LAGOS, NIGERIA: Tinuke Adeniyi, a mother of two, had just finished preparing one of her signature meals, Asaro Elemi meje, a local delicacy made with yam in Southwest Nigeria. It was meant for some clients who had ordered its delivery.
She had packaged it, awaiting the logistics person to come pick it up from her catering shop located at Ikorodu, Lagos state.
She took up her smartphone and turned on the camera to take photos of her efforts before delivery. Heaving a sigh of relief after the rigorous process, she sat down on her sofa, but she wasn’t done yet; her social media Instagram followers needed to be carried along.
But Adeniyi wasn’t always like this. In times past, she wouldn’t have worried about posting online and on social media because she only had patronage from close kins. She said, “I only make sales from family and friends. For someone like me, I initially don’t know how one can do business on social media.”
A 2022 study from the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation showed that 96% of entrepreneurs had no social media presence for their businesses. Only 20 (3.53%) do, of which 14 were in urban locations.
The same study revealed that entrepreneurs using social media for their online brand positioning record a 625.58% rate of ₦315,760 ($421) average monthly income, compared to non-social media users who recorded ₦41,957 ($55.9).
Meanwhile, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) contribute 46.39% of the national GDP and account for 87.9% of employment, according to a joint report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (SMEDAN) in 2021.
The rare use of social media and ICT among small-scale business owners in Nigeria can be attributed to poor technical knowledge (40%) and illiteracy (59.4%) among other factors, according to another study of 180 Nigerian SMEs.
The inconsistency in brand online positioning identified by experts, contributes to about 2 million MSMEs shut down between 2019 and 2021 in Nigeria, while more than 600,000 joined the list in 2022, according to a survey carried out by SMEDAN.
Oluwaseun Bamidele, a digital skills and marketing expert told The SolutionsPaper that “social media platforms offer a cost-effective way to promote products and services because traditional marketing methods can be expensive for SMEs with limited resources.”
To fill in this gap, Denike Fagbemi, an expert brand strategist, devised a means of pushing SMEs in the country to exploit the full benefit of online brand visibility.
How it works
Drawing from her wealth of experience, Fagbemi started the BrandTell Nigeria Business Network (BTN Network) WhatsApp push group in 2021, prioritising business owners with little to no online presence.
Members of this business community, after paying a monthly subscription fee of ₦2,000 ($2.7), access daily interactive sessions on how to build their brand visibility beyond their physical shop.
Subscribers are also exposed to digital tools for bookkeeping, graphic design, and content generation. Irrespective of their academic qualifications, they learn the basics of the tools for utilisation.
Sometimes, external tutors are invited to train members on paperwork, digital tools, and brand motivation. BTN Network also organises physical sales exhibitions to help its members boost sales and brand visibility annually.
Adeniyi first heard of the BTN WhatsApp network from her sister. More than a year later, she hasn’t regretted joining. She said the network taught her all the techniques on how to make money on social media through the push and lectures.
“It was the first time I got an order outside of friends and families,” Tinuke told The SolutionsPaper.
“I’ve learnt to consistently market my goods and services shamelessly, and be open-minded and straightforward in transactions with online clients. Overall, I learnt to be strategic in marketing. I would rate BTN’s impact on my business at 85% boost,” she said.
For Temiloluwa Oluyemi, a pharmacist who makes fruit juices at 2Tees Healthy Drink, a first-time appearance at the exhibition stuck to her memory.
She said, “Thinking about it now makes me feel thankful for even engaging because my kind of product requires cold conditions so the products don’t spoil. The product finished before time and I sold out all of them in three days.”
Gloria Odunikan, one of the members who is a cosmetics enthusiast, found graphic designing on the Canva app helpful for content creation for her business page online.
She said, “creating graphics for my page was chaotic at first. But learning and implementing these digital skills and tools like Canva and Kippa has enhanced my brand’s online presence. It has attracted a wider audience, assist how I engage with customers, increased website traffic, and improved my conversion rates.”
Odunikan, who owns Glo’s Beauty Secret, revealed that she has gotten better with the Canva app and she also does “highlights, logos, all my graphics and even creates landing pages for people.”
Meanwhile, there is room for members to share their thoughts, agitations and challenges. As a beneficiary, Gloria believes it allows the platform to connect with the human side of the brand owners and let off steam.
Small-scale business owners won’t always thrive on competition, but collaboration promotes business growth. To foster this value in the group, Fagbemi encourages collaboration and networking among community members.
“We promote healthy competition and we frown against unhealthy rivalry, either at the push group or anywhere else. We make people understand that if there’s anything that Covid-19 has taught us is that we should let competition lead to collaboration, and this is one of the truths we preach in the group, and even outside the community,” Fagbemi told The SolutionsPaper.
Adeniyi benefited from the collaboration in the group. She was once paired with a healthy fruit juice maker. The project contributed to how she got her “first major big deal” ever since she began Tinu’s Pot.
Not all easy
Managing an online community of 284 brand owners, spread across three Whatsapp groups called “streams,” is not without its troubles. Olamide Talub, a community manager with the BTN network, described the task as “one of the most strenuous responsibilities [she] had to deal with.”
“I have to make sure the members of the group are comfortable enough to trust and engage in the services we offer or the task they are being given and not lose sight of the goals they are to achieve as business owners.”
She discovered that some new members were shy and reserved at first and she had to bring them out of their shells to actively utilise the business methods, strategies, and etiquette classes they share in the group. She said she went the “psychology way” by making herself the “people-person.”
“It wasn’t a day job, it took time and process,” Talub told The SolutionsPaper
“There was a low turnout the first time I engaged them. I then took it upon myself to start tagging each of them. It was so stressful but I wanted to make them ‘feel seen’ and ‘important.”
The tagging tactics worked, according to her. Members begin to feel better about themselves and engage her in the group. Before long, they become active with the activities.
“There were times I forgot to tag some members. One day, some of them called me out for not tagging them because they felt I intentionally ignored them. That was how I knew my tactics were working. I played around a little, got them to participate in a fun way, and improved the engagement level,” Olamide said.
Fagbemi also identified financial constraints as a core limitation for the platform’s modus operandi. She disclosed that lack of funds stopped the team from carrying out some projects that can benefit the community.
She said, “We would have done lots of projects within these periods that can directly impact our external society if there is enough funds. Atimes, it might demand coming to the rescue of the platform’s members. But we make do with what we have, which is why we actively seek for sponsorships and partnership whenever we have events. Thankfully, many organisations have believed in our visions over the years.
This story was produced in partnership with Nigeria Health Watch through the Solutions Journalism Network, a nonprofit organisation dedicated to rigorous and compelling reporting about responses to social problems.
Lead editor: Chinonso Kenneth
Sub editor: Precious Ewuji
Phillip Anjorin is a Nigerian freelance journalist with an avid interest in telling education and human-angle stories. As a Writing Fellow for African Liberty, his bylines have appeared in diverse media publications both in Nigeria and beyond. In his free time, he plays chess and reads any interesting piece available.