Tale Alimi leaves no one in doubt about her understanding of the Nigerian business environment. Her understanding of the dynamics of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) has been globally appreciated. Her firm, Tale Alimi Global, offering premium business coaching and strategy consulting has been a backbone to many businesses in the MSME spectrum across Nigeria. In this interview with The Nigerian Xpress, Alimi, who recently published a book, Small to Scale, explains the challenges facing women in business, the opening vista of opportunities for African businesswomen and government’s expected roles towards maximising women’s potentials as entrepreneurs.
By Chibuzo Ihegboro
With the elections concluded, what economic challenges is the government expected to tackle; what policies should be created to help small businesses thrive?
The government has started a good initiative to promote ease of doing business with PEBEC (Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council). As the new policies are implemented, I believe it will create a more enabling foundational environment. The pre-existing challenges, like raising funds to start or scale a business and infrastructure deficit, still need to be addressed. There is a huge funding deficit for small businesses in Nigeria with over 85 per cent of businesses not able to access financing through traditional financial institutions.
Government has to create policies to allow for more creative ways for businesses to raise funds, as lack of capital still remains the bane of growth for most micro and small businesses in the country. I encourage them to create a viable policy to encourage peer-to-peer lending and equity crowd funding so that financing options can be broadened for MSMEs.
Tell us about your new book?
My new book is titled ‘Small to Scale.’ I have dedicated the last two years to studying exponential growth, first, because I was fascinated by how businesses in the United States and some Asian countries seem to achieve scale in under a decade. In much recent years, it has become somewhat of an obsession because I have a deep concern for African small businesses.
Over 95 per cent of businesses in Africa are actually micro businesses. They are more or less subsistence and exist more to meet the immediate needs of the business owner. The implication of the setup and structure is that these businesses will remain small or eventually die, which will threaten the livelihood of the business owner.
In my bid to do something about what seems like a discouraging situation, I poured myself into research to see how you can take a small business in Africa and scale it.
The result of my research is my new book, titled: Small to Scale. The book has three parts. The first part studies various countries that have created businesses that have scaled significantly in the last decade and provides inspiration that should propel us to want to do the same in our own countries and continent.
The second part is the juice of the book where I break down the seven steps to take your business from small to scale.
The third part of the book has case studies of inspiring businesses all over Africa. We included this part in the book because I understand the concept of mirroring. It is easy to replicate what you can see than to attempt to do what has not been done before.
Tell us all about this new project you are working on; who is it for, why and what you want to accomplish through this project?
After a decade of working with MSMEs in Africa, I have seen the difficulty they encounter in getting funding for their next business milestone. We decided to start a platform that would give local and international investors an opportunity to lend to verified African businesses to address this need. We are still in development stage with this platform and I am hoping we can help at least ten million small businesses raise their next milestone financing in the next couple of years.
What are some of the unconscious bias women in business face?
We live in a patriarchal society, which has defined the way business is expected to be done in an aggressive and confrontational manner veiled in professionalism. Women who choose to approach business differently might be seen, as unfit or unable to compete at a high level. However, with the new wave of men, supporting women and more women rising up to prove their mettle, women have an opportunity to redefine how they play in the business environment. We have a chance to embrace femininity and still play at the highest levels.
What differentiates you from other business coaches?
One of the things my clients ask me after they have worked with me and gotten great results is why I don’t put myself out more. I think it is because I am more focused on helping our clients get results than making noise. However, the real differentiator over the last couple of years has been the tangible results of our client’s progress and growth.
We have clients who have experienced exponential growth in their business of over 200 per cent. Some of them have grown their business to become multimillion companies because of our strategic support and advisory services. I also have depth of experiences in what I do because I have worked in the SME space for over a decade.
Do entrepreneurs in Nigeria measure up to their western counterparts?
Unfortunately they don’t, but it has more to do with limiting factors due to the environment, which is one of the reasons I decided to write my new book. We have a lot of creative people in the country, but they are not creating at scale and a lot of people have myopic visions that might not provide tangible solutions to major problems. I am a strong believer in the African entrepreneur and I know that we can excel even beyond Western counterparts with the right tools, knowledge and environment.
Should incentives be aligned with business goals?
I believe they should so that the business can attract the people, who those incentives align with their values.
What actions should be taken to advance more women in business?
I think it is the time for women in business. There are so many gender-focused programmes and initiatives right now that I think that women just need to rise, shake off personal limitations and embrace opportunities. If a woman is afraid of going it alone, she can join a women support organisation for business women. There are so many credible ones right now that would provide the needed support and capacity building required.
What are ideal things women must have before starting a business and what is the importance of strategic support?
First, identify a problem. A business is really something you create to provide a solution to a problem. Once she is clear about the problem she wants to solve, then she needs to have the right business model and ensure there is product market fit. Strategic support and advisory helps a business owner to get the needed guidance and support to ensure they start their business the right way and achieve sustainable results.
How can women find the work-life balance to becoming an entrepreneur?
This term has haunted and made women feel guilty, especially if you have ambition and drive. I have redefined it to more of work-life integration or creating life and business on your own terms. This is what I have tried to do. I integrate serving our clients, dropping my son at school, long distance running, writing, cooking and starting a new business within the twenty hours of my day without feeling a need to balance things. Every part of life is what makes a woman a woman, so she needs to do her best to integrate them and live fully, as God has called her to.
Let’s talk about the age advantage, how can a female start a business in mid-life? What type of business should that age explore?
The Bible says the glory of youth is their strength. The dignity of the old is their grey hair, which I ascribe to wisdom. When you get older, you might not have the strength to run around, but you have the wisdom and experience to delegate and share knowledge.
I think knowledge-based businesses should be a consideration for older people. My parents, for example, have so much knowledge that they share with us in our family group. Imagine if they can translate this knowledge to some form of business that people will pay for?
As an older female entrepreneur, you can start a business, using your experience and mentor the younger generation to use their strength to execute your wisdom. This way, you are also giving back.