Miriam Sanni is a 26-year-old entrepreneur who turned her passion for nice clothing and accessories into multiple successful businesses in Nigeria. Despite the numerous challenges that most entrepreneurs face starting and operating a business in Nigeria, Miriam has been able to overcome them with her determination, hard work, and the right network.
In this article, Miriam shares her journey as an entrepreneur and the biggest challenges she’s faced. She also shares the key to her successes and how she effectively manages all these businesses.
Tell me about your background and how you started in entrepreneurship
My name is Miriam Sanni. I am 26 years old and grew up in a large family with four sisters. Growing up in a household with many girls, there was always someone who wanted something, and I would often be sent to buy it in town.
Fast forward to university, I noticed that many people would compliment my clothing and ask where I got it from. The same thing happened when I started working at NYSC. I even started selling hair because people would often ask where I got it from.
One day, I saw a nice leather bag, and my office colleagues asked where I got it from. I told them I could help them get one, and I contacted the person making it, who then started supplying it to me for sale. From there, I expanded to selling Ankara cloth.
I would say my love for entrepreneurship came from demand. I enjoy wearing nice things, and people often ask where I got them from. The businesswoman in me saw an opportunity to turn that demand into a business contact. I love making money, and I can turn anything I see and like into a business opportunity.
That’s quite an interesting backstory. What is/are the biggest challenge(s) you’ve faced in your journey as an entrepreneur starting and operating a business in Nigeria?
I run a number of businesses, so I’ll break it down:
For my restaurant business, one challenge I faced in the past was staffing. It was either my employees were not teachable or they were not hardworking.
In the food industry, another challenge is with dispatch riders. Food is prepared on time, but riders arrive late to pick it up, causing delays or taking the package for personal reasons. The supply chain is not direct, and there’s always a middleman who causes problems. People in Lagos prefer to stay at home and order food due to traffic, but this adds to the pressure on riders to deliver on time.
I once did a Christmas package for party food, but the dispatch rider poured the food, trays of jollof rice, inside the delivery box. Customer satisfaction is important to me, and I had to replace the food, incurring a loss. Food price increases are also a problem.
In my interior design business, unteachable and unexposed artisans frustrate me. They’re hesitant to try new methods and are often uncomfortable taking instructions from women.
Despite these challenges, I keep pushing to deliver the best service to my customers.
Sigh! Sorry about all this.
It’s alright. Thanks
What is one thing that has contributed to your success?
One of my greatest strengths, aside from God and prayer, is my network. My network is very strong. I do a lot of marketing and push my brand, but there’s something special about the kind of friends and followers I have. I don’t have too many followers. If you check my page, I am not sure I have more than 3K followers.
Taking my Christmas hamper business as an example, I would say 70% of the contracts I got, and I’m talking in millions of naira, came from people who knew me or knew someone who knew me. I didn’t have to pitch for some of these contracts. I just received a message saying, “Someone from our office recommended you guys.” “Please give us a quote for 80 hampers to be delivered to this person.” And that’s how it’s been. I’m not sure how it happened, but I believe it is the result of my network. It all comes down to surrounding yourself with people who are valuable and will add value to your life and business. Many of my friends hold positions in good companies and work at great establishments. It’s easy for their companies to want something and for them to know that Miriam does it well.
I am always on top of my game and love to present myself well. If you message me now and say you want something for your company, there is a possibility that I have about 3 brochures for you to pick from. Everything is prepared and intact, giving the impression that I know what I am doing. This makes it easier for me to get the job done. My network is one of the greatest contributors to my business success. From pushing myself in marketing to always carrying my brand on my head, my network is my asset.
Interesting. I am curious as to how you are able to identify a business worth starting.
If you are a business-oriented person, you will want to find a solution whenever you see a problem. My food business started during COVID. I was at home and feeling bored, so I started cooking. When I started cooking, I realized that people were very interested in my meals whenever I posted them. I told my boyfriend about this, and we agreed that there was a demand for my cooking. I had no money, so my older sister gave me 25,000 Naira. With that money, I printed logo stickers that I designed on Canva and bought some takeaway bags. That’s how my food business started, and within two years, it has grown, surprising people who hear that I’ve only been operating for two years.
For my hamper business, my boyfriend’s company asked me to help curate items for a hamper, which I agreed to do. After doing so, I realized that I could do this for other companies as well. I made a list of items and prices and designed flyers using my food business brand. I was pleased with the outcome, and that year alone, I made 700,000 Naira in profit. I decided to open a separate Instagram page to grow this business further.
For my interior design business, my family often asked me to source furniture for our home, and I realized that I could monetize this by starting an interior design business. I had no experience, but I was passionate about it, so I went online to learn everything I could. Later, I had the opportunity to work on a contract with a small company that was relocating to a new office. The whole project cost $1,000,000, but I was happy doing it and continued to develop my skills. Now, I handle projects worth way more than that.
I love finding solutions to problems and filling gaps, and that’s how I start my businesses.
A must-have superpower! How are you able to effectively manage these businesses?
My ability to handle multiple tasks simultaneously started early, even before I went to university. I was always a church-going girl and taught children. Because I enjoyed activities, it was and still is simple for me to multitask without becoming exhausted.
At university, we lived like robots, waking up early and attending classes from 7 am to 6 or 7 pm.
After graduation, I worked for two companies before starting my own business. Living in Lagos, my work schedule was just as rigid as it was in university. I had to wake up early to catch the staff bus and work until 5 pm. After that, I would wait for the staff bus and return home around 9 p.m.
When I started my own business, things became easier. I wake up at 5 a.m. every day, start my day with a prayer, and continue with the tasks on my to-do list.
I also have employees to who I delegate tasks. They know they have to be at their best, as there’s no room for slacking.
Well done! How do you handle the risk and uncertainties that come with running multiple businesses in Nigeria?
To be honest, nothing can prepare you for the amount of risk and uncertainty you will face in any business, especially in Nigeria.
For example, I produced 49 branded bottles for a company. We had agreed on the colour and everything was sorted, but the client mentioned she made a mistake with the colour used. The colour she selected on Instagram was not what she sent via email. Since communication via email was more professional, I went with the colour received via email. I finished the work and posted a few on my socials. Upon seeing it, she sent me a message saying I should take the post down, as it was not what she had requested.
Because I am always focused on pleasing my customers, I agreed to do everything again and bore the loss. The risks and uncertainties in running a business are endless, and this is just one of many examples.
Because I am open-minded towards anything, I don’t panic easily, and I always want to get the job done well, so no matter the feedback I receive from my clients, I always strive to meet their expectations.
There are so many uncertainties, and there have been days when I have cried out of frustration, but as you grow in the business, you develop a thick skin.
Amidst all the things that happen, how do you stay motivated?
Passion: If you have passion for something, you will always want to do it. There have been many instances where I considered shutting down my food business due to stress compared to my other business.
Whenever this happens, I reflect on why I started this business, which began as a hobby and turned into a passion. In addition, I think about the people who depend on me to put food on their tables and make ends meet.
These thoughts keep me motivated and prevent me from giving up.
How have you been able to build a team?
There is a popular adage that says “soup wey sweet na money kill am.” The reason I had an issue with staffing before was that I looked at my staffing portfolio, and about 90% of them weren’t professionals. After analyzing my team and my vision for my company, I realized that if I wanted the business to grow, I needed to invest in hiring professionals— people who would provide value for my money. I hired an agent to help me find professionals.
I invested in building a dream team, paid them well, and treated them well, which has been my secret to building my A-team and much of my business success.
What advice will you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
It isn’t enough to simply start a business. Anyone can start a business, but before you do, it’s important to consider the future of that business and have a vision for it. As an aspiring business owner, you must have a clear vision for your company to stay motivated. If you have a target to reach, you won’t stop until you achieve it unless you are a lazy person. But if you have a vision and the determination to see it through, you won’t give up even in the face of challenges. It’s sad to see people start businesses without a passion for them, but you need that passion to succeed in the long run. Running a business can be difficult and frustrating at times, but if you have a passion for it, you’ll be able to persevere through the tough times.
In addition to having a vision and passion, it’s important to keep innovating to stay in business. Some businesses run out of steam and fall by the wayside because they lack innovation. To ensure your business stays competitive and relevant, you must be innovative and keep updating your strategies and products.