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How a Nigerian cabbie schooled me in business

As most anyone who lives in a big city and spends any amount of time in a cab has probably noticed, cabbies can be some seriously talkative cats. If they aren’t chatting you up, they are non-stop jabbering to someone on their cell phone.

Back in the 90’s, I caught a cab in DC to some client meeting, the details of which have long since faded from memory.  My cabbie, a Nigerian in this case, was the yammer into the cellphone variety.

When he finished his call I asked him why it was that cab drivers were always on the phone.

He chuckled and replied, “My friend, you Americans think we’re just cab drivers, but many of us also own multiple businesses and our cabs are our offices.”

If you think your immigrant cab driver is some poor unfortunate schmuck struggling to make ends meet, you may be surprised to learn that many are making serious bank in ventures you’ve probably never even considered.

As my new Nigerian friend explained, he had several highly diversified income streams consisting of an after-hours Nigerian nightclub and restaurant on U Street, a used clothing export business, a palm oil import business and an apartment rental business for new Nigerian immigrants.

Oh, and of course, he also drove a cab and received an income stream from that venture as well.

He explained that most recent immigrants see opportunity everywhere and in places that most native-born Americans would never think of looking:

This guy was shipping 5 containers of used clothing a month to West Africa and making $5000 or more per container per month.

He had also identified a huge market of West African immigrants in the DC metro area and was importing palm oil to supply their cooking needs in that niche market.

He’d even turned his mobile office into its own profit center…While he negotiated business deals all day long by phone, he generated income from driving us sophisticated corporate types in our expensive monkey suits to forgettable business meetings.

So why is all of this relevant to resilient families? One simple reason: Diversification of income streams. If you have all of your income eggs in one basket, you are highly exposed to the vagaries of today’s increasingly chaotic and uncertain economic environment.

The days when you could count on a lifelong steady income from your employer, an investment account with Charles Schwab, a pension or 401K, employer-paid health care, and a Social Security check to smooth out the rough edges during retirement are over.  They aren’t coming back… ever. The key to financial success for today’s resilient families is income diversification.

What can you do? Well here’s some things we did:

- My wife (a whirling dervish of energy and one of the best natural entrepreneurs I know) started a vacation property rental business here in Panama that brings in a nice little chunk of additional family income each month.

- She and a friend from Colombia also started an affordable private elementary school for expat children in the community where we live. Education is hugely important to us, so she’s imported a teacher from the U.S. to provide a top notch, affordable, educational and social experience for our children, and the other expat kids in our community.

- We ‘re building a modest vacation rental property on one of the most popular surf beaches in Panama in order to generate rental income.

- I’m also looking to purchase a few hectares of land to try out some permaculture or aquaponics farming techniques. Having access to your own food source is one of the most important things you can do to become more self-reliant and resilient.

The bottom line: All of the above are potential income streams that can help us become more self-reliant and resilient. Will they all be huge successes? Probably not… And some will probably be failures.

But given the cataclysmic economic shifts that are occurring globally, we all need to be thinking more like my Nigerian cabbie friend and taking steps today to diversify income streams.

It could be as simple as a side business on eBay or converting the basement of your home into a rental apartment. Get creative, but start today. You’ll be glad you did.

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