Voices of African Women Entrepreneurs

Time to Get Serious About Growing Your Business! This post is part of the #PMNG Knowledge Series on Project Management – Exploring the philosophical, structural, and HR imperatives of growing a business  in Nigeria, by Subomi Plumptre.


Case Study: I once volunteered at an NGO where I was asked to suggest new service providers for an upcoming project. I contacted a referral by email, phone, and twitter. To date, the requested invoice has NOT been received. I eventually worked with a second referral. The relationship was cordial; turnaround time prompt; depth of reasoning rich, and availability constant. Today, he has become my defacto service provider of choice. I learned a valuable lesson from the two interactions – a business cannot grow, stabilize, or expand without administrative capacity.

Talent is not enough and sometimes a business is its own worst enemy. An entrepreneur cannot engage the market at certain heights or on multiple fronts without administrative capacity. Building this capacity is the only way to get serious about business. Yes, you can make money through “deals,” but at a certain age, you cannot run around looking for deals. Easy come, easy go. No structure, no sustainability.

Administrative capacity is the difference between a one-man company and a corporation. Everything the business seeks; from finance to contacts to new business is fueled by administrative capacity. An entrepreneur cannot raise funds, cultivate networks, or deliver quality if he/she is too busy putting out fires, doing documentation, running the office, or putting off customers with inefficiency. Customers should never take their money elsewhere because a business is unreachable. With the availability of multiple devices and contact points, this is unacceptable. The quality of contact also matters. Never put an ignorant or disorganized person in charge of your brand interface. Customers will leave and you won’t even know why.

A growing business also needs core managers. People to develop or expand business lines and play political roles. The administrative staff should deal with the day-to-day paperwork. When an entrepreneur is bogged down with paperwork, quality control, & administrative tasks; there will be limited business growth.

I will show you how to develop core administrative and management teams despite the decrease in the quality of our educational products and paucity of talent. (I’m assuming of course that you already have a professional team, so I’ll focus on the business of the business).

First, you must accept that as a growing business, you cannot afford great talent. The competition is fierce; the pool of talent shallow. Therefore, you must innovate and be open to new HR and remuneration models. You must decide upfront what you are willing to give up to get talent. If you can’t pay top salaries, are you willing to invest time and emotions, for instance, give up future earnings or equity? I\’ll explain:

Time and emotions: you must rigorously (re) train from scratch, investing 3-7 years and pouring your life into your team.

Equity: to develop new business lines, you may choose to give out equity or share profit with experienced talent in a bid to attract and retain them. You do not need to give equity in the core business, to protect the culture. Rather you can spin off the new venture as a complementary entity and give equity or share profit in that unit.

If you choose to invest time or equity, there are three (3) models named after three (3) global companies: GE, SouthWest Airlines, and Google. You should choose a model that suits your business growth stage, personality, industry, and is sustainable.

GE runs a process model; an assembly line that churns out leaders through ongoing training, mentorship, exposure, and opportunities. This model works for already structured organisations that need leaders for rapidly expanding businesses on an ongoing basis. It\’s expensive as it requires internal & external training, progress mapping, documentation, and such. But if your business has branches, it\’s a good model as you can dispatch people from the core company who embody your culture to run those units.

The Southwest model is for an entrepreneur looking for one (1) or two (2) core managers who can run the business in his/her absence; “successors” so to speak. Young, bright minds are closely mentored – they eat, travel with you; have long philosophical conversations with you. They are family. You look out for them and defend them. You train them and earn their loyalty. This is a huge time/emotional investment. The fear is, what if they leave? While you may institute minimum engagement contracts or non-compete agreements, people may still leave due to circumstances beyond their control. But the truth is it’s the only way to produce a certain kind of loyalty. You win some, you lose some. There are no short cuts, and, you cannot financially afford ready-made experienced staff. They’re out of your reach. However, if you have an urgent HR need, you can use contract consultants to plug the gap while you take the time to groom your core team. Your business will not outlive you without a core group who believe in you and the business. The core team frees you to dream of new businesses and explore other ventures. They allow you to enjoy the fruit of your labor without worrying whether the company will collapse if you\’re away.

Google runs a venture model –  this applies to businesses that have venture funding or are at stage two (2) funding. They can afford talent. The key is to look for industry experts who can open doors or expand the business. Often they are older than you and will only do it if you give stock options or profit-sharing. They are beyond salary and have the luxury of working where they choose. They will only join you for the challenge and the chance to build something great or own a share of something potentially big. They will want something they can cash out later should the venture prove successful. So it’s a win-win for all.

When recruiting, there are some things that are non-negotiable in admin or management staff. I will list them. But to ensure the right fit, identify a friend or mentor who already embodies what you’re looking for and make sure that they are on the recruitment panel. They will help you spot “themselves” in the candidates and will provide a measure of objectivity.

For admin staff  for a growing business, some critical competences are required in the first 6 months of engagement/training. If they do not exist by then, please fire – you\’re carrying dead weight. The competences are:

  1.  Ability to quickly produce impeccable proposals & invoices
  2. Constant availability via electronic channels
  3. Ability to develop & manage a calendar and provide clear project updates
  4. High ratio of completed to uncompleted tasks

Forget everything else on your checklist. If these competences do not exist, please do not hire or fire thereafter. For Management staff in a growing business, these are the required competences:

  1. Networking ability & political astuteness
  2. Ability to create new income streams
  3. Leadership & training ability
  4. Resource management
  5. Strategic vision, planning & execution

The 1st three functions that must be filled at management level are: New Business Development & Execution – Financial Management & Investments – Relationship Management, Service & Quality Control.

As a growing business, you are truly on the path to being serious about making money and building a sustainable company when you have built a strong admin & management team. This year, make hiring the right people your top priority.


Subomi Plumptre heads the corporate practice at Alder Consulting, Nigeria’s leading brand consulting firm. At Alder, she consults on idea development, business strategy, social media strategy, and brand development. She sits on the Board of A Figment of Imagination, a 3D firm, and is a member of the Board of Trustees for The Leke Alder Foundation. She is also co-chair of the Management Board of the Nigeria Leadership Initiative (NLI) and an Associate of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).

Follow her on twitter: https://twitter.com/subomiplumptre


1 thought on “Voices of African Women Entrepreneurs”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *