keeping that quality consistent. We have people in charge of checking quality after a job is done. But even with this safeguard in place, it’s not 100 per cent guaranteed, so we have to follow up with more training. We also do regular monthly and spontaneous spot checks to make sure everything is up to standard. Keeping staff motivated plays a crucial role in this. The thing is to ensure employees feel they have a voice, but also to challenge them, give them achievable goals and recognise outstanding achievements with a raise or promotion.
Get the right mentor
Having the right mentor can make all the difference. It was straightforward for me, because my husband is my mentor. It’s not always easy here in Africa, but that shouldn't stop you approaching someone in your network or someone in business who you respect. If you don't at least try, you'll never know.
Make sure your mentor has a sincere interest in your project or business. Also, a young entrepreneur should seek someone with experience who can judge if something has potential and can provide constructive criticism. Ideally you also need someone who has the spirit of an entrepreneur.
Finally, the number of people who copy other people's ideas is huge, so you have to find someone you can trust.
Have a fighting spirit
For me, it’s about never backing down – you need to have character to be an entrepreneur. But then there are also people who discover their entrepreneurial side over time. There they are, working a nine-to-five job, enjoying their five weeks’ paid holiday, until one day, just like that, they decide they’re ready to take the leap. But I think, in general, you have to be dynamic and like challenges. It seems to me this is the common fibre running through entrepreneurs.
Work hard and believe in what you’re doing
I would say an entrepreneur has to be passionate, but also very patient. This is what holds a lot of young entrepreneurs back. We see big successful entrepreneurs like Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and think he made his money overnight. In fact, it took years of hard work.
For me, patience is the most difficult part. You are sure that your idea is great, and that it’s going to work. But before you can get it off the ground, you have to raise funds, justify how you’re using the money, and chase after people. It's frustrating, which is why I say patience is important. But if I wasn’t able to work on this aspect of setting up a business, I would have thrown in the towel long ago.
It’s also important to have a lot of self-confidence – you need to believe in your ability and in your idea. And you have to accept criticism and being judged, and to learn from your mistakes.
Marieme Mbaye is co-founder of Greenwash Africa, and won Senegal’s 2016 Great Entrepreneur project.