Bolaji Isikalu is a media entrepreneur, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) consultant, creative artist, entrepreneur and upwardly mobile professional. He attended Lagos State Polytechnic where he bagged Higher National Diploma (HND) in Accountancy and also bagged Bachelor of Science (B.sc.) in Public Administration from the prestigious University of Lagos (UNILAG).
He is the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer (MD/CEO) of LIB Global Media Ltd, a multi-media outfit and public relations standard focused press. His foray into publishing has translated to seasonal publications for higher institutions in Lagos State. These publications have enhanced the quality of student life on various campuses across the state, and have also deepened the academic culture in these institutions.
In this interview with Kunle Adelabu, the Reporter – In – Chief/Publisher, THE IMPACT, the young entrepreneur bares his mind on the impact of the lockdown to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus on his business and others who are into small scale businesses, what businesses should be doing to get back, the kind of interventions the government should provide to help business owners get back on their feet after the lockdown among others. Excerpts:
THE IMPACT: How have you been coping for about two months that businesses have been ordered to closedown as part of the measures to curtail the spread of Coronavirus which has been ravaging the country and the global village as a whole?
Isikalu: Coping with the lockdown has not been very easy. It has been changing the faces of businesses all over the world. As an entrepreneur, the lockdown period afforded one to sit down and strategise and look at the emerging issues and possibility of bouncing back as soon as the lockdown is over.
THE IMPACT: Kindly tell us the effects of the lockdown on your businesses since you have been unable to open office. In addition, machines are locked up without been able to operate them?
Isikalu: The challenges and effects are very enormous. First of all, there is no sale and since the economy has been opened partially, there is drop in sales. In our own kind of business, we expect people to come in to do one business or the other or render service, but unfortunately, businesses are closed. Our major customers are schools, churches and other organisations.
THE IMPACT: Describing the effects of the lockdown in term of figure, how much would you say that you have lost so far since the lockdown came into force?
Isikalu: We have not been opening in compliance with the government directive but what we have been doing is skeletal operations since the lockdown has been relaxed and there has been serious drop in sales. When the lockdown was fully in force, there was virtually no operation. We have actually lost greatly due to the pandemic. Can I actually quantify? Because in our own kind of business, we do procurement and render many services daily. The loss is quite much and this affected us greatly. It’s something that we cannot put quantify. We are still going to pay bills for things like electricity that we did not consume, rent as well as servicing some of our equipment to put them in order.
THE IMPACT: As a businessman, you always access loans to boost your business, but you have been unable to operate in the last two months, how have you been able to cope with servicing of such loan?
Isikalu: Regarding loan, fortunately, some of the financial institutions have given grace for businesses to recover because, once there is no operation, there is no way you can service these loans.
THE IMPACT: Now that government is gradually easing the lockdown, what do you think government can do to help small scale businesses to get back on their feet?
Isikalu: Unfortunately, I don’t think that the government is ready to do anything. Personally, I believe that this is a period for business owners to look inward and restrategise and reposition their businesses. I believe that the lockdown afforded businessmen the opportunity to do their feasibility study. One needs to look at how to cut cost in running business and there is also need to be fully compliant with Information Technology. The likes of Uber business owners do not own cars but thy are controlling the transportation industry. I believe that this is the best time for businesses to restrategise and look at ways to move forward.
What the government can do is to provide palliatives; kind of bailout for businesses. Their duty is to provide facilities, loans and an enabling environment for businesses to thrive as soon as this is over. The conditions for this facilities should not be too stringent since businesses are just coming out of serious challenges. Such facility should be made available for everyone.
THE IMPACT: How long do you think it will take businesses like yours to come back fully into business?
Isikalu: What we are doing in our business is to look inward. We have been able to minimise our cost of operation by upgrading our facilities and equipment to ensure that we reduce our running cost like fuel consumption. Recently, we procured some equipment to ensure that the cost that we are incurring in running on fuel is reduced.
THE IMPACT: What would be your advice to others that are engaging in small scale businesses on to be done to get back fully on their feet after the pandemic?
Isikalu: Small scale business owners should be able to diversify. Lots of people were caught unaware by the pandemic. For instance, what would we say about a business owner operating an event centre who can no longer rent out his facility? What will you say about school that pays millions of naira on rent but cannot operate due to the lockdown? The bottom line is for businesses to diversify. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to one or two sources of income. We need to look at the world beyond what we are doing presently. We have to start looking at other things to improve our income.
Some businesses need to be technologically driven because that is the only way to take such businesses into the future. Lots of eateries are now doing office and home delivery unlike before that they expected people to come into their restaurant to eat. If they don’t do that, they will be kicked out of business. More so, the government policy that eatery should not accommodate sit-in services, only those with additional services/capacity outside their restaurants will dominate. Businesses have to be compliant. You need to develop an app for people to be able to order for your goods and services online. With this COVID – 19 experience, we don’t need face – to – face business interactions.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has caused difficulties for lots of businesses and as the economy slowly reopens across the country, old ways of doing things clearly won’t work for most business operations. But will definitely be emergence of new business potential as major economic disruptions may provide opportunities for entrepreneurs who can reject the status quo and think outside the box.Over the short run, businesses that pivot in a timely manner may be able to stay afloat until things decisively turn around for the better. Businesses must leverage on ICT and understand the trend of their industry to be able to cut cost and eliminate wastages. In other to boost sales business owners must diversify and adapt to new demands of the industry. The covid-19 pandemic has showcased key interests and industries whose product will always be in demand.
THE IMPACT: Thank you for yur time.
Isikalu: You welcome.