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Smart Money with Arese: Your Network is Your Net Worth

Arese Ugwu



arese-ugwu‘If you want to make it in Nigeria, you need a Godfather’

‘You need to know someone to get that job’

‘Only big man pikin dey make am’

These are all variations of the same concept that boil down to one thing. Most people need helpers to become successful and this isn’t always easy. Globally there are no level playing fields but it can be argued that in Nigeria the playing field is a little more jagged. However, your ability to attract wealth is intrinsically linked to how well you are able to grow and leverage your network, to take advantage of opportunities.

The operative word here is ‘leverage’, because I’ve met lots of people from wealthy backgrounds, whose parents have dinner with Dangote and Otedola regularly, but don’t know how to leverage that network and translate it to money. I have also met plenty folks who came from poor or middle class backgrounds who have been able to parlay their way into certain circles by virtue of the value they add and how they are able to showcase their skill set.

So my people ‘just dey dere dey look ya mates, as dem dey package themselves’
* Tears…I’m a nutter, I know*

I have made many mistakes in my own journey but from my experience, these are three tips that can help you put you build a useful network.

Build Organic Relationships
Mentorship is an awesome way to build your network and accelerate your personal growth. I’ve been very lucky in this regard because I’m fortunate to have numerous business leaders who have taken an interest in my progress, that I can call on from time to time when I need advice or valuable introductions but my official mentors are Bolanle Austen-Peters (founder of TerraKulture) and Tara Fela –Durotoye (House of Tara). If I’m completely honest at the time I met both women, I didn’t have a full grasp of what a mentor really was but in retrospect I’ve benefited greatly from the fact that both relationships happened by accident and grew organically.

I met Mrs. Austen-Peters in an elevator on her way to the gym and I met Mrs. Durotoye on an executive education course in Abu Dhabi. I had just moved back to Nigeria and didn’t realize how much of a big deal they both were. (That realization came much later).

These are both women I am not related to, who are committed to making sure I succeed. They have both been instrumental in helping me through some very tough times and have brought countless opportunities my way. However, this kind of bond does not happen overnight; it takes time to build that kind of trust, love and mutual respect.

In recent years, I’ve wondered if both relationships would have been as effective if I had walked up to them to say ‘Please can you be my mentor?’ and harassed them with emails and phone calls, till they agreed to mentor me because this seems to be the norm now.

Although, I’ve seen that approach work for a few people, I’ve found it ineffective for most. Here is why! Even if a prospective mentor says yes, I’ll mentor you after an initial meeting or email; chances are this relationship will not bear fruit. Why? Because you are a stranger! And what you need is someone who is genuinely your friend, feels like they have a stake in your progress and is prepared to go to bat for you when required.

Also, more often than not when people are seeking mentors they are approaching it from the angle of ‘ Auntie how can you hep me’ instead of asking themselves what can I bring to the table.

You see, a mentor mentee relationship is like most relationships, give and take. So you have to always be thinking how can I help? How can I add value? You may not have money or a network but you may have Ideas for their business, a new perspective or a unique skill set

Stand Out at Networking Events
WIMBIZ 2015 was emotional yo! Anyone who knows me knows I love WIMBIZ. It is a multigenerational platform that spotlights powerful women and gives them an opportunity to share their stories but like any networking event WIMBIZ is what you make it. Some people attend just so they can point out everything that is wrong and turn their noses up and some people see it as an opportunity to gain access to game changers, growth opportunities and priceless introductions.

I’ve attended WIMBIZ for 6 years and I personally go so I can be ‘gingered’ by the shared experiences of women who are making an impact in their industries and I always leave thinking ‘what exactly am I doing with my life and how can I do better?’ This year attracted over 1000 women, so it was definitely an opportunity to stand out and improve your network but in my humble opinion there is a right way and there is a wrong way of making yourself stand out.

Ok I know conventional wisdom at networking events is usually ‘sell ya self, sell ya market’ but take a minute to think about the fact that a thousand other women are doing just that, so what makes you different? I can’t tell you how many conversations I over heard that started with my name is xyz, I’m into Brazilian hair or I’m into fashion. The concept of my business is blah blah blah! Let me tell you a secret! They’ll smile, they’ll nod, they’ll even take your business card but girlllllll no one cares about your CV or business concept for that matter! You know why? It sounds rehearsed and its boring! You wouldn’t give that speech at a party, where you are trying to make friends so why should a business event be any different?

I find that at these things, people are so busy talking about themselves and trying to sell their market that they forget to listen! Instead of talking about yourself, ask questions about the other person, find common points of interest and then work interesting ‘tid bits’ about yourself into the conversation.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t have an elevator pitch, in fact I’m a huge advocate because sometimes all you have is two minutes to make an impression, I’m just saying it shouldn’t sound rehearsed and its your duty to make it compelling. People are more likely to connect with you if you can sell them on your ‘why’ as opposed to what you do. So articulate your ‘why’ and craft it into your elevator pitch. For example, you are in the smoothies business. Instead of saying my name is Rolake and I’m into smoothies, we have apple, strawberry and pineapple flavors, you could say this. ‘ I used to be so depressed about my weight but last year I lost 15kg doing this really simple smoothie diet and decided to start a business that would help other women like me lose a ton of weight’. You are probably going to be more memorable this way.

Another great way to stand out is; ask an intelligent question but keep it concise. A few years ago at WIMBIZ, my friend stood up after a panel discussion to ask the country manager for Google a question about something they weren’t doing in Nigeria and she landed a job at Google from that question.

Learn to Serve Before You Shine
So … ‘millennial entitlement’ is a real thing. Especially with the ‘ I just got back crew’ (even if they just got back 10 years ago), we think our fancy degrees and living abroad make us entitled to instant success and that’s just not how it works. Nobody deserves anything, there are always going to be people who are smarter than you or have more experience than you, so view every opportunity from a place of gratitude even when it doesn’t necessarily have monetary value.

When I say serve, I’m not talking about being someone’s ‘omo’do’ or carrying people’s bags. I’m talking about being value driven as opposed to money driven. If you are always focused on chasing money, sometimes ‘de money go dey run comot’ but if you are providing value and committed to a vision that is bigger than you, you attract opportunities you didn’t expect.

For example, this year I was on the fundraising committee for WIMBIZ, which was not ‘beans’ in this economy. Nobody wanted to part with money but we were all committed. Then, one of the sponsors I was negotiating with offered me a job. He said, “Arese; you are a pest! But your follow-up game is something else and I need people like you on my team! You don’t give up and you obviously don’t know what the word no means.” I heard that a few times during the process and I realized I was inadvertently showcasing my negotiation and fund raising skills but the point is, in serving a purpose that was bigger than me, that had no direct benefits, it opened up several opportunities, that did.

Harness your network and learn how to convert that network into opportunities because the more people you are able to reach and influence, the more likely you are to attract new business, gain access to partnerships or raise funding for your business.

Arese is the author of the bestselling financial chick lit The Smart Money Woman. She is also the founder of a personal finance blog tailored to the African millennial. Arese serves on the boards of House of Tara International Ltd and The Nigeria Higher Education Foundation as a non-executive director and is an associate member of WIMBIZ (Women in Management Business & Public Service). Arese Ugwu has an M.Sc. in Economic Development from University College London (UCL) and a B.Sc. in Business and Management from Aston Business School, Birmingham. She is also an alumna of the of the Lagos Business School, INSEAD Abu Dhabi and The London School of Business executive education programs. . Follow on Twitter: @smartmoneyarese and Instagram - @smartmoneyarese


  1. Duni

    November 26, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Hmm…..thanks, Arese. I always look forward to reading your articles.

    This is very very timely. I was at a women’s conference over the weekend, and I was discussing with someone how I just realized I’ve been blessed to be connected to high networth individuals. 2 of them are ALWAYS at the top of Forbes list, and about 10 of the biggest names in finances and politics are on my personal – not just professional – network.

    I even spoke with 3 of them this week – but nothing serious. I honestly don’t maximize these opportunities. However, I am learning 🙂

    Thanks again, Arese.

  2. ajikoko

    November 26, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Madam Arese.You are soo intelligent,really gifted.You just Gingered me this morning.

  3. ajikoko

    November 26, 2015 at 8:42 am

    Thank you.

  4. Dami

    November 26, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Thank you Arese. This is all the motivation I need today.

  5. Missdodo

    November 26, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Funny someone gave a talk about something similar this morning and ‘building organic relationships’ stood out for me. And I liked that you have said how to go about doing that. You go gurl! I visit your site often and send good thoughts your way. Well done.

  6. Chynwa

    November 26, 2015 at 10:01 am

    Arese! Arese! Arese!!! Chai… God bless you. Just the perfect way to start my day a of course really got me thinking; especially the third one- ‘so much for ‘millennial entitlement’. More power to your elbow 🙂

  7. Chynwa

    November 26, 2015 at 10:27 am

    Arese!!! This is soooo on point. Got me thinking. Perfect way to start my day; especially the ‘millennial entitlement’. More power to ur elbow.

  8. The girl who flies planes

    November 26, 2015 at 10:32 am

    I only have male mentors.
    Women are nice but they sometimes have a condescending attitude towards other women especially younger women.
    Men are more pragmatic & they mostly want to see you succeed& they’ll introduce you to their friends and business associates.
    Women keep asking you ” when are you getting married” Abi kilo de?

    • Lem

      November 26, 2015 at 11:02 am

      Sweetheart do not generalize ok? SOME women can be condescending, most usually want to see their fellow woman succeed. Just as SOME men just want to get in your pants and don’t take you serious BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN while others will help you achieve greatness. Note I did not say ALL men. It is all in the individual you are lucky enough to meet.

  9. Meah

    November 26, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Hey Arese! I cannot begin to explain how easy you have made ‘finance & investment things’ for me, so much so that i now constantly look you up on instagram even though i dont have an Ig account! Your write up on the importance of planning, using the 100million analogy has stuck with me and i recently told my flatmate i wish we were friends. Thank you. I generally hate networking events and dont really leverage on the folks/contacts i know that much but that will change now. And when i do see you, i’m going to try the whole organic thingy on you so you dont have an inkling that i’ve been shadowing you since. *grin*

  10. Similade

    November 26, 2015 at 11:35 am

    Arese hope you accept hugs from strangers? If I ever set my eyes on you I’m going to give you a really big hug!!! Not only have you helped me financially, you influenced my self confidence above all I can say no to some financial wants without guilt tripping myself

  11. st

    November 26, 2015 at 12:49 pm

    Arese tanks, I have just learnt new things from your write up, I had to read twice, tanks again, gBU

  12. Bode

    November 26, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    Thank you Arese! This is quite timely and such a treasure to keep or re-read again!

  13. Missatl

    November 26, 2015 at 2:28 pm

    PLS ALL THESE U ARE SO intelligentt U ALL ARE WRITTING, LET mE TELL U WHO MY NETWORK IS AND THATS ALL I NEED. ..U CAN ALSO ASK LINDA IKEJI IF U NEED PROOF….INTELECT OR NETWORK WON’T HELP U, HOW MANY TIMEs DO PEOPLE ASK OTHERS TO HELP AND EVERYONE IS LIKE EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF…..JEHOVAH IS THE ONLY strong NETWORK I HV and that is the ultimate, he has never and can never fail me unlike man…as a matter of fact looking at my life and others before me, when Jehovah is ur connection he isolates u from the world and he alone is glorified.

    • Shandi

      November 26, 2015 at 7:30 pm


    • Alias

      November 27, 2015 at 1:55 am

      Yes, MissAtl. The Bible tells us not to trust in chariots or men but only in God. However, our Heavenly Father uses people to bless us and mentor us. Many of the blessings you might be praying for are in the form of someone or someplace He wants to connect you to.

      @Arese, thank you for this practical way to network. I always click on your articles because I know there’s something useful there. In fact, I occasionally print them and store away. Pls BellaNaija keep publishing Arese’s article. Someone of us are more interested in how to use the money wisely rather than spend it all.

  14. Tincan

    November 26, 2015 at 3:39 pm

    Copied, pasted in my inspiring articles folder, to be re-read and re-read again. Thank you.

  15. Jacobs

    November 26, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    When words are so rare to describe something as grand as this insight, I say: “Splendid”. Thanks for this eye opener Arese. Indeed, your network is your net worth. I appreciate every bit of wisdom you invested in this article. Looking forward to my next visit to read more from you and more of you.

  16. Angel

    November 26, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Quite insightful thanks.

  17. Czar

    November 27, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Much love and prestige for @Arese.Sometimes is hard to invest in someones idea when their lifestyle contradict their vision I’m a Nigerian living abroad, I wouldn’t mind doing business with a reputable person in Nigeria if the idea is right. Hit me up on FB Ceasar Bruno.

  18. Oluwatobi

    November 27, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    I am learning how to not take “no” for an answer. I give up too easily!! But that will change. Soon hopefully. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  19. John

    December 6, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    This is exactly what I need……..#2016 Mindset….

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