I got a call from an acquaintance in the course of my work. He was a young man, talented by any reasonable measure, full of ideas, and excited about life. He was eager to see me to pick my brain on some projects that he had in mind. It was a Monday afternoon. I scheduled a meeting over lunch for Wednesday. Ben (not his real name) came in 30 minutes late, he apologized. His boss pulled an unexpected one an hour before lunch. Ben works in administration department of a leading advertising agency in Lagos. Ben is doing well career wise. He has everything going for him – he is young, well educated, highly driven, and has an intense curiosity about life. Ben is armed with his flash drive; he did not want to raise any suspicion from his boss by leaving the office with his laptop for lunch.
“So, Ben, before we look at what you have in the flash drive, tell me what your project is about.”
“The summary is that it is time to follow my passion. I am tired of living a life of a prisoner. I want freedom.”
“Ben, tell me more. Why do you feel like you are imprisoned?”
“I live a monthly-pay-cheque driven life, Aziza. I feel caged in my work. I can’t do what I want to do, go where I want to go when I want. I have dreams. Administration is not what I want to do all my life. The other day I was unable to attend a conference of my peers in public speaking because I could not get permission to be away from work for two days. I am frustrated right now. I want to follow my passion.”
Ben cuts the picture of a good number of young, urban professionals who are above average intelligence. They reach for the skies and dare to outreach it. Full of creative energy, they just can’t understand why they can’t kiss their pay cheques good bye and build a new life for themselves doing what they love instead of what they have to. They want to run their own businesses, be their own bosses. They earnestly yearn for the financial freedom that owning a business promises.
I could guess that Ben is 27, single, and has five years of post graduation work experience. Charismatic, a good speaker, Ben is loaded with motivational speak content. I proceeded to ask Ben the questions that every person who wishes to quit their job and pursue their passion should ask or be asked.
Do you have a road map for your pursuit?
Ben replied that he has it all figured out in his head. He knows the public speaking scene more than others. He has a good number of contacts. His friends call him up from time to time to give a talk and he is often received with a lot of accolades. Many times, people have walked up to him and suggested that he takes up public speaking full-time. As a matter of fact, his Facebook page is full of comments from family, friends, and colleagues which say that he has an uncommon gift and it could take him places. “Even the Bible says that a man’s gift makes a way for him,” Ben asserts further.
I took time to explain to Ben the importance of writing down a plan on how he intends to transform his talent, gifts, creative ideas, contacts, and entrepreneurial pursuits into a financially successful enterprise.
Ben argued with me that he knows exactly what he wants to achieve and has what it takes to actualise his dreams. He said he had read that he should do what he loves and the money will follow.
I suspected that the argument was not against the need to draw up a road map, but that Ben probably doesn’t know how to start and he doesn’t want to admit it. I gave Ben a sheet of paper and a pen. I asked him to answer some questions or fill in the blanks as the case may be.
“What’s the name of your business?”
“That’s not the name of your business. That’s your name,” I corrected. “To run a business, you have to create a legal entity under which you would provide your services to your clients.”
Ben said he thought it was necessary because he would be a public speaker who would be known by his name and would be offering his services in person. If anything required a company, he could use his friend’s or his elder brother’s company. The back story is that he once gave someone money to register a company for him, but it turned out to be an unreliable arrangement. Faced with the frustration of not being able to recover his money or get his company registered; the whole saga was eating him up; he shelved the idea.
I told Ben, that he had to register a limited liability company which would be the entity that would offer his services and through which he would enter into contractual arrangements.
What service does your company offer and to who? Ben said, “Public speaking and motivational speaking. Speaking hope, vision, and life to Africans. Everybody needs my services. My dream is to be able to reach everybody in Africa. A time will come when I would speak to millions of people at once.”
“But for now Ben, you have to define your service and your market and determine how you will get paid.”
Ben cuts in, “But everybody knows that you have to pay a public speaker.”
I ask, “How long have you been into public speaking?”
“Four years, I started when I was in 300 level in the university. After graduating, during my youth service year, I dropped the ball. I only took it up again about two years ago.”
“How many speaking engagements have you had in the two years you got serious?”
“What? I would say,” tossed his head from side to side with his eyeballs looking to the ceiling, he is doing a mental calculation. “Twenty.”
“For how many of those were you paid a full professional fee?”
“One or two, actually. The others were often done to build relationships – church youth groups, student groups, my young brother’s associations, and so on.”
On purpose, I decide to say nothing hoping that my next point, would come to Ben intuitively. After more than a minute’s silence, Ben starts, “This is why I want to pull out of my job and approach this seriously as a business. I know I can make it.”
I maintain a calm exterior as I continue to look at Ben with studious eyes. Still I say nothing.
“Aziza, it appears like you don’t believe in me. You probably don’t think I have what it takes to succeed. Look at Fela Durotoye, does he have two heads. It’s the same education he has that I do.” At this point, Ben is almost in tearing up.
“Ben, would you allow me to talk for at least fifteen minutes. Let’s turn our table into a classroom. You will speak when permitted. When you have a question, you don’t just cut in, you signal and I would permit you. Is that okay?”
“Entrepreneurship is really about freedom. You’ve said it earlier. The freedom to do what you want to do. Work when you want. Earn as much as you want. The freedom to create your own life. You create your own opportunities. You earn as much as you wish to earn. Create a work environment driven by your own values.”
“As true as this is, note that all except the last one are dictated by your customers. There is no doubt that owning your own business would significantly broaden your self-esteem and your outlook. You would be positioned to make some serious money, create wealth. Real wealth. You would also be able to improve other people’s lives. Ben Okoh, you can change the world and you will change the world.”
By this time, Ben is almost jumping on his seat.
“Because of the importance of what you want to do, it is necessary that you get it right. Every move counts!”
Ben has put his pen on paper, flipping his paper to the other side. I knew I had gotten through to him.
“Let me first knock out a number of myths. You may have heard people say that ideas rule the world. That’s not true.”
Ben looks at me with surprise.
“Ideas that are excellently implemented rule the world. Facebook is an idea that was built and run for small groups of people and grown over a period of time to what it is today. President Barack Obama was an idea which was designed and executed expertly. The Olympics, someone thought about it and did it. The Virgin brand was an idea which was developed by the maverick Richard Branson. American Idol, Champions League, Red Cross, The Future Awards. I could go on and on. People had these ideas and people got up and executed their ideas well. The key word is not idea, the key words are execution and well.
Another myth is you don’t need money to make money. That is a lie. You need money to start your business. You need money to keep it going. You need money to pay the people who work for you. No enterprise can exist without money, the more liquid the better. Many huge, highly profitable, highly valued businesses have gone under because they did not have cash – simply put, money to pay the bills. Cash is king. Ben, never forget that cash is king.
Who are you role models?”
“Fela Durotoye, Brian Tracy, John Maxwell, Ben Carson, Les Brown. I want to model my public speaking after Barack Obama.”
“That’s good. I believe you must have read their books. You have to do a thorough research on these people. I would advise that you narrow down you models to two or three people and zero down on what you admire most in each of them. What’s the virtue that you want from them? Content, impact, reach, style? You need to study your role models. Read everything they have ever said. Everything they have ever done. Their autobiographies, biographies – official and unofficial. Every story, quote, every note. Everything counts. You have got to know what makes them tick. You have to know them so well, that it becomes like they are a part of you. Do you understand?”
“Have you ever thought of being an apprentice to any of your role models?” I noticed the look of surprise on Ben’s face.
“Is that possible?”
“Yes. It is not only possible. It is necessary. Give it a try. The advantages cannot be fully explained. You’ll get a chance to understudy a master first hand. You would see how he lives, how he works, who he interacts with, and how. You would get to see the unglamorous aspects of his work. You would learn the dos and don’ts. You will try your ideas on real life situations. There is no successful person who doesn’t have a mentor.
I once asked a young man who styles himself as a fashion designer who his mentor is. He said it was Eli Saab. I asked him to tell me about Eli Saab. He couldn’t offer much. I asked him what Eli Saab’s website address was. He did not know. So, how is Mr. Saab his mentor?”
“So, Ben, working under your idol, as it were, would give you the chance to get his blessings. You’ll be guaranteed to be greater than he is. A priceless gift.
Most entrepreneurs start and run a new business. It means there are a set of skills you need to master to run your business. Even after you are able to employ talent to work with you, you still need to understand the rules to succeed as a CEO. Myth number 3 – those who think outside the box do great things. No. Those who know everything about the box and then think outside the box do great things. In business that box contains the rules which are broken at your own risk.
Business management is a science. Universities offer the course in their social sciences faculty. A science means a discipline that follows a set of rules, Ben. There are rules of business management; immutable laws that guide its conduct.
If you get on the 15th story and jump off, it doesn’t matter if you are a good person or a bad person, smart or a blockhead, passionate or not, you are hitting the ground. That’s the law of gravity.
You have to know the rules that govern accounting, finance, marketing, people management, negotiation, record keeping, business communication, corporate communications, and marketing communications. There are tried and tested methods in every field. You must know them before you start. Not while you are on it. No. Before you step into the arena.”
Again, Ben nods.
“Having said that, it is most important that you know how to read financial statements. Always keep the money close. Cash is king. You must know financial figures, what they mean and their implications to the business. Take a full course on this. It’s absolutely important to be successful at business.
Finally, you must get your marketing right. Why are you going into business? What service are you offering and what problem does it solve? At what price are you offering it? Who are you offering it to? What kind of people will buy your service and at what price are they willing to pay for it? How are you going to get them to know about you? How do you want to be perceived by them? In marketing, you also have immutable laws. Break them to your own peril. If you can’t answer these questions yourself, which would most likely be the case, you need to consult a marketing expert. You need to have a clear marketing plan before you go into business.
One of the most important skills you need is the ability to sell. Selling is not just about going out and talking to people and impress them. Selling is about convincing people that you are their best choice and they therefore become willing to part with their money (at the right price) to pay for your service. Don’t forget that ours is sycophantic society. I wouldn’t take Facebook comments too highly. Till I see a bank balance that shows that value has been created and sold, compliments don’t cost anything.
So, Ben what do you think? Are you equipped to follow your passion now?”