Bashir Ibrahim is an entrepreneur who started his business when he was barely 14. At university, he had to juggle studies and business just so he could finance the former. At a time, he contemplated quitting the business when he went a full year without recording any success, but later it started flourishing and Bashir is now earning handsomely. He shares his experience in this interview with Rilwan Muhammad.
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Can you tell us about yourself?
My name is Bashir Ibrahim. I’m based in Zaria, Kaduna state. I’m into art and printing. That’s what I do for a living.
What schools did you attend?
I attended Haske Primary School, Zaria, and later moved to Topspring School, Zaria for my secondary school. After my SSCE and UTME, I secured admission into Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria to study industrial design.
You studied industrial design and are now into artwork and printing. Was that the career you had wanted to pursue while growing up?
When I was young, I just wanted to become an entrepreneur and I started working towards actualizing my dream right when I was in secondary school. Of course, I was into different menial jobs, trying to see which one could thrive and make me independent of anybody. As time went by, I realized my passion was in creative artworks and printing, so I gave my full attention to it, and I was 14 as of that time.
But as I told you, before that, I was into some other jobs – or at least I was learning some other jobs. At the time, I was at my brother’s workshop to learn mechanical work. I spent some time there before later deciding that it wasn’t for me. I felt I wouldn’t make good money out of it so I began to do some little artwork – drawing, calligraphy, painting and others. I told my mother that I didn’t like the work my brother was into, that I knew my flair was in my hand; in writing, drawing, calligraphy and artworks in general. I asked that she take me to an art shop to learn basic skills. I went to an art school, started training there and gave my full attention to it.
After acquiring the skills, when did you start the business on your own?
After I learned the work, I did graduation—freedom, as it is called—and was issued my certificate. From there, I got a shop and started the business on a very small scale. I didn’t have enough working tools then, and that was the major challenge I faced after setting up the business. I considered it a big challenge because in this business, once you don’t have machines, you hardly can make it. I gained freedom before finishing my undergraduate studies because I was determined to acquire the skills and be on my own once I finished school so that I wouldn’t go through the rigor of applying for white-collar jobs that were not forthcoming.
You mentioned that you started the business when you were just 14; what influence did that have on your choice of industrial design as a course?
After acquiring skills in artwork and printing, I decided I needed to pursue a course that would further add to my understanding and knowledge of what I was doing. Since I had skills and practical knowledge of the art, I understood going for industrial design, I’d get theoretical aspects of the art. When I started, I got to see that the course itself had three aspects – the industrial design, ceramics, glass, textile and design. I took courses in all of these and in my final year, I specialized in glass – the knowledge of which I apply in most of my works now. In my work, I put both the industrial design and glass knowledge to it, because one needs both to be good at the craft. For example, in making lapel, students’ tag, glass award, and others; I put the glass knowledge in designing them.
You had, even before starting your undergraduate studies, the practical knowledge of the art; how relevant did you find that when you began taking classes in industrial design?
I understood it was one thing to have the practical knowledge and then another to have the theoretical. When I started, I didn’t find it quite easy learning mathematics and physics. And it wasn’t like I didn’t have rudimentary knowledge in those courses; it was just that I found them somewhat challenging at the university. But for the practical courses, I found myself excelling in all of them. For example, there’s a course we took – engineering drawing – which I passed because I had experience and skills in drawing back in secondary school. By and large, Alhamdulillah, we managed to pass the other courses too.
Why artwork and printing, of all businesses?
In everything, you have to look at people that are ahead of you or who started that which you want to start long before you nursed the idea of starting. Looking at the successes those in the business recorded, I felt convinced that it was a paying one, and that if I ventured into it, I could make some reasonable amount of money. Of course, there were challenges when I started – of inadequate money to buy machines, etc – I felt with determination and commitment, I could get there. I’m content with the level of the progress I made now.
Years into the business; how can you assess its solvency position?
From 2016 when I put more effort into the business, I made quite reasonable money because I got contracts from different people, schools and other individuals. I presented my business to schools such as Ahmadu Bello University, Aminu Dabo College of Health Sciences Kano, etc. I did business with them; printed books, graduation shirts, souvenirs, lapels, students’ tags, compliment cards, etc. I met with the provost of the School of Hygiene, Kano and presented my business to him and I got some contracts too. Alhamdulillah we have gone far, recorded successes and we are now well known. The business is solvent, and we are putting more effort into expanding – to have more machines and make necessary arrangements for expansion.
Can you recall the amount of money you started the business with?
The initial capital I started the business with was N50,000, and that was in 2018 when I was trying to open my workshop. Before that time, I was working at someone’s workshop. With the money, I got my own workshop and continued the business.
What were some of the challenges you had to face starting the business?
The one challenge was in getting machines for the business such as the pressing machine. I struggled to get it and Alhamdulillah I was able to save money to buy it. The thing with this business is that if you don’t have the needed machines, you won’t be able to offer good services and that means not having customers.
What was the first profit you realized?
After buying the presser, I got a contract to customize shirts for some students – about 200 of them – and I got almost N200,000 as profit.
What was the earliest experience like when you started on your own?
When I started the business, I went through a lot of difficulties. I recall the time I would spend the whole day at the shop without receiving any customers – just me and my chair at the office. From there, I sat down and asked: how can I get customers? How can I grow the business? How can I make money out of the business? Hit by an idea which I found compelling, I started customizing shirts just as samples to show people. I went to different schools, met student leaders, introduced my business to them and gave them samples of my work lest they would need my service. It was then that I started getting customers. But that was not until after more than a year. Alhamdulillah we are known now and people believe in our work.
A year after take-off and the business did not make any headway. How did it feel? Did you contemplate quitting the business?
I did, just as every human being would. Going a year without anything good coming from the business, one must think of quitting. But I didn’t. I prayed to God that if the business was the best for me, He should help me wade through the challenge and make the business prosper. I put in more effort, dedicated and committed myself to the business, and things changed for the better. So far so good.
How many months or years did it take you to acquire the skills?
You know we were very young when we started the training. Even then, I had calligraphic skills. So, while I was at the workshop, I gave my full attention to it and within six months I acquired the necessary skills. After a day’s work, I would find time at home to relearn the things I learned at the workshop. My boss, satisfied with my work, started handing some projects to me and I began saving money to buy some tools I could afford. I bought mesh – a shirt design printing tool – from savings. I thank my boss for all that. He’s instrumental to the success of my business.
How did you juggle studies and business?
It was hard. I remember when I was in 100L and had to save money to finance my studies. What I did then was I developed a timetable such that I gave time to my studies during the day and worked at night, depriving myself of sleep most times. I understood I needed to combine both and therefore I must devise means to see that one didn’t affect the other.
What strategies did you adopt in trying to make the business known to people?
I used social media platforms. I started from 2Go and later created Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. And for other big people, I took the business to them and advertised it to them and I got contracts through that.
What makes you love the business?
I love this business because it gives me the opportunity to create new things. I love being creative and through this business, I innovate things that people come to like and appreciate.
What books or resources do you find helpful in promoting your business?
I go to YouTube to learn. I realized I couldn’t learn everything from my mentor. Most of the things I do now, I didn’t learn at the workshop during my training.
Can you tell us your annual revenue in terms of sales and profit?
Let me talk about the profit first. In a month, I realize between N100,000 and N150,000. But this is not always the same as in business, you don’t always get it your way. There are times you smile and there are times you gloom. So, if we are to go by N100,000 monthly profit, we are talking about an annual profit of N1.8 million.
How do you generate your profit from the business?
I use the money I have to buy materials and when there is any project, I use them. After production, I calculate the cost; settle my apprentices and then I have my profit.
How does the increase in the price of materials you use affect your business?
It really affects us as it reduces the profit we realize because it’s always a big decision to increase the price of your services. If you do, you receive complaints from customers in most cases. For some of them, they will not care to listen to your explanation of the hike in prices of the materials you use for the production. So sometimes we just have to be content with the little we get as profit.
What plans do you have for the business?
Number one is to have money and buy other machines that I don’t have. Without them, there is no way you can grow in this business. But I’m trying my best, saving to get them. Flex machine, sublimation machine, industrial direct image print and others. The plan is to save money and get the machines. I also want to expand and compete favorably with other established entrepreneurs. In fact, that’s the reason I registered the business because to grow, you, first of all, have to operate formally.
When did you register the business?
I registered the business under the name Bashir Creative Graphics Design in 2021. And it’s registered business with the Corporate Affairs Commission.
What tools do you have and use in doing business?
I have my computer, heat pressing machine, chemicals, inks, etc. But for other tools that I don’t have, I go out to other shops to finish the production there. That’s the reason I said my main target is to have the machines so that I don’t have to take my work elsewhere. I want to be doing all the production at my workshop.
What strategies are you putting in place to see that you remain relevant in the business and have an edge over others doing the same business as you?
I create things which others don’t. I mean I make sure I create unique designs. The main challenge is that I don’t have some of the machines I need and that’s really crippling me in that people, seeing that you don’t have certain machines, would not patronize you; they’ll rather take their work to other people who have the machines. But as I mentioned earlier, I’m planning on buying the machines.
Can you let us into the services you offer?
I do artwork, calendars, jotters, posters, wedding cards, badges, banners, and customization of towels, shirts, and caps; we do mug printing, seminar bags, letterhead, key holders, tags, lapels, etc.
Do you have apprentices under you?
Yes, I have nine of them. I teach them the skills and pay them wages after production.
What are some of the memorable experiences you had with your customers?
One of them was when I got to one school to advertise my business. I met one of the lecturers there and presented the business to him. He was very impressed and said they were even looking for someone to do the work for them. We negotiated prices and did everything. I spoke with the provost of the school himself and then continued the talk with the other lecturer who later hijacked everything and made sure I didn’t get what I wanted.
If things had gone the way I wanted, I would have gotten a good profit. I bought materials for the project but he later decided to get another person to do the work for him, and that was at my expense because I injected heavily into buying the materials. After that development, the lecturer stopped picking up my calls, and that was how it all ended.
Then there’s a lady who gave us a contract for souvenirs for an occasion. After telling me how she wanted the bags to appear, the design, and the inscription on them, I sent her the one I worked out for her to see, make necessary corrections (if there were), and then approve. She approved it and I continued with the work. It was after finishing everything that she told me that there was a mistake in the inscription. I was annoyed and confused because I couldn’t make amends. I asked her to send me some money and I didn’t get anything from her again. I used my money and did the work again. I sent it to her and she appreciated it. She even recommended me to other people who patronized me.
Then there are students who give us urgent work. They give you work two days, for example, before their graduation, and they will keep calling you to get their work done. Some will come to our shop, shout and insult us, but you dare not say anything lest you lose the customer. And you know because we don’t have some of the machines, the work sometimes delays because we take the work out to other workshops.
What business would you have chosen to be if you were not into this one?
For a job, I’d have loved to work, to have a white-collar job; but for business, I’d have still chosen to be in this business. By government job, I don’t mean a low-earning one. In fact, there was a time I got a job and later quit it to concentrate on my business.
How did that happen?
When I started the business, things were not moving fine. I was the only one at the shop, with just my chair. So, I applied for a job at a bank. I went for the interview and passed and I was recruited. But just as I started work at the bank, I started getting customers for my business. I sat down and ruminated on the idea of quitting or remaining in the Bank. I prayed to God to choose the best for me. While at the bank, I was at the marketing section and within a short span of time, I got to be liked by people. I understood I could also apply the strategies to my business to grow it. After a while, I decided banking was not for me and that I needed to concentrate on my business which I spent years building. So, I quit and then focused on my business, and that became the turning point.
How much start-up capital would you advise a person intending to start this business to have?
I think it depends on the scale on which you want to operate. But one should have like N5 million to start on a rather small scale. The cost of buying the machines for the business is high. But if you want to start big – which I wouldn’t advise starters to do – you would need like N15 million.
What advice do you have for people who want to start this business?
They should have patience and tolerance. In business, these two are indispensable because as an entrepreneur you don’t go exchanging words with customers even when you know you are right.
How do you manage customers who need your services on credit?
Well, it depends on the customers. There are those who are trustworthy and will pay you anytime they get the money. Others will never pay. A number of them will not pick up your calls, nor will they call you. For those returning customers we know we can rely on, we do offer our services to them on credit knowing that they’ll pay. But for new customers whose character you can’t tell because it’s your first time doing business with them, you sometimes just have to risk it.
Where do you imagine your business to be in the next 10 years?
By that time, I would have owned a big shop, bigger machines, more apprentices and all. The plan I have is to grow big and go international. So far, I have customers from different parts of the country – from the north to the south.
Would you quit this business if you were to secure a government job?
No. I’d rather build on the business; use my earnings to promote the business.