Hard Lessons

After losing the multi million naira opportunity (last post), I was miffed. I had learnt the hard way the true meaning of one of my favourite quotes, “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity“. I simply wasn’t prepared, mentally or administratively, to take the big opportunity that came my way.

Allow me take you on a journey. You see, everything about Ìsúra had been accidental 🙈. After leaving my job, as you’ve heard before, I couldn’t imagine that stringing beads together would be my source of income. I didn’t earn a master’s degree so that I could sell cheap jewelry. Even if I wanted to make jewelry, I needed professional skills, like goldsmithing, gemology, and the likes (to make pieces like Tiffany’s or Carter), and since I didn’t have those skills, jewelry-making was not an option. This was my decision, in spite of the strong pull I felt within my spirit towards jewelry-making. This time, I chose physical over spiritual logic, and I paid dearly for it. Again, that’s a story for another season.

So after my foray into a big business that failed miserably, and almost consumed me, I finally decided to heed the voice within and take up jewelry-making as a fallback. I still didn’t think of it as a business, I just wanted to be able to cater for my little personal needs like airtime and data on my phone, and any other minor expenses that came up. So in January of 2011, I bought a few supplies worth about N10,000 or less (can’t remember the exact figure) and I started. Of course, I reasoned that the more I sold, the better for me, but I thought of it more like a hobby that fetched spendable income, than a business I needed to build. In February, my sister told me about a monthly pop-up market where young people liked to shop, so I registered. To do that, I needed a brand name, so I thought of an indigenous name that captured how I wanted people to think about my jewelry – Ìsúra, meaning ‘treasures’ in Yoruba. After some time, I realised that the name resonated with many people, so the following year, after saving enough, I registered the business name. Nothing about Ìsúra was thought out strategically, it was all done on the run. The only thing I had were records of my expenses and purchases, which I kept purely as a good habit I’d picked up over the years.

And so, I didn’t plan for anything big. This was, after all, just my way of earning upkeep income. Yes, I imagined myself getting plenty of orders when people liked my jewelry🤩, but that was still a future away, and I would handle that when I got there. Plus, I’d heard numerous stories of people who’d started small things, and had greatness “fall upon them”. That could be my story.

Today, I advise entrepreneurs differently. These are my notes to my younger business self:

1) Remember to always think big, not just dream big. Dreaming big is an aspiration, an imagination, but thinking big is a logical process. You may be small, but in your dealings, be big. Keep your records, make your statutory returns and payments, use contracts, and letters, for engaging staff and associates, etc. This way, you’ll always be prepared to engage with the big guns, they won’t do anything with you without you being statutorily impeccable. Get an accounting system, if possible, to keep your books. Get a lawyer and an accountant on retainership. There are those who work for SMEs and make their prices affordable. I know of @accountinghub on Instagram, for accounting services. I’ll share others when I find them.

2) As you market yourself on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc., remember that you’re putting yourself in a global space, not just a local space. Anybody, from anywhere in the world, at anytime, can connect with you based on what you put out. I was contacted last year, by an organisation in Spain that they needed my expertise in the jewelry industry, for some work they were trying to get in Nigeria, via my LinkedIn profile. It was a genuine offer where they were appealing to me to consider accepting 400USD per day, yes you read that right, PER DAY.

3) The future is NOW. There’s so much going on for entrepreneurs in Nigeria right now. Both organisations and individuals are practically falling over themselves to do something for entrepreneurs, so there’s a lot of free stuff. Everything you need is somewhere not too far from you, you’ll be surprised at the kind and quality of trainings that are now available in Nigeria. 10 years ago, I would have had to go abroad to get professional goldsmithing training; today, some organisations are bringing it for free. By all means, take advantage of the free, but know that the good stuff usually has to be paid for. On the flip side, many people are taking advantage of the season to charge so much for what you can get for a fraction of the cost. Research wide, ask for recommendations, take advice, and please do your due diligence.

4) Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learnt in this process and period, is the value of mentors and people. In every sphere of life, a person needs 3 groups of
people – a mentor; friends/mates; mentees. That’s the cycle of life. Each of these 3 groups has its place in motivating you to attain higher goals. I’ll talk about this another time.

5) Lastly, plan for the big times. Don’t think big opportunities are too far away from you. You may only be a few months old in business when you get a big opportunity. Have a plan in place for how to handle such, in case they come along. Maybe a bigger organisation you can work with, maybe a group of other small businesses. The important thing is don’t let big opportunities catch you unawares.

Remember, every big business started as a small business at some point, and even though there are flukes, most times growth is planned for.

Share this story if you learnt a thing or two, and please leave me a comment sharing your biggest takeaway. Also follow my social media handles below ❤❤❤

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