The Most Important Question For The Lagos Entrepreneur


“So, what do you do?” This question has caused untold heartache for many a Lagos entrepreneur and has in some cases stopped people from engaging more prospects at social gatherings.

It is a question which strikes at the very heart of an entrepreneur and gives instant insights into how well you’re doing financially. Since people can’t ask outrightly how much money you made last month or last year or ask about the state of your bank account, they look for clues to assess you.

Where do you work? Where’s your office? These subtle variations ask the same question – are you really worth talking to? Is there any point having this conversation? Are you literally worth the time?

But why is  the other person’s financial status important when networking? And is that the most important aspect or attribute of an entrepreneur or working adult? Imagine meeting a writer whose work is not published; a singer without a hit record. You clearly are not successful. At least not yet. An entrepreneur is expected to be in business to make money. Everything else is secondary.

People want to associate with success. It is fundamentally human. So is business success the most important attribute of a working adult then? Yes it is. But it’s not the only attribute. Certainly not in the early years. Who you know matters greatly and can be your biggest asset. Where you live, what you do in your spare time, what you read, where you worship, what you eat even, can all make you “worth knowing” or worthy of connecting with.

Answer like a true Lagos entrepreneur…

Back to the issue – how then do we answer this dreaded query? Like everything else in Lagos, by proper ‘packaging’. What you do must sound impressive, and here in Big City, this is how – align your business with a big recognisable name. Don’t say “we clean windows for clients”, instead say “I’m a facility manager…, we work with GTBank”.

You’re not into phones, you’re a Samsung/Apple/Sony agent. Frankly, you can’t be “into” anything. It sounds like a hustle; and while we are all hustling and are probably “into” several things at the same time, your opening response must be clear.

Be professional. In the course of the conversation, you can introduce other interests. You still find time to coach junior league football at church on Saturdays. So you’re a caring guy, a church guy, a family guy. Speaks volumes.

Take time to carve an area of expertise for yourself. Don’t leave it to chance and don’t think it irrelevant. It makes a huge difference how you answer the question. Define yourself, and if necessary, recreate yourself.

What you say you do only needs to sound interesting enough to engage a contact or prospect. It doesn’t have to be what pays the bills.

That you play the guitar in a small band on weekends is infinitely more interesting than the fact that you sell phone accessories during the week.

So say what you do that sounds most interesting if you cannot align your 9-5 with big business or show immediately that you’re making money.

Yes, this approach is shallow, it’s misleading almost. But you have chosen to be an entrepreneur, so you better come off as being successful. Or at least interesting.

This is Big City and there are rules by which the game is played. Learn them and thrive.

 

Ifeanyi Maduka

Footnote: If this question is hard for the engaged Lagos entrepreneur, imagine the unemployed person being asked what he does. Read more

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