The entrepreneur with a day job

The new drive for entrepreneurship in Nigeria is remarkable. A good number of young people are in the pursuit of starting their own business ventures and becoming the next Dangote, Tara or Mitchell Elegbe. This is a fantastic development. More than solving market inefficiencies and creating job opportunities, it shows the growing attitude in Nigerians that ‘Things can be better. It is worth a try’.

Also quite impressive is the growing number of initiatives to encourage, educate and provide funding to sustain this entrepreneurial boom. Kudos to the financial institutions and foundations that support young businesses. These are the bedrocks of the new Nigeria.

However, it will be counterproductive if all we do is focus on the creation of new Start-Ups without paying some attention to people in paid employment. After all, these employees are pivotal to the success of a business; especially a Start-Up and a growing business.

It is almost a norm for hardworking employees to hear this ‘if you put in this much effort into your own business, do you know how big you will be?’ But some people actually do enjoy having a 9-5 job (although those are becoming rare) and buying into a bigger vision. Moreover, if we all become the ‘boss’, who takes care of the other responsibilities?

There is also no reason why hardworking employees can’t be successful and feel fulfilled if their talents and passions are properly channeled. Quick examples Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Arese Ugwu and Tony Elumelu here in Nigeria.

The question now is, how does one activate the best of his/her potential and contribute meaningfully to society and the economy when not the one calling the shots at the organization?

What are some attributes of being an entrepreneur that employees of companies should possess to add value to the company and also facilitate their career progression?

Here are a few answers to get started with:

  1. Take ownership. ‘Na your papa work’ or ‘Why you dey carry am for head like government work’ are popular sayings in the Nigerian work space, ironically, especially in the civil service. An employee that is concerned about growth both of the company and his/her career progression must learn to take ownership of the job. It is easy to get discouraged and lackadaisical when you feel like the fate of the company will have no effect on you. But the truth is that if the company fails, you’ll be out of a job.
  1. Don’t treat the job as if the salary and benefits is all that matters. The money matters. A lot. But it isn’t all there is to a job. In my few years in the corporate world, I have been fortunate to work with people who want to make a difference in the institutions that they work with. They are always looking for new ways to do things, to make them better, work faster while being cost effective. These people understand that the dynamics of earning a salary is to provide value for every naira earned and also achieve satisfaction for a job well done. That is the entrepreneurial spirit.
  1. Complain less. Solve more. Entrepreneurship is about providing solutions. Recognizing the problem is a step in the right direction when it is followed by suggestions for resolving them. Complaining about things in the office not only does nothing about the problem, it also dampens morale and clogs people’s minds to getting a solution. More than this, it will also hurt your career growth. This is not saying that there won’t be moments of frustrations about your job but here’s a simple tip I have started using – when the issues arise, be quick to ask what can be done about it. Supervisors want to know what you can do to resolve issues not how much you hate the problem or how you are not a part of the problem. And if you can’t do much about it, at least, you can point out the problem to those who can, not gripe about it.
  1. Be customer-centric. Treat customers as you would want to be treated. Businesses exist because of the customers and clients that patronize them. If you owned a business, you would treat your customers like kings. You should have the same as an employee. And this goes beyond being nice to customers to providing solutions to their problems and challenges. If you notice that customers have a hard time choosing between two similar products, you can do something as simple as a review of both in bullet points and place somewhere visible for the customers to see. It may sound simple, but it is a solution to a real problem.
  1. Develop yourself. This is of utmost importance. Never stop learning. Try new things and discover areas you need to improve on. Go on training and get certified where needed. You can also pursue your passions as far as they do not conflict with your job function. This will increase your productivity and value, accelerating your career growth. Even if your current job is a means to an entrepreneurial end, you should still make the best of it. One advice entrepreneurs never stop hearing is that one should be able to work for free at some point, to learn and to build a good network. What it means in essence is that we cannot ignore the process. Your current job may be the pathway to your bigger dream. You cannot afford to waste that precious time and lose valuable experience that would be helpful if and when you decide to set out on your own.

The ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’ is a necessity whether you decide to be a business owner or an employee. Innovation and solving problems is not tied to one job title or function. It is about your desire to see things done better and faster, increasing productivity and providing solutions to the people you serve. Be an intrapreneur. This is one thing Nigeria needs.


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