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‘Transforming the African publishing industry requires collaborative efforts’

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
23 April 2022   |   4:02 am
I studied Pure and Applied Chemistry at the University of Calabar, Nigeria. I hated it but I felt trapped.

Ini Akpan is a certified coach, consultant and founder of SW Advantage Resources; a ghost writing and publishing firm that translates the thoughts and experiences of influential Africans into trans generational legacies. Known for providing editing, writing and consulting services, she has stamped her footprints on the Nigerian literary space in the last four years, sharing platforms with literary icons like Prof. Hope Eghagha to promote the culture of excellence in the African publishing industry. Her training skills are not limited to the publishing industry, as she has trained over 350 professionals and executives in the art of effective communication and storytelling. Her background in Chemistry, Education, Psychology and Neurolinguistics programming makes her training programmes highly effective and sought after. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion running a business in content writing and publishing

Take us through your journey to SW Advantage Resources?
I studied Pure and Applied Chemistry at the University of Calabar, Nigeria. I hated it but I felt trapped. I had tried to wiggle out of studying the course and when I did not succeed, I decided I would win at all costs. I won eventually but with a poor third class degree. At the time, I thought my future career was over, as I did not believe any employer would want to hire me. To improve my chances, I reflected on what I was best at and realised I loved teaching. But what could I teach seeing I despised the course I had studied in school? It didn’t take me minutes to decide I would teach English Language.

I was raised with a strong reading culture, and I had always excelled at English language with little effort. This decision led me to my first teaching job weeks after writing my last paper. Three jobs, two businesses and a professional diploma in Education later, I decided it was time to get a Masters degree. I didn’t want to have my third class degree looming over my entire career and I knew I could excel in subjects I truly loved.

In 2015, I began a Masters in Managerial Psychology at the University of Lagos. While at it, I had hoped to start a business that provided afterschool teaching services to families with young kids. However, it was going to be capital-intensive, and I had barely enough to commute to school at the time. I couldn’t even afford my own place. While going through that phase, a friend referred me for a book-editing gig. That client referred me to another who referred me to five others and by the end of that year, it was clear I had a special gift for transforming mediocre text into enjoyable manuscripts. By this time, I was interning at a human resource firm and exploring a desire to pursue a career in HR as a training ground for my future business. Thankfully, I had a meeting with myself and decided it was better to start my editing business immediately. I had a tried and tested gift; I had clients who wanted to keep working with me and I had time. I figured it was best to focus on nurturing what I had to profitability. That’s how I birthed SW Advantage Resources.

In the last five years, what are the top three impactful things you have achieved?
Top on the list is my ability to successfully run a fully remote business. When I started hiring fulltime staff in 2019, one of my major concerns was how to ensure my staff were able to work during their most productive hours. I am often most productive at night and Lagos traffic exhausts me, so I wanted to make it easy for my staff to avoid the creative fatigue associated with traffic and restrictive work hours. With over a dozen members of staff across nine different states and a client base that transcends four continents, I have typified what a healthy and productive remote workplace looks like. It hasn’t been without its challenges, but the benefits have outweighed the downsides. I am glad I went with my heart on that one.

Second on the list would be the quality of clients we have attracted as a result of our work, especially in the last one year. By tweaking a few things and with God’s favour, the calibre of our clients has greatly improved. Most of the people we work with now are brilliant and excellence-driven individuals who are contributing greatly to society through their work and ideas.

Human capacity development is third on my list and perhaps my biggest achievement. Many of my editing staff got their first real training in editing and writing from learning under and working with me. I am a teacher at heart, and I am proud of the seasoned professionals I have had the honour of grooming. Some of the individuals I trained when I began teaching courses in 2015 now own editing and publishing companies that are doing well. It gives me great joy to see them flourish.

What lessons have you learnt from the successes and failures in your career?
My most significant lesson would be the need for business structure and policies. I am a rather spontaneous person and most of my decisions have been guided by intuition. However, building a successful business requires some level of routine and rigidity. I have learnt to embrace both while retaining my personality.

Another lesson is the importance of mentoring and coaching. I wouldn’t be here without both. My coaches and mentors have given me insights into worlds I would never have known existed had I not interacted with them. I have also learnt to fully embrace my uniqueness (this includes my strengths, weaknesses and challenges) and let them work for me. I live life on my own terms and let my values guide me. This has made it easier for me to stay focused on my vision instead of chasing others’ achievements.

From your experience, what should inform the areas of focus for content writing and publishing firms?
A drive for excellence; that should be the primary focus. Seeing that the entry barriers into the industry are low, it’s easy to get away with almost anything. However, quality does not lie. By choosing to produce excellent work always, we will be raising the bar for how the industry is perceived and making it easier for indigenous authors to attain global recognition. The second would be collaboration. If we are to compete with the publishing industry in countries like the United States, we need to come together and drive a unified narrative. The level of work required to transform the African publishing industry requires collaborative efforts.

What industry opportunities exist for African content writers and editors that they are not taking advantage of?
The first major opportunity I see is training. Opportunities exist for raising the next generation of creative entrepreneurs. This was what led to my organising the first Business of Editing workshop in 2017 and my Fundamentals of Editing Bootcamp, which I have run at least once every year since 2018. Seeing that Content Editing isn’t taught in schools, a lot of people who call themselves editors do not know the craft. Even worse is the perception that editing and writing is only viable as a side gig. However, it is not. Till date, over 95 per cent of SW Advantage’s income comes from writing and editing content, and we are barely scratching the surface in terms of capability.

What advise would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in content writing and editing, and for those set to make the most out of their careers?
Get trained. Understand what clients need from you and how best to serve them in a way that’s profitable for you. Learn how to value your services like any other professional service, especially if you are great at what you do. Collaborate. If you are great at proofreading, it is likely you are not so great at developmental editing, so leverage relationship with others who are strong in your weak areas. Approach your service delivery like a business, not a hobby. That’s probably the only way you will thrive in it.

What is your success mantra?
I do not have one. However, I firmly believe that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose. It helps me bounce back quickly from disappointments while trusting that everything is working for me and that nothing works against me.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
My vision for the next five years is to create 100,000 jobs in the creative writing industry by training 1,000 proficient content editors and writers who will go on to build profitable practices and train others. For every proficient editor I train, I expect their influence to trickle to 100 others, including graphics designers, video editors and other businesses affiliated with our industry.