My seven unforgettable lessons making a way in business, Oberaifo Udoh – Managing Director, Vines Realty and Business Management Consultant.
Nothing informs my decisions more than waking up every morning to the realization that there are people whose source of livelihood depends on the minute details of my successes and failures. There have been instances when my decisions did not yield the results I thought they would. Still, the lessons I learned from those decisions have become pathways for driving my company to the level it is today. Here are a few business lessons I learned the hard way:
An empty plot is the property of the state
I once took a loan to buy a large plot of land along a major road. After surveying the land, I decided to tarry for a while before erecting a structure or fencing it around.
However, a few months down the line, I got a call from the Ministry of Works saying my land had strayed into a road the state government was constructing. I was told I could not be compensated as there was no visible structure on the land and that all lands belonged to the state. This was a very bitter pill to swallow, and the concomitant effect on my young entity was glaring.
Using a short-term loan for a long-term project
No matter how promising a project is, once it has a long-term execution plan, do not take a short-term loan for it. My partners and I once took a loan to erect the second commercial structure. The project had a 6-year delivery plan because of its size and location.
We were granted a loan with a 2-year repayment plan. It made sense based on our ex-ante estimates that it would accelerate the speed of work on the site. Our illusive thinking that the loan could accelerate the speed of work on the sight proved quite abortive, and we ended up repaying a loan with interest on a project which we had yet to generate a penny from.
Building a reliable team
When I first started in business, I could commit over 20 hours a day to work to ensure that things were at their optimum best in the organization. Though I could delegate as I had a team I did not trust them enough to provide the strategic leadership needed for the overall growth of the company. When I got married, I discovered that the time I put into work did not augur well with my responsibility as a husband and father. Hence I began to slow down my work rate to strike a balance between the two. This proved very costly for the company. I had to look for more hands to hire to cushion the effect, and of course, it came at a higher cost.
Taking the lead
In my first few years in business, I wanted my brand to be the go-to brand in every aspect, but I discovered I was playing on the periphery of all and the mainstream of none. To this end, I decided to conduct a case study of different aspects of the business based on what other companies in the industry were doing to command larger market shares. Based on the result of my research, I discovered areas I could do better, learned, and consolidated them. These became the springboard that launched my business to the next level.
Saying no to a service you have the potential to provide
At the initial stage, my mission was to build and own structures, not to help people build theirs. Interestingly, we had offers from individuals and corporate entities to undertake their building projects. I kept turning them down because it was not aligned with my core mission. But as time passed, I discovered that my core value as a businessman is to stay in business as often as possible. Since I could provide what they needed, I realized it would be wiser to take the offer. This decision not only surged my cash reserves but also unlocked a different phase of my business. I became a building contractor and commenced my journey as a full-scale consultant and corporate player.
Not finding a balance between customer acquisition and customer retention
The growing clientele is on every entrepreneur’s bucket list. Oftentimes, a greater chunk of our marketing effort is geared toward customer acquisition. However, the key to sustainable growth lies in customer retention. In my early years in business, I concentrated so much on getting new customers. When they started flocking in, I realized over time that many never called back after their first transaction. Having noticed the negative trend, I decided to rejig and anchor my marketing drive on what I tagged ‘fruits of relationships’.
This way, I began to draw up viable measures to retain my customer base. In no time, I noticed that most of the new customers I had were recommended by the old ones. It was easier to sell additional services we were offering to old clients than to new customers. When customers feel that their opinions are considered, they rarely jump ship and willingly become your brand advocates.
Dissuading creativity and innovative thinking
Every vision needs people to thrive irrespective of how nibble-witted the progenitor is. As a fresh businessman, I thought my ideas were all I needed to scale my business to the next level; only my opinion mattered. However, as time passed, I discovered that some of my decisions started to boomerang, so I adopted a consensus leadership style.
I started allowing my employees to give their input on some of the strategic decisions we were making as an organization. By doing so, their creativity gradually came to bear on their deliverables. Interestingly, I noticed that my staff became more productive and happy when they were at liberty to decide how to achieve our goals than when I set them and charted the course of action.
Conclusively, as a business coach and strategist, I wish to see Africa churn out more entrepreneurs who will create jobs for the continent’s youthful population. I hope you will draw valuable lessons from my experiences as you keep taking the path of your dream.