THE BLOG
08/28/2015 05:40 pm ET Updated Aug 28, 2016

Doing Business in Nigeria: How Technology Is Changing the Way We Operate

Africa is rising and technology is changing the way we do business. We as entrepreneurs have a responsibility to operate at the highest level of professionalism and excellence. The next wave, the new generation of entrepreneurs have a crucial role in ensuring the sustainability of Africa's new narrative and its direction in the competitive global market place. Indeed, African entrepreneurs can show the world and lead the conversation on innovative approaches, standards, and opportunities for business growth. As the next wave, the new generation of African entrepreneurs continue to innovate, create, and compete in the global market, we have a burden to carry - the one of openness, transparency, and respect for the rule of law in business practices and engagements.

I write as a result of my recent experiences and as an expert looking to help companies expand into the African market and vice versa. Not long ago, I was in the middle of a business transaction whereby a client was looking to expand into the Nigerian market. I was able to assist by connecting the client to wholesale distributors on the ground. This experience led me to making certain observations that could possibly help American entrepreneurs as they expand into the African market, specifically into Nigeria. Also, to help entrepreneurs in Nigeria understand that despite certain cultural norms which influences communication, business relationships and partnerships, we have a responsibility to let down some of these barriers so as to be more competitive and productive in the global marketplace.

To date, there remains certain cultural factors that shape the manner in which many Nigerians communicate and some of these elements negatively affects business communication. Hence, patience is required at both ends of the transaction. Finding a local partner may enable one to navigate through the various cultural communicative nuances needed to ensure that negotiations and business transactions are effective and productive. In addition, the increased access to mobile phones, email, social media platforms, internet and various forms of new technologies are solutions to overcoming some of these communication hurdles; these avenues help to facilitate the speed and ease of doing business globally.

While in the middle of this business transaction, I noticed that negotiations were not going as planned. My fellow Nigerians at the other end of the bargaining table responded by doing the following: became unavailable for scheduled phone calls, was unresponsive to emails, missed scheduled appointments, or sometimes showed up about five to six hours late for meetings and expected the deal to continue 'business as usual.' The excuse for the lateness was the 'Lagos traffic congestion.' Although the deal was successful at the end, the lack of effective communication obstructed negotiations.

Increased access to technology has necessitated a certain level of transparency. Early this year, former Chief Executive Officer at the Olusegun Obasanjo Foundation in London was caught on video in a money laundering scheme. This resulted in bad publicity for the organization. Before this level of access to technology and information, many could get away with all sorts of unethical behaviors. Now it's not just a matter of getting caught, but becoming exposed. Technology has forced a shift and in fact, has a hand in policing behavior and encouraging transparency. A growing number of leaders do not want the embarrassment that comes with being caught up in corruption scandals. Access to technology is indeed helping to increase transparency.

Access to technology is also helping with the visibility of African women in the media. For instance, a CNN journalist first read about the story of Bukola Dawodu an entrepreneur who started her business, Benefits Aquarium, when she could not find a job after earning a master's degree from the University of Lagos. After Dawodu's story featured on AWP Network.com - a platform powering small business success for African entrepreneurs through training and support, the exposure enabled Dawodu to be then featured on popular TV program CNN Startup Africa. The increased access and the utilization of various forms of technological tools and platforms will enable the rest of the world to recognize the growing number and the new generation of African women leaders whose voices and presence ought to be acknowledged.

This new level of access will continue to facilitate transparency in the way business is conducted in Nigeria and this is good news for companies looking to expand into the Continent. My advice to companies looking to do business in Nigeria is to find a partner on the ground. Yes, Africa is an emerging Continent and Nigeria in particular is one of the fastest growing economies on the Continent and in the World. Finding a trustworthy and reliable partner on the ground will help immensely. Establish relationships with resource centers such as the AWP Network, the United States Import - Export Assistance Center, Tech hubs, Incubators, or with the United States Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency.

There are economic consequences when technological tools are not utilized in its appropriate manner especially with regards to business transactions. With over 139 million subscribers, Nigeria has Africa's largest mobile market. Efforts are being made to encourage infrastructural-based development. As these efforts continue, communication tools will help to build trust and more importantly, keeping all lines of communication open remains crucial to closing business deals. Indeed more needs to be done. More trainings, dialogues, collaborative commitments and efforts, mentoring, transparency, strategic networking sessions, respect for the rule of law and continued access to various technological tools may help to build trust, break down some of these barriers, and help immensely in supporting the sustainability of businesses on the Continent.

Would you like to share your business expansion story? I want to hear from you. Email: mary [at] awpnetwork.com or reach out on twitter: @Africwomenpower