10 Insights For First-Time Entrepreneurs

Taking yourself out of your comfort zone and dipping your feet into the unpredictable whirlpool of entrepreneurship can be daunting, most people think about this all their lives and never get the courage to take this leap. If you have taken the proverbial leap off the cliff, good for you, if you are still considering taking a stab at your idea, testing if your business venture will pan out, I have a few tips I’ve learnt on my journey so far.


Focus Is Key

I read somewhere that at a dinner party, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet were asked what was the most important tool for success in life, both of them jointly replied with one word; FOCUS. You cannot undermine the need to focus on your business and build up its capacity. Majority of first-time entrepreneurs feel the urge to jump at every opportunity that comes their way. Avoid getting distracted, juggling multiple businesses will stretch you thin and decrease your efficiency and success. Start one new business at a time, run it well, not 20 businesses that are run poorly.


Know Your Stuff

It very easy to join a band-wagon business, rushing to start a venture because a friend told you they made a lot of money doing this business isn’t advisable. Don’t start a business because it is the in-thing or rumours have it that it offers large profit margins. Do what you love, find a market gap in an industry you’re interested in and fulfil that need. Building a business around your interests and strengths will give a better chance at succeeding. It’s not enough to create a profitable business, its imperative that you are happy running your business. You won’t be very successful at your business if you’re not passionate about it.


Perfect Your Elevator Pitch

An elevator pitch is a 15 to 30 second description of your business, always be ready to give a short, informative narration of what your business does. From coincidental encounters with investors to run-ins with potential customers, be ready to give a convincing 30-second speech on what your business does. State your vision, service and benefits in a clear and concise manner. Adjust your pitch to suit your audience, the simpler it is, the better.


Find Mentors

Nobody knows everything and that’s fine, it’s okay not to have the answers for everything. Seek mentors and advisors that will ease your entrepreneurial journey and help you become a better entrepreneur and leader. Ensure you find successful, intelligent people who share your interests and goals, they must see the value in working with you for the long-term.


Keep It Lean

CUT YOUR COSTS! Keep your spending as low as possible. Mark Cuban says he lived like a college student for most of the start of his business, because extravagant spending at the start of your business can cripple your business before it even gets off the ground. Separate your personal and business accounts, triple-check every expense and manage your cash flow effectively.


Learn On Your Way Up

The only way to learn how to run a business is by running one, no degree, book or business plan can fully prepare you for entrepreneurship. There is no perfect way to run a business. However, don’t jump into a business without adequately planning and thinking it through, also don’t wait months and years to execute. One way to become a successful entrepreneur is to innovate, another way is to be ready to be a firefighter – you get better at entrepreneurship when you get tested under fire. Never forget to learn from your mistakes, never repeat your mistakes twice.


Get Ready For Debtors

This is something no one warns you about, especially doing business in Nigeria. Customers will owe you, it’s not usually because they cannot afford to pay, I honestly can’t figure out why people owe, even big corporations are guilty of this. From day 1, I would advise you put systems in place to avoid customers owing you money, for example, you can insist on a deposit that would at least cover your expenses, before your sell your product or service. If your business is the type that would require customers to pay before service is rendered, you are in such a good position. Nonetheless, setup systems that would minimise the impact debtors would have on your business, because a lot of businesses have gone under, simply because customers refused to pay up.


Stay Healthy

I don’t mean to sound like your mother, but as an entrepreneur, you need to recognise that your health is a major asset. You would be more productive if you take better care of yourself, eat healthy, work out, sleep well. Entrepreneurship is not a 9-5 profession, it’s a lifestyle. Don’t make excuses, working till you’re exhausted will lead to a burnout, a burnout means you have to take valuable time off work to recover.


Don’t Believe Your Hype

If you can’t walk the walk, don’t talk the talk. It’s okay to blow your trumpet, but avoid exaggerating your abilities and telling tall tales about your service offerings. Market your product passionately, but in good taste. Let your business sell itself. To put it concisely, shut up and work.


Learn From Failure

I don’t know why people are afraid of failing, there is more to learn from failure than success. Don’t let your ego ruin you, always stay truthful to yourself and know when its time to quit.  If your business idea doesn’t succeed, identify your mistakes and learn from them. Reflect on what you would have done differently. Use these hard-learned lessons to improve yourself and your future entrepreneurial ventures.

Failure will never overtake you if your determination to succeed is strong enough. Success is the result of hard work, learning from failure, focus, and persistence.


Building A Business While Working 9-to-5

One of my major struggles is juggling my 9-5 job with my businesses and its tough to be honest. A lot of long nights, a lot of hilarious stories that were not as funny when they were playing out and a lot of sacrifices. I’ve had my fair share of failed business ventures, I’ve been successful in most, not quite where I want to be but I get better each passing day. My job allows me experiment with different business ideas without jeopardising my steady source of income. I love my job, I love trying out new business ideas, why do I have to choose? It is difficult to juggle both, but it’s been a pretty interesting journey so far.

Entrepreneurship is the rave right now, owning your startup is the new cool. A significant number of young, professional Nigerians I’ve met have a side hustle apart from their 9-5 jobs. For some, side-hustling is a way of fulfilling their passions, for others, it’s an extra stream of income, for most, it’s a bid to survive the dreadful Nigerian economy and supplement low wages in an economy with high inflation (Thanks Buhari!).

In my journey so far, I have come across some fundamental principles that have helped me manage the complexity of my situation. Here are some pointers on how to build your business, deepen your knowledge and better your chances of success while juggling paid employment with entrepreneurship.


Don’t Quit Your Day Job

In today’s world of apps created less than 10 years ago declaring higher profits than conglomerates built over 50 years ago, the clamour to be an entrepreneur is understandable. Entrepreneurship has been incredibly glamourised, that some entrepreneurs mock those in paid employment, let me be the one to tell you not to kill yourself joining the bandwagon. For those looking to make the switch, your 9-5 job is the vehicle that you would use to drive that your entrepreneurial dream. It may make you too comfortable to set up your own business, however it gives you experience, skills and insight on how to run your own business. Your day job will fund your dreams, even your dreams can’t fund your dreams.

Set SMART goals to enable you plan better and achieve more in both your business and career.


Manage Your Time

Running a side business while working 9 to 5 allows you test your ideas without putting your income flow at too much risk. A side hustle is a stepping stone to creating an additional income stream and a great way to test your business idea without the risk of losing your current income stream. The 5 to 9 life is probably more tasking than the 9 to 5 life, being that you would use your free time for hobbies, socialising, resting, chopping life etc., to work on your business.

You don’t need a prophet to tell you the major crux of working while building a business is time management. You have to be principled and incredibly disciplined to manage your time effectively to be productive at your job and run your business successfully. Do not under any circumstance skimp on your job for your business, if you cannot manage both at once, its best you focus on just one. There are a ton of time management apps that help with managing your schedule and achieving your goals, check some of them here.


Share your work

Whether on social media or a website or youtube channel or a podcast, find a way to share your work. It helps you build a community, and also establish yourself as an authority in your field. There is absolutely no point of building a business or a brand without also building a platform to showcase it, you don’t necessarily have to be the face of your brand, you can build a brand without the public knowing you’re the brain behind it. Also, sharing your work, essentially is a marketing strategy, so it’s a win-win situation.


Learn from Experts

Learn from other people’s experience, you don’t have to suffer, Nigerians love to glamourise sufferhead. Avoid falling into the entrapment of doing things the hard way just to have a rag-to-riches story, do things the smart way by learning from those who have experienced what you are going through. Ask for help from those who have gone before you, there is no shame in reaching out to someone who is the same field as you for guidance.



Because you have limited time, you would most likely progress faster when collaborate with people who share your vision. You have to be careful not to pick a business partner solely because you are both alike and the person “gets it”. You have to pick a co-founder that complements you, that has qualities you don’t have that is required to make your business a success. Learning to delegate tasks based on strengths from the early days will go a long way in creating structure for your business that allows you have time to do more and lays the ground work for business continuity.


Prioritise Customer Satisfaction

The fact that you’re working for someone while running a business does not excuse you from putting not out the best service and product with great customer service. I have come across several business owners that expect you to understand that their service is subpar because they are busy with their day jobs, this is utterly unacceptable. Your business should be properly structured and run efficiently for you to deliver top notch service. Your customers do not need to know the details of your struggles, save that for your Forbes interview. Do the needful and deliver the best service you can, whether in paid employment or in business.

How To Overcome Difficulties Nigerian Professionals Face


Let’s face it, working 9-5, running a business, following your creative passion, hustling, even just breathing, almost everything you’re doing in Nigeria is more difficult here than it is anywhere else in the world. It is easy to fall into that trap of, “Oh! My village people are after me”, and literally give up, then start waiting on a phantom helper to send dollars from above, but that’s not happening anytime soon. I believe in God, however the honest truth is prayer and fasting cannot replace putting in work to achieve tangible results.

Pro tip: Stop working hard, start working smart!

Focus on doing one thing at a time and assess your results. Ensure you stay on track, so your work doesn’t slack because of things that may be going on around you. Everyone you see is trying to figure out this maze called life and hacking it out day by day, so don’t let the people stunting on social media get you down, a lot of young people are struggling to get ahead. There are a thousand and one tips I can share to help with dealing with the realities of working and balancing life, here are a few major ones.


Maintain a Positive Mindset

People are continuously faced with challenges, difficulties and setbacks, they are inevitable and part of life, how you handle these challenges determine your ability to succeed. You grow as a person by learning to manage stress and maintaining a positive attitude when faced with challenges. Successful people do everything possible to stay problem-free, when challenges arise, they respond with a positive attitude, learn their lesson and keep moving forward towards their vision.

You have to resolve in advance to not let your situation get you down, respond to difficulties in a positive and constructive way. Neutralise all negative thoughts, speak to yourself in a positive way, whatever is expressed is impressed, what you say to others will be impressed on your subconscious, so actively make positivity a part of your personality. Focus on your vision and goals and never forget it is impossible to grow without difficulty, challenges are preparation for the next level, so level up!


Build a Network of Positive Minded People

Surrounding yourself with positive minded people will help you focus more on achieving your dreams even when your situation seems tough. Keeping the company of negative minded people would corrupt your mind and without realising it, you lose your focus and drive. Build a network of people that share similar goals and visions, it is easy to focus on yourself and keep working, however you would arrive at your goal faster if you are surrounded by people that are motivating you.

Resolving issues on your own may be overwhelming, admitting that you need help is not a sign of weakness, but an indication of strength, maturity and wisdom. Start building your trusted network with the people around you, your friends, family, co-workers and connect with people outside your network that are on a similar track as you are.

Talking about things going on with you is important for several reasons. If you have issues bothering you, it would be relieving to have an outside source to give some advice or at least be a good listener.


Avoid Burnout

Any career path you choose – paid employment or entrepreneurship – would exert a lot of your energy, if you are truly committed to your work. Hence, you need to pace yourself to avoid breaking down, because you cannot afford to. We all know that we need to exercise more, eat better, and sleep better. The key is how to do this with the time demands on our schedule.

Safeguard yourself from a burnout by scheduling regular social activities, working out, find a hobby you can commit to, volunteer for charity causes you believe in. Having a good sense of humour helps with gloomy situations, I think this is a collective trait with Nigerians, we find the joke in every situation and honestly it helps with dealing with the difficulties we face.


Stay Resilient

As a young professional, you often meet people that do not take you seriously. This may be because you are at the start of your career or your business, hence they think you have it all wrong. Do not let the opinion of others deter you, challenges are not a personal affront, see it as a stepping stone to your promotion.


The biggest tip I have for overcoming difficulties is having self-belief. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? There is nothing you can’t achieve if you put your mind to it.

Stay hungry, stay focused, stay resilient. The world would be worse off if people like Angela Merkel, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had given up on their dreams. Be persistent. Keep trying and with time, you’d experience that breakthrough you’ve always wanted. We are all learning. No one gets it right every time.  A more compassionate attitude toward ourselves only helps us to stay in the game.

10 Business Goals You Need For The New Year

If you are setting goals for the new year in the second week of December, then you, my darling, are not proactive enough. For brands and businesses, the month of December should be for reviewing the past activities of the year, re-strategising for the next year, balancing your books, creating a budget for next year and so much more. What the next year holds is at the top of every entrepreneur’s mind, given that Nigeria is still recovering from a recession. I’m sharing ten goals to bear in mind to push both entrepreneurs and career folk to the next level next year.

  1. Improve your understanding of which market strategies yield the most profit for your company.
  2. Analyse your market to better evaluate the expectations of your customers and how to satisfy them.
  3. Develop strategy that will convert more leads to sales by breaking the barriers between sales and marketing.
  4. Network and get more involved in your industry.
  5. Stay informed about new technology that will keep you connected to clients.
  6. Launch an important, valuable project for your company.
  7. Identify and understand trends that would affect and change  your industry in the next few years and plan ahead for it.
  8. Incorporate lessons learned from the past year into next year.
  9. Learn to delegate, stop micro-managing.
  10. Give something back to your community.

I’m trying to keep the articles shorter and more straightforward, so there you have it. You can focus on all or just a few of these goals, as it applies to you. If you want to talk about your business or career, or even how to go about incorporating these goals into your strategy, email me at: tolani@tolanithomas.com.