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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Charting new course for online entrepreneurs

Features of the week:

The need to turn Nigeria into a knowledge-based economy prompted the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) to organise a one-day seminar, to herald its Internet-for-Job (I4J) initiative in Lagos, writes Remmy Nweke.

Introduction:

It was Chief Chris Uwaje who ignited the fully packed hall at the Golden Gate Restaurant, Ikoyi-Lagos, venue of the launching of I4J initiative of the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), with his “Business Prayers on the Internet!”

For Chief Uwaje, the Chief Executive of Connect Technologies, a quick search of the world wide web (www) illustrates how entrepreneurs are bombarded with the possibilities of knowledge economy.

In his literary fashion, Uwaje came up with his poetic stanzas by asking the audience if any one is “Tired of working for someone else? Start your own Internet Business!”

For him, interested people or potential entrepreneurs could strike it rich on the Net in what he described a fail-safe business opportunity.

“Looking for diamond … Find it here on the Net,” he declared, saying that a trial to visit the Internet and one will be changed forever.

For those who want to become millionaires within micro-second on the keyboard, he invited such persons to join him in the moon by clicking and making millions with moon rocks, which is the offer today.

The above messages are just examples of what the emerging entrepreneur may apply to engage exploration of web-based market resources, which have now become a global entrepreneurial opportunity.

Journey of Internet penetration in Nigeria:

With this, the tone for the initiative to stand firm seems to have been set as NIG President, Mr. Lanre Ajayi welcomed participants to the event, recalling that in 1995 when the Internet commercially found its footing in the country, the state of Internet awareness and access were nothing to write home about and unimpressively comparable with other countries of the world.

He also noted that then, the Nigerian government seemed averse to the penetration of the Internet into the country, hence it did nothing to promote it, while some staff of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), were arrested for daring to provide the services to the public.

He pointed out that this took place whilst the rest of the world, were strategizing on how to connect more of their people to the Internet, leaving Nigerians unaware of the great revolution called the Internet.

In order to reverse this trend, he said, a group of concerned Nigerians and corporate organizations came together to form the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), adding that aggressive awareness campaign was embarked upon with conferences and seminars conducted and several meetings held with government officials.

Initial efforts paid off:

The resultant effect of these efforts, he said, was a tremendous improvement on the awareness of the Internet in the country and a measured success in the level of Internet connectivity.

“The success recorded was not too surprising judging from the quality of leadership NIG has enjoyed from inception under the likes our current chairman, Chief Olawale Ige,” who he described as a devoted and highly respected former Communications Minister who has been leading very distinguished and committed members of the Board of Trustees (BoT), which are the supporting pillars for the very dedicated and enthusiastic presidents of NIG since inception, including Chief Johnson Asinugo, Eze Cletus Iromantu, Dr. Emmanaul Nnama, Dr. Ernest Ndukwe, Mr. Jim Ovia and Dr Ekuwem.

“I am indeed honoured to step into the shoes of these reputable Nigerians who have committed their time and other resources to the service of the Nigerian Internet community,” he asserted.

Mr. Ajayi, did not forgot so soon the challenge facing the Internet community in the country as of today, adding that it’s no more that of Internet awareness, since an average Nigerian has heard about the Internet, but is how to apply the Internet as a tool to improve quality of life, particularly as a platform for creating jobs for people. Positively deployed, he said, that the challenge is to reverse the negative use of the Internet as manifested in scam mails syndrome and the “yahoo yahoo boys.”

And in order to address this challenge, he said, NIG has come up with a programme, tagged Internet for Jobs (I4J) Initiative, with this initial seminar focused on “Internet for Jobs: Promoting Internet Entrepreneurship in Nigeria.”

What I4J stands for:

For him, what I4J stands for is to demonstrate the enormous potential of the Internet as a platform for creating jobs, hence NIG intends to achieve this by facilitating a selected number of online businesses and nurturing them to maturity, with the hope that the success stories will spur many more entrepreneurs to start their own online businesses and create job opportunities for Nigerians.

In addition, he said that the goal of I4J is to take participants’ ideas from concept to the market.

“It is our hope that, through I4J a sizeable number of online businesses that will start small but grow big within a short space of time will be established in Nigeria. In not too distant future, we should begin to see Nigerian online companies in the mood of Yahoo, Amazon, Goggle and eBay that will be addressing local problems and even take on the world by providing global services,” he noted.

Modality:

To achieve this empowerment goal, NIG, he said, has come up with some modalities based on call for proposals, review of the proposals, awarding of grants and registration of servicing companies.

As said by him, advertisement would be placed in the media and through flyers calling for interested applicants to submit proposals, which gives details of their intended online businesses.

This would be followed by review of proposals by a panel of distinguished and experienced Nigerians to be constituted soon, to determine which ones are qualified to be admitted into the Internet for Jobs (I4J) Initiative programme.

Following this, he said, would be the awarding of grants to successful applicants, noting that the grants, to be administered by NIG, would not be cash-based but by paying the servicing companies who provide supporting services to the awardees. Such services may include technology support, marketing, financial consultancy, training to name a few.

Strict compliance:

To ensure strict compliance to the cash-less administration of the project directly, Mr. Ajayi said, NIG would identify companies that will be providing support services for the participants. He stressed that selection will be by advertising in the media, while interview shall be conducted and qualified ones chosen.

“Participants shall be required to choose from the registered servicing companies to provide the support required by them. NIG shall disburse payment for services rendered directly to the servicing companies,” he said.

NIG President also disclosed that the group intends to partner with a number of organizations, including multi-lateral agencies, government agencies, private organizations and individuals to achieve the objectives of I4J Initiative.

He pointed out that these partners would be expected to contribute not only money that will be used as grants for the participants, but also useful suggestions to the participants as may be required to encourage patronage of their services which may not necessarily be perfect at the initial stage.

Partners:

“Classes of partnership would comprise Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze and shall be created to designate the level of support given to the Initiative,” he said, just as the partners will be encouraged to proudly display their I4J partnership status on their letter headed papers, adverts, complimentary cards and so on, as a demonstration of their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in general and I4J in particular.

While applauding the invitees for honouring the group with their presence, NIG singled out the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for giving adequate support for the realization of the vision.

“When the need arose to create Internet awareness, NCC led by its pioneer Executive Vice Chairman (EVC), Eze Iromantu, was there to join forces with NIG. Now that the need also arose to create awareness on the opportunity available on the Internet for job creation, the NCC, led by the incumbent EVC, Dr. Ndukwe, has also demonstrated commitment to the I4J initiative.

NIG, Mr. Ajayi said would work closely with NCC, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), Computer Registration Professional Council of Nigeria (CPN), other government agencies, multilateral agencies, corporate bodies and individuals to achieve the goals of I4J.

“It is our sincere hope that when the success story of I4J is being told we shall all be proud to have played some roles in it,” he urged, adding that so much have been said on the need to turn Nigeria into a knowledge economy, even as NIG is about to walk the talk and invited well meaning Nigerians to join hands with the group.

Promoting Internet-based businesses:

Speaking at the event on ‘Promoting Internet-based businesses in Nigeria,’ Dr. Ndukwe of NCC, recognised the power of the Internet, noting that for anyone to be indifferent to technology and the changes imposed on today’s business markets could be suicidal whether private or public business concern.

The Internet, he said, is empowering users and creating new business models and to harness this power, has become imperative, declaring “Today the Internet represents an exciting new frontier. A frontier that is abundant with opportunity. More communications now take place via the Internet than over the telephone or other media.”

He noted that the evolution and power of the Internet have always been a spectacle for him, and pointed out that between the year 2002 and 2003, it was reported that the American online delivered about 50 per cent messages in one day than the United States (U.S.) Postal Office.

He also observed that about 85 per cent of the small and medium size industry used the Internet and about 65 per cent of small businesses in the U.S., for instance, have their own websites.

“This number has continuously increased as of today,” he said, emphasising that e-business transactions, are expected to grow to over 1.5 trillion dollars before end of this year, 2007, while the small businesses that extensively use the Internet are expected to grow much faster than those that do not use Internet.

Technology drives economies:

He observed sadly that while the number of people using the Internet in the G8 countries continued to grow, in many African countries, such as Nigeria the story is not the same. “Truly, technology is driving economies, but not everyone is benefiting from it,” he declared.

However, the penetration of mobile communication technologies supported by the pre-paid system has been the driving force behind the success of these communication technologies.

“Today, about 3 billion people in the world now have access to mobile communication. This number, is however, very small when compared to those that have access to the Internet,” he asserted, noting that there is a wide gap between those who have information through the Internet and those who do not have.

“People, businesses and communities that do not have ready access to Internet are being left behind in the scheme of things,” he said, adding that the implication of this to mankind is a continuous effort to meet up. “With the Internet, people could actually access any form of information in the whole wide world,” he maintained.

According to him, a new world order has emerged through the deployment of fixed and mobile wireless systems offer key advantages in making Internet services universally available because of the speed of deployment.

“It is now glaring that the new world order is dominated by ICT. Only those countries, which implement the required communications infrastructure, will continue to define culture and information transfer as well as dominate political and societal views on issues and events,” he said.

Legitimate wealth making abound on Internet:

Also speaking, Managing Director, RaisingWealth Incorported, Mrs. Olakitan Wellington, pointed out that lots of legitimate ways of making money abound on the Internet, stressing that it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that there is huge potential to make money on the Internet. However, very few people succeed in realizing what needs to be done to make it happen.

“Everyday there are countless numbers of intelligent people that come to the Internet looking for ways to make their dreams of financial freedom come true. But it does take much more than intelligence to succeed in this business. It takes tactics, it takes strategies, it takes hard work to succeed in Internet business,” she said.

Mrs. Wellington added that lots of these people who come to the internet to ‘seek their own green pastures’ do not see the internet as a business that will make them money, but see it as an opportunity to make money, hence, they are called ‘opportunity seekers’.

Opportunity seekers:

She defined opportunity seeker as somebody who is looking for ways to make money online, without any work or effort, believing that there is some “magic formula” that will solve all of their problems and make them a ton of cash.

She emphasised that this has been the main reason some people are easily scammed by those who offer to invest their money for them and give them 1000 per cent profit within 30 days, without them having to do anything other than go and deposit their money in a certain bank account.

Strategic Marketing:

While dwelling on “Strategic Marketing: A success factor for eBusiness,” she said that marketing means to make a communication about a product or service in order to encourage recipients to purchase or use the product or service. And for strategy, she defined it as simply a ‘tactics’.

Strategic Marketing, therefore, she said, is a marketing system that has been tactically planned so as to achieve specific results, for example, to determine how the product could compete favourably in the market place.

In order to make good money on the internet, she said, promoter of such business need to handle it as a serious business, “the way you would handle your business offline.” He pointed out that one of the most important, if not the most important tasks required to undertake the business, is good marketing because marketing is one of the most important functions of business.

“No business survives without good marketing and no marketing succeeds without it being properly planned ahead; Internet business more so. After creating your good quality product or service, you need to bring it to the awareness of the people who need and are searching for such product or service. No matter how good a product or service is, if nobody knows where it is, it will not sell,” she said.

Conclusion:

Whereas advising those who have ideas to simply put same into practice and not bother about the kind of initial results, Chief Uwaje, who discussed “Internet: The factory in our heads – Challenges and opportunities for the entrepreneur,” added that the Internet would help nations build the knowledge bank and create wealth locally.

But suffice this to say that Internet is clearly the ultimate future for trade and commerce. “It has become the centre of gravity and common currency of modern business. Internet entrepreneurs should learn from the traditional lessons about starting a business,” he declared.

Uwaje further advocated that either offline-based or Internet-based, a successful entrepreneurial venture must be founded on a strong idea for a product or service and must be implemented by an entrepreneur with a solid understanding of the product or service, the customer, marketing principles and elements of financing.

Furthermore, Internet entrepreneurs, he said, must go beyond these traditional lessons to understand how the Internet changes business, particularly, the changed relationship between the business owner and the customer; the geography of the Internet, the importance of the location of one’s website, and finally, the challenge of attracting and cultivating return customers to the website.

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