‘So many side-hustles will be birthed or accelerated at this time, and some will take over as main hustles’
Ayodotun Rotimi-Akinfenwa is a Brand/Marketing Communications Consultant and CEO of Lifestyle Hues Brand. She holds a BSc in Mass Communication and a Masters Degree in Marketing. An associate member of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Affiliate Member, Chartered Institute of Marketing, UK, Associate Member, Women in Business, Management and Public Service (WIMBIZ), she is also a 2019 beneficiary of the Tony Elumelu Foundation Programme. Before delving into entrepreneurship, she worked in advertising, honing her skills in several key areas, working on some of the biggest international brand campaigns across Nigeria and West Africa. In 2016, she set out to work with a wider variety of brands, contributing her quota by creating affordable packages to brand small and medium-sized businesses. Today, she works with and trains SMEs and start ups in the areas of Branding, Marketing, Social Media Marketing, Customer Service, Content Creation and Graphic design (Canva) via online courses and physical workshops. In the last three years, she has trained over 2000 entrepreneurs and served about 50 businesses across various industries. In this interview, she speaks on how brands can survive and even thrive in this era of a global virus that is affecting businesses, recognising and maximising opportunities for SME growth and how female entrepreneurs can weather the storm of doing business in Nigeria especially in these difficult times.
Having worked in advertising for about a decade, tell us how brands can still remain relevant in these difficult times?
Brands are actually living, breathing entities and so they can be relevant both by being authentic, impactful and in times like this with the ongoing global pandemic, flexible. Above all, they need to live up to their own hype and deliver the results they promised. This period has been a tough one for everyone around the world and the brands that would be remembered after this would be the ones who went out of their way to be considerable, responsive towards their customer’s needs, to stakeholders and humanity in general.
Brands and businesses, as well as the country in general, are undergoing peculiar challenges, how can brands effectively manage their images even in the midst of a pandemic?
They can do this by being good citizens of their community, play by the rules, offer flexible services within the stipulations of the law and give back in whatever capacity they can. I say “whatever capacity” because brands come in all shapes and sizes and with various strengths.
A lot of brands are letting staff go because of challenges this pandemic has created, what would you advise they do?
That’s a tough one because numbers and overheads are the ultimate consideration for any business. I would suggest from a brand reputation and marketing perspective that the businesses seek ways to strip down their costs while maintaining staff. For example, I believe a member of staff will better appreciate an employer who reduces his salary and keeps him at this time as opposed to one who cuts him off completely. Employees have families to feed in-as-much as they can’t work as much or at all this period. I also believe everything starts with the leadership of those businesses as well; they must cut back on their own paychecks as they do so with the staff. In the end, this is what emergency and contingency plans and funds are for. Some (not all) businesses can still find ways to serve their customers safely and possibly virtually at this time in order to stay afloat. Employer branding is serious business and your employees are your brand ambassadors in and out of Covid-19 season.
You left paid employment to start off on your own, is this something you’d advice a woman to do if her job is looking uncertain?
Let me first say, you can never go wrong with having skills that can solve people’s problems. If you are about to lose a job or can’t seem to find one, those skills can bring you unexpected income and provide you as woman with a career path you never expected. Some people have created classes, courses and are sharing their knowledge; others have created products from their homes and are cashing out. If you have a job, however uncertain, keep it and build your side hustle so you can eventually fall back when the chips are down. If you don’t have a job, live and build your hustle relentlessly. Whatever your situation, ensure you have marketable, problem solving skills and you will hardly ever be out of a job, whatever the state of the economy. I left paid employment because I wanted to find a deeper expression of my skills and myself. I was in a great brand manager role at one of the biggest advertising agencies in Nigeria but I felt the need to start my own endeavour and like I said, discover aspects of my latent skills. I would say it’s been an incredible journey of discovery. I discovered a love for SMEs in spite of their limitations, I also observed a love for teaching and training others in the areas of brand building and marketing backed by my years of experience. The entrepreneurship journey is a big test of purpose, tenacity, drive, and innovation but it’s also rewarding.
Lots of people are starting small businesses from home to cope with the effects of this pandemic, is this sustainable in the long run?
I believe it is. So many side-hustles will be birthed or accelerated at this time and some will take over as main hustles. Many women and men will rise to the occasion to support their families and discover sustainable businesses in the long run and depending on how long this goes on for, some will have created business model and systems that work for them long term.
As you have worked with and trained many startups on marketing strategy execution, what advice would you give them on surviving beyond this period?
Marketing is about meeting needs profitably not just about promoting your product or service. If you can, adjust your operations and see how you can serve customers this period: discount sales (within reason) is better than no sales. For those in essential services, delivery service is better than no service etc. Above all, be empathetic, let your customers know you care and you are doing your part to listen to their feedback this season and as much as you can serve them safely, health and bottom-line wise. When this is over, customers will remember businesses and brands that stuck with them, service-wise, communication-wise.
The first few years of business can be hard, now more than ever, what are some things women entrepreneurs can do to weather the storm?
Like their male counterparts, they can weather the storm with good mentoring, financial accountability, continuous growth and improvement backed with an enormous amount of hard work.
Has there been any time you felt like giving up? What kept you going?
I have felt like giving up many times. I have gone ahead to apply for 9-5 jobs in the last few years but I always circle back. My love for my craft and sense of purpose keeps me going.
If you could influence change for Nigerian women, what’s the first thing you would do?
I would shut down cultural nuances that still manage to hinder women’s professional advancement and in many cases, personal choices. Women’s rights are human rights.