7 red flags to look for in people you’re doing business with in Africa


7 red flags to look for in people you’re doing business with in Africa

"The harder you work, the luckier you get." — Mike Adenuga (Third richest person in Africa)

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I’ve been building a business in Nigeria for a year and feel like I’m already an expert on this topic. Meanwhile, I know deep down that this is just the beginning and there will probably be a part 2, 3 and 4 like a Nollywood film as I continue to learn and experience more. I tell people if you can do business in Lagos, you can do business anywhere because if you’re not careful, these people will make you walk on fire before you get what you want. So I’m writing on this topic today to save some people the pain and agony and advise you on how to deal with these sharks when you encounter them. Here are some red flags to look for in people that you encounter on your business journey in Africa.

1. All Talk No Action

There are many great orators around that will promise you heaven and earth – don’t believe them. They may appear knowledgeable about their services, speak and present with confidence, and tell you that “X is not an issue”, “We will make sure that we do X”. However, when it’s time to do the work – tumbleweed. I don’t know how these people look at themselves in the mirror every day, but we move.

My advice:

  • Do your due diligence on the person
  • Check to see if they have actually done what they are offering for someone else
  • Speak to someone that has worked with them before to check that they had a pleasurable experience working with that person.
  • Don’t believe a word anyone tells you

2. Extremely Money Hungry

You are going to meet people that will offer to invest in your business or want to work with you. Be very careful. Once you give away equity in your business, it’s a marriage and we know how messy divorces can be. Don’t let your lack of funds or desperation for funding lead you into the wrong hands. Many investors may not fully understand your business terrain and can pressure you to run your operations in a way that’s not favourable for the company. They may also try to strong-arm you into nepotism and give their incompetent nephew a job. If you hire people that are like this and you don’t train them to be entrepreneurial within your business, they may steal your intellectual property and inventory. They can run your business into the ground if you don’t catch them in time. 

My advice:

  • Spend time with people you want to do business within a personal setting
  • Psychoanalyse the individual and ask them questions to deduce their views on your business and money in general
  • Put systems in place in your company that will discourage fraud and embezzlement

3. Not paying staff on time

If you are contracting a company to do work for you and the staff at that company are being mistreated, underpaid or overworked, then trouble may soon be on the horizon. If a company is having liquidity issues it puts stress on managers and employees and this will ultimately trickle down to the work. Before you know it, the staff are leaving and your project will be delayed as they try to find replacements. However, if they are strapped for cash they can’t afford to find a worthy replacement, so you will be in trouble for a while.

My advice:

  • Make sure that your lawyer has fore-sight and puts conditions in place to allow easy termination of the contract in these situations
  • Always apply pressure on the firm if they start slipping behind on deadlines and deliverables
  • Don’t operate with any company virtually. Always know where their office is and be ready to pull up at any time to apply pressure
  • Spend personal time with the owner of the business and get them comfortable. They will share information that can give insight into the financial health of the company

4. Missing Deadlines

If you are working with a company or individual and they start missing deadlines, then you need to be on it like a dog on heat. Figure out what is going on and don’t waste time on addressing the issue. Africans know how to package very well; meanwhile, everything is in disarray behind the scenes. The worst part is when they promise to pay money on a specific date, but then you will have to chase for your money for months. 

My advice:

  • If you provide the service, ensure you collect some ‘Project Kick Off’ money. Otherwise, your temper and blood pressure are really going to be pushed to extremes when it’s time to get your client to pay up.
  • If you need to take your matter to higher-ups such as board members, company directors etc. then do it. Some people only respect and do what’s right when their superiors have told them what to do.
  • Have integrity in your business dealings, as it’s always easier to kick up a fuss when no one has any dirt on you.

5. No Track Record

If a company is new and just beginning services then leave the chance and charity work to someone else. 

My advice:

  • Check that the company is registered and active
  • Research the company’s lawyers to see how reputable they are
  • Stick to working with people that have been recommended by locals that you trust
  • Remember that just because it worked out in the end for someone, it does not mean that the journey was smooth or is recommended for you. So, you need to get clearance from a local before working with a company

6. Signs of Mental Health Issues

Now, time for my typical controversial points. I believe – in fact – I know that there are millions of Africans roaming this continent with undiagnosed mental illnesses, and they are causing havoc and destruction in their families, companies and broader society without treatment. I’m very well versed in the topic of mental illness. You can check out my old blog that I had during university, where I used to dive into mental illness and personality disorders. Well, I once worked with a guy that had a Cluster C personality disorder. He was so smart and intelligent but then would self-medicate on Tramadol and become incoherent and disruptive in meetings. This became considerably embarrassing when he would come to external meetings, and one day I had to cut a meeting short and walk out. He would also become highly confrontational and combative on the company group chat as he was paranoid that his mental illness was a topic of discussion. It wasn’t – I was actually sympathetic and was trying to help him with other means of how to get there. However, he was also someone that spoke a lot about stealing code from people, running away from creditors and a whole load of red flags that it finally became clear that it would be a severe liability to keep him on the project.

My advice:

  • Familiarise yourself with personalities. Everyone in my life knows how obsessed I am with this topic. I’ve made every single person do the Myer-Briggs personality test
  • Familiarise yourself with personality disorders. Narcissism gets thrown around anyhow, but if you happen to actually be doing business with someone with Narcissitic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder/Psychopathy, then you could be in trouble.
  • For people that tend to have a soft spot for people in this domain, remember that your business is not a treatment centre, and you shouldn’t feel bad when it’s time to cut the cord on someone that has become incredibly toxic and disruptive to the firm.

7. Making sexual advances

Lagos men are dogs. I don’t care who I offend – I said what I said. It’s like an unwritten rule that they must first make advances at you before they hear anything related to your business. They will use their filthy mouths to be flirting, married or not, old or young. This has happened to me in 90% of my business dealings, whereas I’ve only had it happen twice in the UK. There is no place for sexual harassment there, but Nigeria (I can’t speak for other African countries) is 2000 years behind. I had a stupid fool try to touch me in a business meeting, and when I snapped, he had the audacity to say, “You know it’s where you’re from. Things are different over here in Nigeria”. Men also experience this very often as well. Women will harass them and proposition themselves for deals. This is why so many men are comfortable enough to make advances, as many women give in or initiate it themselves.

My advice:

  • Shut it down as soon as possible. Being friendly will come back to bite you, trust me.
  • If you shut it down and they stop, then you can still consider doing business with them as they may actually be a good person to work with
  • If they don’t respect your boundaries, just block and delete them and move on. 
  • Don’t mix business with pleasure. If you are the boss, a case can be made against you later for exploitation of power. If you are the client/subordinate, you leave your business and career open to manipulation when your relationship with the person goes sour.
  • If you are going to mix business with pleasure, then try to agree with the person beforehand that should anything go south, you both promise not to scatter the agreement. Good Luck!

All in all, business is like playing chess. Defend your entity and attack competitors and internal and external threats when necessary. Always make sure the power dynamic shifts back to you, and always be on the lookout for contract breaches in your dealings with others. Then, when you smell trouble – act! If not, all your hard work will turn to ashes in a flash, and no one will give a damn. Listen to your gut.