Running a business in Nigeria is hard. The most difficult part is getting someone that would actually believe you, and pay for whatever you offer. Do not think because you can speak well, write well and possibly dress like a don that it would be easy. In an environment where supply of talent far exceeds demand, the competition is fierce and intense. Nigeria works, but you must have paid your dues before you have your moments (I am assuming that you do not have a special gene that cuts the corners).
I have advisory or consulting business in mind as I write this piece. Yet, the points could apply in other areas. The biggest hurdle is to get that first appointment. Brethren, it is not easy: some banks receive more than 100 proposals per week from consultants. And some of these consultants are from the elite global institutions. In other words, there is chance their logos would speak for them, as most people see those entities, and not necessarily the people, when they work into boardrooms.
Nevertheless, have confidence and believe because you have a real advantage over those consultants: you are not coming with tailored made frameworks which can be customized for every client. You are coming as a customer with newer insights and perspectives, unbounded from any framework or organizational liturgy. While you need order, you are an insurgent, seeing things differently. What happens is that your clients get grassroots insights only a grassroots consultant can provide to help win grassroots customers. Think about it this way: to fly from Lagos to Owerri, there is a template (in some big firms) for that problem, but if there is no Lagos-Owerri flight, the framework fails. But where you are a small firm, unaware of many frameworks, it is possible that you can fly Lagos-Port Harcourt, and then drive to Owerri. (I am boosting your confidence. Note that some elite consultants are rugged and brilliantly impeccable. But you must find a way to believe, otherwise, you would be roasted when you appear before clients.)
Here are five things to consider towards getting those paying customers:
Education: If you have an elite education, make sure you let the people know. You did not go through the torture for nothing. It turns out that most people in Nigeria could give you audience because of the school you attended. So, if that is the advantage you have, flaunt it and make it very obvious and clear. In a certificate-crazy society like Nigeria, if you have it, it works.
Work Experience: This one is even more powerful than education. If you have worked in some very fascinating places, make sure they know. Remember, no one doubts your capability. People are simply waiting to be convinced to hire you, and trust that you would deliver. You need that edge. I have never seen a career so useful as banking. Honestly, it remains the best job I ever had. When people know you were a banker, there is an element of order they form around you. That is what you need as you begin some entrepreneurial consulting venture: to be seen as a dependable person who was good to have managed other people’s money.
Special Skills: What is that skill you think you have that can help the client? Is there a verifiable 3rd party that can attest to that skill? You need to make sure they know. One of the best suggestions my Practice gave a client in Tanzania was to write a book in its industry. The client did not think it would work. But we insisted that the firm writes one. At the end, the client did. Then, when the company sends a proposal to some specific clients, it puts a copy of that book as part of the package. Within 9 months, it tripled revenue in East Africa. The book elevated the client before the press, trade association members and clients. The CEO was seen as a domain expert; knowledgeable to the extent he could write a book in that specific area. That is the separation to growth we wanted: he has special skills; the book authorship has validated them.
Networks: Networks are business enablers. You build them and people form opinions about you. If you have good ones, you can walk into an office and come out hours with the documents you had gone in for. You must nurture them even when you are not thinking of making use of them.
Competence: No matter the edge you have, the only thing that keeps you is your outcome. Yes, your degree can get you into the building but when the CEO sees you, does he see someone that can use his time for 10 minutes or one guy who thought he was taking his mother’s free cereals. If you do not have competence, it would be lonely and dry. So, it makes sense to open a shop where either you or your team can demonstrate capabilities in the area you sell brainpower and insights as a consultant.