At the Haiti Renewal Alliance Expo last week, PADF participated in a panel to share lessons learned from programs that invest in the Caribbean. Drawing on experiences implementing USAID investments in Haiti and our program supporting micro-enterprises in Belize, PADF Senior Program Advisor Nathalie Liautaud spoke about strategies to address challenges faced by entrepreneurs including securing financing and lack of infrastructure.
1. Meet entrepreneurs where they are
“There is no one-size-fits all approach,” says Liautaud. Investors need to meet entrepreneurs where they are. PADF's Youth Engagement Services project funded by the U.S. Embassy in Belize taught us the importance of grouping entrepreneurs by their skill level. Those with little to no experience should be in one training group and those who are already running micro initiatives and are ready to expand should be placed in another. Counselors can then tailor training to the knowledge, skills and abilities of upcoming entrepreneurs based on their individual needs.
2. Invest in a marketing plan
“Investing in marketing is critical,” says Liautaud. Branding promotes visibility for small businesses, sustains momentum and helps grow a customer base. Liautaud pointed to grantee Kreyol Essence as a great example, saying that they were one of just a few businesses to submit a marketing plan in their application to USAID’s LEAD program (Leveraging Effective Application of Direct Investments). Marketing has paid off for Kreyol Essence, a cosmetic business with a growing presence online, on social media and with exhibits of its “beauty bar” at industry trade shows. Creating awareness and “buzz” for your business also acts as a catalyst for other entrepreneurs, Liautaud adds.
3. Assess economic needs
"If you want social progress you have to have economic opportunity," says Liautaud. That means ensuring that the business model supports economic trends. Targeting your business to the needs of the market is crucial. Do your research to get to know target customers in the region in which you work. Nadia Cherrouk, Director of the LEAD Project and PADF Country Director in Haiti, says that businesses received investments because of their ability to meet a local need. "Selected out of 272 applications, these 31 companies were able to present sustainable solutions to development challenges in Haiti," said Cherrouk.
4. Mentors, mentors and mentors
It’s important to give entrepreneurs input and advice from private sector mentors. Meeting people who have walked in your shoes, and succeeded, can be a powerful thing. The LEAD program provides one-on-one capacity building and technical assistance to entrepreneurs in Haiti. In Belize, PADF established a “business launch group” whose members shared invaluable recommendations and strategies with new entrepreneurs, guiding them along the path toward launching a business.
5. Build Sustainability
When an entrepreneur creates a business plan or receives funding, the work has only just begun. Sustaining the momentum is key to keeping a new business afloat. PADF worked with the Small Business Development Centre (SBCD) in Belize to guide young entrepreneurs in creating business plans. The Centre agreed to extend its advisory services after the program ended to assist those who need additional information or time to complete their plan. Many program participants became clients of the Centre, increasing the likelihood that they will stay on track. Each youth was also tasked with submitting an investment plan six months after starting a business to ensure entrepreneurs are consistently working to leverage investment opportunities.