There’s no denying that COVID-19 is changing the way we do business. Offices are closed, employees are working from home, and entire industries are being shut down. In the U.S for example, the week of March 21, 3.3 million Americans claimed unemployment. The week of March 28, 6.9 million, and the week of April 4, 6.6. million more. These numbers are definitely not reducing as they have soared eversince.
In fact, it’s estimated by the International Labour Organization that more than 80 percent of the global workforce has been affected by full or partial business closure due to COVID-19, and along with their jobs. COVID-19 is a fatal blow to the traditional work economy; the time for entrepreneurship is now. While deeply tragic, COVID-19 presents opportunity for those who are able to elevate their side gigs or startup dreams, whether it’s creating a company, launching a freelance career, or diving into the gig economy.
The above, among other related issues, was the focus of this week’s Freelanews Leadership Session. The keyspeaker for the day, Tunbosun Ajibola, an astute trainer and serial entrepreneur steered the conversation around how employees can make the transition from being under employment to entrepreneurship easily without hurting themselves in a VUGA economy.
Ajibola, who is also a Partner at SirusConsults Ltd and successful entrepreneur, who runs a thriving industrial catering firm that manages canteens for such organisations as MTN, TSL Logistics, Access Bank and First Bank among others, spoke on the topic, “Thriving in a Changing World: Employee To Entrepreneur (E2E) Transition.” In setting the groundwork for discussions, he noted that he started his businesses while he was still in paid employment working as a Project Manager at an oil and gas firm.
Subsequently, he advised participants that it is counterproductive to quit their jobs just to start a business.
“Don’t quit your job to start a business, quit your job to grow a business! My emphases are on starting and growing. A lot of us might be tempted in this period to quit our jobs and start something. My advice is this: Please hold on to that business a little while more. Have an exit plan and during that period, start a side-hustle.
“I can mention several businesses that started as side-hustles and became thriving ones. There are several reasons for this but the most important one is this: You need a period of time where you have to nurture and continually feed the business for it to grow and thrive. If the business is your sole source of survival, you will be tempted to every now and then remove little amounts to take care of needs that will definitely arise. What then happens is that you stunt the growth of the business.
“Imagine you planted a mango tree, but before it is fully budded, you had to start cutting the branches to take care of your warmth and possibly other needs. What happens to the tree? It’s likely going to never fully mature. So please, don’t be tempted to jump out of your 9 to 5 to start a business; one that you haven’t even tested the viability,” he advised.
Lending credence to Tubonsun’s position on starting a side hustle while in paid service before quitting, Laila Ijeoma, a foremost blogger and publisher of the Lailasnews.com made contributions from her experience.
“I actually started off working in a bank in 2006. In 2012, I started my first ever side hustle – blogging. For 4 years, I diligently worked at my day job and passionately worked on my side hustle. By 2016, my blog was paying me 3 times my bank salary and that was when I moved from employee to entrepreneurship. I quit banking 2016 to grow my blog business. Not to start it. And I thank God everyday massively for that wisdom,” Laila said.
It seems counterintuitive that any business can successfully be birthed, much less succeed in a slow economy as this, occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a study released by the Kaufman Foundation in 2009 found that over 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies started either in a bear market or a recession. This includes household names like Microsoft, Uber, WhatsApp, Venmo and Instagram.
Ajibola noted as much, urging participants to look for gaps to fill.
“I believe anyone can venture into practically any business in Nigeria. There are loads of gaps in terms of service delivery, customer service, quality of goods, timely delivery, etc. I always say that I can go into any business and practically take over the industry. All I need is to identify gaps. And there are loads of gaps in various industries,” he said.
He, however, advised that skill should be the basis for starting off a side hustle rather than passion.
“Find something you are skilled at and more importantly, look for the opportunities that abound in that area. I am not too keen on ‘the find your passion argument’. I wasn’t passionate about food but I saw an opportunity and was able to grow a ₦100million/annum business. Skills and dedication, in my opinion, trumps passion any day.
“I am passionate about taking long walks. In fact, I can walk for Africa. But are there a lot of opportunities around walking? The truth is the market answers to demands and needs. Not individual passions alone. Passion without profit will likely lead to frustration. In fact, passion without profiting is a hobby not a business. And by the way, it’s easier to be more ‘passionate’ when you have several millions in the account.
“So please take a moment to reflect on the skills you possess, possible opportunities around those needs and voila! You might have discovered a side- hustle!” he admonished.
While fielding questions from participants, Victor Ojelabi, the convener, noted that many employees are yet to start their businesses or side hustles based on the prevailing economic status quo as well as challenges they observe entrepreneurs facing.
“There are challenges being faced by entrepreneurs which many employees are afraid to pass through, the fire, yet they see and want to enjoy the glory. What advice can you give us?” Ojelabi asked.
“Being an entrepreneur is one of the most rewarding and yet challenging things I have done in my life. I have had periods where I didn’t have a dime, even to pay school fees. And I have had periods where I was the only dad around for PTA, enjoying the opportunities to pick my kids from school and even do home-work with them. Will it be easy, most likely no, especially at the early stages? But when we get it right, it is super rewarding! What I will say this: it’s worth the risk,” Ajibola responded.
Rounding off his presentation, he explained that there is need for motivation and following a blueprint on the path to entrepreneurship.
“Have a very strong ‘motivation’ and understand that there is a blueprint. The blueprint is this Mentoring, Learning Fast and Networking. Mentors might help you avoid some mistakes. Even when you fail, you have to learn fast and iterate and lastly, it’s difficult to succeed in most businesses as an island. You need people and strong networks.”
Touching on the sensitive issue of exiting an establishment one has served for years for fear of being negatively branded, a situation many employees find themselves, astute trainer advised, “I will suggest that you have an exit plan over a 12-18months period. If your boss will understand, great. If not, you will have to strive not to burn the bridge when you leave.”
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