Stephanie Onwunali is the founder of What Next, Coach? a boutique coaching and advisory firm for small businesses. By profession, Stephanie is a Chartered Accountant, Business Coach and Strategist. She holds a B.Sc. in Accounting and Finance from the University of Birmingham and is a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountant of England and Wales (ICAEW). She began her career as an external auditor with Ernst & Young London, for 5 years, serving multinational companies across various industries including Maritime, Real estate, Hospitality, Construction and FMCGs.
Since founding What Next, Coach? In late 2016, one of the most notable acknowledgements of her work was her being invited to a roundatable of small business owners at No. 10 Downing Street with the Business Adviser to the UK prime Minister in July 2017 to profer recommendations on how the government can support small businesses. In March 2018, she was also titled a #WomanWithDrive by Taxify Nigeria in recognition of her drive and work in the Nigerian SME space.
She currently also serves as an in-house business coach for SME Exclusive Women’s Club (SWEC) by Adosser Bank and is a regular guest on the SME Clinic Show on Nigeria Info FM 99. 3.
Stephanie is driven by a desire to see small business owners build businesses that bring them fulfilment, reward their hard work and serve their preferred lifestyle choices. She believes that those who are brave enough to spot a need and solve it through their business are a special kind of heroes and deserve all the support they can get.
Stephanie speaks to YBLN about her transition from being an auditor to starting her own business, the difficulties in doing so and provides tips on those venturing on the same path.
What inspired what next coach?
I started What Next, Coach? (WNC) just before I left my job as an auditor with Ernst & Young London after 5 years. At that point, I wanted to help millennial professionals gain clarity and direction on what they wanted to do with their life and career.
I focused on this area for most of 2017 but I yearned to do more with small businesses and start-ups. So, when I decided it was time to move back to Nigeria, my strategy evolved, and therefore I now focus solely on small businesses. Having been part of a massive community of small businesses in the UK with access to quality support, I yearned to create a similar platform of support for Nigerian and African SMEs and that’s the mission I’m on now.
When did you realise it was time to go from “employee to entrepreneur “?
It was around mid-August 2016. I was getting increasingly restless with my career path and was itching for something more fulfilling. I tried applying for other roles I thought I was interested in, but nothing really lit me on fire. Then I attended a free coaching seminar and I remember feeling like I had found something else I’d potentially be interested in pursuing as a career path. By December 2016, I left EY.
How has the transition been?
Initially, it was a bit unnerving. I didn’t realise how much I had attached my identity to my employers and being faced with making a name for myself was really a stretch. I had to adjust myself view to accommodate where I was trying to go with my business.
Now, I’m just having the time of my life. My values are anchored very much in variety, creativity and freedom of expression and I get to live those out EVERYDAY.
What’s the most important lesson you have learnt so far in starting a business?
You’re not going to go very far if you don’t build relationships with people who will constantly fight your corner. And you must be comfortable with uncertainty.
What objectives push What next coach and how do you intend to achieve it?
As mentioned earlier, I have a strong desire to give Nigerian and African SMEs a support platform. I want to see them experience a level playing field with their international colleagues by having access to information, credible advisers and useful resources.
What has been your biggest triumph so far?
It certainly has to be how much I’ve accomplished in just 4 months of having moved back to Nigeria.I moved back in December 2017, relaunched my brand and website in February 2018, I have 7 clients and counting, I have a regular radio gig on Nigeria Info FM Lagos 99.3 where I answer SME questions every 1st and 3rd Monday and recently, Taxify awarded me with a #WomanWithDrive title. I didn’t honestly expect things to kick off so fast, but they have and I’m grateful to life and God for it.
Have there been any challenges and how were you able to surmount them?
Overcoming depression after losing 4 client deals in October 2017.I had gotten access to 4 major companies and talks were underway for us to work together but in the last week of September 2017, all the deals fell through, one at a time. I had big hopes for the money I’d make and the exposure I’d get but God had other plans. Nonetheless, it rocked me to my core and I experienced depression throughout October. I didn’t look for new clients, I didn’t care to network, I just resigned myself to ice cream and irokotv. It wasn’t until November 1st that I picked myself up again and decided I Was going to follow my convictions and move to Nigeria. By December 2nd I left London. I’ve been back 4 months and I applaud myself for not giving up when I felt the most like it.
What motivates you in actualising and running what next coach?
I want to see my dreams become a reality and I want to show others it can certainly be done. I’m a person of faith and one of my favourite bible verses says that those who know their God shall be strong and do exploits. I want to max out those exploits as much as possible.
What is your vision fifteen years from now?
I want to have taken my SME advocacy to the upper echelons of society and be a known voice in spaces of policy, strategy and finance pertaining to SMEs.
What do you think are the major causes of unemployment in Nigeria?
Employers have too much power of the job market, unlike in the Western world, because our governments have disregarded the power of education. If people aren’t well educated, they are limited in their career choices and can’t compete beneficially. The education system also doesn’t encourage independent thinking – everyone has raw talent they can always capitalise on if getting a job is a challenge but schools and universities don’t present this as an option.This is why, in the near future, I’d be looking to advocate for entrepreneurial studies in schools’ curricula.
What advice can you give to young entrepreneurs.
Trust your convictions but always look to test and support them with facts. Just because your idea makes sense to you doesn’t mean it’ll make sense to the market. Leave no stone unturned during market research and never assume.