I was in a mentor’s office, earlier this week, and while describing her tight work schedule she pulled out a book she’d been working on for some time. She dropped it before me and asked, “It’s OK, right?” I replied (or should I say, lied) in the affirmative because I knew all the pains she put into writing the book. But being intuitive creatures that they are, this woman saw a slight grimace as it flashed across my face and knew that I had lied. She sighed, looked at another book on her desk that was printed in India and said, “My next book will not be printed in this country”.
Honestly, I don’t blame her; although her book served the function of displaying her work in a readable format, when it came to the finishing strokes like illustrations, paper quality, bookbinding or cover page design which are needed to add class to a book, something was just amiss. Many people might dismiss these as nothing but mere aesthetics, but when you are packaging anything for human beings you need to appeal to one or more of their five senses. Her publisher’s work just didn't cut it; it failed to stimulate any sensory centers which could attract buyers to her book when she was not there to tell them how instructive her book was.
This brings us to the question, “What level of standard do you hold yourself and your business to?” I am not only referring to such standards as the ISO standards or the British Standards, I am talking about those tiny little things that are often taken for granted but when put in place their effects are undeniable. These little things are the posters that announce your business several yards off, without you having to say a word. Recently, I was talking to a man in the State Government Procurement Office; he pointed out so many houses around us and said to me that if he were to publish bids for builders, many local companies could never win them because merely looking at the buildings that many of them construct, you would wonder if they knew what the use of the mason’s level is. He said that if he could not trust the perpendicular of a builder, then he could never trust his project cost estimates, completion dates or quality of building materials. It reminds me of a friend who called his metalworker and asked him to remove all the burglar-proof bars he had fixed in his house, then fired him on the spot and commissioned someone else to make new ones for him. When I asked why, he told me that he was not about to cut his fingers while house-cleaning because a careless metalworker would not grind the edges of his burglar-proof bars.
A few months back, I was watching a programme on CNN; it was a documentary on Nollywood. After singing praises of the industry and interviewing a number of filmmakers, actors and actresses, the narrator lamented the lack of acceptance that Nollywood movies suffered outside the African continent. But one statement he made is still etched in my memory to this day; the narrator was on location as a movie was being shot and then he said, “The director and his cast have been shooting this scene for a while but it has not occurred to any of them to check the sun’s position in the sky"! Unbelievable, right? The Oscars have a category for Best Picture and it takes into account all those tiny things that our directors are either unaware of or don’t care about; but either way it banishes their movie sales to only a few African countries.
You see, we cannot keep begging Nigerians to buy Nigerian or Ghanaians to buy made in Ghana products when our entrepreneurs and businessmen are making below par products and rendering substandard services. The least that an entrepreneur should be gunning for is what obtains in the international market or even better because customers don’t part with their hard-earned cash in the name of patriotism, they do in the name of quality products and services. Many will argue that our indigenous entrepreneurs don’t have the funds to compete globally but what does it cost to look up and see the angle of the sun’s inclination? What does it cost to buy a plumb or level? Or does the cost factor of a grinding machine outweigh the safety of the product users?
Striving for excellence starts with such subtle things that when put together form a reputable business brand. We must therefore invest in them, train our eyes to pick them and get feedback from consumers to improve them. A master of ceremony who plies his trade in English language should buy and read a dictionary every so often; the other who MCs in his local dialect should walk closely with elders to learn proverbs and other usages of the language. A pharmacist packaging his drugs in plastic bottles may want to consider printing his labels on the bottle and if that is too expensive he could use beautifully designed stickers and not glue them on with starch! A trader can invest in standard shopping bags bearing his business name and address and stop using this nameless black-and-white nylons bags we see everywhere.
Up your game and you will build a trade name.