If you have a bad relationship with money, it will run away!
How did you start your first business? How old were you? How much did you have?
I started my first business in 1974, and I was importing and selling books. At that time in Nigeria, it was easy to import books by yourself. I learned how to be a clearing agent, and I’d go to the airport and the seaport to clear these books. I was also working. They were mainly accounting management books. I was living in Benin and many people didn’t have them there, they were more available in Lagos or Ibadan but they were scarce in Benin. So I’d get these books and sell it to the people. I cannot exactly say how much I started the business with, but I think the total amount was around ₦15. Not ₦15,000 oh, ₦15 (laughs). I bought a small course on how to do import and export business and so I bought the small course and a second hand typewriter because in that course, you’re told you need to be able to type letters and send it abroad to get people that want to export from their own country to your country. So the total money I spent came to about ₦15.
Wow. How did that business go? Why did you stop it?
The business started growing and I was working in the government, then it moved away from my apartment, I rented a place for it and it kept on growing. It was doing so well that the publishers from England appointed someone as an agent and he came to look for me in Nigeria, saw what we were doing and this agent worked out a credit of £1,000,000 for the business. So I could buy from different people up to that amount. I will say I didn’t really know the value of it as much as I do now. I bought a vehicle for it because the little way I was doing it out of my apartment couldn’t take it again. So I needed to be selling to university libraries and polytechnics. But what happened was that the rate of their payment was very slow compared to the time the publishers wanted me to send back to them, because when they sent books to me, they gave me 90 days credit and I was expected to sell the books off, but the university libraries were very slow in selecting and paying for the books. I was disturbed about that and the market in Benin couldn’t carry such a large amount. I was not selling to the level they expected, so the business gradually slowed down. Also someone asked us to supply him, he had a bookshop close to the university so we felt if we sell to him, they would get it. But we supplied him, he couldn’t pay, his business collapsed. That eroded all our profit. So we had to go out of the business.
Of all the different businesses you’ve done, which have you enjoyed the most?
The one I’m still doing now (laughs). Which is accounting practice. In 1974, I was working as an auditor in audit office, then I left to work in the government as an internal auditor, then I left to work in the practicing office. I worked there for about 5 years, and then I became a partner in that firm. I would have continued in that business but the people were much older than me, I was about 35. The oldest person started the practice in 1959 when I was still in primary school, so I couldn’t talk to them anyhow. And the way they were running the business, I wasn’t seeing it their way. I felt that things were changing. I expected that there should be a health insurance for us because when I was working in the government, they had it. I also spoke about pension. But they were bringing some rules, and I felt that if I stay, the rules will tie me. If I go out, I’ll still be exposed as I was in that place, the only difference was they guaranteed salary as a salary partner, so I decided I would leave.
What were the biggest challenges and how did you get your first client?
The biggest challenge was money. I didn’t have money, I came out from the farm and I didn’t have money to register the company. Many people asked me to move back to Lagos or Ibadan to get clients, but I went to school in Benin, and I worked with the government in Benin. My classmates and juniors were in Benin. So I stayed in Benin, and I decided to change the approach from the other clients. I decided to go for smaller clients, people just starting up and don’t have anyone to care for them. If they need money from the bank, follow them to the bank, and be their guide. Get them to formalize their business, incorporating their companies, preparing business plans and helping them to recruit staff and training them, even if they were only two. When I did it for about two or three people, the number of clients increased. One of the clients decided to stick with me. That client is Setraco, still a client till today. During that time, I wasn’t very busy so I started lecturing at Federal Polytechnic, Auchi. I was working full time but being paid part time salary, and I was mixing it with my clients. In fact, I was enjoying myself (laughs).
Which business of yours didn’t do very well?
I wouldn’t like to say this but I will so young people will learn. I’ve tried as much as possible to raise young people. I’ve succeeded in bringing them up in the accounting profession, and when they start their own business and they are running it. But where they don’t have money and I try to help them do it, they have failed me woefully. For example, two young men came to us from the Republic of Bene that they didn’t have telephones/GSM in their country. GLO & MTN were coming in, and they proposed we could set it up and work with GLO as the major distributors in the country. We agreed and put in some money. But in the process, they started strategizing amongst themselves to buy me out of the business, but I didn’t know because I don’t speak French. The agreement we signed was in French. In the process, one of them decided to edge out the other. So they started quarrelling, one of them went to the police and they arrested the other. When they went to court, the court was surprised that they could have such a great idea and even bring in a company from another country, that they should have made it work. So they jailed the man, but the one they jailed had already collected the license to handle the project, the one we were working for. The second one was trying to get us to continue with it and start afresh, but we said no. They eventually came back regretting what they did, but the handicap of not being able to speak French and the inconvenience of travelling to Bene all the time, I just felt I would not be able to do it anymore.
Another one, there was a television programme here with a good idea. They wanted to set up a production studio where people will come and they will produce for them, they go and cover events and advertise people as well. So many things. So I helped them write a business plan, put them together but they didn’t have money. So they asked me to put some share into it, I agreed but I didn’t have the time to run it but they did, so I put them there. Before we knew it, they started quarrelling among themselves. I don’t know why people always do that. One of them wanted out, so I pleaded with the other to stay and run it because of my previous experience. Before I knew it, that one took the money they were getting and bought one big car for himself. The equipment we both, we got nothing. When I do business with people, that’s usually when it fails.
A friend of mine said we should come and be mining solid mineral, it was also in good demand and it was from the east. So I said someone from the East should be the chairman, he’ll be an assistant and that he should be the MD. Then my friend came in and said we should put a second investigation, and when we did we found out the thing was not there. So we tried to find another place that had it. I had gone to India to get connections and a corporation was ready to partner with us, meanwhile the man went to incorporate another company and got a license without us. My friend then asked me, what do I understand by that? (laughs). My mind went back to my experience in Bene. The company from India had to withdraw. That’s how we left the business for the young man, after our money had been invested. After about a year, the man came to look for us but we had moved on to other things.
Advice: Lean on the older ones, let them mentor you. Eventually you’ll be the ones to run the thing. But you’ll need to leverage on the connections and experience of the older ones. You have to wait, don’t be in a hurry. Don’t be impatient. Nigerian youths have good ideas, but they need someone to help you validate your idea.
How can you validate an idea? How do you know an idea will work?
That’s what’s called a feasibility study. Can it be done? If so, can it be done in that location? If someone wants to do pock cake, is it feasible in Sokoto? Of course not, but if you take it to Lagos, it will be feasible. So you need to do feasibility study to know, is it technically feasible? Is it viable? If it meets all these, then prepare a business plan. A business plan is like a road map, like you want to buy a ticket you say where you are going. I’m going to Atlanta. You don’t say, I want to enter your plane. “Where are you going”, you say “Just take me anywhere”. So you need a business plan that will show where you are going, you budget what to do, where your sales are. Then you need to do a market survey. Many people don’t know, they think oh Nigeria has 170 million people, of only 1% buy my goods then I’m okay. But 1% of the people might not really need these goods. So you need to go and check the market, there must be a market survey to see that there are people who are willing to buy it, at the price at which you are selling it, in the place where you want to give it to them, they are ready to buy willingly. And the method of distribution is suitable, and the packaging of the product. You have to know these things. There is something called test running. After feasibility study, you do your test running to see how it works on a smaller scale. It’s better than for you to go into the full blast only for people not to buy it. And then there are counsellors and advisors. You need them. They’ll advice you, they’ll guide you so you can pull through. I’ve talked to people who come with me with high hope, by the time I ask them a few questions, they see the hollowness of what they are doing. Then they ask, what can you do? Then we plan it, maybe we relocate it or repackage it or reduce the scope, and then it will work. So consultants are very important.
When you started this accounting practice, what was your initial goal? Have you achieved it?
My initial goal was to build up organisations, see many companies complying with government regulations and growing, becoming wealthy and successful. That was my initial goal, and I think it has worked that way. I have some of my clients now that are in billions, turnover in billions and they themselves have created other companies. Some have joined other people to form other companies, so that purpose has been accomplished. It’s one of the things that give me joy, people that I met when they were doing something very small before have now become very big, and some have gone international. So I’m happy about it.
You said earlier that you kept all your customers, some from before the company even started. Are there secrets to keeping your customers?
You must always be relevant to your customers. You must continue to add value to them. If you don’t, there’s nothing for you. And to do that, you must continue to work on and improve your product and service. You can’t keep doing the same thing over and over. There must be innovation and creativity in what you’re doing, you must be thinking of it. That’s an area this generation must work on. Tradition + Innovation brings success, that’s what BNI says. You must continue to be creative. Then, you must continue to work on yourself. You must continue to learn. Things are changing. When we started accounting, we were using our heads to add, using pencil to write it. Then they brought some manual machines. And now we have software that just add the thing by itself. If you don’t follow, this thing will leave you behind as well as your clients. They will call you archaic. You must continue to develop, and you must train yourself and your staff. They must be exposed, and you must build network. Relationship management is key to success. There cannot be any isolation, no island in business. You must be networking in business. You must be part of a network, and networking organisations like Chamber of Communications. They also give opportunity to learn. Go to networking events, conferences, dinners, so you can meet people. You’ll go to BMO and other, go to these and become a member, be paying there and you’ll be sharing experiences and other people will be sharing their experience with you. They’ll tell you what they are seeing, and you’ll be able to join forces. So you’ll always be ahead, and the quality of your service will be very good and at the appropriate price. Don’t price yourself out of the market and don’t under-price yourself. I was under-pricing myself at a point, when I moved the head office from Benin to Lagos, there was a new problem because there were no clients so I was taking any clients and charging them small money and they were many, but I couldn’t break even. So I spoke to someone who said, why don’t you raise your fees? Some of these people will go, some will stay, you’ll have enough time to look for new ones and also time for your health. So I had to increase it, look at overheads and all and estimate the break-even point. So I calculated it, and many of the people left. But one client stayed, I raised his fee three times and gave him more attention and he was happy. Eventually other people started coming in. So if you do all these things, you’ll be there. Don’t take clients for granted, no clients no business, no sales no business. No sales no cash and cash is king. If there’s no cash in a business, that business will die, just like a man who has no blood in his body will die. That is it.
You’ve written a book about wealth. What motivated that book? And you also have a wealth club? Please tell us a little bit about them.
Many people don’t know one thing and its being said everywhere, church, mosque, family. Yet people don’t pay attention to it. Its relationships! You must build relationships. What is your relationship with the people around you? With your God? The people who work with you, your colleagues, your seniors and juniors? You must have positive relationships. And then, what is your relationship with money? Most people have bad relationships with money, their lifestyles wound their relationship with money and they lack, but they don’t know it on time. By the time they know, they’re finished. When you’re already 40 years or more, you’ve already finished half of your life journey on earth. You’re already in the second half (laughs). If you don’t do anything, they’ll blow the whistle and you’ll be crying. So it’s better if you’re less than 40 to take it now and build a good relationship with money. Money goes to people who treat it well, and it runs away from people who treat it badly. If you have a bad relationship with money, it will run away. They say it has wings to fly (laughs). No matter your age now, go and mend your relationship with money.
So I came from a very humble family, my father was an illiterate farmer, mother was an illiterate trader. I didn’t have any silver spoon. But right there in the village, there was a man who usually came once a week. He was the road overseer. He had a big motorcycle, everyone will be screaming “Abim has come”! It was like God has come. And I kept wondering why is everyone chasing him like this? Why is this man like this? So when we entered school, they started school in that place and we were the first set in that school and his child went to the school as well and I saw the way they were doing things. While we tried to share things, they had the good ones to themselves and they were not sharing. And then they told me the man had about 4 wives, my father had only 1 and couldn’t take care of the one very well. So I saw the difference and decided I didn’t want to be like this. My condition must change. As I continued to grow in life, I found out that education is a very important thing that one must do and you don’t need to go into the four walls of school to gain education. You can self-study, and it’s even better now. Online, open university, part time, there are so many different choices. And then I discovered that many of the children whose parents were providing for them at the time, in later years, we were employing them. Why? They didn’t take advantage of the opportunities their parents provided for them. So I felt that children and parents must be guided to make sure that children are able to create wealth in their own right, not just waiting for parents. And then when their parents give to them, they must know how to maintain it so it doesn’t dissipate in their hands. Some of my mates were doing well and having opportunities, but when they started getting to 60, their income level started going down, their standard of living started falling. Some had to pack away from the city to the village, some that had cars don’t even have again. By 65, it’s so escalated and by 70, many have even died and the ones still alive are looking so haggard. So people must be taught how to maintain wealth so it doesn’t disappear from their hands, does not flow away. What do you need to do to ensure that? That book is to show people. I’ve also found out that people’s lifestyles affects them a lot. It affects their health, ability to achieve great things, ability to conserve money and invest. So they need to know the kind of lifestyle that will enable them to create and maintain wealth. Most times when I speak on this, most people come to me to say they are guilty in that area. Someone came to me saying “I will start all over again. Thank God I’m still young to know this thing”. So that lifestyle that hinders them from creating wealth, they need to modify it. They need to know how others have done it. People are even afraid to come and say “how do you create wealth?” They say it’s carnal. But I’ve realized that people that tell you this, they are the same ones who come back later and say “Can I have just eh…” (laughs). So it doesn’t bother me anymore because I know they will come back. They just don’t understand, they’re ignorant. Another thing is, everybody must learn something about wealth creation. In the book, I’ve written for 31 days something like a capsule, so every day you take it and read it and think about it. How does this relate to me? How do I apply it to my children and people around you? If you do this and follow it, people will not bug you down with money demands because you’ll teach them how to make money. You don’t give them fish, you teach them to fish. I myself, I wrote the book but I’m always looking back to relearn, “What does it say for today?” Of course there are strategies for making wealth. There’s no hard and fast rule for making wealth, there are combinations of strategies that you can use. Take what you need to take. But lifestyle is a very important one. You must change your lifestyle so you’ll be in line, but you determine the strategies you’ll use. Someone whose parents built a big house back in the day, and now he’s older he decides to go and live in the house is foolish. He’s supposed to call a surveyor and ask, how can we turn this to economic value? If he doesn’t have money, he can partner with them to maintain it. But if he lives in it, he cannot maintain it. The house will keep on deteriorating and he will be poor. People need to know how to make things work. So getting counsel from people is important. And then, there’s no age barrier. It’s never too late. Even if you’re already 95 and you do it and enjoy money for 5 years, it’s good for you. You’ll go to heaven well. So it is important for people to know, the book is demystifying the process of wealth creation. It’s not that some people are wired to be wealthy and some others are wired to be poor. You can learn the ropes and put it into practice, you change your lifestyle and your thinking and then you change your actions, you will become something. Nobody can tie you down and age is not a barrier. So these are some of the reasons why I wrote this book. And then I have the WealthyU club for people to be led, for their hands to be taken, leading them through the journey. So it’s a club, it’s free to join and then if you want the premium level, you pay a small fee as well. You’ll also be able to talk and become one of the facilitators. And this book will be taught there in details, it’s intentionally small and it’s in sections so people can read it easily and apply it to their lives, as well as discuss it with other people. So the WealthyU is a vehicle for carrying people from wherever they are to where they have decided to be by leveraging on the experience and connections of other people.
What can a young man about to go into partnership look out for so they don’t run into error?
Partnership is very important. I have been in different types of it. When people want to maximise their potentials, it’s better for them to come together as partners. The one good in marketing should come and work, he’ll be getting all the jobs. Let the others not say he is the least in the company because if he doesn’t do it, the rest won’t have anything to do. And let the marketer not say the rest are lazy people because they are the ones doing the job. You bring the job but you are not the one doing the job! So both sides, including the managers of the job are all important. You leverage on the potentials of every person, so that’s important. Compatibility is important, but really no one is perfect, so you must develop emotional maturity. You must not be self-centred, must be focused, disciplined, must be able to control your mouth and watch the way you speak to people. Be punctual to meetings, have respect for others. You must desire that the thing must work and you must be honest. And communication is also important. You must also be able to know, does the other person have the passion for this thing to work as well? Is his heart in this business? If he doesn’t, you’ll suffer for it. Discipline is also very important! Don’t do business with a drunkard or a womaniser! Your partner must be disciplined. And of course, you must pray before you go into partnerships. It’s like a marriage in business, so you don’t just jump in. But once you’re there, you must try to make it work because no one is perfect. If you jump out, you’ll meet another set of problems in the next partner. No one is perfect! Also, sometimes it’s better for organic partnerships. Which means there’s someone there, and people are coming there and being trained to become members of the partnership. The other styles are also important, people coming together by merger or just deciding to work together. With this style, there’s no culture being imbibed but with organic partnerships, there’s already a culture that has to be imbibed by the partners. So the partners are selected based on what is perceived of them, in line with the culture.
Partnerships are so important, but you must be sure!
Any final words?
In this world, two things are very important after God. Number one, you must have interest in technology. If you will make and maintain wealth, you must embrace technology. It’s so important, you can’t ignore it. Number two, you must embrace self-employment. The time of job for life is gone. You must embrace entrepreneurship. You must see that uoy have diversified streams of income, one way income won’t work in the present generation and generations to come. Also relationships are very important. You must develop the skills for managing relationships and you must listen to people. Listening is key to success in life. Also you must have faith in yourself that you can do it, because God has put the ability in you. You must have faith, and also have faith in other people too. Believe that they can do things to help you. Most of all have faith in God that with God, nothing is impossible for you to do. That place you’re going to, nothing can stop you from getting there. Thank you!