With a third class degree in Biochemistry, he wasn’t bothered one bit . After all, he knew he wasn’t going to work with it, given his achievements as an undergraduate. His passion and determination to succeed brought him to where he is today.
Victor Basola is the CEO of Aaron and Hur Publishing, Lagos; publishers of creative and inspirational books whose clientele include authors, political leaders, clergymen and writers. At present, Aaron and Hur publishes soft and hard copy books and is gradually looking also to help market them. In this interview with Oge Okafor, Victor reveals how he started his publishing business as well as his staying power.
How did you start the business?
It started in 2012 while I was at All Nations for Christ Bible School in Benin City. The vice principal, who holds a PhD in Theology (he wasn’t a small fry) was trying to write a book but just could not put the manuscript together. I knew I could write but nobody had given me the opportunity to work on his or her book. So, I approached him that I could do his book for him free. He picked interest since it was free and gave me some heavy books for research and pieces of manuscripts. In less than three weeks, I was able to edit, proofread, typeset and rearrange the manuscript and returned to him a ready to print manuscript. His was my very first book and titled The glory of an earthen vessel by Rev Ezesinachi. After the first one, I did a second for another person, a bishop, titled God that answers my question in 2012 as well. This was also done free of charge, because I just needed to prove to the world that I could do this thing.
Subsequently, I discovered that if people of such calibre could allow me work on their books, it means it’s a sellable ability. So, I had to repackage myself and after that, a bishop called me in 2013. Citing the previous ones I had done, he asked me if I could do same for him and asked how much it would cost him. My response was in the affirmative and I charged him N100, 000. He said I should do three for him. I didn’t believe that he would agree to pay that amount which was like a million naira to me. He paid, I did the job and after then, I knew I needed to rent an office, get a secretary, structure and package myself. It has not been easy from 2012 till now but it has been worth it and exciting.
From your experience would you say publishing is profitable?
It’s very profitable. You could be asked to publish a book and the profit from the book is N200 per copy, then they could ask you for 200,000 copies. Lagos prints per minute; people print every day, every second. Printing business is the best business you can go into without even knowing how to print. There are big printers that don’t know how to print; they use people like us and share the profit with us. Publishing is profitable if you know how to market and package yourself.
How did you get your startup capital?
You don’t need startup capital; it’s the customer’s money that you will use and that’s why I said it’s the sweetest business. The only startup capital you need is yourself and your integrity. When you are given money to publish a book, do so. By the time you disappoint the first three persons, people talk and one dissatisfied customer will tell 10 other people and when they are telling them, they will say what you did not do. The capital you need is your integrity and confidence.
At the time you were starting the business, what were your initial challenges?
Acceptance; especially when you don’t have samples of previous jobs you have done. For instance, when a client comes for confirmation, he’s given samples but when I started I had no samples; the only sample I had was my mouth. There was no evidence I could do it. Now you can see there are evidence but when I started, it was not like that. The story is different, because I have been able to build a track record of trust, integrity and excellence. You can see the quality of our jobs. We didn’t get here overnight. I have been locked up in the cell twice by clients for making mistakes. In printing, you can make a mistake that can condemn the entire job. So, I advise you learn everything you need to learn before taking customer’s job, because you can make a mistake and a customer will say “…. that is not what I paid for, refund my money immediately”. Where do you want to start?
Also, I had no office, website and corporate packaging; so people priced me cheaply. At this stage, they may use you until you get frustrated. But one thing about being used is that until you are used you can’t be useful. So, the more they use you, the more you get better until you get to a point where they can no longer use you for free. They will now pay for all the free jobs. Besides, I also needed funds. In printing, if you don’t know how to do your quotation and calculation, get ready for police case. There was a customer who sent policemen by flight to arrest me.
So, what did you do?
When a customer pays you, don’t start spending that money immediately. Calculate how much the job would cost and keep in a separate account. Whatever little profit remains is what you are permitted to play around with. Then when the customer pays the balance that is when you can say that you have made a profit. If you assume that let me use N100, 000 first then before we finish the job another job will come in, what if another job doesn’t come in and the customer starts rushing you? Those are teething problems you’ll face. But if you understudy somebody that has suffered these problems, you can surmount them.
What’s your advise to young graduates?
I graduated in 2007/2008 at 21. When you come out, work with an established firm and not really for the salary. Get the knowledge especially with a firm that is in line with your dreams. Don’t just pick a job because you are broke. Pick a job that is in line with what you really want to do in life so that by the time you are leaving, you will have storage of knowledge and experience that nobody can take away from you. And you can replicate and even do better than what your former boss used to do. Not everybody would be a bankers .Few banker that left banking have started their own banks. So, pick a job in line with what you really want to become so that you would have learnt plenty from your mistakes. Initially, when a customer paid me, I used part of the money to do one or two things thinking that before we finished the job the money will come but the money didn’t come. There were delays here and there and to make matters worse, I had some health challenges which further gulped the customer’s fund and the man said “I can’t take it anymore” and arrested me. When he arrested me, I sent text messages around and was able to raise money and we did the job. The man is still a customer till today, we are now friends but I learnt my lessons. I can’t make that stupid mistake again. When a customer pays 80 percent upfront, we make sure we finish the job.
In fact, in that 80 percent, my profit is guaranteed, the remaining 20 percent is extra. Whether it’s paid or not, glory be to God. In the 80 percent, we have gotten our profit and covered our cost. So, you must know how to quote profitably. You must not be afraid when you are quoting. Don’t listen when customers say, “…We are not going to sell the book. This book is for God”. They are going to sell it, they printed it for money, so collect your money.
At what point did you break even and how did it happen?
That was in 2015. Initially, I did not know how to print; I was collecting jobs and giving to a printer. If I collect a job for N800, 000, the printer charges N700, 000 to do the job, my profit is N100, 000. It’s from the profit that I satiate the stress of delivering the job to the client, make calls, send mail and make corrections. So, I was just working for people until 2015, I made up my mind that I must learn, then I went to Shomolu. The first job I got, I bypassed the middleman but I made mistakes in the customer’s job and was arrested but we were able to settle it. In the second job, I made another mistake and lost N90, 000. Then on the third job I tried, it worked and continued in the fourth up to the tenth job. Now, I can comfortably make a decent profit from one job. No more middlemen swallowing the money. That’s why I said learn the secret of your business. If you learn it, you will be able to block loopholes through which you are losing money. In 2015, my break came through knowledge. Knowledge is what you know that gives you an edge over others. The breakthrough came when I decided to understudy my superiors. Before then, I was apprehensive and was just comfortable managing with the middleman. But in 2015, I said enough was enough and that’s when the breakthrough came. We have done a job from which we made close to N500, 000. That amount can solve many problems. Before I used to owe my staff up to three months or more but now, we are able to pay on the last day of the month. Why? Because we can now make decent profit.
What are the major challenges in the industry?
First is that Nigerians don’t like reading Nigerian authors. The disadvantage of that is that many foreign books don’t have local content/context. By the time you pick the theory of the foreign author mind you the business and working environment over there is different from ours. The government policies that favour small businesses are different from those here. If an author in an ideal environment writes a book on entrepreneurship and exports the information to Nigeria, if you swallow the information hook, line and sinker, it cannot work but a Nigerian author who has gone through the ropes, whatever he tells you, will work for you faster than somebody that wrote in an ideal environment.
How can Nigerian government say that they have SMEs- friendly policies whereas they have to get ordinary TIN (Tax Identification Number), which they say is free, they ask for outrageous requirement? Many micro businesses do not have corporate account. Why? They are tired of the many requirements they are asked to bring.
I went to a bank to open a corporate account and they said that they have an SME-friendly account. What is an SME- friendly account? They will be deducting N10, 000 fee every month from the account irrespective of whatever millions I have in the account. The policies are not friendly. Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) should make registering a company easier. We should go on line and register; we don’t need to see anybody. They should create a website where people can go online and register their businesses. If you want to check a web address whether it’s available, you go to a domain name search engine, type in the name and they tell you whether it is or not. In Nigeria, you’ll do name search for business for two weeks, and you still oil somebody’s hands, you will still give recharge cards for it to come out and they say they are SMEs- friendly. It’s a lie and a scam. If they are really SMEs-friendly, they will make things easy. You will not be coming everyday to collect LAWMA bill or whatever bill.
How can someone new in this business make it?
Learn everything that you need to learn. To set up a publishing firm, you need a strong heart and ability to convince. You can partner with somebody, use somebody’s address. Many of my clients don’t know this place.
Attach with a major printer. Let the person know the truth- that you want to learn. If the person is open enough, they may charge you a fee. Knowledge is expensive but ignorance is more expensive than knowledge. Learn, grow and package yourself.
If you don’t package yourself, you will be attracting cheap jobs. Proper packaging prevents poor pricing. It’s packaging that separates plantain chips from Ipekere. You don’t package yourself based on where you are now, you package yourself according to where you are going.
In what way can government support the publishing industry?
They should make registering companies easier. Corporate Affairs Commission should make it easy through online platform so that we don’t need to see anybody. We should pay with our ATM card and download our certificates. Government should reduce the bureaucracy and make it easy, because they have these funds. Do you know how much government generates from selling per barrel every day? The Bank of Industry should make funds more accessible to people that need the money.