I am not a Harvard Business School graduate neither do I have one of those sixty five thousand pound executive MBAs people squabbled about in the commentary that followed my last article; heck I don’t have a post graduate degree full stop. The point here is, I’m by no means an expert. But as a radio personality, which in the world of commercial radio is really a euphemism for a sales person, I am somewhere dangling within the trajectory of marketing, advertising, and promotion and ultimately driving the sales of most businesses. Somewhere in between, there is a little allotment for a bit of hardcore stuff. Consequently I have been privy to witness the rise and fall of way too many businesses in the past four years.
In recent years though, Africa has been touted as the emerging frontier, and at the rate in which Oyibos are moving here even without expat status, it’s clear that the gutters are paved with gold; well that’s if you have what it takes to dredge through the gunk and caked up spirogyra.
So whist you are being gingered up by the motivational books, the social media quotes and the autobiographies of the world’s movers and shakers, doing business in these parts isn’t quite what it says in the text book or classroom case studies.
Prepare Yourself Because Everything Here Costs Money
Well, the term ‘epileptic power supply’ needs no explanation. In truth, it’s actually worse. A lot of businesses operate solely on petrol and diesel which can run up to the cost of three to four staff annual salaries depending on the size of the business. Beyond the general expenses, there is ‘egunje’ money, ‘omo onile’ money, for when you decide to install a new generator or office furniture, and just general ad-hoc fees that have little to no explanation. Don’t forget the front office desk receptionist who spends time filing her nails, eating ‘ewa agoyin‘ and ‘Agege bread‘ with her desktop permanently on Facebook who you will have to pay a salary too.
Even guerrilla marketing costs money. Bloggers have to pay for their internet and Macbook so they aren’t smiling. People are renting out their Blackberry Display Picture space for a fee and even Retweets can set you back a large chunk in your operations budget. With everyone using their social media pages to promote one thing or another, people don’t need you littering their walls with product images or e-flyers. So, getting someone to sort out a digital marketing strategy also costs money. My point here is – you have to use money to make money.
Be Careful With Vanity Ideas
This seems a very big issue with returnees. Just because you and your friends complain about the lack of certain things in Nigeria does not mean that it is your job to fill in the gap. Yes, I know they say entrepreneurs create solutions, but the truth is that you can’t sustain that business based on the needs of you and ten of your repatriate friends. I think the MBA peeps call it feasibility studies. It’s important to understand the culture and lifestyle of the people. Why would I want to spend a thousand Naira on your fruit salad from your salad bar when I can buy a segment of pineapple, papaya and watermelon from the Mallam down the road for fifty bucks a piece. These are the reasons why you hear about someone who has just opened a vegan restaurant and after all their friends from the American and Italian consulate have paid a courtesy visit three times, the menu is revamped with Asun, peppered gizzards and Nkwobi because you can count the number of vegans in Lagos.
Let Your Commercial Pursuits Finance Your Artistic Pursuits
Yes we all want to change the world, impact our society, restore and preserve the decay. However there are reasons why the international community uses buzz words like social business and social enterprise. Funding for non profits are dropping by the second. You can see why even photographers that want to show all the grimness and darkness in our society so the world takes notice, still hang of chandeliers taking wedding photos on the weekend to pay the rent. Don’t think for a second that Lagosians are not innovative people. The debate rages on about how to foster innovation in a space of necessity entrepreneurs and yet no one has an answer.
It is a high risk environment in terms of everything, which makes it even higher a risk to experiment. By all means do all the experimentation whist you have an oil workers salary backup in your account. Or just do all the experimenting whilst it is still a side hustle.
Staff Competition – Get Used To It
Our mentality is different and you can’t blame us. Even our parents who had worked for companies for over 30 years and then scammed of their pension and gratuity, only for many to die off with their children begging for funds for the casket has been enough of a cautionary tale for all of us.
With the avalanche of motivational speakers, the sermon has changed. Servitude died with the 80s. This new testament is about fulfilling your potential and becoming the greatness that you are destined to be. In lay man’s English that means becoming an oga boss yourself. The truth is, this environment is uncertain and everyone is protecting numero uno. If your business goes down, they will ask you, ‘Will your sorry buy Pampers and Cerelac?’
It’s important to know that as you train your staff, they are likely to leave and become your competition. The entry barriers into some businesses aren’t that high and you don’t need that many customers to survive at the least. With a population of sixteen million in Lagos last I checked, in the words of Terry Gee, ‘Aiye po gan’ there is enough space to sell our market.
Twenty thousand Naira will get you registered as a sole proprietor and you can always use your cousins address for the company and organise meetings at a bar or restaurant in Victoria Island or Ikoyi for the desired effizi (front). I know you are thinking you are helping the nation by solving the youth unemployment issue but for your own sanity don’t take it personally when your staff sends you a text on Monday morning saying ‘Oh by the way ma, I’m not coming back’. Just have a strong contingency plan in place and implore the powers of whomever you believe in to ensure that they haven’t stolen your clients and given them a cheaper rate for the same services because that part needs divine intervention.
I know someone who allows his staff room for private practice as long as it doesn’t interfere with their job or become a conflict of interest. He says that in Nigeria you can never pay anyone enough. Human resource issues have been the downfall of many a business in this town.
Big Clients Mean Big Bucks… Not Quite
You think you have hit the jackpot with a really big time client. Ask around, they will tell you they sign checks once a year and if the CEO just happily decides to travel around that time and your cheque doesn’t fall into that batch because they need South Africa or Iceland to give the figures the all clear, then oh boy you are looking at two years before your payment. This of course means you are likely to owe your own contractors or vendors or even your staff because you decided to employ more hands so you could execute the job well. All I’m saying is don’t get overly excited about the really big clients. They can like to be on a very longggg tin. And if there is an agency of sorts involved, the money will be in a fixed deposit account generating interest at your expense.
Don’t Make Enemies
This one is mostly for the ladies, if your business involves you pitching for a contract or a job, please sexual advances are a standard routine and so is sexism and bigotry. Okay, so maybe not with everyone, but with most.
For starters, at the board room, there is a likelihood they will be waiting for a man to proceed with the presentation so please dispose of your ‘oh my gosh did you just say that to me’ eye rolling, weave flipping, neck bobbing look, when you are asked if you are the secretary or the personal assistant. Please don’t get upset or angry because when you want money from people in Lagos especially when you are new to the terrain, it isn’t the time to make enemies.
If you are invited for drinks afterwards especially when you already notice the sleaze, giggle a bit, look for an excuse and after a bit of dilly dallying, they will get the message. If they think you are worth giving the gig to, you will get it and if you don’t then it’s onto the next Powerpoint. Better still find someone on the inside to help advance your cause.
Ask your friends with nine to fives to school you a little, labour laws don’t exist except you work with the internationals, so protect yourself. A friend of mine usually hires a male friend to go in with her for meetings so he looks like the boss and she the assistant handling the presentation. She does say it has worked for her so far though.
Do The Needful
Now you have gotten the contract, the job, the client, whatever it is you do. Nigerians know this term very well. Ensure that you ‘Do the needful/ Show appreciation/grease the palms’ of the person who has claimed to advance your cause because whether or not you got it by merit, someone will miraculously appear claiming they were involved in your matter.
Not encouraging any bad behaviour, but the needful could be a brand new tear rubber Prado, it could be a hamper, it could be twenty percent of the contract, it could be subcontracting a portion of the job to the phantom company of this same ‘bros’ or ‘aunty’, whatever it is you both agree on, for the sustainability of the business, one must do the needful. You never want to seem unappreciative for the opportunity. #Justsaying.
Hire Your Oyibo
If you are trying to establish a big business where the kinds of contracts and gigs you are looking for isn’t in local currency, its imperative you hire your white managing director. If you can’t afford that, then go to another continent for the technical director. Don’t ask me why but that is just the way we do it here. It has been critiqued as colonial mentality, some say it makes the business look more legitimate and the conversation continues. Your portfolio, expertise and skill are completely irrelevant to your ability to deliver. It’s about the colour of your board. You cannot afford to let little things like skin tone ‘truncate your hustle’.
Package With Care
I know that packaging is key to the survival of businesses and brands here but be careful that you don’t over do it at the expense of your progress. Don’t take a loan to open and furnish a lush office on the Island with a bigz boys and girls attended launch soiree when you don’t have a customer yet. You will get hungry a little too quickly. Be wise in your dealings. Nothing stops you from carrying your laptop to Bogobiri with your two or three internet dongles working from there. As long as you buy a couple bottles of water and lunch at least, the staff shouldn’t give you any grief. You can still create an impression without acquiring gbese(Debt) that will cause you embarrassment.
Even when you are trying to establish a high end luxury business, you need to be open to other variables. Take cue from the Lagos designers, do you think they survive of their runway collections? If you fell for that wash you can fall for anything. Even they can’t afford the Obioma (tailor) taking food from their mouths.
I know it sounds like hard work, I am not trying to discourage you. There are opportunities here and so many markets are opening up. Being an entrepreneur is largely about taking risks. Sometimes you think you know so much and yet know absolutely nothing. Even with the calculated risks, its all still a deep plunge into the unknown and you either sink or swim. Either way you tried.
Just do your homework, groundwork, stay open minded and like a boy scout, be prepared