Michael Dale Williams is a marketing consultant who is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and SMEs create profitable businesses. His book The More3 Formula, endorsed by the renowned development, sales and business expert, Brian Tracy, has helped numerous entrepreneurs see business from a different perspective and increase their profit. In Nigeria, he has worked as a consultant to the Carnival Commission in Cross River State, the Managing Director of the Cross River State Tourism Bureau; and currently, he is Head of Business Development for EbonyLife TV. In this interview with Omonefe Eruotor, he lets us in on his journey and shares some invaluable entrepreneurial tips.
You have worked in advertising, marketing, tourism, event management and media in different parts of the world. Please tell us how what you do runs through these different organizational types and how you have learnt to adjust with each move.
The common thread that runs through everything I do is marketing. My first company was an event management consultancy in London and my primary role was to market our signature events. I must have done a reasonable job because a US cosmetics company asked us to market a model search for them across the UK. That went well too and the company asked us to help with marketing some of their brands, including the world-famous Pink Oil Moisturizer. Eventually, we morphed into an advertising agency, handling five of their product ranges. Later on, I got opportunities to create advertising for banks, money transfer agents like MoneyGram, and other consumer goods companies. Tourism came from my knowledge of my home country, Jamaica, which gave me an opportunity to partner with a Public Relations agency to handle the Jamaica Tourist Board account in the UK. A combination of that experience and serving on the board of the London Notting Hill Carnival, led to the opportunity to work in Cross River.
Sometimes, people try out different areas before they eventually settle for one, or discover themselves. How and when did you discover your path in business development?
I’ve been involved in business development throughout all of my working life. From my second job at 22 years old, in advertising sales, I went into selling telephone systems to companies. When I became an entrepreneur in events and advertising, I had to do business development to survive – without clients, there is no business. As head of the Tourism Bureau in Calabar, I still couldn’t escape business development because my role on the Calabar Festival committee involved leading the effort to raise sponsorship. I’m happy to say that during my time there we raised over ₦1.5 billion to support the carnival, concerts and other events that made up the festival.
You have been a part of some highly innovative and successful projects with organizations including the Jamaica Tourist Board, London Notting Hill Carnival Board, Cross River State Tourism Bureau, and currently, EbonyLife TV. How do you keep yourself relevant in your field?
The only way to stay relevant is to do your best work, give the best possible advice and try to innovate as much as possible. I’m always learning new skills, reading and researching; trying to stay abreast of new technology, particularly in communication; and most importantly, I rarely remain within the confines of a job description because I always have more to contribute to an organisation’s strategy, marketing or management.
With the economic downturn in Nigeria, the need for multiple streams of income cannot be overemphasized. How best would you advise a budding entrepreneur to build a strong organization for himself while holding on to a regular 9-5 job?
First of all, it is important not to cheat your day job. That means working long hours and weekends on your own business. Years ago, when I was working with my partners to set up our first business, I cheated my day job by making calls unrelated to my work. When they started to make people redundant, I was the first to go. I was hurt and embarrassed, but I learned from it. My second piece of advice is to stick to something you understand or make the extra effort to learn as much as you can about the industry before jumping in. Finally, make sure that you choose a business that meets a genuine need and fills a gap in the market. Always remember that the best businesses are created to solve problems – and Nigeria is full of problems!
A huge challenge for small businesses is capital. Considering the fact that the web has become the best marketplace, what tips would you give small business owners with good products who cannot afford proper branding and web presence?
The internet has lowered the barriers to entry in virtually every industry, so there shouldn’t be any excuse. There are lots of ways around the issue of lack of capital. One of best methods is to trade goods and services with potential suppliers by doing barter deals. Another way is to give away equity in your business in exchange for financial support or services that you need. When I started in business, a friend lent us his office, someone else donated secondhand office furniture to us, while others volunteered their services because they believed in what we were doing. A lot of this depends on having good relationships and building up goodwill that you can cash in later, when you need it. In the past, I’ve had graphic designers and web developers offer their services, in exchange for a share of the business, because they wanted to be involved on a long-term basis.
You have proffered a solution to organizations for business growth – Superior Customer Service – and organizations with few customers seem to excel at this. How can those with a high volume of customers in Nigeria also benefit from this principle?
Nigerian businesses with thousands or even millions of customers can benefit enormously from what I term Superior Customer Service. With a large volume of customers, even a small increase in your average transaction value (cost of an order) or average frequency (the number of times a customer makes a purchase) will pay huge dividends when multiplied by the number of customers.
In your book, one of the points you raised is that a clear organizational structure is important for business growth. Could you throw a little more light on this point?
I think the point you are referring to is where I say that the structure of your organisation should be geared towards providing outstanding customer service. That means the number of staff in a particular department or area should be relative to the efficiency your customers require. For example, if you run a bar, your profitability depends on how many drinks are being served each night. If it takes 30 minutes to be served and no one comes to check if the customers need a refill, you’re losing money. Having the right number of well-trained bartenders and waiting staff are critical to your success. Just last week, I was in a fancy bar where we waited nearly 40 minutes for our first drink. By the time they arrived, we were almost ready to go, and we could have had two drinks each in that time. With cocktails costing ₦2,500 to ₦4,500 each, how much would you lose in 5 or 6 hours with 40-50 people in the bar? The minimum would be ₦100,000 in a single evening. Conversely, if you were running a cocktail bar with typical Nigerian service, I could easily show you how to increase your takings by ₦100,000 per night – that’s an extra N30 million per annum.
EbonyLife TV’s The Wedding Party has been rated the highest–grossing Nigerian film (domestic gross). While I congratulate you and the EbonyLife TV team, could you share a tip from that success that will help other entrepreneurs?
As we speak, The Wedding Party has grossed over ₦470 million; nearly ₦300m more than the no.2 movie on the all-time list of highest-grossing films. Any entrepreneur can learn from its success by paying close attention. The first thing is to look at what your competitors are doing and try to improve on it. Secondly, you should pay attention to the quality of your product – don’t cut corners. Thirdly, you should always invest in marketing – it tends to pay off. Lastly, it’s the quality that translates to valuable word-of-mouth marketing, long after your budget has been exhausted.
Do you plan to retire at any point? What is your take on retirement for those in the private sector?
Hopefully, retirement is a long way off or maybe never. I’m just getting started with my writing career and a few other exciting ventures. EbonyLife is entering an interesting new phase too. My take on retirement is to do what you love and you will never want to retire – you’ll be having too much fun. If you have a good team around you to delegate to, you won’t have to work as hard. Just do the things that interest and engage you – the things you would do anyway if your bills were already paid.
What more should we expect from you in the near future? Any surprises? New books?
Haha. Yes, a few surprises and at least one new book this year. This one will be about my experiences in Nigeria – some of them very funny, some quite touching. If you follow my blog, you will know what to expect.