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SME Anatomy: Panel Discussions, Networking, and More

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Interactive panel discussions, engaging sales pitches, and networking were highlights of the SME Anatomy Conference, which held on Thursday, 3rd of August, 2017, at Colonades Hotel, Ikoyi, Lagos.

The event, organised by Happenings Media in partnership with Skool Media and AfriPay, was a forum of debates and discussions on determining and overcoming challenges militating against the growth of businesses as well as learning how to grow businesses in an environment that is not particularly business friendly.

While acknowledging the resilience of business owners in Nigeria, Managing Director of Happenings Media, Joy Isi Bewaji, identified government policies, bodies such as NAFDAC, taxation, rent, staffing, the economy, and inadequate basic infrastructures as some of the challenges business owners face in the country.

“I have the utmost respect for SME entrepreneurs. I’ve tried it so many times and I can tell you it’s frustrating,” she said.

“It’s a hustle for business owners,” the media entrepreneur further stated, recalling the moment she witnessed the tears of a shop owner whose shop was demolished by the state government last year.

The conference was thus borne out of a need to inspire and recognize business owners, she revealed.

“This is our way of saying we see you,” she said, adding that the “need to hear from other people”, the “need to talk” and “to get inspired” were also motivating factors for organising the event.

“Let’s document this day into something we can put on the Internet so that people who weren’t even here can be well informed,” she concluded, even as she pointed out that mentorship, networking, and connecting with new customers were goals she hoped everyone would be able to attain at the end of the day.

Start-Up Businesses: The Experiences, Challenges, and Growth

Moderated by entrepreneurial talk show host, Chichi Eriobu, the sales pitch session was open to both emerging and established entrepreneurs who shared their experiences, challenges, and growth in their business ventures with the audience.

For some of these entrepreneurs, venturing into a business was a result of not being able to get a job, for others it was a passion they needed to explore and for yet others, it was the need to work for themselves and make their “own” money.

“In 2013, I realized that what I was doing for my boss was what I could do for myself,” Yusuf Nuhu, a start-up entrepreneur in Estate Marketing, stated.

Another start-up entrepreneur and a graduate of Physics Electronics from Delta State University, DJ Grene, ventured into his DJ business because he couldn’t get a job. He said, “I thought to myself, why am I looking for a job when I have something sellable?”

Benita Iseriehen, who owns a start-up cake brand called Nitaz Cakes and Events, insisted that passion was what made her venture into the cake making business. She admitted, “I was baking in school. After school, I worked at a bakery, and now I have started my own.”

In the course of the session, it was observed that challenges are a part of starting a business. “Initially, capital was a problem,” revealed one entrepreneur, Courage Ugele, who owns a start-up business called, Winehouse Nigeria. He added that he had approached 25 importers but was turned down by each of them. Another entrepreneur complained about the difficulty in getting licensed by NAFDAC

These challenges, notwithstanding, the entrepreneurs have been able to forge ahead with perseverance, determination, and diligence. Ugele admitted that after being turned down 25 times, he restrategised and started to supply hotels and events. Questions were posed and advice, suggestions, opinions were offered by the audience.

Ideas Versus Capital

Panelists Ewaen Sorae, founder and senior principal designer of online bedding and homeware store, E’Sorae Luxury; Gbenga Ayo-Dada, accessory designer and founder of Gbenga Artsmith; and Kelvin Odun, who represented the project director of Skool Media, Moses Imayi, debated the relationship between ideas and capital in entrepreneurship at the first panel discussion, tagged “Ideas Versus Capital.”

At the session, moderated by Lilian Emoni, the panelists agreed that an entrepreneur does not need a lot of capital or a grand idea to start a business.

“I started with less than a million naira … I worked from my dad’s house … there are a lot of businesses you can start with 100k,” Sorae said, adding that the most important factors to consider when starting a business include network, integrity, time and talent/skill as well as market and research

“All you need is a marketing idea, a business plan,” Ayo-Dada chipped in, stressing the need for a business plan rather than grand or sophisticated ideas. “I didn’t have sophisticated ideas. I just wanted to make jewelry and sell … you need to have a plan. There must be a short-term plan, there must be a long-term plan. When I started, I didn’t have money. I was very young then”

Insisting that he raised capital from the profit he made when he started, the talented jeweler said that the question any intending entrepreneur should ask is, “What can you do today that can build capital?”

While debating if the amount of capital an entrepreneur has should influence the products and services offered, Odun said, “I will not compromise quality for quantity. If I make people understand what they will be getting, I’m sure they’ll be ready to pay more … I don’t think it should affect what you offer …. as an SME, we need to keep finding ways that we can cut cost in an angle without affecting the quality.”

Surmounting the Nigerian Demons of Enterprise

“I’m not an advocate for using the bank. We have come a long way raising our capital,” said Morenike Thomas Peters, PR Executive and founder of the manufacturing brand, Novaira, during the second panel session, tagged “Surmounting the Nigerian Demons of Enterprise.”

She debated the question of taking loans from banks with her fellow panelists Tewa Onasanya, Founder and Publisher of Exquisite Magazine; Segun Adelaja, Architect and serial entrepreneur; Uche Nnaji, Creative Director and Founder of the fashion outfit, OUCH; and Kelvin Orogun, Managing Director of AfriPay.

“Let the bank be your last resort,” the Tony Elumelu beneficiary advised.

On the issue of entrepreneurs self-sabotaging their business, Onasanya insisted that the likelihood of doing so exists if an entrepreneur puts only passion ahead of everything else.

Citing her past experience as an example, she explained, “My passion took over. When people came to advertise for free, I said yes. I was printing the magazine with the money I had. When the money ran out, I had no more money.”

“Another way you can self-sabotage yourself is by constantly eating your seed,” Nnaji insisted, while Peters added that self-sabotage could occur when an entrepreneur does not properly manage her time.

She said, “You are sabotaging your business when you don’t have a schedule and when you set a schedule but don’t follow through.”

Orogun mentioned “staying in your comfort zone” as another way entrepreneurs can self-sabotage their business.

Focus and passion were listed by the panelists as the most critical things needed to help an entrepreneur surmount self-doubt. “Focus, like a laser beam just keeps you going,” Nnaji said.

Myths, Facts, Solutions

The atmosphere of the last session, with the theme “Myths, Facts, Solutions”, was as electrifying as the mood was warm and friendly. The moderator, Bewaji, and the panelists, Adekunbi Fashakin, blogger and founder of popular makeup/beauty outfit, Sit Pretty Beauty; Derin Fagbure, Corporate Lawyer with a keen interest in SMEs; Eniola Adeniji, Industrialist and serial entrepreneur; Segun Adelaja, Architect and serial entrepreneur; Aduke Gomez, writer and entrepreneur; and Jubril Adeojo, skilled entrepreneur in Development Finance, wasted no time in dissecting the most delicate issues on the subject of entrepreneurship.

Addressing the issue of partnership in business, Fagbure advised entrepreneurs never to rush into anything, to never be sentimental, and never to take anything for granted, especially the issue of copyright and legal paper works. She said, “Be sure you have protected your intellectual property.”

Plan, passion, and purpose, the panelists agreed, are the things that make one a good entrepreneur and act as the biggest drives when running a business.  Fashakin added “value” to the list, saying, “The value that I think they perceive is what drives me.” Adeniji said, “For me, it’s purpose…. Purpose is what will keep you going.”

When asked what was more motivating to the entrepreneur; the passion or the money, Fashakin admitted that passion first, then money later, she said, “Initially, it was passion and eventually it became money.”

Dispelling the idea that running a business means having control over your time, Adelaja said, “That’s one of the most popular myths of entrepreneurship …You left your 9-5 for a 9-9.” While Fashakin affirmed,  “When you’re working for yourself, you do not have as much time as you thought you did.”

“The time is now,” was Adeojo’s response to the question, “Is there any time like the right time” to start a business?

“There are opportunities every second,” he said, citing the examples of people who are not skilled in a particular field but have successfully run businesses in such fields. For instance, he said, he would start a barbing salon next year even though he is not skilled in the art of barbing.

When asked if holding a white-collar job prevents one from being an entrepreneur, Gomez responded, “Even if you’re working for someone, you must have an entrepreneurial spirit. Even in employment, you should train yourself as providing services to your employer.”

She continued, “I don’t think it does. You can be thinking about your plan while you’re in employment…. Employment doesn’t last forever.”

Adelaja, who had earlier stated that entrepreneurship is not for everybody, made it clear that being an expert in all parts is “physically impossible.” While stating that “it’s good to have some knowledge of how these things work”, he stated that delegating would speed things up for any entrepreneur, “Your inability to delegate will slow you down.”

When the discussion turned to the influence of social media on businesses, Fashakin advised entrepreneurs to have a proper website first. She then added that visibility on at least a social media channel can do a lot for a business. She stated, “You have to be on Instagram …You have to be visible.”

Adelaja agreed, “You are your most credible brand on social media … I think social media is actually a good tool.” Gomez suggested asking such questions as, “How do I want people to perceive me? How do I want people to perceive my brand?” before advertising your brand on social media.

Even as she shared their sentiments, Adeniji was quick to point out that, when putting your brand on social media, there should be a distinction between your private life and your brand.

The relationship between entrepreneurship and integrity, entrepreneurship and luck, and referrels and leveraging were some issues discussed during this session.

On entrepreneurship and integrity, Adeniji made it clear that “nobody wants to invest in a business that has no integrity.”

Fashakin insisted that entrepreneurship hardly has anything to do with luck, but has more to do with hard work and some common sense. She said, “I think I came into the industry at the right time. Luck has nothing to do with it. …entrepreneurship requires some common sense …Entrepreneurship is much more than luck.”

Q & A Session

During the question and answer session, guests and participants gleaned a wealth of knowledge from the panelists. Purpose, people, processes, physical resources, delayed gratification, and you (the entrepreneur), Adelaja noted, are factors that ensure the smooth running of a business.

While advising start-up entrepreneurs, Adeniji said they must have a business plan before they think of quitting their 9-5 jobs. “Don’t just up and live … start building your customer base, until you know that you have enough. Then you can quit your job,” she said.

The event was not just panel sessions and discussions. People had the opportunity to network after the event while they ate and drank.

Photo Credit: King Solomon Ekhaiyeme

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