The president, Ifaki Progressive Union (Lagos Branch), Mr Jide Familoye, recently asked me to pen an essay on this subject for the benefit of our members. Here are my thoughts.
My approach in this article is to identify commonly held myths and attack them with the truth.
1. There are no jobs because the economy is bad.
I have been hearing this since I was in the primary school in the 70s, when peak milk used to cost 5kobo. A brand new Peugeot 504 was N5,000 and travelling to the UK or US was “visaless”. This is one of the greatest myths of all time. I am happy that the National Bureau of Statistics has now reviewed the unemployment statistics in Nigeria and come to the conclusion that unemployment in Nigeria is in the single digits. Yes, unemployment is not a problem in Nigeria. As it was in the 70s and 80s so it is in the 2020s. The same applies to business. Many of us decide the businesses we want for ourselves before an objective appraisal of the business environment. No. You cannot first pick your passion and then force it to align with economic realities. Look at the market first. If it is carpenters that are on demand and you went and studied English like I did, then you have to go back and learn something new.
We must understand that the Nigerian employment landscape is one of the most unregulated in the world. Anyone can wake up at anytime and decide he wants to train for and practise any profession. The entry barriers are almost nil. You can also start almost any trade with little or no training. There are few or no laws against such. If there are such laws they are never enforced. I am not advocating or promoting quackery, I am just saying that since the entry barrier to almost every profession is so low, what is the cause of the employment?
There is nothing holding you down from getting busy except your own lack of imagination. It’s not a job you don’t have, it’s a fertile imagination. The day you start to water your imagination by exposing yourself to the right people, right books, right information and right education you will suddenly see a flood of opportunities around you. It will become clear that what you have been missing is your eyes. They are open but you do not see. But what do the hard facts even suggest; employers today will tell you that replacing even routine staff like receptionists and cleaners can prove daunting. If there is so much unemployment, why are the potential employees so cocky? This is a country where 50 people will apply for a job and only five will show up at the end of the day. And those who come? They negotiate so hard. They want everything even though they have little or nothing to offer. At the end some will collect letter of employment and refuse to resume.
2. The reason I can’t start a business is because I have no money. I need N2 million so I can get started.
You cannot get started with money. You are liable to lose it. You can get started with an idea! Every time I have tried to make this point to young, and even some old, people, they simply laugh at me. In difficult times like this, money is so hard to raise. I am even at this moment trying to raise some money to complete an expensive project that turned out to require far more than my original projections. So yes it’s a real problem.
But here is the issue: People confuse projects with problems. Projects require loads of cash. But problems require solutions. If you are like me who didn’t inherit money or have rich friends who can dash or loan them money, then you have to focus on problems rather that projects. I recently did a self-assessment and asked myself why I am not rich. I have seen some money in my time. Reasonable. But yet I am not rich. If cash ownership was the solution to wealth acquisition then I ought to be very rich. But I am not. So I asked myself, Why am I not rich?
Here is the point: As a young man with a good education I came to Lagos after reading Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich 3 times back to back. I was on fire. I wanted to solve problems. I wanted to get things done. I was very clear that I needed to get certain things done for certain people or institutions. Because of this service orientation I turned nothing down. Every opportunity I got to render service was exploited to the hilt. I did home teaching for kids who needed tutoring. I hawked home videos for my brother’s video club. I actually hawked from street to street all over Surulere. I was an itinerant lesson teacher. I acted as PA to a trader who needed somebody to run errands and manage things for her. I was always on the lookout for something to do; service to render. If I saw you carrying a load that stressed you I was ready to help. I worked as customer service officer for Mega Plaza before it became Mega. And all this was not always for money. I genuinely wanted to help; to render service. I hardly ever negotiated. I wanted to be in on the gig.
When I went to serve in Anambra in 1992, the local government chairman wanted to post me to the LG headquarters because he felt teaching in the remote and isolated riverine village would be too stressful, but my spirit of adventure made me stage a scene and say no. “Send me there,” I said. Send me to that village. Everybody clapped. I almost lost my life in that drama. Mmiata Anam experience is not for faint hearts. The community was so nice to me though. The school needed me badly. I tried my best but eventually the bad water did me in. I survived by the whiskers. But I never lost my enthusiasm, my energy and my positivity. That is one thing many of us have lost. We spend all our energies complaining. Buhari yesterday, Tinubu today. We like it or not, life is going on. Nigeria will not shut down.
You don’t need money to solve problems BUT you can’t start a project without money. On the other hand, solving problems starts with Observation>Understanding> Processing>Think through>Document solution. Not money.
This process requires no money trust me, at least at this rudimentary stage. When you have found the solution, approach those who have the problem and tell them you have the solution. Then you have a job.
3. You must save to survive these difficult times.
That’s a very bad advice. One of the characteristics of this troubled economy is inflation. This means that the value of your saved money continues to degenerate over time. The more you save, the more money you lose. What if you want to buy a new piece of equipment and you are told to save? Bad advice. Instead of saving, go and have a meeting with the seller. Tell him you want to buy his product but prefer to pay in instalments. As long as you don’t plan to carry the goods away, he is taking no risk and happy to take your money. As long as he is a credible seller, you face no risks of losing your money. So your friend who kept his money in the bank would have lost 20% of the value in 6 months while your own money, since its already established on a product would have grown by 20%. Don’t forget the price of the product 6 months ago and the price of the product today has a 20% differential and the trader is still happy to deal with that because he had your money to trade with over a period. That is what is called a win-win. Make a habit of paying down on things, especially assets with the capacity to earn you income through use or if you eventually sell them off. Only save for emergencies.
4. I need an office or store to start a business.
There is this thinking that you need a store or office to scale a business. That was true before now, but not anymore. Multi million naira businesses now thrive online. They require no physical stores. Infact, do you know that Amazon and those like it have almost emasculated the traditional bookstore idea? There was a time that book shops were everywhere. Today your bookshop is on your phone. What about the music industry? Record stores are no longer relevant. Music streaming platforms are helping to push poor Nigerian musicians to the global stage. You too can do it.
In these difficult times renting shops is only for financially solid people. Don’t bother. And you know what? The number of people you have access to on Facebook or TikTok or Instagram is hundreds of times more than the number of people who have access to that shop off Toyin Street. Start small online and use part of the shop money to drive advertising online and see how sales multiply for you.
The easiest way for you to compete effectively in this time is to cut operational costs. Imagine not having to pay PHCN bills, street bills and water bills, in addition to rent! Just buy or build a website (chicken feed), spend some money on advertising, pay a little tax to government (self assessed) when you start making profits, and you are on your way to fame and fortune!
5. When I walk alone, I walk faster.
Yes, you do. But that is only part of the story. Never be too busy to be part of different groups and associations. Join your village club; be part of a social club; be active in a church or mosque group; don’t miss Isese meetings on Thursdays or Sundays or whenever they do their own meetings; be part of online or whatsapp groups too, and participate.
“To walk faster, walk alone. But if you want to walk far, walk together.”
At no time is this more important than when the times are economically challenged.
Being a part of these groups help you to be in the know. You must never allow yourself to become isolated in this digitally connected world under any circumstances. It can be fatal.
- Many business, educational, health related info is passed through these groups of the like-minded
- They provide an opportunity for you to celebrate with friends far and near and to let others know you remember them.
- When you are bereaved or in distress they provide a wall of support. They greet you online in droves; some even visit you at home. The value of this to our psychological health cannot be overestimated.
- When you need quick information or contact, simply reaching out solves the problem. And for free!
Lastly don’t forget that wise statement: What you know is not as important as who you know. (Very true believe me)
Let me end this piece by going back to my analogy on projects and problems and how they differ.
I repeat: Problems are about making money before spending some.
Projects are about spending money, and hopefully recovering them with profits [The 3rd P].
Problems are strictly about creating value and making life easier. You don’t need money to solve problems BUT you make money from solving them.
I used the word strictly because projects can also make loads of money and create loads of value. But many times it does not happen. Projects have a lot to do with ambition and passion.
Money, on its own, does not solve any problem. Superior thinking does. Okay, money can solve hunger problem. But after that you will still be hungry and the money is gone.
I never really got rich because I am addicted to projects. I make money by solving problems, consulting for businesses, writing great stuff and then I have a project and I blow everything on it. These are my passions. Do they make money? If they did I should be very rich. Some are still on, some are in the making. Who knows tomorrow?
So here is the most important lesson from this presentation: Even if you get all the money for a project, there is no guarantee that you will make money out of it. And this is not even because the projects failed. But that is another lecture.
Problem solving gets everybody excited and willing to spend. That is because you are removing the speck from their eyes. Sometimes, in fact many times, you may solve people’s problem and make no money. Never let this dissuade you. Just make sure you earn the reputation of a problem solver.
Money will come to you.
Times of economic crisis are the best time to come up with solutions because people are distressed. They are plagued by intractable problems and they wonder if there is a way out. That is your way in. Open your eyes. The more the problems in the society, the more the opportunities.
When you solve those problems, you create happiness and fulfilment. That is because you make lives sweet. Like I hope have made yours sweet today.
And see, it costs me nothing!