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Osagie: SMEs must diversify innovatively to survive

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Jerry Osagie, a business and personal finance expert, and the author of ‘Borrowing Made Easy’, in this interview, highlights the significance of SMEs in the country to innovate through diversification to other sectors that are yet to be gaining traction in the economy.

In your most recent works, you did a lot around funding of startups and SMEs; can you give us some critical insights into your experiences?
What we have observed is that everybody wants to start big. People don’t want to talk about small money but when you ask them what they want to do, they cannot really explain it. But you will still see some people who really know what they want. Another thing I have seen is that people want to do the same thing. So if I see you doing one thing, I will want to sell the kind of thing that you are selling. Some will not have uniqueness and innovation which is very critical. One critical thing is that people do not want to run lean operations and people just want to do something

In the midst of those who want to do something you also have some unserious ones. One key thing I have seen is that education and enterprise education is very critical. A lot of them, it is when you sit with them and begin to educate them on what to do, they take the back seat, and say I would come back or let me go and rewrite this. Some focus a lot on a particular sector more than others because they always think that this sector is easier. A lot of people will say I want to start poultry. I want to do this or that but they do not sit to think that poultry is not just poultry, it needs a professional touch. Some apparently do not want to learn.

Also, recently there is so much emphasis on Enterprise Development Training and Continuous Business Support and Capacity Building. Why this?
Enterprise education is critical locally or being sophisticated. Like I said then if a person wants to do tailoring, there will also be some entrepreneurial aspect of that tailoring which is very critical. How do you engage the customer? How do you put your clothes out there? Even on the mannequin? How do you place the mannequin? Supposing you are putting it on social media, what kind of phone do you use? Do you need to get somebody to come and snap so that you can print it and put it in a paper?

What do you spend your money on? It is important that we place emphasis on enterprise education in their local dialect, getting people and giving them practical examples because it opens people’s minds up to innovation even if you are in the village or anything. It is critical for the survival of startups so that people can scale.

Enterprise Development Program is a critical component in the Nigerian economy, what is your view on various initiatives in the country?
Both the federal government, regional governments, the central bank in Nigeria and as well as other central banks in the continent, development organisation, they are putting much emphasis on enterprise development and capacity building; they are bringing a lot of partners in, It Is still the same thing we are talking about.

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They have seen that for people to grow and be consistent they need the right support and education from the people who have practicalized it and they want to be seeing that result following you. From those initiatives to support efforts and productivity, local production, local content, manufacturing support, logistics, transit and all those things we have seen from the federal government and the Central Bank; the whole idea is to improve people’s approach to business.

That whatever you want to do you must approach it with seriousness and with the business mind to grow, to make money, employ people, to put food on the table, to improve production and productivity; that will in affects the GDP of the country and when that is done, the general well-being of the country is improved.

At the end of the day education, tax, even development index because at the end of the day all these things have ripple effect and they all have connections; so I think It is the reason why it is critical in Nigerian economy today for us to place emphasis on entrepreneurial education. It should be in our primary, school curriculum, in our secondary education and in our university curriculum and even in simplest form.

It should as well be in the vocational schools, farmer’s business school and artisan business schools where they must be taught. Though I know that you are a technician, how do you calculate these? But how do you engage the customer? I know you are somebody that is just a local plumber, there must be artisan business school- the education surrounding how to make profit as an artisan, manage business, and showcase yourself.

We should get to that level of having artisan business and farmers business schools where they should be able to understand enterprise, they should be able to have these things and it is about understanding learning, communication, negotiation; all those things are critical in enterprise education.

We all know that not everyone can sit in a classroom and get business education. So what are your thoughts around that and how were you and your team able to get people to learn, especially those with low levels of literacy?
I agree with you that not everyone and that is why there are different types of learning. There are people who prefer visual, auditory learning- just by saying it to them, they listen and pick what you are saying. Some will have to watch a video. So, when COVID-19 started some of the programmes that we have run and the company where I have worked made sure we introduced e-learning so that people can have blended learning; if you are not in the classroom you are also online.

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It is time for entrepreneurship education to be developed to meet our local content. This can be done by going to meet people on their farms, in a place where it is important for them to use local dialects. You must be able to pass that information in a local dialect, that way you have people understand this message and you must be able to bring an influencer within their society. Imagine when a king of a village comes and wants to train people on business that is indigenous to them and he is the first person that speaks to them, you see that they will be willing to learn as their mind is already open and the thing you speak will resonate to them.

When you are able to show them examples of people that have done what they are doing and are successful at it and so we must be able to teach people in the simplest way that they understand. We must not force a particular way of learning on people and it is very important that people must learn in dialect even using the apprenticeship system; you know that even people that went to business school cannot understand business and enterprise the way they should be able to as compared to those in major markets across the country.

I am sure you have reviewed hundreds of thousands of business plans and listened to various ideas and presentations; please tell us the common phenomenon and maybe the mistakes observed?
For me, one of the things I have noticed in a couple of works that I have done in reviewing business plans or for me that want to do difficult ventures, is that a lot of business stuff lacks originality. I must tell you this. Of course there is nothing new under the sun but you must be able to personalize what you do as I advise people to personalize what they do; not because Jerry is doing this then I must do that.

People want to do the scale of what you are doing, but are not watching my own level to be able to do things in their scale. When you ask questions people cannot do at that scale but they just want to write it out and do it at that scale. So, until you educate them that this is the actual thing that you can actually do. A lot of people do not understand the concept of competition which is one of the things SMEs need to be told. Sometimes people think that it is only the people they are seeing that is their competition.

Somebody told me one day, they were trying to set up a company that does an inventory management system and that one of their competitors is Excel and we all laughed. But that is the truth, some people will say instead of me paying N2,000 or N1,000 per month for your inventory management system, why don’t I put it in Excel and input the figures? So, they must be able to beat Excel and write the benefit to your product more than Excel for somebody to bring out N1,000 or N2,000 per month from his pocket to pay you.

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Of course I know that technology is something and some must look at how technology can improve what they are doing. In some of those business plans, people just want to do things the same way and they are not looking at how technology can improve on the product and service they are offering. I have talked about people who want to do the same thing within a sector. For me I would like to see more people in other sectors to find ways on how technology can improve things around the media, creativity.

Things around renewable energy are something that should as well and people should be able to concentrate a lot around their access to the market. How do you sell? How do you scale? It is very important. People must know and enterprise development firms must really delve into how people scale not only in their country alone but across the continent.

People also do not take cognizance of getting certifications for example in Nigeria we are looking at NAFDAC for things that have to do with food and education, we are looking at Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON) for things that have to do with food in Nigeria. People should be able to look at the timeline for them to get those things right. People in these organisations as well must be able to look at the impact they have in delays for SMEs to be able to have those things registered.

There must be a step by step plan on how to support SMEs because there are a lot of SMEs that are finding it difficult to register most of their business. So, these are some of the things we have seen from that business plan angle to even actualization of that business.

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