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think

March 28, 2020 1 comment

Pensive

Why are you in Nigeria?

I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count. My answer is usually the same – I have some ventures I’m looking to explore. Sometimes, there are looks of confusion, heavy sighs, or just good old-fashioned disbelief and head-shaking. But, I understand. Someone moving to Nigeria from Canada, at time when people are leaving Nigeria for Canada in droves, is puzzling. I guess my “interviewers” are wondering whether I know something they do not. Maybe I do.

I lived in Canada for eight years, and within that period, started three different businesses there that did fairly well (most popularly, Pearl Kreations) before I moved back. I came here to set Nigerian subsidiaries and explore other possibilities. I did I come with a mindset to introduce new concepts, disrupt/turn things around and rake in millions? Absolutely. Have I been humbled? Most definitely. Have I done well? Yet to be determined. I’m joking; by God’s grace, I’m doing well. However, here’s what I’ve realized about entrepreneurship in the Nigerian economy – there readily is no reward or support for competence, effort and ingenuity. The system largely favors those with access to power/political connections and rewards them with highly lucrative government contracts and ridiculous grants. Vusi Thembekwayo put it this way – if you look at how the top 25 wealthiest and most celebrated people in your country made their wealth, you can easily determine the type of economy you live in. Did the top 25 wealthiest Nigerians all build their businesses from the ground up (without backdoor deals and government favors)? You decide.

Of course, there are/will be exceptions to the rule, and certainly, you can live comfortably as an entrepreneur, especially if you’re a professional, like an accountant or architect. Anything other than those, would be tough, but not impossible. However, real wealth may elude you. As you may have concluded, there are very few entrepreneurs in this country who have built substantial wealth without connections or government contracts/favors. That says a lot about our business environment. This is particularly disappointing for me because a little over ten years ago, I had a totally different experience.

After running my first business for about a year, I applied to be a vendor for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. I noticed there were vendors for all manners of merchandises, but no one selling button-badges (which was my product). I saw that opportunity and applied. I got a response requesting for, what then seemed like, all sorts of random documents. I can assume now, in actuality, they were probably things like business registration documents, bank statements and so on. I replied the email stating that I was a freshman at McMaster University, had started a small business, saw an opportunity and decided to take it; I had none of the documents requested of me. A few days later, I was approved! I got sent all the documents verifying my business community membership by mail, and a congratulatory email as well. Just like that, I got in. No connections; except God, of course.

Small businesses are the backbone of any economy, and in recent years, it seems Nigeria has caught on. Things are still a little dodgy, with hints of favoritism here and there, but improving. I’m thrilled that with the impending COVID19 lockdown, so many people have gotten fired up to start a venture of their own, either to complement their income, or in transition from former employment. Whatever the reason, the best time to start is now.

However, in my experience, a lot of Nigerian SMEs aren’t equipped to take advantage of the new business environment and emerging opportunities. They are simply not very creative in their quests for business opportunities. They’re not entrepreneurial. I’ve discovered that what most people get into, and aspire to go into, once they have some capital is trading – purchase and resale of goods – and this makes them traders, not entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneur is a word that has become so loosely used, people think it’s a synonym for business owner. The fact is, not every business person is an entrepreneur. By the way, with the way things are going, except you’re selling foodstuff or hygiene essentials, you’re in the wrong business (as a trader).

The truth is, people pay for solutions, and entrepreneurs are solution providers.

Entrepreneurs create products and/or services that meet the needs of people for a profit. Entrepreneurs meet needs and get paid for it.

If you really want to be successful and wealthy, as an entrepreneur, you need to solve problems.

We tend to think too small here in Africa. The average entrepreneur is scared to be ambitious. Rather than thrive, they’re content with surviving. Well, I won’t stand for it. I’m incredibly passionate about small business, and for the past three years, have devoted most of my time into Herança Financial, the venture through which I work with/help budding entrepreneurs start, grow and manage their businesses. Coupled with my personal experiences, I’m somewhat of an expert in business (humble brag). So, with current state of the nation and the shape of the economy, I think now is as good a time as any, to share my knowledge and expertise with a greater number of people, and help them start the right way and avoid the unnecessary hardships that ignorance tends to lead.

First of all, I’ll reiterate. An entrepreneur identifies a need and works towards satisfying it, or works towards improving upon an already existing product/service, or creates demand for a product/service of value i.e. creates a need and provides the solution. The provision of the solution brings the reward – money. The bigger the problem, the bigger the reward for its solution.

Once you have a solution, please ensure the product or service has a Unique Selling Point (USP). A USP is the mark of distinction of any business. It can also be referred to as your value proposition. In all likelihood, your company won’t be the only one offering that product/service (at least, not for long), so it’s important to have either a feature, advantage or benefit that’ll separate your business from current and prospective competition. Without a USP, you won’t stand out. Please note, lower price is not a good strategy for a small business; it’s just not sustainable.

Next, identify your target market. Never make the mistake of assuming your product or services will appeal to everyone. You’re dreaming. However, your target customers will want and appreciate your products or services. They can be grouped into primary, secondary and invisible; I’ll explain later. Just know that they are the persons or businesses with the highest probability of buying your products or services. Once, you’ve identified them, profile them. Your profile should include their locations, spending habits, hobbies, and age group. These will help you know how much they would be willing to spend on your product/service and the best way to reach them. I like using Indomie Noodles as an example. Their target market isn’t everyone, it’s children. Children are their primary target market. That’s why their ads are so playful and colorful; why they invented “The Indomitables” (Superheroes) figurines and stickers; why their ads are on television and radio, not Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (most children are not on social media). They have bigger sizes (like Hungry Man and Belleful) for adults, their secondary target market.

With the proper identification of your target customers, you need know your competition. Your competition is the person or business who offers the same products/services or benefits (as perceived by your target customers). They can be grouped into direct, indirect and invisible. Direct competition are those that offer the same products/services you do; for example, Coke and Pepsi. Indirect competition are those that offer the same benefits; for example, Domino’s Pizza and KFC – different products but same benefit (fast food). Invisible competition are those you didn’t consider. They usually the bigger players that have the capacity [and potential desire (especially if you’re successful)] to offer the same product/services or benefits as you. By understanding your competition, you gain competitive intelligence. Competitive Intelligence is the process of learning, collecting/gathering and using information about your competition for the purpose of growing your own business. It helps you to keep improving upon or redefining your business model, so you’re not easily surpassed.

I’m sure I’ve given you more than enough to think about, so I’ll stop here.

The first step is to sit down and think! Find a need, preferably in an area you’re passionate about. Ask God to reveal the solution to you, and provide you with the means to execute it. Entrepreneurship isn’t just about the idea, but the execution of the plan. And as you execute, remember, please think globally. Find the application of the solution not just within your locale, but regionally and worldwide. The world is bigger than Nigeria.

All the best!

culture permeation

February 6, 2020 Leave a comment

A huge problem in Corporate Nigeria is our tribal culture; it knows no bounds. It is inhibiting professionalism and influencing business negatively. The worst part is we’re its enablers.

A friend shared some shocking news with me some weeks ago. Her boss at the office requires all female employees to courtesy, and all male employees to prostrate, when they greet him every morning. Shocking, right? On top of all that, some female employees address him as “Daddy” instead of “Sir”, and he doesn’t mind. Can you believe that? This man has basically instituted the Yoruba way of greeting, and turned the workplace into a mini Yoruba community.

That would have been ridiculous, if it is an isolated incident, but it’s quite common. A doctor friend of mine [trained in eastern Nigeria] told me how nurses would refuse to take instructions for junior medical officers, on the grounds that they aren’t “mates”, and it’s disrespectful for junior doctors to “order” them to follow up on or give medication to patients. I asked my sister, who was a Lagos-based doctor, if this is true here, and she concurred.

How old one is or how elderly, no matter the culture or tribe, a supervisor should never instruct his/her subordinates to courtesy or prostrate to him; especially not at their place of business/in a professional environment! Talk less of tolerating female subordinates referring to their boss as “Daddy”. Having a supervisor [younger in age] is no reason for older subordinates to disrespect him/her or neglect their duties! The level of unprofessionalism in Nigeria is getting out of whack, honestly.

There’s also the issue of casually [and regularly] speaking in native dialects with colleagues [usually from the same tribe], or pidgin, during office hours. I’m all for cultural bonding of colleagues and team members, but this pattern of behavior [during business hours] tends to rid a firm of its professional outlook. This trend is so widespread, it’s like an epidemic. Speaking in any language, other than English, is only permissible when English is causing a communication barrier with an uneducated client/customer. Any other language can be spoken after office hours or behind closed doors. Otherwise, the trend may result in tribal undertones associated with the brand. For example, the former Diamond Bank was perceived as Igbo people’s bank. This was mainly due to perception and the proliferation of certain mannerisms at the branch level. Chances were, if you walked into any former branch, not only would most of the front-end staff be Igbo natives, but they would be conversing [loudly] in Igbo with each other and the customers. Even the AI chatbot personal banker was called Ada. Ada is a popular feminine Igbo name, and the chatbot’s avatar was, of course, female. If Igbo-centricity was a strategy, it might have worked in attracting Igbo-centric clientele, but it also alienated clients associated with other tribes.

All these are some of the reasons my friend, Collins, and I went into business together in 2017. We set up a personal development agency called Centerprise, with the sole aim of ending the mediocrity in business and upgrading professionalism in Africa. We are determined to cause a positive shift in mannerisms and mentality, and we’re working from the ground up. We connect undergraduates/recent graduates with relevant internships to gain valuable professional experience, develop/optimize resumes and offer interview/job preparation to undergraduates/employees, and provide bankable business plans to budding entrepreneurs; most importantly, we organize professional classes for graduates/employees to gain proper business decorum. We believe personal growth must be intentional, and that includes professional business etiquette.

I understand we have a strong culture in Nigeria, and it’s a big part of our identities, but things need to be kept strictly professional at the workplace. Only verbal greetings and handshakes are acceptable forms of greeting. Permitting female employees to refer to their superior as “Daddy” or anything form of endearment is grounds for sexual harassment, at the very least. The only acceptable titles are “Sir” or “Madam/Ma’am” [or “Boss”, in semi-formal settings], not even “Oga” or “Ma”. And of course, with the exception of interactions with certain customers, Queen’s English should be spoken in and around the office.

2020

January 22, 2020 Leave a comment

I decided that I’d from this year, stop the iMovie tradition as the first post of the year. I might actually stop advertising badges altogether. I’m grateful that Pearl Kreations will be 12 years in a few days, and a big girl lol. So, I’ll leave her to handle herself, while I move unto “bigger” things. I’ve learnt I have a unique perceptive, and I’d like to, more than before, share my opinion on a number of issues with the world, and also offer some business advice based on my decade of experience.

Without further ado, I’d like to start this new year and new phase of my life addressing something a lot of business people take for granted when starting out; and it’s costing them

Many entrepreneurs, the world over, have burned out, or simply gave up right before their bright ideas could reach their full potential, because they thought they could do it all on their own. Human beings are social creatures; we’re not built for isolation. You can’t succeed on your own. You need, at least, one person in your corner.

As an entrepreneur, you need a support system – people who can and will encourage you, people you can draw strength from, people whose faith in you keeps you going. This support system can be your family, friend(s), mentor(s), partner(s), spouse, team, or all of the above.

A team, for example, is unique. It could be made up of family and/or friends. A lot of entrepreneurs are very reluctant to bring people on board, because they could be swindled by them, or become problematic/more trouble than they’re worth.

While those are possible scenarios and very valid reasons, that’s why the kind of people you pick is necessary. Notice I said “you pick”, that’s because you do the picking, not the other way around. Go for people who share your drive, passion, and most importantly, your vision.

Once you have like minds working with you, progress is effortless. You’ll have people who you can bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with; who can do certain things better and push you to be better; people ready to go the distance with you.

Don’t start 2020 solo; start 2020 with some support.

Happy New Year!

all about the money

November 23, 2019 Leave a comment

This will be very brief.

The World Bank has projected that the Nigerian economy would grow by 2.1% in 2020. Obviously, this is provided that all things continue to progress as they are, but it’s good news all the same. This spells boundless possibilities for business growth, expansion, and increased profits.

However, I’d like to sound a warning. As a business owner or corporation, please don’t be all about the money, all the time.

There probably isn’t a faster way to lose patronage, because it can be quite obvious when money is your sole goal; downright irritating, even. It will also tell in quality, in service, in your culture/lifestyle, operations, and general approach to business.

As you get ready for the new year, please note that money will come easily to professionals – those who prioritize adding value, customer satisfaction, solution provision, superior quality and great service. Align yourself as a professional as you make plans and strategize for 2020.

things change

September 21, 2019 Leave a comment

No condition is permanent. I hear people say that from time to time, but I don’t think most understand just how true that statement is or the gravity of it. I recently came across a touching story on Facebook which I’ve decided to share here. Nothing, but the true names of the individuals involved, has been changed.

In 2010, I was a senior manager in a nice firm. My future was bright in the company and I was highly recommended for head of my department. There was another rising star as well. His name is Jacob.

I tutored Jacob and tried to manage his excesses because he was exceptionally brilliant. But, he was lazy and carefree. Hardly would he take corrections and rarely would he apologize. My other colleagues wondered what I saw in him, but it’s probably because they weren’t working directly with him. I knew his type: he hated structure and would never last under a corporate environment. Still, he was a brilliant strategist. I handled him well, and our results together with others on my team, was highly commendable.

There came a time I was having marital issues, and for this reason, I had little patience with Jacob and his shenanigans. I was short-tempered with him, but he had gotten so used to me managing his excesses that he didn’t take my anger seriously. Within two weeks, I had given him 3 queries; this meant dismissal. When I was asked by HR if I truly wanted to let him go, I could not care less. I had my own problems and was not in the mood to babysit anyone anymore.

Three years later, I lost my job because the company was downsizing and top management was also affected. I foolishly assumed I would get a job anywhere, so initially, I wasn’t worried. But 12 months in, I was still searching and my savings was dwindling fast. I decided, since I wasn’t getting any job offers, I’d drive my SUV as a cab for those commuting from the airport. This was better than waiting around for nothing.

The cab gig, surprisingly, was not doing badly as I was picking up and dropping off esteemed clients. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was steady. In July 2016, an esteemed client asked me to pick up his friend from the airport because his driver had flaked on him. This person I was to pick up would turn out to be Jacob.

When he called to confirm his location, I instantly recognized his voice. My heart plunged, but I couldn’t reject the job and disappoint a long-term client. Jacob exited the airport with hand luggage only, so there was no need for me to alight from the car. As he got in the car, I looked back from the driver’s seat to greet him, but he was distracted on the phone and never looked up to notice me. He only answered my greeting and asked me to get going.

As I drove him all the way to a hotel on the Island, I had tears in my eyes. He looked like he was doing well, his conversations on the phone also showed that he was in control. Jacob had done well for himself and I was now driving him. Life is tricky and has a way of making you the butt of its joke. I cannot lie, I was ashamed, but I never would have forgiven myself if I let him go without letting him know I was proud of him.

When we got to the hotel, I quickly got down from the car to open his door. This was when he noticed me. He was speechless for a while, then he said in Yoruba, “Boss, have you been the one driving me the entire time?” He was shocked at first, but then, he hugged me tight. The tears finally poured. I can’t really say what I felt, but I didn’t expect that reaction.

“When I heard you were let go, I sent you a message on my other number to find out how you were, but you never responded”, he said, while still holding on to my shoulders. I was quiet. I remember receiving a message from him, but he was one of many that I thought had called or texted to pity me, and because I didn’t want anyone’s pity, I never responded.

Jacob made me park in the lot, and took me to his room to talk. He immediately told me about his new gig. After he was laid off, he got a consultation deal with a multinational, which opened doors for him into other multinationals. At the time, he had 15 people working for him, but was in desperate need of someone who does the same as him and whose competence, he wouldn’t have to worry about. He just wanted to focus more on bringing business to the company. Apparently, he had just found whom he had been looking for.

My life changed that day. I resumed work with Jacob the next week, and I have made sure since then to treat his company as if it were mine. I don’t know why he treated me so nicely after what I did to him, but as men, we have never talked about it. I am sure, though, that he can feel my gratitude in the way I work, and my zeal in doing all I can to make sure he doesn’t have to worry about the back-end.

I hope someone learns from this. Please always remember this story when you act without consideration of the other person’s future. If the world turns upside down, you may end up cleaning for your cleaner.

Life can change in an instant. Don’t ever look down on anyone; you don’t know who he/she could become tomorrow.

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