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If you were given the chance to meet and seek advice from any of Nigeria’s famously successful businesspeople, who would it be? Would you prefer to hear Mike Adenuga, founder of telecoms giant Globacom, or would you rather have a mentoring session with Folorunsho Alakija, Nigeria’s richest businesswoman? Will it be a tete-a-tete with Aliko Dangote, founder of Nigeria’s biggest business conglomerate, the Dangote Group? Or is a dinner with visionary entrepreneur and investor Tony Elumelu what you would value most? Many would gladly pay mammoth sums to have a live close-up encounter with many of these people. Afterall, the advice they’ll be getting would be from people who know what it takes to build world-beating corporations from relatively little. Their words are taken seriously by the country’s business community and the government, and their knowledge of the workings of the Nigerian economy is practical and incredibly valuable. Surely, tapping into the well of wisdom they possess would be worth the investment. But…what if we brought you business advice from them, for free? In this article, we’re doing exactly that. We’ve put together some of the best advice for entrepreneurs given by those who have “been there and done that”- the five-star generals of Nigerian business. If they were to give you tips for succeeding in business, they would very likely suggest the following steps (based on their own words).
  1. Love what you do
Here’s what Aliko Dangote suggests:
“You should not take your business or job as something you must do. You must take it as a hobby. If it’s your hobby, you’ll do it better.”
This makes perfect sense. You can’t sustain the push for business growth if you think working on your enterprise is a chore, or worse, just necessary drudgery. It’s not going to work. Love what you do; or better still, do what you love. Better a business running on sheer passion than one propped up by experienced but unenthusiastic hands.
  1. Learn the ropes
When you have a business idea and you think it’ll run smoothly when it comes alive, remember that it’ll require your expertise to survive and thrive. Serial media entrepreneur and founder of Ebony life TV, Mo Abudu, says she had to learn the basics of presenting television talk shows from scratch after she conceived the idea for her TV program, Moments With Mo. “I first had to get up and learn what it meant to be a talk show hostess,” she remembers.
“The person that I saw that resembled what I wanted to do was Oprah Winfrey. I ordered every episode that she had recorded. My job for the next few months was to watch these episodes, just to understand what it was to engage.”
Mo Abudu’s point is that we must be willing to get ourselves ready for the business we’re plunging into if we’re going to run it properly. Train yourself, or get experience from some formal institution or company.
  1. Be prepared for opportunities
It’s often said that entrepreneurs have an uncommon knack for spotting opportunities. Whether there’s something inborn that makes entrepreneurs able to find need gaps where others don’t is contestable. But it’s certain that they do see opportunities, and the ones who seize those opportunities the right way are successful. Tony Elumelu reminds us to:
“know when an oportunity presents itself, and be prepared to seize the opportunity.”
This, in a nutshell, is what spurs entrepreneurship.
  1. Be fearless
There’s something bugging you; a thought, a doubt, a nagging uncertainty about the venture upon which you have embarked (or are planning to launch into). Many people face this. Sometimes, it’s the fear that it’ll not turn out right, and in other instances, it might be that you’re unsure that it’s really viable. Do something about it. Thoroughly examine what you’re pursuing. Look at the benefits and weigh them against the costs. If you find faults, fix them and carry on. If the costs outweigh the gains by an unassailable margin, you might have to let it go. But if you’ve pored through the details and think that they are fine with you, proceed without fail. Don’t let the doubts bite you. As Fela Durotoye of the Gemstone Group says,
“everyone, including you, suffers when you refuse to be and do all you can.”
If it’s worth the fight, put your hands on the plough, and don’t look back.
  1. Have a sense of purpose
This isn’t just about incubating grand ideas in your head. The real deal is the day-to-day working out of those conceived dreams, the little steps that carve your dreams into reality. Aliko Dangote explains that his sense of purpose comes from the realization that he has problems to confront and solve every day. His attitude?
“Every morning when I wake up, I make up my mind to solve as many problens as I can before retiring home.”
Folorunsho Alakija lets us in on her modus operandi when she says this:
“it’s essential to draw up a ‘things to do list’ on a daily basis, and set priorities.”
She advises that if some tasks remain unfinished, they should be rolled over to “the next day’s list.”
  1. Work with as much information as you can
Study your market, and know your industry. Trying to run your business in a market that you know very little about is dangerous. It’s like sailing upon turbulent waters without knowing how to get to the destination that you’re supposed to be heading for. This also applies to the smaller details of everyday business. The more you know about a process or project, the better you’ll be able to handle it. This is why big businesses are typically keen on data. Aliko Dangote has said that his investment decisions, like those of any frontline investor on the planet, are informed by carefully analyzed market information. He encourages upcoming businesspeople to do the same. He says:
“You need to have a lot of information at your fingertips, so you’ll be able to take the right decisions.”
  1. Collaborate
Mo Abudu thinks that business partnerships have helped Ebony life TV reach audiences across Africa and beyond. She also emphasizes that collaboration is needed in the internal workings of business as well. “The team is very, very important,” she says.
“Never think you can do it alone. Whatever your passion is, do that, and let those who are specialists in other things come in to be part of your team.”

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This article was first published on 11th January 2018


Ikenna Nwachukwu holds a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He loves to look at the world through multiple lenses- economic, political, religious and philosophical- and to write about what he observes in a witty, yet reflective style.

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