Our Journey So Far – Ups and Downs of Setting Up a Business in Nigeria

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If there’s one thing that anyone that has attempted to do business in Nigeria will tell you, it’s that there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity in this country, along with a great degree of unpredictability. From the hiring process down to getting paid by a client, the journey is full of unsuspected hurdles and, sometimes – ever so rarely – unexpected delights. We’ve decided to share a few aspects of this adventure with our readers in order to give you an idea of what you might encounter on your road to success in Nigeria.

 

Hiring

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One of the very first walls you’ll undoubtedly bang your head against in your attempt to open up a company in Nigeria is hiring and putting together a competent workforce. It must be understood that Nigeria, with its huge population can definitely produce an above-average number of applicants for any job description. But clearly not all of those who apply will be qualified for the position. During the process of recruiting our current team, we had to deal with a countless number of frustrating and disappointing candidates. The whole spectrum of what one prays not to encounter when searching for employees has been witnessed within the confines of our modest offices. We’ve dealt with fake resumes, people that applied for jobs they knew nothing about and – as difficult to believe as it may sound – people that didn’t even know what job they were applying for!

 

Needless to say, being able to navigate your way through those CVs and pick candidates that won’t waste your precious time is quite an accomplishment in itself. But even when the list has been narrowed down and all applicants and serious and genuine, you still run the risk of making bad hiring decisions. Indeed, when faced with a shortage of suitable talent, you’ll tend to fixate on technical ability or knowledge as your sole defining criteria for a desirable employee. Which is, of course, a huge mistake. But you’ll learn more about that in a bit.

 

Working

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When it comes to actually getting the job done, it’s near-impossible to achieve without the correct staff. Even when you think you’ve found the precious gem that’s been missing to make your picture complete, don’t be surprised to find out that bitter disappointment may await just around the corner. And there’ sadly little that can be done in way of anticipation. We’ve hired employees that stole from us, in more ways than one, and that’s quite an understatement. Imagine an employee that steals actual money from the company, diverts contracts to his own company that he’s secretly opened up with another staff member and doesn’t let it rest there as he even decided to steal design and content elements from the company before being fired and making his company website a pale copy of ours. Yes, we’ve indeed had to deal with such a person.

 

There are also those that think they’ll be able to breeze through their whole career doing little to no work, or not taking any interest in the company and its progress. Indeed, we were recently forced to let go of an employee when we realized that the situation was quite hopelessly beyond salvation. The now ex-employee in question, if you can believe it, had no idea what projects we were working on, or what the projects were about. He was unable to even give a basic, run-of-the-mill description for a single app we were building. Some of is descriptions actually could be summed up as “<name withheld> is an app that has to do with films.” No. this is no exaggeration. Add to it that this was a core staff memeber and the story turns all the more surrealistic.

 

Clients

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But let’s not be overly pessimistic. There are still tons of great people out there, that would be excellent additions to your team. You might just need to expend a little more time and effort than conventionally accepted in order to find them. But even if the staff issue were to be resolved (or even the elusive Nigerian Unicorn: it didn’t occur at all!), there would still be the other end of business to consider, which has to do with the people making sure that you can actually stay in business: Clients.

 

There are many different breeds of clients. You have those that we always hope to encounter. These are corporate clients, with an IT department that knows its stuff and doesn’t view you as a threat and a swift approval system when it comes to disbursement of funds (who wouldn’t want that?). Then there’s also the kind that we tend to avoid if we can. Such clients usually consist of individuals running a small business that needs a website, or of companies with very obvious shortcomings in terms of internal efficiency and coordination.

 

Without going into too many details about the various ways things could go wrong, suffice it to say that you’ll have to deal with clients who actually have no idea what they want and that end up changing the scope of work a thousand times (free of charge of course, because you couldn’t foresee that they would be so unreasonable), clients who try to abscond without paying their remaining balance and who come back to negotiate once we’ve cut off their e-mail servers, clients who seem to have made it their goal to fight you every step of the way, forcefully implementing their “great” ideas, perhaps trying to assert some degree of dominance and control over the project (which, of course, harms said project and eventually ends up benefiting neither party) and, of course, clients who try to make you work for a pittance, or even for free in some particularly daring cases.

 

Financials

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Of course, even if you were to have stolen luck from the stars themselves and haven’t encountered any of the previously stated roadblocks, there’s one that you certainly can’t escape, and it has to do with one of the principal reasons you started a company in the first place: profit! Expect it to be much more difficult than you initially thought to turn a profit in Nigeria. But it’s still largely doable once you get a few variables under control. Let’s take a look at them.

 

The very first aspect that you might want to consider is the cost of actually doing business in Nigeria. Getting an office in a suitable location is a bigger challenge than it might appear at first glance, simply because real estate isn’t getting any cheaper. Bu if you avoid the main centers of affluence and don’t mind being even slightly remotely located, then you should be able to solve that issue.

 

Once you’ve secured your location, you’ll also need to figure out how to keep the place running. With the power situation being what it is in Nigeria, you’ll most likely end up running your offices with generators the great majority of the time. This isn’t a cheap endeavor and you would do well to factor in the recurring cost of fuel or diesel when you make estimations and projections, as those will undoubtedly constitute a huge chunk of your expenses.

 

This final bit should apply to quite a few companies, but we, as a tech company are slightly more affected by it than others. It has to do with internet access. The wide-scale unavailability of reliable unlimited internet plans in Nigeria has made it so that securing a steady connection to the web is another one of the expenses that you wish you could do without, but that you simply can’t avoid. Although data seems to have been dropping in price over the past few years, it’s still not at the level of trivial expenses. It’s sad when you need to factor in data costs when you want to consider training your staff with some online video courses, for instance. This aspect of Nigeria simply complicates an overall situation that already isn’t reputed for its simplicity.

 

It’s not all bad

 

Despite all of these daunting roadblocks that you’re pretty much guaranteed to encounter in one way or another, you can still have some unexpected surprises that come along with the headache package. Indeed, it’s not surprising to se a long-forgotten client pay his outstanding balance out of the blue, or to suddenly find yourself inundated with delightfully lucrative contracts, just because you so happened to do great work for someone that has access to a whole bunch of potential customers that need the same service. You might have to outsource some of it in order to keep up!

 

Go for it

 

At the end of the day, there’s no endeavor that consists solely of smooth sailing. You’ll definitely have moments of frustration and fury along the way. But the rewards are often worth the efforts, and you’ll even greatly benefit from successfully navigating your way through the maze of Nigerian obstacles, emerging as a knowledgeable veteran capable of improvising and finding solutions to unforeseen challenges. But the only way to be sure is to actually go for it and find out for yourself. Good luck!

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Mar, 09, 2016

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