How To Start A Successful Business In Nigeria With No Money!

14 Feb, 2013

I had a friend back in the university whose room doubled as a shop. We made fun of him then because his room was filled with all sorts of things, especially the wares he sold. We nicknamed his room ‘Mami Market’. He was however smarter than many of us and today he owns a big office and even rents part of it to other businesses. He has been able to build a successful business with the little he had back then as a student, which you must agree with me, was not much.

I’m not good with titles/names as I always struggle with getting a suitable one for anything I want to do. I’ve faced this ‘huge’ dilemma in the past and I almost did when trying to come up with a suitable title for this piece. But over time I have learned that a name does not always make a brand, an entity or individual. It is mostly the other way round. Who or what ‘we’ are makes the name what ‘it’ is. But as you have rightly guessed, this piece is not about ‘suitable titles’, rather, it is about taking that bold step that informs and animates your decisions, ‘to be’ or ‘not to be’ thereby affecting everything else!

The reality is that the Nigerian economy has been struggling to leverage the country’s vast wealth in fossil fuels in order to displace the crushing poverty that affects about 67% of its population. Majority of Nigerians are ‘poor’ and ‘unemployed’. The only way we can sustain the economic growth of this country and become one of the 20 industrialized nations of the world at about 2020-2025 is for us to rise to the challenge and build successful brands/businesses that can partake in a competitive global economy. It is for this reason that I’ll be sharing practical steps on how to start a successful business in Nigeria with little or no money! So let’s get to the business of the day!

STEP 1 - Start With No Money. Make good use of the resources you have

You see, many people fail at starting a successful business because they focus on irrelevant things and totally miss out on what they really need to do. There are many people who have had beautiful business ideas but failed to start because they had this expectation that they were trying to meet up with. They looked at already made businesses and told themselves that before starting, they had to get office space/shops just like XYZ. For some, it was a certain degree, skill or tool they needed to acquire while others worried about how to hire certain professionals before they could start off that business they had in mind. People have even had to wait for years before kick starting their business simply because all the business names they came up with were either not ‘catchy’ or ‘classy’ enough. When they finally settle for a name, the CAC (Corporate Affairs Commission) would most likely turn it down due to its unavailability. The said individuals would then start the search process all over again, wasting time, energy and resources. If I was still trying to come up with a title for this article, you probably won’t even be reading it now.

The truth is that most of the time the things that stop people from starting a business in Nigeria, successful or not, is not even money! The irony is that when we bother ourselves with ‘huge’ expectations, we forget that they too come at huge costs. The more grand your expectations the more money you’ll need to achieve them! So if you’re reading this piece right now with an intention of starting a business but lack the funds to do so, I’ll say the first thing you need to do is to strike off every item on your start off list that you cannot afford (if you haven’t made a start off list before, don’t worry we will get to that). Because if you cannot afford it by yourself or you’re still hoping for some sponsor or family member to give it to you, (if they were going to, they would have done so by now) then the possibility that you will start that business of yours is very slim. Always have this in mind –

”To start a successful business, your today should never be bigger than your tomorrow. Always create room for it to be smaller so that it can get bigger tomorrow.”

That’s how all big and successful businesses started.

The average farmer understands that the most important part of farming is not the planting of seeds but carrying out a proper pre-planting exercise which entails clearing and tilling the soil to prepare it for the seeds. If not the seeds won’t even survive long after planting! The same applies in starting a successful business. We are so carried away with irrelevant things that we tend to overlook the more important ones.

Take studying for example. A lot of people are too lazy to study. And I’m not even referring to the formal education here. Guess what? It costs close to nothing to get access to most of the information you’ll need. Yes, absolutely nothing! Especially as we now have access to the internet even from our mobile phones. Be honest with yourself, how much do you spend each month on recharge cards and Blackberry internet subscription? You’ll be surprised if you did the math thoroughly. But we are too busy using our phones and internet access on other frivolities.

The internet is one of your greatest resources, utilize it. Like the farmer, carry out a proper ‘pre-start off’ exercise by studying about the business you’re about to embark upon. Do a proper feasibility study and ask questions from people who are already in that line of business or who have some kind of experience about it. The truth is there’s absolutely no idea of yours that has not been implemented in some form before plus it does not cost a dime to ask questions. When you do this you’ll be able to understand exactly what you’re getting into and know whether you are on the right track or not.

Try not to focus on the money you need but on the resources that you have, no matter how small they may be. In the bible, all that the little boy had was 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish yet it fed over 5000 people with a lot of left over. So ask yourself what you really have and be honest about it. You say you need the money to rent a shop but you have a garage in your house that is full of junk that nobody uses, make good use of it. Make the best out of the space you have, you might even be lucky to find something useful for your new shop among that ‘junk’. You say you need to hire a lawyer or pay huge sums of money in legal fees. What of that your friend or family member that studied law in the university for 5-years or so? Now is the best time to give them a phone call and start talking real business. Are you still thinking of a name for your business? Ever heard of MR. D NIGER, the popular acronym we learned in integrated science class in Junior School? Make an acronym out of your many names. You can even use the names of friends/places/things as long as it means something meaningful to you, that’s good enough.

The bottom line here is that you should focus on the things that are important to your business and make good use of the resources you have. So get a fresh piece of paper and title it Start off list. Now write down only the things you really need and the resources you have that can take care of them. For now, don’t write down any need that you don’t readily have resources to meet. They are not important for starting. Think resources, not money and focus on it!

STEP 2- Pursue Excellence, Not Money.

”Pursue excellence, and success will follow, pants down” – Rancchoddas Shamaldas Chanchad ‘Rancho’ (3 idiots)

After reading step one, you might start making plans to start that business you’ve since allowed money and other factors to hold back. As a matter of fact quite a number of people reading this might have even gone past step one a long time ago. They’ve already registered their business names and probably had no problems with it or they have a place they can call a shop/office or don’t even need one for the kind of business they intend to run. Well I must congratulate you; it’s not easy to start a business of any kind here in Nigeria. Many have tried and have failed. Bravo!

Anybody can start a business though. Take a walk along the popular Alaba Market and you will see businesses of all kinds and standards. It can even be discouraging. We (Nigerians) are indeed very resourceful and hardworking people. So it’s one thing to start a business with no money and it’s another thing to start a ‘successful’ one! This is the point where many of us get it wrong. A lot of us get into business solely because of the money we hope to make from it. We’ve become victims of the psychology that expects us to go to school, read our books, pass with good grades then get a good job and MAKE MONEY. Now you’ve spent more than half of your lives schooling and finally graduated but, because of the kind of economy we find ourselves in, even with good grades, there seems to be no jobs out there for you! You had hoped for a job at an Oil company, bank or any where were they pay good money. Or let’s say you’re even amongst the ‘lucky ones’ and you secure a job where you work 9-5 (or in a place like Lagos where u work 5:30 – 8:30 because of the traffic) yet you find out that the money you’re making cannot satisfy your needs or the needs of your family. So you decide to start a business in order to MAKE (MORE) MONEY!

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with making money from the business you start. More so  you need money to run it. The problem however, is when money making becomes the major drive and/or the only reason for starting your business. A lot of people will deny this but here’s a simple test to find out if same is true about you.


i – List 5 reasons why you want to start or why you started your business.

ii – Strike off the ones that money can buy, pay for or settle

iii – Strike off the ones that can give you money. (Please take your time to complete this exercise before reading on).

 If after the test;

A – You stroked off more than 3 items from the list; then money making is likely the major reason for that business.

B – You were not able to come up with 5 reasons or you struggled through it; then you most likely haven’t thought about the business properly and money making is probably the reason why.


Some of the most successful businesses brands today are not successful because of the amount of money they turn in yearly. Money is attracted to success. But what attracts success? What does it really mean to be successful?

Let us assume you set out to cook rice on a particular day but just when you’re about to start, someone offers you a plate of already cooked rice. You gladly accept it and after eating it you decide that there’s no need to cook anymore. As simple as this scenario looks it has a lot to teach us. Although it seems you’ve gotten satisfaction besides you did not have to go through the stress of cooking it by yourself but the truth is that you have failed at achieving what you set out to do!

Another scenario is that you are offered the food but you still go ahead to cook yours. This time you don’t put in so much effort into cooking because you already have an alternative. In this case you were able to achieve what you set out to do but became lackadaisical and ended up giving it less than your best. Sadly, in both cases you weren’t successful. Success is achieving what you set out to do, well. A lot of businesses are just like the second example. They achieve their set goals and objectives and have some good returns but never grow to become world class brands. Excellence attracts success. What are the aims and objectives of your business? What is the guiding principle (mission statement) and where do you see your business in the future (vision)? Approach them with excellence.

When you strive for excellence you find out that you’re not in a hurry to do anything you set out to do because you take your time to do it well. You often see a lot of people who are in a hurry to make money from their business that they end up messing it all up. Even The farmer knows that after planting he does not start reaping the very next day. He has to take his time to regularly tend his plants till harvest time. Put your efforts into finding new ways of making your business stand out. Don’t ask yourself how you would make a lot of money from your business rather ask what you have to do to your business to keep the money coming in. Successful businesses are unique for the goods/services they provide and have the potential of competing on a global scale. So start now, think globally!

STEP 3 – Stay positive! Live for and love what you do.

This last step is not the least of the tripod! The farmer waters his plants ‘religiously’ because he believes they would yield a bountiful harvest. If he doubts the productivity of his plants he would not be encouraged to continue watering them. Most successful businesses are the ones that are built out of the things we really like doing because your hobby is something you keep doing even if you don’t get paid for it. So you have to eat, sleep, think and dream your business. Know your business more than anyone else.

The success of your business is a factor of the perception you have about it. Imagine someone is put in the same cage with a hungry lion. Many of us know how that would turn out in the end. But imagine if that same person is put in the cage of an Actovitus. I’m sure you don’t know how that would turn out because you’ve never heard of an Actovitus. As a matter of fact, there is no such thing as an ‘Actovitus’. I made up the word. In setting up a successful business you set the boundaries of what you can achieve based on the state of your mind. The same applies here because every successful business is bound to have challenges along the way, if you don’t stay positive, your business might not weather the storm. When others are afraid because they see a lion you should be calm because all you see is an ‘Actovitus’. Your business is first successful in your mind before it becomes a success in real life. Stay positive!

I believe in the Fela Durotoye’s prophecy that by December 31st 2025, Nigeria would be the World’s most desirable nation to live in. So we all must act now and position ourselves in various sectors of the economy so that we can become major players of industry when the world comes knocking at our doors. The value of our lives is an embodiment of the contribution of our goods, time and talent to our society and the world at large.

Martin Luther King Jr. coined it all when he said –

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well”.

Whatever you set out to do, don’t let money or anything hinder you from giving it your best. Love what you do and stay positive when things don’t go as planned and you will attain success.

The steps outlined in this article do not capture all you need to know about starting a successful business in Nigeria. I encourage you to read relevant resources that you can lay your hands on and feel free to share more information about this topic or ask questions using the comment box.

Together, we will build the Nigeria of our dreams.


“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” Zechariah 4:10(NLT)

About the author

Anderson Oriahi

I am an entrepreneur and brand Consultant. I believe in my country Nigeria and what she stands for and I dedicate my life to building models that would revolutionize her. Follow me on twitter @zimylink or on facebook and join me in this movement.

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  1. avatar
    February 14, 2013

    This is a fantastic write up…every fledgling entrepreneur ought to print and paste this above his bed!!

  2. avatar
    February 15, 2013

    @Dr fash exactly o. its has so much in it, especially the quote from Martin Luther king.

  3. avatar
    February 15, 2013

    Mehn this is a great piece…Mehn you put in a lot here. Keep it up

  4. avatar
    February 15, 2013

    This is an exciting piece. I’ll strive to put these words of yours into practice.

  5. avatar
    February 15, 2013

    This piece is so exceptional… your sphere cant help been imparted …you are a star!!

  6. avatar
    February 15, 2013

    Thanks all, I really appreciate your kind and encouraging words.

  7. avatar
    February 17, 2013

    Enjoyed your article, Anderson. So proud of you.

  8. avatar
    July 19, 2013

    Very inspiring…

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