“A Week In The Life” is a weekly Zikoko series that explores the working-class struggles of Nigerians. It captures the very spirit of what it means to hustle in Nigeria and puts you in the shoes of the subject for a week.
The subject for today is Damilola Bello, she’s a partner at Smallchops.ng. A successful online business that makes and delivers small chops. She walks us through building a successful business, her plans to build an online platform for trusted vendors and chasing big dreams.
I wake up around 7 am. The first thing I do is pick up my phone and check my Twitter DMs. I check to see if I have any orders for the day. I see some, so I process and lock them in for delivery. For the rest of the day, I’ll respond to customers who haven’t received their orders, and take more orders.
I run a partnership with Smallchops.ng. It’s my job to handle customer relations and ensure orders are processed. A large part of my day involves attending to this. I also have other jobs – I run yellow pages for vendors where I connect trusted vendors to customers free of charge. In addition, I also give business advice to a digital marketing company. So I always have something happening at one point or the other. It helps that I am good at multitasking, so I never have issues running all these simultaneously.
Today, I have an issue with a customer. This customer made a payment, the transaction didn’t reflect in our account, but she got debited. So we have been going back and forth between her bank and our payment provider to find out where the fault was. Out of the blue, she sent us a message that if we don’t refund her she’ll call us out on social media. I called, to try to resolve the problem and she turned it into a shout fest. Turns out it was her sister who sent the message so when I called to clarify, she was confused and that’s why she started shouting. The only reason I found out was because she called back to apologise after all the shouting.
Customers. You need to be patient with them.
The trick with dealing with difficult customers is to just keep updating them and keeping them in the loop. If you leave a difficult customer alone, you’re putting yourself in a lot of trouble. If we haven’t processed an order and I sense that the person will be problematic, I run. I just say “I am so sorry, I’m not available to pick your order.”
What helps me with this job is that nothing gets me down for more than two minutes. I have an extremely positive outlook on life so it’s easy to shrug things like this off and find a solution. The solution this evening looks like a bottle of Frontera sweet red wine.
Nigeria is a business killer. From NEPA to taxes, to even the air we breathe, it’s killing us. If I want to advise anybody, it’ll be that they should start a business that doesn’t require a lot of capital. Especially for operational cost. Anything that requires a generator, avoid it.
The next advice would be about creating structure – there must be a business name, business logo, mission and vision. After that, I’d ask them about how they will buy their goods. Many businesses don’t have a physical store, but they usually have an online store. I usually advise that it’s not just enough to open an online store on social media, but to also have a host like Flutterwave or Paystack. This is because social media sites can crash. In addition, I tell them to inspect the quality of their goods. I also encourage them to take really nice pictures because customers want real-life photos. The next step is the pricing – what’s the profit margin? If it’s too much, I suggest to them not to overdo it. I always insist that if the goods are well packaged, they’ll get a nice profit margin without doing too much.
Lastly, the most important part of any business is customer service; value-added service. It’s not enough to just have products, customer relationships are everything. I don’t even want to hear that you are rude to customers. You must always calm down and sort whatever is wrong. Customers aren’t always right but they are king. They are the reason the business exists and If you chase all of them away, sorry to you.
I am confident when giving advice because I am not talking from a textbook. I am applying all these things myself. The experience I have from solving problems in my business makes it easier to give valid advice to other people.
Today, a vendor came to thank me for my advice and referral. It was useful in landing a job with a lot of customers. Hearing this made me really really happy. It also reinforced my belief that is my purpose; I am here to help people and their businesses grow.
If I think about it, I have given advice to over 300 businesses. And at one point or the other, I have either patronized them or I know someone who has. This is part of what has inspired me to launch my website in August. The site is going to be yellow pages for vendors endorsed by me. Thinking about it today is exciting because this site will prevent a lot of scams. Also, in cases where there is a misunderstanding, I can always come in. Because there’s going to be trust among all parties involved. There will also be a part on the website where customers can anonymously give reviews about vendors, and rate their services.
It’s all so exciting, just thinking about it but it’s also a lot to take in.
I need to relax my head so I’m just going to order food from one of my vendors. Preferably something with a lot of potato fries in it. Before COVID, I’d have just gone clubbing with my best friend. We would have gone somewhere with loud music and alcohol to relax. Now that we don’t have the luxury of going out, let me just eat and be happy.
Business can be frustrating because of delivery people. They are a thorn in my flesh. Managing them is one of the most difficult parts of running a business. I can’t help but think about the many times delivery men have frustrated me. One time, I sent out a package of small chops by 9 am, but it didn’t get to the recipient by 4 pm. The customer was so pissed and disappointed that it ruined my mood. I had to send another package the next day to compensate. Another time, the delivery person ate the gizzard in the small chops meant for a client. I was so confused and frustrated when the customer called to tell me that there was no gizzard in the order. And I was sure I packed gizzard. Without hesitating, we cut off the delivery company for our own good.
Business can also be rewarding. I remember the first time I made a million naira in sales, I was super happy. It was a big deal to me because I made that amount of money from selling small chops. And this was independent of sales from other sales channels we have. I made it all on my own.
So, business has its ups and downs like any other thing.
My plan for today is simple: Attend to customers and respond to any complaints they may have. Just another day at the job.
One of the most successful events I have organized in recent times is the night market.
I noticed that customers always complain about goods being overpriced. I also noticed that something I bought for ₦1,690 from one vendor was being sold at ₦4,000 by another vendor. Meaning even if the person sold at half the price, they would still have made a profit. So, I had an idea – A night market where prices are 50% off so that vendors can sell some of their stock and still make a profit, while customers also get a good bargain. The first edition was successful, and the response was so overwhelming.
Having the knowledge to spot opportunities like this is part of why I registered for an MBA program. As of today, my end goal is to one day be the Chief Operating Officer of a company and I need an MBA to effectively do that.
I don’t mind being the COO of a multinational someday – Microsoft or KPMG doesn’t sound like a bad idea from where I am standing.