How small businesses can win in today’s economy

If you are a frequent Twitter user then chances are that you have witnessed a user tweeting about needing to buy an item and tagging Damilola Bello popularly known as Dammy B for enquiries. Within minutes Dammy B replies, referring them to a reliable vendor that stocks the item.

But beyond helping buyers discover vendors as the unofficial yellow pages for small businesses, Dammy B’s purpose and mission is deeper. She is committed to the success of small businesses, teaching them the fundamentals of business through her Pages By Dami community, providing verification to build trust with customers and leveraging her role as Small Business Growth Partner at Flutterwave to provide solutions that make running their businesses easier.

Interestingly, Dammy B’s journey to this point was accidental. It started as an unintentional journey of randomly retweeting businesses on the timeline and shopping endlessly from them. Now she is advocating for them and helping them build sustainable businesses.

On the eve of Nigeria’s presidential elections, we spoke to Dammy B about how business owners can win in today’s economy and the lessons they need to learn to be sustainable.

Q- This year, we've gone from Dollar fluctuation affecting businesses to naira scarcity. In these very challenging times, what is your advice for small businesses looking to cut down costs and increase profits so that they stay open?

A-In this kind of situation. It's very hard for you to avoid inflation. Inflation is like water, it will reach you no matter what. The only people who are lucky in this case are people that are selling things that nobody can find readily anywhere. So as inflation is increasing, you're increasing your price, and people do not have a choice but to buy it at that price, because a reduction in the cost of production will mean you are either tampering with your quality or your quantity.

Asides from that,  the people that are lucky and who can harness this inflation are people who offer services. I'll use a very important person that we all know.

I'm sure you know Bedge photography. He is very good at his job and it's just photography, right? But the thing is he is sold out for the year, he's completely booked, and there is no space for any weekend again except maybe if it is not wedding photography. Inflation does not concern him, he puts his price points, and you cannot argue it with him. And it goes across a lot of other services, quite honestly, because there's not really a way to quantify a service.

So now for small business owners who are selling something, my advice is if you're really good at what you sell, maybe you make it or you have a skill, add teaching people in addition to what you're selling.

I have a vendor, Ajoke Onifari. She sells scarves and scarf accessories. But here's what she did. She's very good at product photography. People always ask “how do you take pictures of these your scarves?”  and she says she does it at home. She has different people, other small business owners who want to learn how to take photos like that and she's making her money on the side. she charges 3k a class for one person.

So if you're not buying a lot of scarves, she's selling out her product photography class. Inflation does not affect that one because she's doing it in her house via zoom or WhatsApp. It does not cost her anything. And then she continues to live her life. So at the moment if you're just selling only products like physical, tangible goods, it's very, very hard not to increase your price without losing customers unless you already have very loyal customers. as inflation is nobody's mate. And unless you run a monopoly or something that is of really, really high value, you will have to buckle up and add something to it.

Q-In your experience of helping businesses, what are some skills that you feel a lot of Nigerian business owners lack?

A-Bookkeeping, for one. I run a business clinic in the sense that I consult for these small businesses for free. They tell me what is wrong, they ask me questions. So a lot of them ask how they can pay themselves a salary. You cannot pay yourself a salary until you know how much you are spending, and how much you are making. They don't know how to do expenses. They don't know how to document income. They don't know when their businesses are making a profit or a loss. You cannot be paying yourself a salary when you're making a loss. How do you put it back?

Q- What areas do you think small business owners should focus on upskilling?

A-For me, any upskilling has to do with customer response management. They need to really implement a proper CRM structure in their businesses. That is the only way. Okay, well, that and digitizing your business, not only on social media, it's time to start exploring other digital aspects. Because we honestly don't know what's going to happen to social media. You have to be able to sell out of social media. It's not just only on Twitter or Instagram, you have to look into Google My Business. Let me just be very annoying. Flutterwave as well, Flutterwave has a marketplace Other aspects that do not involve social media, quite honestly.

Q- What bad behaviour do you need small businesses to stop in 2023?

A-It is customer response and a very shifty mindset. Those are two things that affect them a lot. They attach themselves too much to money that the customer has paid. Without thinking of the end of the service they're providing. They assume that service ends when they say I'm selling a bag the customer has paid for it and I have sent it out for delivery. That's the end. That's not what ends a transaction, it ends when the customer has gotten their item and says, Oh, yes, thank you. This is what I ordered. I'm glad. That is when a sale ends and they have no idea what that is. So they take money too, personally, and don't care about how the customer feels. And they need to really change their mindset about that.

Q-  Pages by Dami recently announced a partnership with Flance to provide small businesses with access to pensions. Can you give us insight into why this is such an important problem and what this new partnership will provide for small businesses?

A- Small business owners tend to forget about themselves. People don't care about small business owners and their health and state of being. If you are in the system that's the government system, as an employee or an organization, they take out your health benefits and pension etc. for you. It's Pay As You Earn right? You're covered and just doing your work. You know that there's something to fall back on.

But a business owner doesn't have that. They have running costs. Where do they now start to remove money to save and think about what happens when you break down on the road one day, and there's an emergency you need to pay a hospital but you don't have that money? All your money is tied up in stock capital, it's a big issue. And I feel like it's not only government workers and employees that deserve that. Small business owners should also have something like this to fall back on. So that's what that partnership is for. You pay 5k every month at the end of the year you have 42k in savings, and you have 200k  in access to health benefits.

Q-Business owners want to enjoy, and you're making that possible.

A-And we thank God.

Q-At Pages By Dami, what is your focus this year? What can we look out for?

A- This year, honestly, I really just want to teach business owners. I think a lot of them have solidified their supply chain, where they source from, they know that they're very solid in that. Now I think I just want to teach them and make them understand the different skills that they need to position their businesses better.

Q- How do you think Nigerian business owners can leverage Twitter for their business?

A-So the level with which Twitter has come to now. People listen to thought leaders. So you'd see somebody like Fisayo Fosudo. He does gadget reviews and when he does a review, you can tell that everybody is very attentive to what he's saying because he has grown a brand.

So because Twitter is not new, it has grown, and it has evolved so rapidly, you cannot just enter as a new business and say please follow me. Everybody's like who is this? The trust level is very low. You have to be able to join communities and find people who are talking about stuff that you do. Leverage your friendships, your networks, and ask other businesses; please, how are you doing this?

That's why when somebody just comes and says, I'm opening a retweet group, you see a lot of businesses clamouring for that because they don't know where to start. They need engagements. Most of those don't really work. What I'm saying is that it is important to find communities that can help you boost and push you. That's why I leave my DMs open, I'm very open to it. You can find people, I'm not the only one that does this or supports small businesses, you can find them, join their communities, somebody can do a blast, and you can decide to pay somebody to do an ad about your business. There are downsides to that as well. But that's it.

The last thing is you have to be super consistent. Consistency, even if you're selling a very horrible thing, consistency is very key. Then you start seeing that people always see your posts, and they're remembering you.  I will use somebody as an example. There's somebody called Cancross. His methods annoy me, but because of how consistent he is with them, everybody remembers who that guy is.

No matter the tweet, you tweet. As long as it is getting viral. He's going to plug his business underneath it. It's annoying to the owner of the tweet and everybody else but he doesn't care. I'm not saying that's what you should do. I'm just trying to explain the power of consistency. Especially with your business. And let your product offer value. Another thing is to build trust with Twitter, always have your own photos. Photos that you took yourself. It fosters trust between you and your customer even if people randomly find it.

*This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity

Solomon Nzere

Solomon Nzere

Oyindamola Ogunlana

Oyindamola Ogunlana