[INTERVIEW] International Business Specialist, Dr. Sheriff Alabi, advises business upstarts: “Be brave … entrepreneurship is not for the fainthearted.”
International business consultant and specialist, Dr. Sheriff Alabi, reveals what would-be entrepreneurs should explore before going into business for themselves. His interview:
Tell us a little about yourself and what you do?
I am an EMEA marketing and business development specialist, operating out of the UK with frequent visits to the Americas, Africa and Southeast Asia. I am an expert in delivering marketing and business development support to SMEs across sectors and at different life-cycle stages, with a real passion for women and young entrepreneurs through mentoring, coaching, advisory, training and consultancy support. I offer a solid managerial, marketing and general business experience spanning more than 30 years, from the private, public and CSO sectors. As an independent consultant, I also work with the African Development Bank agencies, advising on entrepreneurship and skills development in Africa.
What significant difference comes to mind between doing business in the UK and in Nigeria?
There are several fundamental differences when conducting business in these two countries but I will sum these up as differences of culture, practice and ethics. There are also key support systems that are lacking, in my view, in the Nigerian business environment – infrastructure, justice, security and access to relevant local skills, amongst others.
What is your advice for small business upstarts in the UK?
There can be no better time to take the plunge than now and working for yourself can be both incredibly rewarding and equally challenging. However, working for yourself does not necessarily mean working by yourself and, with sufficient pre-start preparation aside, anyone starting out own their own should also have access to a good business support system – including professional business advisers, competent business mentors and entrepreneurial-minded legal and accountancy practitioners. Above all, you should believe in yourself and be prepared for a long-haul. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, certainly not the fainthearted.
What is your advice for small business upstarts in Nigeria?
The advice in the Nigerian context is not dissimilar to that given to a UK new start-up. Additionally, the budding Nigerian entrepreneur should also beware of the local sensitivities, as highlighted above. Be fully prepared and adaptive to the dynamism of the local business environment, as reflected in the daily challenges they will unavoidably encounter – planning and working in as structured and systematic a fashion as possible (not conducting the business haphazardly).
Scenario: I have no capital, no investors. But I have a brilliant business plan/proposal – and I’m in Nigeria. What do I do?
Amongst the list of new start-up resource requirements, consideration for finance usually falls way down. Most new businesses started from a low capital base and, over time, scaled up in accordance with an existing plan that is adaptable to changing market conditions. Starting out, it is important to be clear about three critical considerations: firstly, ask yourself if you have something (unique, different or better than what already exists) to offer. Second, ask if you have what it takes to make it work (aside from the capital, the key issues of business attitude, personality, strength of character, skills, etc. should be paramount in the scenario). Thirdly, check whether there is anyone interested in what you have to offer; in other words, ascertain that there is a viable (and potentially profitable) market in that gap – most people tend to focus on the “gap in the market”.
Armed with a decent business plan which clearly demonstrates the viability of your idea (and once the above three areas have been thoroughly dealt with), then you could explore the alternative sources of funding available to you, including external equity partners – remembering that 10% of 100 is much better than 100% of naught.
When you first arrived at the UK, what major change did you have to adjust to in the business environment?
As an “alien” in the land, it is absolutely essential to learn and to understand the local cultures, customs and norms – as the Yorubas would say: bayi la nse ni’le wa, eewo ibomi ni. Aside from the marked difference in the weather and the attendant requirement to adjust your sense of dressing, you learn to say “please” and “thank you” at the end of almost every sentence. You learn “manners”, you learn “respect”, you learn to be patient and, most of all, you learn to be “tolerant” of people.
Considering what the economy is today, what is more prudent: save your money or risk it all in an investment?
Saving is always a “best bet” strategy because it provides some sense of ultimate security. However, you don’t make money by saving, in as much as a farmer does not fill his stores with last year’s harvest of crops – he has to sow in other to grow and enjoy the next season’s harvest. He may well keep some stock behind (with the right facilities being available) and that will be a very prudent thing to do; a wise move, indeed. So, you should never risk it all, as the value of investments and their returns are never guaranteed.
Be bold, be brave, be happy, be grateful; for everything and in every situation.
This interview is brought to you by Africa Business Communities