Saturday, 1 June 2013

Blessed are those who work for no salary….

Happy New June everybody! I beg you to ignore the title for a minute and read on.

The other day, someone was speaking and he compared setting up a business venture to building a house. After the speech, I pleaded with him to elaborate and he drew the parallels which I quickly scribbled on a paper. Here it is:

“Brilliant,” you would say, but I was not satisfied; something was missing and I did not know where to squeeze it on his list. The omission is quite controversial, heavens help me; but I must say it. However, you may be able to better swallow it if I introduce it with my friend’s experience- this is no fiction.

Femi had been working in a furniture production company for over a year and he was good at his job. Then, a moneyed lady who wanted to go into the furniture industry came along with a lovely business proposition. She wanted to recruit him as one of the foremen to run her factory and Femi who wasn't expecting such pie to fall from the sky quickly jumped at the opportunity to add some managerial experience to his resume. He however had to give a month notice at his workplace so they both reached an agreement that he would take up the appointment the following month. He went back to work, handed in his resignation letter, helped his employers in recruiting two new replacements and got down to business training them.

The prospects of obtaining higher pay and holding a supervisory position at the new job made the thirty days quickly race by. But nothing could have prepared Femi for the bolt from the blue that struck him when he arrived at his new job. The lady had gone to hire expatriates to run the company because, “They are better managers,” she said and so she had no place for him at her factory. No tone of voice could better express shock and disbelief than the one he used in explaining to her that he had resigned at his former workplace and he had been replaced; but she did not budge. No inflection could convey more passion than the one that poured from his lips when he explained that he had a wife and baby at home to support, but again his plea fell on deaf ears as she asked him if she had signed any job agreements with him.

I leave you to imagine how he must have felt after sending several people who knew the woman to reason with her on his behalf and they all came back with negative reports. He then started combing the business districts of Lagos in search of a job. After three months of fruitless search and being supported financially by the replacements at his last job, after months of waking up and seeing a wife and baby that depended on him, he decided to do the unthinkable. He walked up to an oil-services company and offered to work for free! Yes, you read me right, WORK FOR FREE!           

Femi figured that that option beats sitting at home and waiting endlessly for calls from HR agencies. Scrimping on his scanty resources, which he split between housekeeping and transport fare to his involuntary volunteer work, he spent two years at the company garnering all the experience he could. He made himself so versatile and indispensable to the company that in no time they started paying him a stipend which they gradually increased to a full salary. Soon enough, a vacancy in the petroleum sector opened up and as you might expect, he had all the skills and experience needed to fill the position. In a nutshell, he landed the job, worked on the company’s offshore rig, saved hard like ants storing food in late summer, chucked out after a year and today is at an advanced stage of launching his own business.

I gave you his story not because I am asking you to be an employee, even though this is an unorthodox method that is sure to get you employed, eventually. Rather, I gave you the story so you can see the benefits of working for free, namely garnering much-needed experience. Many get so smitten with their business ideas that they take off, with abandon, down the road of failure and disappointment having no tutorship. We should not fall head over heels in love with a business idea that we lose sight of what’s important: Experience.

It reminds me of those big uncles that used to come and greet my parents. “Brother,” they would say, referring to my dad, “I have decided to go into business once my gratuity is paid.” When dad asks what business, they’d say something like fishery. The announcement made my skin crawl because I knew that the only thing my uncle knows about fish is how to eat it; he couldn't even cook it if his life depended on it. But because he was armed with some information that fishery is a gold mine and he was about to come into some money, he suddenly believed that he is a fish-guru. And you know our culture; where children can only be seen but they must not be heard, so I could not say a word. I could only squeeze a timid sigh and wish my uncle the best.

But on this blog, it’s the opposite: I can’t be seen but I can be heard, so I will scream, ‘Go, get some experience before you start that business. Bros, you want to go into printing and you say you don’t have any experience nor the time to gain it due to the demands of your day job. Spend an hour or two every Saturday under the apprenticeship of a good printer. Pay if you have to, for the experience! Don’t sleep away your fifteen-day annual leave; use it to work for experience, not for pay. Learn the tricks of the trade. Learn not only the techniques of printing but more importantly the business of printing”.

Some people are lucky that they have parents who recognize their talent/skills, like the parents of Fuji, the three year-old photographer, and who help them to develop the technical skills but apprenticing can teach you the business side of your trade or enterprise.

Blessed are you if you heed these words. Blessed are you if you work for no salary. See you next week,same time, same url. God willing.


  1. rightly and truthfully stated, gaining the right experience is a big plus.

  2. Ur calling is something u can do for free. I quit my bank job to volunteer as a human resource personnel, I want an HR firm someday, so instead of wasting my time, I'm gathering all d information and knowledge I need