How to Succeed as a Business Person in Nigeria


Today, I want to share something very interesting with you. I am writing on “How to Succeed as a Business Person in Nigeria”.

Aha! Now you are wondering whether that is not pretty obvious to any average Nigerian. You already think you know what it takes to succeed in Nigeria and I’m sure I can guess what’s going on in your mind. You think it’s “man know man”. Well, if that’s what you think, you are dead wrong. If that was all it took, many Nigerians who have the right connection would be successful today. Very shortly, I’ll show you why I think you are wrong.

There are many Nigerian success stories, business-wise. I’m not talking of that young man who manages to win a contract from an MNC, buys a 4-wheel drive, drinks Hennessy at bars becomes broke again and begins to look for the next contract. If you are here, I’m not rapping you; you just need to pay attention.

Many successful Nigerian businessmen (and women) agree on some key attributes needed to succeed. As I reel off these attributes which may be very familiar to you, I’m sure you will smile and nod. So, let’s go!

1.    They are Strong-willed

The most successful business people everywhere are strong-willed in spirit and those in Nigeria are not an exception. They are dogged, focused and are convinced that winning or succeeding is the only option. Some have interpreted this to mean that successful business people do not take “No” for an answer.  I, however, think that they know when a “No” is a “No” and find either an alternative way to make the deal or find an alternative deal.

2.   They understand their line of business

All successful entrepreneurs truly understand their businesses almost like the back of their hands. They have an uncannily detailed knowledge of the business they are involved in.

3.    They are excellent networkers

Successful people know how to maintain a good network of contacts. They find out what others in their networks are into and do business with them. They hardly ever lose a good business contact. In fact, as soon as they get a business card for a potential business contact, they punch the number on the cards into their phones immediately. Some even scan the cards and store electronically.

4.     They are dreamers and think BIG

The very successful business people are visionaries, ever dreaming and thinking Big. They just keep dreaming of the next big business idea even before the have finished executing one.  Case in point is Aliko Dangote. He is not yet done with being the largest cement manufacturer in Africa; he recently announced plans to build an $8bn refinery with a capacity to about 400,000 barrels per day.

5.    They are adaptable to change

Adaptability is one of the strengths of successful business people. They are continually scanning the environment to find out what has changed and what they can do to adapt to that change. Once the cheese has moved, a successful business man knows how not to moan the loss of a cheese station – he looks for a new cheese station.

6.   They surround themselves with quality advisers

You can call this sound management, if you will. These business people do not spare expenses in getting the right professional advice. Sometimes, they head-hunt the very best in their fields and make him an offer that is difficult to refuse. They do this, not because they want to throw money around, but because they want the best advice.

(More of these can be found at

Well, you may say I am citing examples using Dangote and his likes and may be tempted to say those guys are way out of your league. You would rather deal with ordinary folks.

Like we say in that popular Nigerian parlance, no wahala. There is a story that is not so familiar to many Nigerians. It is the story of Ayodeji Mebope, the moin-moin seller. Her story is one that should inspire many Nigerians. We will now use it as a case study. Here’s her story.


 Ayodeji Mebope runs a catering outfit (called) No Left Over Nigeria plc which she started with an initial capital of N1,000 by selling moin-moin (bean cake).


She was trained as a confidential secretary, and worked in Corona Primary School for about nine years and on her resignation from Corona, she had the intention of starting a playgroup and not a catering outfit. To actualize this, she enrolled in a six-month Montessori programme. But at the end of the period, she lost interest in pursuing the ambition.


To get herself busy, she started cooking for her sister-in-law, who was an extremely busy career woman. One day, her sister-in-law visited her house and joined Ayodeji and her family as they were having moin-moin, as a meal. She enjoyed it so much that she insisted that moin-moin must be included in her menu in which Ayodeji charged N1,000 for. And from there, family members, friends and colleagues began to place orders.


In three months of selling to a few family and friends, her turnover was running into N30, 000 – N40, 000 and she decided to take the business more seriously and at that point, realised that the best way to achieve success in business is to have a high turnover. The first question that came to her mind was where can (sic) she go to make her product available in the wider market? She went to the school she previously worked to hawk moin-moin for sale and that opened her up to larger market.


Even with the income from the sales of moin moin at Corona, she could not really account for the sales, expenses and profit. She had no proper financial account(s) and believed she needed to build her capacity. Coincidentally, she came across an advert on the newspaper saying that a United (Nations) organisation was coming into Nigeria to invest in women entrepreneurs with little or no business. That was The Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Program in collaboration with the Enterprise Development Centre of the Pan-African University. An essay was required from interested applicants about their businesses and growth potentials. Ayodeji participated in the essay and was shortlisted and awarded a scholarship. She simply wrote what she was doing – selling and hawking moin-moin in front of a school. The 5-months program opened her eyes to the fact that she needed to put her finances together, and properly structure her business to ensure her sales and expenditure are clearly spelt (out). Another aspect of the programme that really transformed her business was the customer service aspect; reason being that prior to the CEM Programme she was not sure of her business career. There, she also recognized her good communication skills.


After the program, she claimed that her story took a different turn.  She was like a bird ready to fly – she became unstoppable. She was determined to run the business truly like a business. She opened a bank account for the company and started setting up business structures. The company had moved from one single product company (Moin-Moin) to a full catering outfit, where catering for 1,000 people was no longer a big deal but she jealously guarded the humble SEED – Moin-Moin, which has now become Moin-Moin Department in her new outlet. The contribution from this department in one week was enough to pay all the staff’s monthly salary. In less than one year of being a Goldman Sachs scholar, she had saved enough money to buy her own delivery vehicle, giving her more control on service delivery. She moved her business from her “Home” to “Office” thus enabling her to take on multiple jobs.


She had staffing issues at the initial stage of growth but the HR module (people make it happen) she attended during the CEM program sorted her out. She set up a proper staff structure and started to delegate duties. But as she grew, she found out that as long as the business is tied around the owner, the business cannot grow. Trust, delegation and empowering people are required in growing and meeting targets. She started handling multiple chores at the same time and so the business exploded with higher capital.


The most important message she has is never to be afraid to start small and never to be afraid to start with any amount. Well, she admitted that the journey was not smooth all the way. The zeal to acquire so much set in at a point and this really set her back at a time. She will like to encourage the young entrepreneurs to have a good business plan because it helps with proper planning and projection. Also, she advised that the financial records must be properly kept.  In her words “That would help the business to know when to make the next move, when to expand and how to expand”.


Culled from

The lessons from the moin-moin seller’s story include some of the points already highlighted above.

However, I would like to share one more point before we wrap up. It is the fact that successful business people have mastered their hustle. Now, I can imagine you scratching your head on hearing the word “hustle”. You are almost like “what’s this guy talking about?”

I admit that due to its usage in certain contexts and circumstances, the word “hustle” does evoke some degree of negativity. Well, I won’t be drawn into giving examples here. In the standard context, there is plenty of positives. Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary defines “hustle” as “. . . to convey forcibly or hurriedly; . . . to urge forward precipitately; . . . to obtain by energetic activity; . . . to sell something to or obtain something from by energetic and especially underhanded activity;. . . to sell or promote energetically and aggressively.”

So, there you have it: channeling you energy and aggression towards something you believe in.

David Siteman Garland shares a few things about hustling and includes some recommendations on how to keep the energy level up. These include:

1. Your horn was built for tooting. It is one thing to be humble and another thing to be a jerk, but if you are afraid to promote you and your business, you are not hustling. This does not mean . . . telling everyone how awesome you are, but it does mean making a conscious effort to promote, tell people what you are up to, and also have confidence in your accomplishments. Successful entrepreneurs are great self-promoters and believe in both their business and themselves.  Just don’t blow out the horn.


2. Screw Rejection. I remember trying to ask out a girl in 6th grade. I had no idea what I was doing and asked her out in the middle of a class…DURING the class with lots of people watching. Horrible idea. It didn’t work and I was super embarrassed. It is not that dissimilar from starting a business. You are taking a risk and putting yourself out there. Negabots will attack with their haterade. Hustlers don’t get embarrassed or upset,  they answer all e-mails (even the negative ones), respond to critics, make sales pitches, and make it happen no matter what. If someone told me I shouldn’t start a TV show without going to broadcasting school and having twenty years experience, I just look them in the face and say, “Thank you for your opinion. I respect that and I’m doing things a bit differently.”


3. Don’t be afraid of saying “No”. If you are hustling, opportunities will come your way. If the opportunity isn’t right for you, say no. Don’t chase all the shiny red balls, just find the ones that work for you and your brand.


4. Knocking Down Doors. Often times the only way to knock down the door in the entrepreneurial hustling world is to blast it down. Cold-calling, asking friends for help, going to your family. Yes, it takes time but building a business takes hard, sweaty time.


5. Fuel With Small Victories. Building businesses takes patience and hustle. But, I know I have patience problems (Do you?). We all want results NOW which is the selling points of get-rich schemes, MLM’s, and other sketchy stuff. Fuel yourself with small victories: You were complimented on your business, a happy customer sends an e-mail,  you made one website sale. It is easy to bask in the light of BIG victories (million dollar deals, new clients, a gazillion web hits, whatever), but a series of small victories will give you the attitude burst to keep rolling.


In a nutshell, get out there, ignore the haters, build your business, and adjust your hustling thinking and your success will be limitless.(

You are still thinking that I left out the “man know man” issue. Yes! Even if you get the right connection and do not have the right mindset or are not well-organised, what should ordinarily have given you an advantage may well become your albatross.

About three months ago, I was attending a meeting in one of the South-South states and needed quickly print out a document. I headed for the nearest cyber-café. This was about 11.00am local time. As I walked into the business centre, I observed that the environment was very tense. A particular young man was very agitated. He was threatening fire and brimstone against the business centre’s management for making it impossible for him to successfully bid for an oil company’s dollar-denominated contract.

I eventually found out he was someone I know and I joined in calming him down and restoring peace in that environment. This chap is one of the “community boys” that regularly gets shortlisted for contracts by virtue of the fact that he was from the community where the oil company carried out its operations. He had done some jobs previously and made some money. He about three cars and lived in a nice apartment. Yet, he need to go to a business centre to complete an online competitive bid that was timed.

To me, this guy was not prepared to do business. He didn’t have the business sense to invest some small money in a computer, a generator and internet connection. How much would that have cost to prepare for a $500,000 contract?

I rest my case for today. I wish you success in your hustle!


Follow me on twitter @ehissman.


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