Celebrating World SME Day

All over the world, businesses are run. The concept of buying and selling has been around since the beginning of time. Ideally, born out of the necessity to provide solutions to everyday problems, businesses in Nigeria have different motivations and modus operandi. However, one thing stays the same regardless: the cashflow that floats the economy. To echo the importance of entrepreneurship globally, 27th of June was declared as the Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) Day, to raise public awareness of their contribution to sustainable development and the world’s economy.

To celebrate entrepreneurial growth and tell the beautiful story of building enterprises from the ground up, DOWNTOWN’S Kehindé Fagbule spoke with six business owners across different industries in the country.


 

 

Abimbola Quadri

Fashion: Abeni The Tailor (@abenithetailor)

Abimbola Quadri

How old is your business and how did it all start?

I’ve always been a self-acclaimed stylist from my university days, styling my friends and family. My mum advised that it was better to style people in my own clothes, so I decided to learn how to sew. I did that for a year before my service year in 2016. Abeni The Tailor as a brand was born in 2017/18. It was an off and on thing as I was trying to get a 9-5 at the time.

How many businesses have you/do you handle(d)?

I was involved in petty trades, I don’t think that constitutes running a business. Also, I was more of a personal shopper for people. They trusted me enough to ask me to get them readymade clothes from the market. I did a lot of that as a stylist. I was also what you could call an influencer as I recommend fashion brands people could buy from. I never ran a proper business until my present brand.

What are the growing costs of doing business now and the associated risks? Tell us about a few challenges you face.

I don’t have a physical shop of my own as of now, so I sew from home. I also have a 9-5 which I go to every day and juggling that with my business is super hectic. Sometimes, I don’t even change from my work clothes and I’m on the machine already. There’s a health risk involved in it that I’m aware of. There’s also the money factor involved as I have to offer to make my friends’ dresses for free just to win their trust and get referrals from them. The associated risks involve my time, sleepless nights and my finances because I’m still growing. Gaining people’s trust is not an easy task.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship over corporate work?

I’m still growing, I haven’t started making so much money, so I can’t leave 9-5 yet because it is still paying my bills. Ultimately, I’d love to choose entrepreneurship because of my love for fashion, however, that isn’t feasible for now as I am still trying to get my clientele up and build my brand to the point where it is self-sufficient. I look forward to when I could make that switch fully though.

Is the idea of apprenticeship or understudying other business owners something you practised or did you just jump in?

No, I did not understudy any business. I had no formal experience in the business. It was born out of me making good clothes, people seeing them on me, liking it and offering to pay for it; to which I felt “Okay, this is cool.” Thinking about it now, I’d have loved to understudy someone or a particular business first to see the whole process of it, but because I have a 9-5, it doesn’t afford me that much time, so I just basically offer my services for money, for now.

Apprenticeship is something everyone should subscribe to because it can be frustrating when you don’t understand a lot of things in business. How to charge most especially is something you learn from apprenticeship. In 2017, I did a one-month sewing course with Toju Foye. Although I learnt a lot, my sole motivation was to get the co-sign that comes with learning under a big name. I wish I had learned more but the timing was too short.

How do you handle the customer relations side of the business?

It gets overwhelming as I’m running a sole proprietorship. Although I just got someone to help out recently, before that, I was the only one who cuts, sews, takes care of delivery, and talks to the clients. Everyone wants everything at the same time, some customers are complaining, sometimes it’s difficult to keep up. I have to always write down every single detail so I don’t mix up customer requests. Some customers can be a lot and you have to beg, but thank God I’ve not had a problem with delivery time so far; when you want it is when you get it. Sometimes I make mistakes but I try to rectify that as soon as I can. I’m always open to take corrections.

Aside from social media, what other tools are you employing now to foster business growth?

For now, it is just social media. I meet up with my clients and take their measurements. The ones I can’t meet up with, probably because they stay outside the country, I instruct them on how to go about taking their measurements. So, sometimes we get on a video call and I’m demonstrating the different body parts they need to take measurements of on another person and then they get someone on their end to help them take their measurements.

You mentioned that you got an extra pair of hands. To work in what capacity? Are you looking to employ more labour?

Yes, I just recently employed labour as I mentioned but it’s not someone to sew with me yet. I got someone to help with errands. Someone to pick up fabrics from clients or go get them from the market, help out with delivery, and other petty errands. To get someone to sew with me is going to be a much more tedious process as I have to supervise them to make sure they understand the assignment. Because I work 9-5, that hasn’t given me the time to do that. Ultimately, I intend to do that when I get my annual leave.

What are 3 key things to note when starting a business?

Passion is most important. There are times I just want to throw everything away like I’m done but my passion drives me. Whenever I see people in my clothes, it brings me joy. I go through my page, realise how far I’ve come and figure I can’t back down. You have to be passionate about what you do. Once you have passion, every other thing is secondary; even dealing with difficult customers.

Customer service is second; be ready to deal with different kinds of people. Be ready to take the insults that come with it.

Lastly, you need funding. You want to put out a good job, you want to earn people’s trust to build up your clientele, so you need money to be able to get the tools to make that happen. A good sewing machine and quality fabrics to work with take a lot of money. I’m able to get by because I get steady pay from my 9-5 in the form of salaries, so I invest heavily in my business thanks to that. When I first started and would make mistakes, I had to get another fabric from my purse to make it right with the client. Budding entrepreneurs need the finances to cover these costs of business.


 

Chioma Helen Nwakwesi

Beauty: The Oil Place (@scnaturaloil)

Chioma Helen Nwakwesi

How old is your business and how did it all start?

My business is about 3 years old and it started from a place of need. At the time, I had just given birth to my daughter in the US and came back with a huge medical bill. I had a 9-5 which wasn’t enough to live on and take care of the medical bill at the same time. I figured an extra stream of income would be necessary. I have always had a passion for beauty and lifestyle, from which I was able to acquire some relevant skills. One day it occurred to me that I could actually monetize the skill, I did some research, took action and here we are.

How many businesses have you/do you handle(d)?

In addition to my beauty business, I also have a logistics business @sxslogistics. As the beauty business grew, it demanded efficient delivery of my products to my customers, which I was able to provide internally. I would later go fully into logistics, providing other businesses with an efficient and effective avenue to deliver their products.

What are the growing costs of doing business now and the associated risks? Tell us about a few challenges you face.

Hmm, there are loads of challenges I face but I’ll attempt to keep my response short. Government operational structures are one of such challenges. Take my logistics business, for example, there’s no shortage of new documents that are always required by the related authorities. Another challenge is human capacity, finding the right talent to execute tasks as one would desire is genuinely frustrating. Lastly, the ability to structure and scale my businesses, which is a challenge that I believe can be overcome by learning from experiences and being more disciplined and committed.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship over corporate work?

Passion. I have always been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember.

I have been fortunate to work with multinationals and have developed a skill set that I feel has built me better which I am grateful for, but I have always felt boxed in the corporate world, I have a lot to offer the world and I believe I can best execute these as an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship is for me, I have always known this and the time feels right.

Is the idea of apprenticeship or understudying other business owners something you practised or did you just jump in?

Well everyone in one way or the other has understudied a business whether through Youtube, Google, etc. There are a couple of successful businesses that I have understudied and due to my admiration of them, I look forward to building my businesses to achieve even greater success stories. I have gone through several international and local training. Personally, if I had clarity earlier on in life I would have gone for an apprenticeship, learned the skill faster, and then built it. This would have helped me in countless ways that I can’t even begin to list.

How do you handle the customer relations side of the business?

Our customer experience is key to us, without our customers we have no business. We are constantly working on strategies to ensure that we improve our customer relations and provide the best experience for our customers. Every member of my team has to undergo customer experience training and understand that the business is everyone’s.

Aside from social media, what other tools are you employing now to foster business growth?

Having good communication with our customers is a core part of our business strategies, this has in many ways helped grow our businesses. Therefore, data collection is very important to us, constantly improving our customer database enables us to effectively keep the communication going.

Have you adopted e-commerce solutions? Between e-commerce and traditional offline sales strategies, which do you prefer and why?

Every medium is a sales strategy for us, we are currently working on our e-commerce platform, but we are always open to employing any successfully proven sales strategy.

Are you running a sole proprietorship or you employ labour? If it’s the latter, what’s your recruitment process like? How do you meet salaries? At what point do you decide to scale?

We work with a recruitment company to help us with staffing.

Our marketing strategy helps us to reach clients that way there is continuity with business development and we can meet our salary obligations.

Right now scaling is extremely important to us. We are working with all the right officials to help with all the necessary registrations so that we can scale.

What are 3 key things to note when starting a business?

Hunger, discipline, and commitment.


 

Onyekachi Okorie

Photography: Onyekam Photography (@onyekamphotography)

Onyekachi Okorie

How old is your business and how did it all start?

This year would make it 2 years I started photography as a business.

How many businesses have you/do you handle(d)?

I currently run two businesses: Photography and a Handmade shoes business.

What are the growing costs of doing business now and the associated risks? Tell us about a few challenges you face.

Purchasing equipment in order to render better services is becoming increasingly expensive due to the current state of the economy. This is becoming a challenge because as these costs increase, our rates also have to be adjusted in order to remain profitable in our business – and clients don’t always want to understand why we charge the way we charge.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship over corporate work?

I have had my fair share of the corporate world and gained some experience, however when I ventured into entrepreneurship (at a point I did both), I really enjoyed the thrill and adventure entrepreneurship provides. I then decided to fully focus on my business and work on growing it. It’s been a rollercoaster so far but I guess that’s part of the journey.

Is the idea of apprenticeship or understudying other business owners something you practiced or did you just jump in?

I think I did what most people did – just jumped in and learnt the ropes along the way; however I’ve always sought advice and counsel from various people in the same field and that has really helped me.

How do you handle the customer relations side of the business?

I see every booking as an opportunity to grow my business and network. Delivering to and beyond my customer’s expectations already gets you half way there in maintaining relations. Being consistent especially to the ones that return, keeps them and being “human” opens the doors to referrals.

Aside from social media, what other tools are you employing now to foster business growth?

Asides social media? Email marketing, cold calling and word of mouth.

Have you adopted e-commerce solutions? Between e-commerce and traditional offline sales strategies, which do you prefer and why?

I haven’t adopted e-commerce yet, but I intend to some day. Word of mouth has always been my most effective and preferred sales strategy to date.

Are you running a sole proprietorship or you employ labour? If it’s the latter, what’s your recruitment process like? How do you meet salaries? At what point do you make the decision to scale?

Still running a sole proprietorship.

What are 3 key things to note when starting a business?

Understanding your strengths, skills and weaknesses. Get a mentor or mentors. You need to be passionate, as sometimes your passion may be your only driving force when the going gets tough.

 

Omontese Ita

Makeup: Beauty Cook Studio (@beautycookstudio)

Omontese Ita

How old is your business and how did it all start?

My business is 16 years old. It started naturally, from making people’s hair to beautifying women. People started paying and I realized I could do this as a business. That’s how I started.

How many businesses have you/do you handle(d)?

I have done several side businesses from tailoring, sale of human hair weaves, Ankara fabrics but Makeup artistry has remained my main trade. Currently, I run 3 businesses @Beautycook studio, @noriaita_ and @selebybeautycook.

What are the growing costs of doing business now and the associated risks? Tell us about a few challenges you face.

The growing cost of business has been greatly influenced by the constant rise in FX rates, other challenges include staffing which has driven me to remodel my business structure.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship over corporate work?

I never gave myself the chance to choose because I started when I was in university. It was simply the only way I wanted to express myself as an artist.

Is the idea of apprenticeship or understudying other business owners something you practiced or did you just jump in?

Makeup was not common and widely accepted when I started back then, so it was something I simply walked into and learnt on the job with a few masterclasses.

How do you handle the customer relations side of the business?

Customer service is the heart of every business. I simply let dedicated/trained staff handle that aspect.

I also put in the work one-on-one for clients that I get to handle myself.

Aside from social media, what other tools are you employing now to foster business growth?

My business grew from referrals even before social media became this big and it remains our number one source of growth. I also take advantage of Google search engines. I have used magazines and soft sell.

Have you adopted e-commerce solutions? Between e-commerce and traditional offline sales strategies, which do you prefer and why?

I have adopted e-commerce solutions. The current booking application I use for appointments works like an e-commerce module. I genuinely think that e-commerce and traditional offline sales work hand-in-hand. Relying on just one can limit your ability to achieve your business goals significantly.

Are you running a sole proprietorship or you employ labour? If it’s the latter, what’s your recruitment process like? How do you meet salaries? At what point do you decide to scale?

I run a sole proprietorship model which avails my sole task of making decisions. I have worked with several artists under the internship model who with time grow into full staff and earn salaries.

In the last 2 years, I scaled down on fixed salary and adopted the commission system. This really helped during the pandemic year as staff members earned based on work done.

What are 3 key things to note when starting a business?

What structure your business will run with.

Flexibility: The business terrain changes, be ready to diversify and tackle challenges.

Adopt the right bookkeeping/accounting methods early on.


 

Ejimonye Ofodum

Tech: Fichaya Cleaning Company (@fichaya_service)

Ejimonye Ofodum

How old is your business and how did it all start?

Fichaya is 2 Years and 3 Months old. It was founded on the foundation of Time management. We spend a lot of hours at work and depending on your commute, you may spend an average of 3-5 hours daily. We have a lot of mundane house chores that take up the better part of the day that should be spent with family and friends. The idea of Fichaya is to give individuals time to handle every other aspect of their lives while we handle the cleaning.

How many businesses have you/do you handle(d)?

I co-founded Fichaya.

What are the growing costs of doing business now and the associated risks? Tell us about a few challenges you face.

I’d say, people. It takes a village of dedicated and highly skilled people to build a big vision. Fichaya is looking to be the go-to tech-enabled brand for Home cleaning and Organizing across Africa and more often than not, it is expensive to attract and retain the right people.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship over corporate work?

I think I have always had the entrepreneurship bug even right out of university. So joining a corporate environment was instrumental towards improving my skills. Starting my career in Telecoms and then, being a founding member of a Fintech company was a great experience to have as far as having a decent understanding of building a company from the ground up is concerned. So when it was time, it made sense. I still miss the corporate environment sometimes, I’m not going to lie *laughs*

Is the idea of apprenticeship or understudying other business owners something you practiced or did you just jump in?

Both. As I mentioned, I might have just simply had the DNA for entrepreneurship but I have also always loved listening to the journeys of other entrepreneurs globally. One of my favourite podcasts of all time is How I Built This by Guy Raz and I remember always listening to stories coming back from my corporate job and being so intrigued.

How do you handle the customer relations side of the business?

Fichaya is super customer-focused and we strive to create the best experience for every customer from enquiry to managing a customer’s home or office monthly. We are also deliberate about the experience of our community of cleaning associates. We pride ourselves in a Customer Service Team that is centred around three “p”s: Professionalism, Patience and a “People-First’’ Attitude.

Aside from social media, what other tools are you employing now to foster business growth?

At Fichaya, we are leveraging the use of technology to provide cleaning and organizing services. One of our major tools is the Web for seamless bookings; where you can sign up to be a user, select the type of cleaning services and frequency, then proceed to make payment. An associate is assigned who executes the job and cleaning is done. We also have our mobile app for cleaning associates. We leverage Slack for internal communications within the company.

Have you adopted e-commerce solutions? Between e-commerce and traditional offline sales strategies, which do you prefer and why?

The business world is evolving and being digital is the present and future. Our priority is digitizing the experience of how our customers and cleaning associates get to connect with us from when contact us initiated to the point of executing a cleaning or organizing job. All of these are done through www.fichaya.com. However, we understand that some customers may prefer contacting the Fichaya Support Team via our Social Media handles or Whatsapp to book for our services and we are available to serve them too.

Are you running a sole proprietorship or you employ labour? If it’s the latter, what’s your recruitment process like? How do you meet salaries? At what point do you decide to scale?

Fichaya has a team of 10 employees and we support over 50 cleaning associates that clean and manage the homes and corporate buildings of our customers in Lagos & Abuja. For our team, our recruitment process is rather easy. We put out Ads via Linkedln and other job sites and we identify the need for the specific role. Once we receive applications, we screen and shortlist them. We then have about two interview stages where we look out for three things: Knowledge on the job, Passion/Execution/Growth mindset, and the culture fit. The last process when candidates have been selected is the Introduction and Onboarding of the new employee. We recently adopted a thing called ‘work buddy’ for new employees. This means they have someone assigned to them, outside HR, to help them settle in properly into the company. We support our staff as part of the cost of running the company.

The decision for continuous growth and scale is decided quarterly where we have company targets and everyone is aligned to hit our target in our respective roles.

What are 3 key things to note when starting a business?

The three things to note when starting a business are;

I’ll be honest, I didn’t write a business plan but writing your business plan is important because it is documentation that truly helps you see where you are going and what you need to do to get there.

Start small and have a mindset to always just EXECUTE.

Be intentional about your team. I cannot overemphasize this point. You will be worn out and frustrated.


 

Beauty Johnson

Food & Nutrition: Diet Munchers (@dietmunchers)

Beauty Johnson

How old is your business and how did it all start?

Dietmunchers started in 2014 at 6years exactly this month.

We started from my house, where I lived in Lekki Phase 1, with my passion for trying out recipes which I got compliments that they taste good.

How many businesses have you/do you handle(d)?

I have three other businesses, @gifts4specials and @stylebybeautilicious @thriftbybeautiliciousDietmunchers.

What are the growing costs of doing business now and the associated risks? Tell us about a few challenges you face.

The growing cost of businesses varies with the kind of business.

The economy has become a major risk associated with businesses.

Why did you choose entrepreneurship over corporate work?

I chose entrepreneurship over corporate work because of the lack of jobs.

Is the idea of apprenticeship or understudying other business owners something you practised or did you just jump in?

I was able to jump into Healthy cooking from my background of a family of a hotelier and with the help of my friend who studied Nutrition in the UK.

How do you handle the customer relations side of the business?

Having a good customer relationship requires you to hear your customer out and fixing the problem or compensating for it.

Aside from social media, what other tools are you employing now to foster business growth?

Google has also been seen as a major tool for business growth.

Have you adopted e-commerce solutions? Between e-commerce and traditional offline sales strategies, which do you prefer and why?

We have an e-commerce platform but because our business requires consultation for dietary requirements, we find that the old fashion way of chatting on WhatsApp works for us.

Are you running a sole proprietorship or you employ labour? If it’s the latter, what’s your recruitment process like? How do you meet salaries? At what point do you decide to scale?

Dietmunchers have employed labour which we get through a recruitment process of inviting candidates from an agency with the knowledge of cooking, we invite girls because we pride ourselves in empowering women.

We interview to get knowledge of candidates’ health background, ability to learn our cooking method, and if they have the same values as our company.

We narrate job descriptions and food recipes to see which candidate understands our process better.

What are 3 key things to note when starting a business?

Three things to note when starting a business is the need of the business in the society.

Entrepreneurs are problem solvers, so the business should solve a problem.

Having an experienced knowledge of the business is a key factor in starting a business.

Understanding the various risks associated with the business.

 

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