I'm now convinced that no matter what you earn at your day job you will definitely make more than it by starting your own business. And it doesn't matter what business you start, if any company finds you valuable enough to pay your N1 million per month then you must have a sense of excellence and enlightenment that will ensure that no matter what business you do you will do it so well that you will generate more than N1 million excess cash per month. And keep generating more.

I have seen all sorts of businesses lately and no longer as a judging outside but as an inside observer. It's never about a great business idea. The businesses I see flourishing are products of regular ideas but executed in an excellent way. It's like comparing Shoprite to Mama Chukwudi's store. The only difference is the execution of the grocery store business idea both are built on. One is built on excellence and a vast knowledge of how successful grocery stores are run around the world, the other doesn't see beyond her neighbourhood. Same business idea, different worlds.

image: bloggics.com

There are people charging less than half of what I charge for the same Excel training. The same business idea, different income per customer. Before quitting my job I emailed some of the top Microsoft Excel consultants in the world and a lot of them told me how things should be done and gave me the mental picture I work towards. The business deals I get are not because of my theoretical knowledge of Excel but the creative and business enhancing solutions I come up with for my clients. It's not what I do as a Microsoft Excel expert but how I put to use my expertise, how I do what I do. 

When I discuss with prospective clients I don't talk about Excel formulas and how they use less than 10% of Excel. What I talk about is the issue they have and how I am going to solve it. In the end they don't care whether I use Excel or not, they just want me to make their problems go away. And as for my Excel training I don't even market that anymore, I get lots of referrals and repeat business than I can handle. Microsoft Excel is what I do but I don't do it like everyone else does it. Training is the low-level part of my services, I major more in helping businesses realize their dreams. If you hear me discuss with the companies I intend (or already consult for) the word Excel is not so often used. I see Excel as a tool and not the end in itself. I use Excel for what it can do and, if need be, I use other tools too (like Access, MySQL and R). But I almost always move the last stage analysis or work perfection to Excel.

If you think about the big multinational businesses everyone wants to work for, the business idea they are built on is very common and not rocket science. What separates them from the pack is how they implemented it. They provide the same service hundred others also provides, just that they provide it in a way no one else does. Take Apple for instance, they are not the only phone maker but their phones are in a class of its own. Their phones have no lookalike and no competing company makes close to the revenue they rake in from iPhone. 

It's never about what you do, as far as business success is concerned, but how you do what you do.

Yes. You have time for everything you want to do. What you can't is to do everything at the same time. You can't sleep and read at the same time, but you have time to sleep and time to read. Whenever you feel that you don't have time to do what you want to do it's simply because you are trying to do everything at the same time.

image: guckes.soup.io

You can't do too much at once. You can't have a demanding 8 to 5 job, run a side business, travel every week, and want to be present at every PTA meeting at your children's schools. You can't eat your cake/time and still have it.

The key to doing everything you want is taking time off a lot of things. Just like you take time off work in form of a leave to go for that vacation you've been planning for over a year, so also you should take time off attending all your friends' wedding and anniversaries to create time for that new skill you want to learn. 

If you do it right, you will always have time for things you want to do. It's not about time management, trying to suck the most out of time. It's about task management, doing one thing at a time. Even if you're wasting time, waste it on one thing at a time. If you want to visit Hawaii, it's like going to Dubai. All it will cost you is freed up days and some cash. If you keep complaining that you don't have time for it then you are either not serious about going or you have joined the task ranking crowding.

The task ranking crowd are the people who will tell you that reading is a better task than sleeping. They are constantly ranking tasks and giving more time to the things high up in their list and taking away time from things low down the list. They are the ones who will overwork and not even know what the principal of their child's school looks like until an emergency happens. They put a money value on every minute and spend each minute on tasks that will generate them the most value, until a lesser task becomes an emergency and threatens to destroy the value they've created. They live like machines, following strict rules and never wasting time. It's not a group you should be part of.

You need to see life as an experience, one you have to make memorable. Think back on your school life, was it the time you spent in the examination hall (the time that determined your destiny as a student, hence most valuable time) you remember or the time you wasted with friends? If you are normal it would be the later. Then you shouldn't keep living like you are in a university and everyday is exam day. You should learn to spend time on less valuable tasks, like wasting an afternoon at your child's school or watching a movie at the cinema the night before your high impact presentation at work. Put some memory in your daily experience. Put aside the big task and do the small task. Soon you will find that you have time for everything you want to do.

I recently bought and read Peter Thiel's book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. It's the umpteenth book I have read on building a successful business since I took entrepreneurship extremely seriously.

Peter Thiel is one of the founders of PayPal, a part owner of Facebook and a venture capitalist who runs his own hedge fund. In his book he talked about how he built successful businesses and also what his investment company looks for in a starting company before they invest in it. Revealing the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and businesses; the same characteristics that helped him see success in a very young companies and making him one of the earliest investors in some of the world's most successful young companies: Booktrack, Slide, LinkedIn, Rapleaf, Geni.com, Yammer, Yelp, Inc., Powerset, Practice Fusion, MetaMed, Vator, Palantir Technologies, IronPort, Votizen, Asana, Big Think, Caplinked, Quora, Rypple, TransferWise, Nanotronics Imaging, Stripe, and Legendary Entertainment.

Reading the book brought back to my memory business lessons from another great book I bought on business, Street Smarts: An All-Purpose Tool Kit for Entrepreneurs by Norm Brodsky. And when I think back on all the business books I have bought and read, there is one common big lesson. From The Intelligent Entrepreneur to Start Something That Matters. And that lesson is that as an entrepreneur or a young company, you must be locally gifted and globally minded. You must start by focusing on a small market and be so good (gifted) that you capture that small market, and all the while setting your eyes on the global market. You must act like a small company and think like a global one. You must do everything on a level of quality that is comparable to or better than in any other place in the world. Yet you must not plan to get 1% of a $40 billion global market. You should plan to get 90% of your local $10 million market first and then move up to capturing 80% of the $500 million regional market before thinking of going after the global market. Facebook started by focusing on capturing just Harvard students, and then only university students across the world before going after the global market. But since the start, Mark has always had his eyes on the global market. So he took his idea, applied it locally in a gifted way but with a global mind.

Being locally gifted may look crude to you. It may seem like you are starting like every business around with a small goal. Like you are not aiming high enough at the start. And you are right. It's the crude time-tested way to grow a very successful business. The businesses that have been around for hundreds of years and are still growing are businesses that started as a small local champion, the big fish in the small pond, and kept migrating from one pond to a slightly bigger pond. They weren't too much in a hurry and took their time to dominate one regional market before competing in a bigger market. They never aimed at 1% of the anything but 90% of whatever market they want, till they were big enough to go after 90% of the world market.

image: clarkmorgan.com
I believe the globally minded part is where most Nigerian companies get it wrong. We don't do things to an international quality level with the hope of someday going from a national market to a West African market, to an African market, to the MEA market and then to the global market. We don't have R&D departments to force us to provide a product or service that beats that provided anywhere in the world. We don't focus on one thing enough to become a global leader in it. We would rather own a conglomerate than one revolutionary company. The moment we start making money we begin expanding the business into other fields and reducing our ability to compete in a global market as one of the best. We also don't ever want to spend a significant portion of our revenue of research and development, building the edge we will need to go global someday. 

I'm not going to let the time and money I spend reading all these business books waste. I am going to put to practice this lesson I have learned from them. In fact, I have begun following the advice. I am focusing on a product category (Business Data Analysis) and becoming so extremely good at it that I'll be at the forefront in the Nigerian market. I have stopped obsessing about saving my company revenue, I keep spending almost all I make on learning new better ways to do my business and expensive software that will put me at the cutting edge of the technology that power the industry I'm competing in. I am on course to becoming locally gifted but already globally minded. You should too.

Last week I made two unusual online purchases. I paid for an iPhone 5 64GB that was sold not new by an Amazon marketplace seller. The phone costs $414.94 ($409.95 for the phone itself and $4.99 to ship it to an address in US). No direct shipping to Nigeria.

image: imore.com

In 2011 I had subscribed to www.myus.com, a special service business that provides people and businesses outside Nigeria with a US address that can receive packages and have it forwarded to the actual non-US address of the account holder. I had paid the lifetime joining fee of $10 and was given a US address. It was that address I told the Amazon marketplace seller to send the phone to. 

That same last week, I made another purchase. My Microsoft Surface RT tablet keyboard isn't working fine anymore. I have gone round computer village twice trying to buy a replacement for it. The keyboard is known as Microsoft Type cover. Only very few stores have it in computer village and they sell it for about N30,000. This is a keyboard that costs about $90 for a new one. So I decided to buy a used one for $58.69. It looked like a bargain to me. I would be paying less than N10,000 as against the N30,000 the computer village guys are selling it, though it's not brand new. That it works (as the seller claims) is what matters.

image: amazon.com
On paper the two purchases looked like a great deal. I would be getting the iPhone 5 64GB for about N70,000. And based on the shipping cost estimate from MyUS.com I would spend $50 to ship it to Nigeria. In total, the iPhone should cost me less than N80,000. And going by what the seller said, I would be getting some extra accessories and the phone is in a mint condition, recently bought from apple store by him. So I saw it as buying a new iPhone 5 64GB and not a used one. And as explained in the preceding paragraph, I was also sure that I would be saving lots of money with the keyboard purchase. How partly wrong I was!

The problem is that the shipping company takes the larger of the shipping cost by package weight and shipping cost by package size after repackaging and padding the package. The annoying part is that they give you an estimated shipping cost which looks reasonable but when the actual billing is done the item is repackaged and billed on the new weight/dimension. And you only see this in your payment receipt after the money has been charged to your debit/credit card. So I ended up being charged $69.87 for the iPhone and $109.77 for the keyboard I bought for less than $60. So the phone now costs me over N80,000 and the keyboard costs about N29,000. Almost same as a new keyboard from computer village that comes with the luxury of me doing lots of testing and not waiting 2 weeks to receive the item. But the phone was still a great deal, as long as it has no issues.

Yesterday, the iPhone arrived. The seller was honest. It looked new. The accessories were new or unused, came with a great casing and the phone itself was in a mint condition. No unpleasant surprises yet, Today I will go get an MTN nano SIM and do the final testing to be sure I haven't been scammed. If it works with a Nigerian SIM (as advertised) then I still believe that I have gotten a good deal. An equivalent phone from a Nigerian store costs over N105,000.

I am expecting the keyboard to arrive on Monday and hope it, too, would be issues free and working perfectly. But at the cost of N29,000 (I'm paying same amount for a used keyboard as I would have paid for a new one, and have no usable warranty). And that qualifies it as my worst online shopping mistake.

A lot of times in Excel, we have a comprehensive sheet that contains data we would like to pick for another report or analysis in a completely different sheet or file. Doing copy and paste could be very tedious. 

Excel has built-in functions that allow us pick data from same sheet, another sheet or another file for specific entries/records. These functions are VLOOKUP, HLOOKUP and the combination of INDEX & MATCH. 

To explain we are going to use a fictitious HR table. A table that consists of everyone in an unknown company. This will make up the comprehensive sheet that has all the data we could ever need. Here is that practice file, VLOOKUP - HLOOKUP - INDEX - MATCH file.

This is what the HR database (table) look like: 

There are 200 employees with their records.

Let's say there is a yearly competition the company does, called -- The Most Helpful Employee of the Year. So in December everyone votes for who they believe the most helpful employee is for that year. 

It's almost the end of December and the voting has been done. Lekan Tijani with employee id 10000173 has been voted the most helpful employee of the year. But the form doesn't contain his email, phone number and other details we will like to know about him. So we need to look him up in the HR comprehensive table and pick his other details from there.

There are 2 ways we can do this. 

Number 1: we can use the Find tool in Excel (CTRL + F) to find the employee id 10000173 (which is for Lekan Tijani) and copy out the other details we need from his record. The downside to using this method is that if we have a special sheet that holds the records of all the winners since the company began this competition, then the day Lekan changes his phone number and notifies the HR department you will have to make the changes in both the HR comprehensive table and this winners table. The second drawback in using this method is that if we expand the winning categories to include not just most helpful employee of the year but adds 10 other categories (most handsome employee of the year, most beautiful employee of the year, most aggressive employee of the year, most hardworking employee of the year ...) you will have to do find, copy and paste very many times. But there's a better way, the number 2 way.

The number 2 way is to use VLOOKUP. You can use VLOOKUP to search for the row with the employee id 10000173 (Lekan Tijani's row) and pick the other data from that row that you want (phone number, email...). This method will overcome the 2 drawbacks I highlighted for the number 1 method. When Lekan changes his phone number you only need to update the HR comprehensive table, the winners table will update automatically. And doing for other categories would be as easy as dragging the formula.

How do we use VLOOKUP? Very easy. It easier than most people think or expect. 

We have a winners table we need to populate with extra details from the HR comprehensive table.

We need to use VLOOKUP to pick the phone from the HR comprehensive table (in another sheet). The VLOOKUP formula syntax is:

=VLOOKUP(lookup_value, table_array, col_index_num, [range_lookup])

and in English it is:

=VLOOKUP(the_record_you_want, the_table_with_everything, the_field_you_want, what_Excel_should_do_if_it_doesn't_find_the_record)

And here's how we will use it in this case.

We want the record for employee id 10000173. Hence the need to type =VLOOKUP(B2,

Next is to specify/select the table that has everything (the HR comprehensive table).

By selecting the HR comprehensive table Excel puts the address for us (very helpful when the table is in another sheet or file entirely). We now have =VLOOKUP(B2,'HR Database'!A1:E201,

Next is to tell VLOOKUP what field we need.

We count from the first field to determine the number/position of the field we want.

The phone number is in the 4th field. So our VLOOKUP formula is almost done, =VLOOKUP(B2,'HR Database'!A1:E201,4

Final step is to tell Excel what to do when it doesn't find what we are looking for. There are two possible things to enter:

  1. FALSE. This will tell Excel to display an error when it doesn't find the record we are looking for. Maybe someone has deleted the row for Lekan Tijani in the HR comprehensive table or we typed a wrong employee id.
  2. TRUE. This will allow Excel to give us what it considers as the closest record to what we are interested in that we couldn't find. I generally avoid using this option.
In our case we would prefer Excel give us no result if it could not find Lekan Tijani's record in the HR comprehensive table instead of giving us someone else's record.

So we do =VLOOKUP(B2,'HR Database'!A1:E201,4,FALSE

Not forgetting to close the bracket, to signal the end of the formula.

And that is all. We should see Lekan's phone number now.

Now you understand how VLOOKUP works and have seen an almost real-life case where we needed to use it.

Try doing for the email. (Tip: the email record is in the 5th field)

Again, you can download the practice file here: VLOOKUP - HLOOKUP - INDEX - MATCH file.

Expect the 2nd part, which is on HLOOKUP.

I strongly think it's about 90%, 9 out of every 10 customers I have. And that source is the internet.

image: drhurd.com

Daily I get calls or emails from prospective clients who tell me that they came about my contact and expertise while doing an online search. And they are the easiest customers to close. They don't make me sweat or call back multiple times before they make up their mind to become a paying customer and they don't aggressively price down my service. The internet has been my greatest business partner, sending clients my way more than all the other channels combined.

I can now say my being active online is beginning to pay off. Besides making me show up when people search for Excel training/expert, it brings up my profile also and gives them a high confidence in my ability when they see my online works and testimonials. By the time they contact me, it's no longer a case of whether I am the right person or not but a case of whether I am available and affordable. 

People are amazed when I tell them that I do only Microsoft Excel. They believe that I am shutting myself out of bigger business opportunities and giving my service a low profile. They also feel that I must be getting very few worthwhile jobs. They are right about my focus on Microsoft Excel limiting my business opportunities and keeping me out of the juicer non-Excel training market. But they are wrong about my not getting enough business opportunities. The truth is I get more than enough business opportunities to not bother about expanding beyond Microsoft Excel. But my biggest reason for limiting myself to Excel (for now) is that it's the recommended way to grow a small/starting business. By picking on very specific service and being the best in providing that service, you easily grow and establish a great brand. And because you don't end up competing with too many people, people are more willing to refer businesses your way and partner with you. They are not fearful that you will steal their clients because they know that you have no intention of competing with them. And how they become sure of that is by reading my online profile and company brochure.

Without the internet I would probably be out of business by now and searching for another salaried job. Almost all my clients are direct online referrals or referrals from those direct online referrals who have experienced my high quality service.

image: what-if-concepts.com
Everyone has their own problems. And today I won't be telling you that the difference between us all is that some are better at hiding their problems than the others. Or that you should be kind as everyone is fighting a hard battle. Or that you shouldn't compare yourself with others. Rather I will be telling you that regardless of how you handle your problems you can never get rid of them all.

The ups and downs we experience are simply the result of our being alive. They are the pulse of our very life.

image: commentphotos.com
As long as you're alive you will keep having issues to fix. And it's like that for everyone. And having an understanding of this greatly helps. It helps us better manage our mood and not unnecessarily prolong or blow up the bad times. This understanding enables you to stop seeing other people as the source of every problem you face. When you are bent on finding someone to blame you will always find more people than you expect responsible for the troubles you have. From the people in your village to your family members. But the sad part is if you were to live alone, by yourself, with no interaction with anyone,  you would still have troubles. So people aren't the reason we have troubles, they are, like you, a victim of their own troubles too. 

No doubt, there are those who magnify and spread every trouble they have. They are not good at managing their own issues. I naturally avoid them. I am not superman or captain planet; I don't like sticking my nose where it does not belong. I don't want someone telling me, "Hey Michael! I have found your nose, it was in my business." Even when you have Excel issues I don't turn myself into a self appointed messiah who jumps in uninvited and, without consent, proceeds to fix your Excel issues. I am okay with my own issues and not interested in adopting other peoples'.

I believe that everyone should try hard to manage their own problems. Not wait for an angel. If your troubles are coming from your workplace, then do something about it rather than just hope things will change by itself or some angel will show up and fix the problem. If your troubles are coming from your relationships, talk it out rather than enduring what you should be enjoying. If your troubles are coming from your lifestyle, then change your lifestyle. But most importantly, if you don't have any troubles you need to get a life (and start living).

One of the best habit to have is a reading habit. While other good habits like honesty, kindness and diligence make it easier for us to be helped, reading is the habit that helps us without any external support. Being honest and diligent can make you your boss' favorite and make him recommend you for promotion; which is good. But being a lifelong consumer of books that improve your work skills and guide you along the path of personal development will make you so valuable you won't need the favor of your boss or anyone to move ahead in life; which is super good.

Reading not only grows your mind and help you have sound thoughts, it also helps you to rise above the troubles of life. Reading the bible regularly makes you a better christian. Reading books on parenting makes you a better parent. Reading professional books make you a better professional. Reading the biographies of great men opens your mind to the possibility of you too achieving greatness. Reading all types of books daily makes life more colorful, shows you that there is no experience that is unique to you and gives you the mind of a calm wise man. 

Reading is the best exercise you can engage in. It helps your brain keep developing, it grows your mind and fills you with the knowledge you need to live a wholesome life. Being well read is not only a great compliment but also an enviable accomplishment. It makes your friends and family proud of you and willing to discuss important matters with you. It gives you an international mind. It helps you stay on top of technological advancements and use them to your benefits. It makes you a better conversationist. It makes you a better negotiator. It makes you excellent at whatever you are skilled at. It gives you a lasting credibility. It makes people trust you. It opens your mind to the opportunities hiding in the open. 

We live in a society that has gotten so many things wrong and we can't rise above the wrong around us if we feed on just the information that same society provides us. We need to read good books that will show us the better way of doing things, thinking and living. We need to develop a reading habit. It's the only way we can rise above the third world mentality.

Yesterday I finally decided to try something new in my french language learning journey. I bought Rosetta Stone French levels 1 - 5 desktop software. I paid $267 for it. That's about N45,400. By my calculation it is cheaper than attending classes and I can more easily make time for it. 

While reading the review for the software many people recommended using the numerous free online resources and buying a few books. Then some said the software's approach to teaching French will not help anyone understand grammar or become fluent. But I still went ahead to buy it.

There comes a time in one's life when saving money is not the ultimate concern but getting the value you want. The same reason we would buy an expensive smartphone rather than a cheap feature phone even though they can both make phone calls. And some of will always by the high-end smartphone. It's because we don't want to have more than one device to do all the frequent tasks we do online. We want a device that does the thinking and organization for us, making our lives easier and freeing time for us to do more important things. A phone that gives us the assurance that we will meet our e-demands: timely receipt of emails, sharing of memorable pictures via social media and doing most of the things we do on the PC. And that was the mindset I had while purchasing the software.

This is a software that has a proven strategy of fast tracking the learning of French language. It also has everything well arranged and track my learning progress. It is said to provide the equivalent of 2 years class based learning of French. And guarantees that I am making the most of the learning time I spend on it. That beats the hard job of compiling numerous free resources and getting overwhelmed, then trying to figure out an ordered way of going through the resources and have no way to track my progress; which is the way I have been going through my french learning for the most part of the last 5 years. I felt it was time to try a more ordered approach.

I have begun my first lessons and I'm happy with the method of teaching. It's already improving my pronunciation and vocabulary. The complete lessons take about 250 hours to complete, so at the rate of 30 mins per day I will spend about one and half years to complete the training. That definitely makes it cheaper than any class-based training. And class-based training hasn't been working well for me. 

Hopefully, by this time next year I should be getting a french girlfriend.

We all have ideas. We all have things we want to try out. What separates us all is how we treat our ideas. There are those of us who screen the ideas so thoroughly that we come up with so many failure points and drain the initial enthusiasm, in the end trying just very few of all the ideas we have. And there are those of us who really don't care about how perfect the idea is but go on to try every idea we have. And that is the category I will like you to be in, just like me. 

image: jeffbullas.com
In 2008, I wanted to learn Linux. I asked for help, requesting just advice on how to go about it, from senior colleagues who knew and has worked on Linux. None had my time. I went online but came across warnings and no step-by-step guide. Rather than give up on my idea of learning Linux, I downloaded one of the numerous Linux types and proceeded to install it on the new Sony VAIO laptop I had, the only laptop I had. I understood the risk and knew that with my knowledge level I had a great chance of failing and ruining the laptop. Yet I continued. After many back and forth in the installation settings I finally got the Linux installed. And when I reboot my laptop the Windows Vista and all my files were gone. I couldn't access the factory restore on the laptop too, as the Linux had overwritten everything on my laptop. From every perspective, I had done a very stupid thing. I should have waited till I had professional help before making the attempt. But the truth is all the things I learned had a similar beginning, and most of the things I didn't learn when I had the time were simply because I was waiting for a better time or fine tuning the idea.

My head first approach to learning Linux finally paid off. I no longer had to wait for someone to have my time and give the me guidance that would have saved me the many trouble I faced. In trying to fix my troubles myself I became a Linux guru and even made money teaching a group of senior PHCN staff for 5 days Linux/Unix while being lodged at an expensive hotel and paid very well. Using the same head first approach made me ignore the fact that I can't see well without my specs and I shouldn't try to learn swimming first in a big flowing river. I almost drown in the river and was already drifting to the next town when someone saved me. And when I finally got a proper instructor and limited my swimming to a safe swimming pool I was constantly bumping into people because I wasn't seeing well (without my specs). I had more than enough reasons to not try swimming.

Then there is French. I'm still battling it. It all began as an idea when I saw a friend reading a french book. And since then I have shared my NYSC allowance with a French graduate to have him teach me; I have taken formal classes at Alliance Francaise (Lagos), Centre Culturel Francais (Abuja) and Bon Berger (Cotonou). I have also bought the entire Harry Porter series in french and many other french books. I also have audio books, practice MP3s and CDs on French. Until 2 weeks ago, I was reading/practicing French daily. It's now 5 years that I have been learning French and I sometimes feel that I am still failing at it, but I will not stop trying.

When I quit my job I had no documented plan (and I still don't have), I had no work request or client, I had no office or able to afford one, I had no business partner and I had no formal business experience. All I had was my laptop, my knowledge of Excel, my blog and my life savings. It was like diving head first into the shallow part of a pool. I ended up spending all the money I had budgeted for the rest of the year in just 4 months. It was liking groping in the dark; you get to figure out the way only after you've bumped into walls. It was a terrible way to start a business but I wouldn't have started if I wanted a better way. For me starting was what mattered most, every other issue could be fixed along the way.

And my blog. I'm sure you must have wondered if my blog isn't going to get me into trouble someday or cost me a great opportunity because of the way I open up about all going on in my life on it. I sometimes have that worry too. But I also know that no one learns the multiplication table without making several embarrassing mistakes. You can't be extremely good at anything if you are too concerned about avoiding mistakes. I write because I want to become an excellent writer and maybe a full-time writer someday. I have to start from where I am, writing about the only thing I'm knowledgeable about: myself. And getting better with time. It's like the Linux learning experience, whatever it would cost me will never be up to what it would gain me. So I don't worry about the cost I simply don't stop trying/writing everyday.

You also need to stop worrying about failing; try out all your ideas. Ride more on your enthusiasm than professional help because the help might not come or comes when your enthusiasm is all gone. Don't try to start from the top and climb up. Start from where you are, ignore your limitations and fears, and as long as you keep climbing you will get to the top. Ideas rule the world and you have to give yours a chance. 

If you think you are not exceptionally good at anything then you are not trying enough things or not doing something very well long enough. 

Naturally, I'm shy and unambitious. Just quietly curious. I remember in 2004, in the university hostel room of one of my friends who did his primary and secondary schooling at the university staff school and was then doing his undergraduate in that same university, we were discussing how crazy life in Lagos is and some of the guys in the room were telling him that with his gentle and naive attitude he was not going to survive in Lagos. But guess what his line of defense was. He simply pointed at me and told those guys that as long as Michael was surviving in Lagos he was sure of he would do very fine in Lagos. He considered me more gentle and naive than himself. And he was somewhat right. Even my mum while I was about 11 years old made me hawk in the market close to her grocery shop to cure me of my naivety. And I still remember in my second job, my boss, at the start, complained that I was too gentle and unambitious.

And like they say: If one person calls you a horse you have the right to punch him, if a second person calls you a horse you can regard him as crazy, but if a third person calls you a horse then it's time you consider buying a saddle. When just too many people say the same thing about you, then there's some truth in what they say. The impression those people had of me has some truth in it. I am unambitious. You could put a billion naira in front of me and talk of sharing it with me, and not notice any difference in my reaction compared to when we discuss the weather. People are always shocked to hear that I don't have a plan of what I want to achieve or be in 5 or 10 years time. And all my business plans are not more than a few months plan, nothing seriously long term. So if you were looking for someone with a very active life and exceptionally good at something (besides books) I'm going to be among the last people you'll consider. Yet I keep on surprising people and myself by being exceptionally good at things people least expect I would even be competent in.

Who, knowing me, would think I would become exceptionally good at swimming on my back? Or that I would quit my telecoms career to become an exceptionally good Excel consultant after writing technical certification exams? Or that I would become an exceptionally committed blogger? Or that I would become exceptionally good at brushing with my left hand? The truth is that 10 years ago I never would have thought I would even know how to do any of those things let alone become exceptionally good at them. 

For the most part of my life I have been only exceptionally good at book and tech stuffs. When some of my former classmates heard that I resigned a tech job to start my own business they couldn't hide their shock and told me that they considered me as of one those who would have gone straight for masters, then PhD and taken up lecturing. None expected I would give up a tech job that aligned with my skills and interest to start a business. 

So how did I find out that I have talents that go beyond memorizing books and fixing tech issues?

In answering that question I would be also answering the question, "How do you find out what you are exceptionally good at?" And the answer is that you just have to try out a lot of things: both the things that interest you (like swimming, for me) and the things you just have to do (maybe at work, like Excel based analysis). It was by trying out everything that interests me and putting effort into the ones that I needed to learn out of work necessity that I ended up becoming exceptionally good at a few. I'm still poor at French even though I have been learning it since 2009. There are many other things I keep trying and I'm still poor at. But if you don't try enough things or one particular thing long enough you will not find out the things you are exceptionally good at.

One month ago I was sleeping almost all day and hoping for a serious work. Now, for the past 2 weeks I haven't slept well and have lost all the weight I gained during the sleeping period. It's from one job/project to another. 

I heard it's a normal thing in the consulting biz world: to have periods of no work and then, suddenly, a period of too much work. And it's called the feast and famine work cycle.

image: crg-nh.com
It's not the first time I'm experiencing it since I went full-time since April 2014 but this is the first time I have become overwhelmed by it. The last famine was very severe and the ongoing feast is almost causing constipation. I haven't been sleeping well and losing weight. But the worst part is that I still don't meet the demand on my time. I get more job/project offers than I can do at once. My email inbox is filled with many mails awaiting my reply and I have been accumulating lots of unreturned phone calls. 

I'm beginning to worry about my health and cut down on the projects I'm working on. But it's hard when you've just been through a famine. When just a few weeks ago you were praying and hoping for work. And now that the work has come, and in an overflowing way, it's really difficult to turn away paying customers. They even don't get it and feel like you are too pompous. It's really hard adjusting and preparing for another feast -- famine work cycle. 

When you've got to provide most of what the government should have provided, earn much less for doing the same job as the expatriate in your company and have to pay top Naira for any property you wish to acquire because there are numerous politicians and their beneficiaries who have bidden the price up by their reckless spending.

Life is much harder for the hardworking youth in Nigeria than most other countries. The default perception foreigners have of you is as some incompetent fraudulent person. You can't easily compete on the global level. Then our politicians have ruined a lot for us. They keep wasting our national resources and tax, not providing the needed push/infrastructure every great country is built on. Whatever is not bad about is now the exception. A Nigerian that returns a lost wallet is an exception. A town with good roads or stable electricity or good schools is now the exception. In fact, a trustworthy Nigerian is fast becoming an exception.

To build a comfortable life out of your sweat and upon honesty, you will have to endure a lot and work extremely hard. You will have to repeatedly prove that you are different before anyone will see you as different. You will have to endure being cheated and discriminated, and keep working extremely hard before you can honestly become 'someone'. Whatever you are good at, you will have to put in numerous years of on the job experience before anyone will pay you what's worthwhile. You will have to build an unusual track record just to earn the usual income other nationalities earn. No one, except those trying to get a favour from you, take your word for it. They will want you to prove to them that you are positively different. 

As a Nigerian you have to work harder to get the same benefits/income as someone doing the same (or less) job. You'll have to start from proving people wrong first as they (by default) will be expecting you to disappoint before you'll now get the support/benefits you should have gotten initially. And it's not just when dealing with foreigners but also when dealing with fellow Nigerians (they could even be worse). It's more like everything is against the struggling youth: the government, the system and people's expectations.

I'm currently working on a huge MySQL database and planning to have an automated Excel dashboard that will mirror what will be provided on a final online dashboard. I have already set the connection between Excel and a MySQL database and worked out how to pull data straight into Excel. The next stage is automating the process. 

Excel has a limitation that is making the process not as smooth as I hoped. Some tables in the database I'm working on have over 20 million rows of data. This is beyond what Excel can handle. So for me to build an automated reporting dashboard, I need to reprocess a lot of the data, join tables, find patterns and ensure there is no left out metric. And to do this I need to run an elaborate analysis on all the tables, individually and collectively. Excel becomes unsuitable for this. And so is Access. Access has a size limitation too and can be unbearably slow. Luckily, the data is stored in a MySQL database server and MySQL has many tools to work with in running analytical SQL queries. I have used Sequel Pro on Mac and find it very cool but I enjoy working on Windows, so I decided to look for a great Windows based MySQL tool. And after many trials I found a perfect tool: MySQL Workbench.

MySQL Workbench is almost an IDE. It comes with many database management tools that you will enjoy working with it. It's got this programming-like environment that makes doing serious work enjoyable. You almost feel like it has a tool for everything you want to do. I also tried Heidi but I found MySQL Workbench preferable.

So now I use the MySQL Workbench to do some pre-processing of the data and then export to Excel to do final analysis. Once I am done with the design of the data analysis model and made a final (acceptable) dashboard, I will now begin to work on porting the SQL commands for the pre-processing to Excel and automating the subsequent analysis and dashboard. Then I will work with a web developer to replicate the same dashboard on the web, making it realtime, queryable and accessible on any internet connected computers, tablets and smartphones.

It's a very exciting project and I can't wait to get it done. It will be expanding my knowledge of SQL data querying from Excel and online dashboards. I will be sure to update you all on how it goes and share any exciting discovery I make.

Today, I bought an expensive software for less than 20% of it's original price. Thanks to eBay. I'm already using the software; needed it for my business operations. The experience was so gladdening I decided to bid N30,000 for an iPhone 4 32GB phone. If I decide to not use it I can sell it for over N50,000 on Konga marketplace. 

The deals on eBay are so great you might not want to buy gadgets from a Nigerian store again. Then when combined with Viabox.com you can begin your own trading business. Buy super cheap on eBay, have Viabox bundle and ship everything to you and sell to friends, family and strangers. Best part of all, you can get almost anything on eBay. Especially, consumer electronics and phones. And very cheaply.

eBay is now so robust that you can't be scammed except you decide to not report the seller to eBay and claim your refund.

So with your PayPal account you can buy anything that is listed on eBay. Whether it is up for outright buy or up for bidding. And the best way to get the best deals on eBay is to search for what you want to buy and select sort by Time: Ending soon

You'll see deals that will make you forget about Computer Village.

Except you work for the government I don't believe working in a job is easier than running your own business. Sure, the start of a business is very tough. But so is the start of any career. Some of us spent 2, 3, 4 years to become gainfully employed. We started with dead end jobs we were overqualified for. And some more unlucky ones had a devilish boss and unhelpful colleagues. Then as time passed we got better jobs and a more relaxed working condition. This is the same process an entrepreneur passes through. The beginning is tough for most and it gets better with time. 

image: chrisolam.com

Yes, there are those who had great jobs straight out of school and never seemed to suffer in the job market or work under a devilish boss. Also, there are businesses that started with everything easy; no lack of resources and were profitable from day 1. The one thing common to both is that they are the exception. Not the typical. For every one of my friends who got a great job straight out of university (I actually did too, spent less than 1 month in the job market before getting a job with the then second largest telecoms solution/infrastructure provider in the world) I knew 30 others who didn't. And it's same with entrepreneurship. I have come across people who have parents so rich they simply leverage their family wealth to start a business the easy way: assured customers courtesy family connections and almost inexhaustible financial resources. And there also those who just seem to hit the entrepreneurship jackpot, their businesses took off like a rocket and they don't have any memory of a bad time. They are the exception. For every one of them there are over a 1000 who have it extremely tough.

Young guys like me are reluctant to go full-time on their own, becoming an entrepreneur. They complain of not having enough resources and experience. Older guys are also reluctant to start their own business. They complain of not having the flexibility to juggle family with the struggles of a new business. The truth is no one category of people have it easier: young and without a family; or old and with a family. At every stage of our lives we will have strong enough reasons to not start a company, to not become an entrepreneur. But if you carefully compare working full-time (with or without a part-time biz) and becoming a full-time entrepreneur you will most probably find becoming an entrepreneur the better option. 

I don't know anyone whose salary grows in sync with his increasing competence and value at work. Even though your competence has grown threefold and the value you are creating for the company has quadrupled since the year you joined the company, you can be sure that your salary wouldn't have grown that much. Regardless of how you measure the reward you get from your job (money, influence or connection) it will never grow as fast your value grows. Even if you change job often to push your pay up to reflect your increased competence, you still can't get them in sync. 

The only way you can have your income grow in sync with your competence and value is to be a full-time entrepreneur. Since starting my business full-time in April I have increased my training fees 3 times. It closely tracks not just my increased competence but the growth in my perceived value. Even for my consultancy job I don't collect the same fee from everyone, the first person/company pays a reasonable fee while the next pays more for the same deal. It's called marginal cost. Engaging me to consult for you one day a week leaves me with six days a week, but when another guy comes asking for the same thing I will have 5 days left, and it goes on like that. I value having 6 days left in the week than having 5 days left in the week and I appropriately adjust my fee to capture that increased opportunity cost. You can't try that in a salaried job. You can't even negotiate your overtime fee up (if are even lucky to get paid for overtime). 

As an entrepreneur you can work at the time you find most convenient. You can do things in the way you think most reasonable. Rather than joining the morning mad traffic you can work till late at night and sleep while others are sweating in the morning traffic. You can do things in a more productive way without having to explain or make a presentation to some thick-headed guys. You can give life to your great ideas without fear of losing your job. You can also easily adjust your lifestyle, like working less hours a day to spend more time with your young family or even working more from home.

I strongly believe that for most of us, becoming an entrepreneur will make our lives much better. You have done much tougher things. You have helped some other entrepreneur grow his own business in spite of the limitations and unfair treatment you were subjected to. Just think of all you could have achieved if you had channeled all that creativity, dedication, patience and energy into your own business.

When I quit my job in April to take my part-time biz full-time I was spending a lot of time visiting CcHub and attending many tech meetups and events. They are what is trending. There is an entire section of the media industry dedicatedly following the activities of online technology/business startups. There is a lot of hype about every investment activity that happens there. They make it look like the only innovative businesses in Nigeria are Iroko TV, Jumia, Konga, Hotels.ng, Jovago and Dealsdey. And for 3 months I considered being innovative as doing something online based: an online Excel training and building enterprise apps. I even bought books on programming and spent more time doing what is not within my core competence. I was chasing trends.

image: thefilmcircuit.com

Now I know better. After close to 6 months of seeing reality and getting to meet lots of entrepreneurs, I found out that the most innovative and hardworking entrepreneurs are not the ones building online based businesses: hiring programmers and marketers. The most innovative and hardworking entrepreneurs are the ones solving our big problems, creating very tangible value and getting their hands dirty in the offline world. I have met business owners who sleep very few hours a day and have more business than they can handle because they are meeting real unhyped needs. The media doesn't know about them. They are not propelled by trends/hype; they are simply meeting a big need and creating value. Most don't even spend on advertisement online or offline yet they are constantly getting business and making lots of money. 

They are the ones manufacturing the products the eCommerce sites sell. They are the ones providing the specialized services companies need. They are the ones doing the boring but highly valuable businesses like recycling, rodent extermination and offline surveys. They don't talk to newspapers, to online media or look for investors. They only talk to prospective customers, travel round the country to get the job done and have no need for an external investor. They chase value. 

It's amazing how we do things in the reverse order of the way nature intends. None of us took lessons in walking before we began walking. None of us took special classes on talking before we started talking. None of us studied how the bicycle works before we began riding it. None of us read a book on our favorite sport before we became addicted to it. At the start of our lives we were constantly attempting things we were not trained for nor qualified for. 

Then as adults we begin to limit ourselves to the things we are trained for. We wouldn't start a business unless we've gone to all the seminars we could afford and taken a professional diploma or masters. We wouldn't write the novel we've always wanted to write because we want to first take writing classes and learn all we can from the writers we admire. We wouldn't try swimming because we didn't learn it while growing up. We wouldn't try learning a musical instrument because we consider ourselves too old for learning a skill that can't be acquired via reading or seminars. And we complain about not reaching our potential. We even go to seminars on how to reach our potential. And we google for posts like this on how to reach our potential. We keep going about it the wrong way.

image: stephenblandino.com

If only we could look back at our childhood, how we were so active, full of life and cruising the edge of our potential. If only we would follow that same pattern that got us walking before we could think and got us talking without any professional help. If only we would realize that the only way to reach our potential is to attempt the things we want to do without regard to our competence or training. The only way to reach our potential is to start the business we want to start first before taking courses and spending on seminars. To write the book we want to write before bothering about our grammar and style of writing. To enter the swimming pool before getting a swimming instructor. To buy and play the musical instrument we want to learn before buying a book on it. To go for whatever we want before getting qualified for it.

We need to stop aiming only for the things we are over-qualified for. Don't try to get a job you can do with your current expertise; apply for a job that is above your competence. If no one outside will grant you that job, take up bigger roles at the company you work. Don't limit yourself to your job description and current competence. Don't try to over-qualify yourself for every task you want to do. Don't go for MBA first if starting a business is what you really want to do; start the business first and then go for an MBA. Don't let the lack of an MBA hold you back. Don't try to be an expert before you call yourself a consultant. Start consulting the very day you find out that that is what you want to do. Learn on the job. It's the fastest and surest way to learn. Whatever it is you would love to do, start doing it now.

I have always wanted to be a prolific writer/author. And now I am. Originally, I thought I would need to take a course in creative writing and journalism. I kept postponing my serious writing to someday after I have done the professional training. I was holding myself back. I wanted to be over-qualified before starting the very thing my fulfillment in life depends on. Now I'm glad I have stopped holding myself back. I am now a prolific writer and I'm getting better each day. Best part is that I'm also already creating my audience. By the time I become a fine writer I won't have to start at the bottom to get people to read my writings/books. And because I write everyday I am always at the edge of my writing potential and also stretching that potential.

I have come across people who wouldn't go for professional/networking events because they don't drive a cool car or work in a company they are proud of or are just simply shy. They keep finding reasons not to do the things that will greatly improve their lives and push them to reach their potential. They only stick to the convenient, familiar and area of their expertise. They wouldn't try anything outside their competence even if it used to be their childhood dream. They experience a low energy life and wonder why. They read books on finding fulfillment and reaching their potential. But what they need is to go out on a limb and try out everything they wanted to do without any regard to their competence/qualification. Because that's the only way to reach your potential.