Sotunde: Why Governments, Others Must Support SMEs

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Bisi Sotunde

The Managing Director, BusyBee Group, an event planning company, Bisi Sotunde, in this interview says there is need for increased support for SMEs in order to boost job creation in Nigeria. Chinedu Eze brings the excerpts:

What prompted you to go into the business 10 years ago when event planning was not viewed as a profession in this part of the world?

Well, I will say chance and intentions. I stumbled into the events industry in 2007, in my 400 level while working as a hostess/usher and that was how my eyes opened to the opportunities in the industry. By 2008, when I finished school I interned and got tutored under Ibidun Ighodalo of ElizabethR Events. By 2009, after my NYSC, the paid employment wasn’t forthcoming, I decided to market my events planning skills, and in October 2009, I got my first paid job to provide ushers for a wedding, and event upon event we got better and have grown into not just planning weddings, but corporate events, social parties, training and mentoring and we also offer business development services to the events professionals. Also, event management to me is an inborn skill/ability; I am good in organising and putting things in place. I found myself in the right environment and time with Ibidun Ighodalo and that just inspired me to have my own events company. Ten years down the line, the business of event management has gained more awareness and recognition. No matter how small an event is, there is a high need for a planner to handle the behind the scenes and add professional touches to it.

Apart from internship, did you obtain any formal training or was it just on-the-job training?

I started off on, on-the-job training, but have grown over the years by attending courses both locally and internationally on events management and also in entrepreneurship management in general.

Can you talk about some of your local and international trainings, conferences and skills acquired?

In my quest for personal and business developments, I have attended several trainings as; recipients of Goldman Sach’s 10,000 women Scholarship, and Road 2 Growth Womens’ Program both from Pan Atlantic University, Fate Foundation Alumni Conference, The Event Industry Conference, put together by Association of Professional Party Organisers and Event Managers in Nigeria (APPOEMN), then International courses with Event Managers Delegation-  IMEX Las Vegas USA, The Special Event Show(TSE) New Orleans USA, amongst others.

Can you explain your relationship with Global Entrepreneurial Network (GEN) Nigeria, Tony Elumelu Foundation and Cherie Blair Foundation Road2Growth for Women?

I am currently a mentor for GEN, and was amongst 15 mentors selected for the whole Nigeria.  I am also a mentor for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program (TEEP) since 2016, and I have mentored budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria and across Africa guiding and supporting in their journey to entrepreneurship. I am a 2019 Brand Ambassador for Cherie Blair Foundation Road2Growth for Women Program, and also a 2016 participant of this same program.

What is your assessment of the event planning industry in Nigeria?

Impressive! The industry has grown in leaps and in bounds, the profession is now being embraced, the awareness is there and in general the Nigerian industry is working to be at par with our international counterparts.

What will you say is your industry’s economic impact both to individuals and the Country as a whole?

The event industry has made great impact to the economy of the country. Every week, there’s one party or corporate function to be executed, event professionals are called upon to execute, and we bring on board ad hoc staff/other personnel to execute which in turn gets them empowered and generate income for them. According to published data, Lagos State alone hosts over 20,000 events monthly, expected earnings amount to about $300,000,000 annually in Lagos State alone and this is on the increase culminating to at least N 36billion annually in the state of events.

 How can the industry be further developed to generate more revenue?

Support from the state governments, federal government/parastatals, banks and private organisations etc. With budget allocated to help SMEs in capacity building, patronage from them amongst providing grants and soft loans to event professionals to grow the existing businesses, we will create more jobs and generate more revenue.

Can you expatiate on the other arms of BusyBee?

The BusyBee Group comprises the events, which entail the planning and management of both corporate and social events. The Academy is a platform for empowerment. It provides trainings and courses to both aspiring and existing event professionals. We run several courses such as Event Planning, Event Decorations, Online School, Mentoring/Coaching Programs, Masterclass/Business Summit programs etc. Through the academy, we have produced over 800 entrepreneurs in the industry. The Rental arm provides decoration support and party accessories to event professionals. It has birth forth a new business this year B2N Logistics; we purchased a Van to cover deliveries and logistics support for event professionals (caterers, drinks, decorators etc)

What have been the challenges both at the beginning and now?

In the space of 10 years; at the beginning it was pricing, and placing value on our expertise. Clients were underpricing and didn’t know our worth and what we brought to the table. As we grew up in business, it was staff, getting the team to buy into the vision and take ownership. Also loyalty from staff was a challenge. In conquering the challenges, first we identified our ideal clients, tailored our services to appeal to them, projected more of the value we offer and this made them pay the price that we charge, and we have continually exceeded their expectations. On staff, each staffer sees and understands the true picture of the vision and the brand in entirety. They all have a sense of ownership in the company and are building a personal brand by the virtue of the influence of the name BusyBee. However, currently in our 10th year, the challenge I see is keeping up with proper book keeping records, data entry as at when due amongst other accounting matters. We are on the journey to conquering that, as proper processes are currently worked on to ensure productivity and great results.

Was there any challenging time on the job that you felt like throwing in the towel?

When all the hard work, time and energy was put into an event, we stretched ourselves, but the client never appreciated, rather the client found faults in every service we provided. At that point, I was sad, downcast and almost signed off.

What is your most memorable experience or success story that you are proud to share?

Quite a lot of success stories, but a few are; being part of the team that worked on the commissioning of the Bariga Waterfront Jetty and the Lagos Theatre Epe in May 2019 by the former Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode.  I was also the planner in charge of the opening of an event centre in Lekki that had the current Governor of Lagos State, Babajide SanwoOlu present. Every year we handle the Christmas party of Oba Onikoyi of Ikoyi.

What does it entail to be a coach in an industry that is just developing?

Well, it comes first with being a practicing and experienced ‘events professional,’ who has grown the business, experienced a lot, and is successful in the field. One who is an authority and an influence in the industry. One who trains mentors and sees to the growth and development of others, not afraid to help and support one who has track record and testimonials to show.

What is your message to the upcoming ones in the industry?

Stay focused, maintain your lane and do not be carried away by what you see on social media.  Be ready to put your hands to plough. There is seed time and harvest time. Above all, make positive declarations over your business in this industry.

 Lately, getting white-collar jobs has extremely difficult. So, what advice do you have for Nigerian youths?

Begin to explore opportunities in entrepreneurship. Discover yourself, learn a skill or trade then consider starting a business

How will you assess entrepreneurship in Nigeria?

Great! There’s good progress, with a lot of people embracing entrepreneurship, new and creative businesses springing up daily. This is a step in the right direction.

How were you able to access fund for the kick off of your business?

Through personal savings, family and friends

What should aspiring entrepreneurs know before starting a business?You need to be intentional about the business you are going into. Learn the ropes of the business, keep an open mind to be consistent and stay focused. The road is not easy but it is worth it.

What is your advice to the government to help build entrepreneurship and businesses in the Country?

Keep supporting and encouraging SMEs through grants, capacity building workshops, patronage and other opportunities. There’s more to be done.