SME Showcase is a platform that offers small and medium enterprises the opportunity to share their business idea(s), and experiences in the business world. The goal is to project budding and breaking business in Nigeria and across the African continent. On SME Showcase, we follow trends in industries, opportunities, innovations and investors, and bring them to the brow of the market.
With us this week is Mr Babatunde Oladele, the Chief Responsibility Officer of The Ready Writers Consult. Young and passionate, he owns four world-class companies that offer professional services such as Research, Writing, Editing, Publishing, Training and Consultancy services to businesses and individuals.
Let’s meet Mr Oladele. Could you tell us a little about yourself and your business?
I am Babatunde Oladele. I am a native of Usi Ekiti, Ido-Osi LGA of Ekiti state. I’m a graduate of English Literature. I also have a Master degree in Communications & Language Arts, both from the University of Ibadan. In addition, I am an alumnus of School of Media & Communications (SMC) as well as Enterprise Development Centre (EDC), both of the Pan African University, where I did a certificate course in Advanced Writing & Reporting Skills (AWAReS) and Certificate in Entrepreneurial Management (CEM) programme respectively.
I am the Chief Responsibility Officer at The Ready Writers Consult, a company that provides professional Research, Writing, Editing, Publishing, Training and Consultancy services to corporate institutions and individuals.
The Ready Writers Consult was set up to offer convenience to individuals and corporate concerns by taking up their research, writing, and editorial inconveniences, so that they could have time to do more in the areas of their core competence. We also aspire to curb the rate of idea mortality and increase the rate of structured expressions in the society. The truth is, ideas and insights come to us all in a flicker of seconds, but if not documented, they disappear into oblivion with greater speed than they came.
Worse, still, if not documented with apposite words or presented in the right way, they end up communicating an entirely wrong message, rather than what the writer meant to say, to the audience; thus, alienating the readers from the writer – a very sad phenomenon. These are the problems we set out to solve for individuals and corporate organisations in Nigeria and beyond.
When you started out in business, what specific idea, purpose or vision was your key driving force? What is your personal life’s goal as an entrepreneur?
The idea of starting a writing and editing company actually came to me in 2003. And I already had the name, The Ready Writers, since then. But, it was not incorporated until 2009. And, as I mentioned earlier, I did not have the wherewithal to start a business then, so it remained a burning idea through the years.
Now, to what led to it, I love writing and I love to read good pieces of writing too. But, these days, almost every page you open you see lots of substandard usage and improperly written expressions there. Those naturally get to me. And I wanted to do something about it. Besides, I also realised that many people have ideas that they would love to capture into books, but they do not have either the time to sit and write or the literary prowess to do it. I felt I could be of help. Those were major considerations for starting The Ready Writers Consult. Our mission is to (1) Bridge the gap between thoughts and prints; conception and organised expression, (2) Reduce the rate of idea mortality (that is ideas that come to mind and filter away unwritten, unshared or unpublished); and (3) Upgrade the standard of written communication in our public space.
On my life goal and mission as an entrepreneur, I am privileged to be revealed my life purpose by God in the book of Isaiah 61:3, ‘to give them beauty for ashes.’ I was created to give a better exchange, and this forms the basis of what we do at The Ready Writers Consult. When people come to us with their idea, we help them to convert it into a book, an essay, a blog, a presentation, or a multimedia product. When they come to us with their manuscript or other written materials, we help them to edit or rewrite it all together to make it publish-worthy and more appealing to readers.
I would like to be remembered as someone who has helped innumerable people to fulfil their dreams, give expressions to their ideas and attain immortality by having their thoughts excellently documented and published.
How would you describe your entrepreneurial journey into the world of business? Were there key incidents or life-changing events that inspired your decision to become an entrepreneur?
While I was an undergraduate, I had always fancied that I would run my own business someday. I was what you would call a high-flyer while on campus. I was involved in several extra-curricular activities right from my 100 Level. At a time, I was the President of my Department’s students association, Editor-in-Chief of my hostel’s press club (IndyPress Organisation), PRO of the Union of Campus Journalists (UCJ), as well as Chairman of the Steering Committee of National Association of Students of English & Literary Studies; all of these, was in a particular academic session!
There were times I wondered if I wasn’t being stupid getting involved in so many extra-curricular stuff. But I love being active and I was having fun doing all I was doing. These engagements really stretched me and afforded me exposures that I wouldn’t have if I had been a triangular student, who only does the round of lectures, library and fellowship. I thank God that I still graduated with a 2:1 at the end of the day. English is a course that is very demanding, as you get to read a lot of books. Particularly in the Literature courses, you have to read several prose, drama and poetry for comparative analysis. But all of these have proved really invaluable to me in what I do now.
I graduated from UI brimming with confidence. I wanted to start a writing and publishing company then. But I didn’t have the funding required to start up. So, I accepted an appointment and worked as PA to Mrs Ibukun Awosika of The Chair Centre Group for some years, whilst not taking my eyes off my aspiration. After about seven years of working, I became tired of the rat race of shuttling to and from Lekki every day. I told my principal that I wanted to resign and start out on my own. But she would not have it. She encouraged me instead to continue at my job and pursue my dream by the side.
Since I didn’t want to leave on a negative note, I decided to heed her counsel and continued with the job. I talked to a number of my friends who had a flair for writing and we started The Ready Writers Consult in my sitting room in May 2009. Eventually, two of them came aboard as fulltime staff, whilst the rest of us worked part time. But, as the demands for our services continued to grow through the months, I couldn’t cope with holding down two jobs again. So, I had to inform my boss again that I needed to leave. That was in mid-2010. By this time, we had an office in Oadis Plaza on CMD Road, Magodo, Lagos, and we were growing a comfortable list of clientele. After the formality of resignation and handing over, I eventually left my salary job in July 2010 and resumed fulltime at TRW Consult in August 2010.
Do you agree with the general notion that entrepreneurs should build a business around their interests and hobbies?
It’s the best way to go really. Businesses founded outside of passion may not stand the test of time. The same applies to career; pursuing a career in any field that does not touch a core within you will always leave you with a hollow feeling, regardless of how mega the take-home is. However, once you are doing something you absolutely love to do, or you are functioning in a field you are specifically endowed to operate in, it makes the journey easier and the vicissitudes of commerce more bearable.
What would you describe as the purpose of entrepreneurship?
I think entrepreneurship is all about offering value. Some people may launch out just to make money. But if the product or service you are offering is not perceived as valuable by the market, then your chances of making money will be limited. It is to the extent that the market attributes value to your output that your bottom line would increase.
Entrepreneurship is meeting identified needs and plugging holes for people for various reasons. It may be so that they can live longer and better, that they can make more money or not lose money, that they might look good or be perceived in a positive light in the society, and so on.
How do you identify business opportunities and what metrics do you use to measure their viability?
As I have mentioned, entrepreneurship is all about plugging holes. But not every hole is worth plugging, you have to do a risk analysis on each business opportunity you identify and on each prospect that beckons at you. Otherwise, one will just be busy working round the clock and not break even at the end of the day.
How do you strategically use your time as an entrepreneur? What key activities would you recommend that entrepreneurs should use their time for?
I think time management is a personal thing. What works for someone may not work for the next person. But it is essential to have a list of daily imperatives to input into your 24 hours on a daily basis. I, for instance, don’t joke with my daily devotion of prayer and Bible studies. I also take time out to read and do some core tasks I consider germane for my self-development and our corporate success. Family time is another very important chunk of my daily time expenditure.
Entrepreneurship is customer-oriented. How do you generate profitable customers for your business? What unusual approaches do you adopt for marketing your products/services?
The major marketing strategy we have been deploying so far is bulk SMS and distribution of flyers. We also get a lot of referrals from satisfied clients and those who know what we do.
You have been in business for over eight years. Would you like to share with us the secret, especially in funding the business? What’s your take on this matter and how do you cope with funding issues in your business?
I used to be in that shoe. But there is something I learnt from Mrs Awosika. She always says whatever business you want to do that you require millions of naira to start, you should note the amount you have at hand, be it N5,000 or N10,000, and start the N5,000/N10,000 version of that business. One of the reasons I couldn’t start The Ready Writers Consult since 2003 when I conceived the idea was because of funds. Funny enough, when we eventually started in 2009 I didn’t even have up to N50,000. But I knew better then, and I was more prepared on all fronts to start.
Concerning the challenges of operational funding, I subscribe to the discipline of budgeting from an early stage of my life. I think I learnt that discipline from my mum really. Even till now, you see her with little pads with things to buy/do written on them, some cancelled, some retained. The art of budgeting has helped me to prioritise in terms of funding. Simple economics counsel that you do a scale of preference when you have many things contending for limited resources. For the first 12 months that I started working fulltime at TRW Consult, I didn’t collect salary, as there were several things we needed to do with money. I also didn’t buy a car until much later when we could afford it. So, I think budgeting, basic economics and personal discipline have been my own way of dealing with funding challenges. Very importantly too, I always cry out to God when funds are not coming in as they should. The Psalmist says He is my Shepherd, and I know the shepherd has the responsibility of providing for His flock, amongst other things. So, I pray for His supply.
The pricing of products/services is always an issue for entrepreneurs. What unusual approach do you take when it comes to pricing?
I must confess that is one of the major concerns I had when we started. Since we offer professional services, I spent days ruminating on: how do we price our services? How much do we charge for a particular service? Thank God, I got an eBook on Pricing around that time that I took time to digest. In that book, I learnt that pricing is foremost an individual thing; then you also consider a number of metrics to help you arrive at a reasonable price. At the end of deliberations with other members of the team, we concluded on pricing for sustainability and growth.
We realised that we cannot work for everybody, and we don’t even try to do it. We work only for those who value their time and would rather outsource their research, writing and editorial tasks to us to do whilst they devote their time to doing what they do best; and knowing that time is money, they are willing to pay for the convenience they derive from outsourcing their inconvenience to us.
What has been your most outstanding accomplishments in business?
I think the height of our fulfilment came when IBM, the oldest multinational in the world, honoured us with an Outstanding Enterprise Award in June 2011, while they were marking their own 100th anniversary in Lagos, Nigeria. Another high for us was when Diamond Bank awarded us a scholarship to do a 4-month Certificate in Enterprise Management (CEM) training at the EDC. We were about three years old during that period, so those recognitions meant a lot to us. But, we have gone on to do greater things and have been engaged to do national and international projects, such as World Economic Forum on Africa, Nigeria’s National Conference 2014, YouWIN Season 2-4, CBN CashExpo, etc.
Another accomplishment is our clientele. We work for a number of influential people who would prefer to remain anonymous. We respect our clients’ privacy and keep the work we do for them confidential. That’s why you don’t see the names of our clients displayed anywhere. We have worked for banks and corporate institutions, government officials, clergies, top professionals, and so forth. We also facilitate business communications, with emphasis on written communication, in the MBA classes of Lagos Business School.
The major high for us is when our clients call or email us to commend us for jobs well and professionally done. That gives us the greatest delight.
What major setbacks have you encountered and what lessons did you pick from them?
What I consider our major setback was when one of our pioneer operatives pulled a fast one on us and was doing what is generally called PP with our structures and resources. He eventually left us and is still owing us a large sum of money in unpaid loan and a botched deal. Another challenge we have is labour turnover. People come in and go when we can’t pay them what the banks and other big institutions pay. The funny thing is, at the point of application or interview, they tell us all sorts of things; they were born to write, all they wanted to do is just to be given an opportunity to fulfil their passion, and all sorts. But, a few weeks down the line, you see them applying for jobs online or they tell you that their families are against what they are doing. Eventually, they leave.
We are trying our best to run with the resources at our disposal and to get our staff to buy into the vision and see the big picture, rather than focus on immediate gratification. We have instituted a structure where a staff can rise to becoming a shareholder in the company if they stay long enough and fulfil certain performance metrics. We have also put some incentives mechanism in place to help staff earn more than their take-home and give their utmost best on the job.
What’s your final word for budding entrepreneurs?
Keep increasing and be the best you can be.
It’s a pleasure having you.