The Biggest Lesson I Have Learned In Business

This year marks the third year I have been in business for myself. Running my own business. It wasn't easy at all. What kept me going majorly was my determination to give it my all and turn down all the job offers I got. It's got an irony in it. In 2013 I was seriously looking for a new job, wanted to leave my old job. I got turned down in a very unique way -- the companies kept saying I was switching jobs too quick and what assurance do they have that I won't leave in a short time. It got me thinking hard and I agreed with them -- yeah, what assurance do I have that I won't get bored and want to move again? And that set me on the journey to working for no one anymore and starting my own business where I can never get bored again.

A lot has changed in my thinking and approach to business. I am a techy person by nature, so I started with more of a blank business mind. No business strategy. No business plan. No business model. I was relying on the only economic theory I knew -- that there is always demand for skills with short supply. I had tested it while working and validated it. My skill of Excel based analysis and programming is somewhat rare and has some good demand. I had freelanced for clients both locally and internationally, and the competition is not very stiff. So I held on to that believe that going on my own won't be bad since there are people willing to pay me for my skills. 

So in April 2014, I dived into the deep end of the consulting business. I quit my full-time job and had no backup plan. I was determined to learn the business side along the way. To figure things out as I went.

Now I can tell you that it was the second best decision I have taken in my life. Second to giving my life to Christ in 2003. 

I have learned a lot of business lessons. I enrolled for an MBA. Studied and tried different business plans and models. But there is one lesson that trumps the rest. It is the biggest lesson I have learned.

That lesson is: sell to people what they want and at a price they can afford. 

It looks simple and unspecial but it is loaded. Too many people start business because of great ideas they have or some high end skill they have or they've suddenly come into possession of some huge money. So they focus on doing something better than the competition, something unique, something no one else is doing and something they feel proud of. Very few people actually go out to check if what they want to build a business around is what people actually want and can afford.

Every time someone tells me -- "Really? Excel?" I shake my head, not in answer to their debasing question but in concern for their business understanding.

I have a lot of high end skills -- from programming to Linux to Oracle to IT to Telecoms -- but what puts food to my table (and even provides the table itself) is Excel. And why? That is what lots of people want and can afford. All those my other high end skills, only few companies want and can afford it. But Excel, too many people and companies want it and can afford it. The pricing model for it is ingeniously flexible -- from day rate to hourly rate to project rate. I can tweak the conditions to whatever creative level I want. 

I used to create technical tutorials on YouTube and blogs before, the number of Nigerians interested in those stuff is close to zero. But when I began putting up Excel tutorials and videos, I started getting business calls. Got Microsoft MVP award. Even my Udemy course now has over 4000 students and the thank you's have been overwhelming. My Excel book is selling on Amazon than my novel. 

Why then should I abandon what people want and are willing to pay for, for something else I consider more high end but has less customer appeal? And that is what I see many people do when they think of setting up a business, They are too focused on some internal benchmark and high end outlook -- an over-furnished office, too much branding and a team of high profile partners. They don't start with what really does the customer want.

Nowadays, I don't implement any new thing unless I have a backlog of customer requests for it. When we opened the quarterly Abuja training class, it was because of overwhelming requests from customers. Now we are considering Port Harcourt too this year, and it's also for same reason. When I started Financial Modeling training facilitation, it was after getting paying customers. And even now that we have started Power BI training, it was by request of customers. 

I am moving into enterprise web app development. Again, it is because I have seen the market for it, first hand. Everything I am building or doing is exactly what I have seen many customers asked for. I forget about my high tech knowledge and skills, and do just what the customer wants. Because at the end of the day that is what will keep me in business, as I am not doing all this at a hobbyist level.

And that is the biggest lesson I have learned in business.


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