In Ghana, public buses are called ‘trotro’. Conductors of these buses, popularly known as ‘trotro mates’ or simply ‘mates’, are among the most hardworking people in Ghana. One will find them on every street shouting enthusiastically and sweating profusely as they hang dangerously from their buses. Due to the fast-paced and highly competitive nature of their work, one requires a certain level of aggression in order to attract passengers. Because of this, and the fact that most of them are either school drop-outs or illiterates, they are infamous for being loud, quick-tempered and disrespectful. Despite being among the most hardworking, they are also among the least respected in the society.
However, a close study of their work will reveal that, the ‘profession’ is not for unintelligent people. Having observed countless trotro mates over several years, I have picked up many things that every business-minded person should learn from them. I will be sharing five of them in this article.
1. Relentless marketing
We hear this cliché from marketers all the time: doing business without properly marketing yourself and the business is like winking in the dark; you know what you are doing, but nobody knows you exist. Trotro mates are constantly shouting out their destination(s) to passers-by. The only time they are not doing this is when the bus is full, even then, they still do some marketing in anticipation of a vacancy on the bus. As an entrepreneur, ceaseless and strategic marketing is one of the most important ways to get your business thriving. Marketing has become easier and cheaper today due to the internet and social media. Take advantage of it and use it to drive your business forward. Another powerful marketing tool that is often under-estimated is Word-of-Mouth. Never stop telling people about your business, you never know where your next customer will come from. Also, the best person to market your business for you is one who has been a customer in the past. Provide excellent products and services and encourage referrals. Even when your efforts are not yielding results immediately, never stop marketing.
Trotro mates, especially the experienced ones, have mastered the skill of doing multiple things at the same time. They are able to collect fares from passengers while doing calculations in their minds, looking out for new passengers and communicating with the bus driver and the passengers. They perform all these tasks at once and it’s only in a few cases that you find them making mistakes. As a business owner, it is important for you to be able to accomplish different tasks all at the same time. We do not have an infinite amount of time, therefore the ability to keep an eye on different things at once will help you get more done. This is particularly crucial if you are a small business owner and you cannot yet afford to employ people to do certain things for you. For instance, you should be able to respond to customers’ queries online while doing your accounting. However, you must be careful so that you don’t end up doing everything and yet not get anything done at the end of the day. You must prioritise and group similar tasks together so that you don’t abandon some tasks and so that it will be easy to accomplish them.
3. Spotting the right opportunities
To succeed in business, one must have foresight. You need to be able to anticipate changes in the market and plan to take advantage of those changes. Trotro mates are always on the lookout for new passengers. They are even able to tell who is a potential ‘customer’ and who is not, by looking at body language and facial expression. Building successful businesses requires the ability to identify prospects; it requires the ability to identify the right opportunities and to position yourself strategically to benefit from those opportunities.
4. Effective communication
Trotro mates, in the course of their work, have to maintain communication with different groups of people: passengers, prospective passengers, the bus driver and other mates and drivers. They have to speak with and listen to everyone around them in order to be successful in their work. Similarly, entrepreneurs must master the art of communication. You must learn to express yourself clearly and effectively both in speech and in writing. Another important aspect of communication is listening. Most people focus on speaking to the detriment of listening. There are tons of free resources on communication online. Get on the web and study the business and the art of effective communication.
Closely related to communication is teamwork. Building great businesses is about collaborating well with other people. Trotro mates work together with their drivers in order to deliver good service to their ‘customers’. Business owners must form meaningful collaborations with other entrepreneurs and businesses, as well as with their employees. Being an effective team player is essential, because it will help you to harness the unique strengths of other people to arrive at set goals. You should also seek the support of other people and ask for help when you need it.
Next time you see a trotro mate, have a different perception about them, and observe attentively; you will learn a thing or two that you can apply to your business. Entrepreneurship is a difficult venture, however, with the right attitude and mindset, you will be able to build the business you aspire to build.