Before I started this journey in entrepreneurship, I had the great opportunity to be employed in different corporate, mid-sized and SME companies, for slightly over 13 years that gave me invaluable work experience that I use till today.
Some had crazy work hours with rigid rules of operations while others were flexible with managers or business owners that had a laissez –faire attitude and didn’t really bother with you till the next weekly meeting.
However with all of them, I had one big problem; I didn’t think I was being true to myself and I felt I wasn’t following my calling. Being a creative who was always lost in my mind with ideas upon ideas, it was at times difficult to express those ideas in whichever company I was working for because it wasn’t either in line with their vision or simply there was no budget.
I know there are many people who are probably itching to start their own businesses or have been sitting on ideas that they strongly feel could be solutions to the numerous business/consumer problems out there but, have never made that move to do anything about it. Hopefully by the time you finish reading this, you will feel inspired to take the bold step into entrepreneurship not only from using the pointers here but, with inspiration from the following lady who dared to follow her dreams.
Zerufi Organics, Rwanda
Catherine Njane was an Advisory consultant by profession with over 7 years of experience in that field. Entrepreneurship was never something she had seriously considered before, at least not full-time, and she loved the stability that her job offered, having worked hard to climb the corporate ladder and do her best to smash that glass ceiling many women talk about.
So in 2017, she started Zerufi Organics.
Zerufi Organics sells natural skin care and hair care products. They are strong believers of not putting anything on your skin or hair that you wouldn’t want near your mouth. Their customers are people looking for effective skin and hair solutions in nature without having to resort to chemical-laden products. Zerufi Organics tries to offer that with its products range and they are carefully formulated with natural ingredients backed with extensive research to ensure that they are not only gentle but also effective.
Being a vendors that was with the market since inception, Catherine was one of the people that I was able to bounce ideas off of and discuss at length the challenges and triumphs of being an entrepreneur because we were in the same boat of pursuing excellence in self-employment.
I got the opportunity to pick brain her to better understand the steps she took to be where she is right now.
Getting down to it, what steps should you take before you quit your job to start your own business?
Before taking that leap into what you consider freedom to build your empire, ensure you have passion for what you are pursuing.
You need to be deeply and madly in love with your vision. Why is this important? I will not sugar-coat anything and tell you that running a business is easy because it isn’t, at least in the initial phase. However it can be enjoyable if you love what you are doing. Many business owners including myself, have found themselves working for hours on end even forgetting to have a meal because you are so engrossed with what you are doing. Passion is the thing that will get you up in the morning when you had a bad sales day, a rejection from the bank or even having to deal with those around you who think you are mad for pursuing your dreams.
Catherine has always been passionate about smells, scents, oils, creams and the likes even more so if they were from nature and not just another chemical concoction created to appease the masses. So it was a no brainer when she considered going into her solo trip, to venture into this line of business.
It’s one thing to have passion but it’s another to have a blind one. It is paramount that you do research upon research about the line of work you want to get yourself into. Remember, we are talking about a major life decision here and it’s better to do it right or don’t do it at all. Research could involve looking into the viability of the business, who your target market is, cost of starting business, where your business will be based… you get the drift. Do your homework ensuring you look at all the angles to maximize your success when you start.
Before they get a product to market, Zerufi Organics takes approximately 4 months to research on ingredients, product formulation and branding before bringing it to the masses. They have 14 products in their portfolio so that’s more than 4 years behind the building of the brand with 2 years in the market
Business/ Financial plan
I know this could be boring for some of you, at least it was for me, but a business and financial plan is paramount. It helps you map and navigate your way through this new territory with the bonus point of making you accountable. The internet is filled with these sample plans so the only work here would be to adjust them to suit your needs.
A business plan helps you formulate a plan for your business which includes but not limited to clear goals and visions, projections and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis.
A financial plan helps you formulate a plan for your personal upkeep as you build your empire like, how you will continue with basic payments like rent, food, clothes, savings etc. Making a budget and sticking to it will keep you from being stressed and more focused on your vision.
Take your idea for a test drive
Before I started the market, I did a series of pop-up markets in Kigali within different location for around 3 months. This was to put to test whether my vision was actually realistic. It’s easy to ask trusted friends, mentors or business owners for their input (which I would encourage you do) but, no one but yourself can see and execute your plan better than you. It will also validate the demand for your product. Be open-minded and look at your plan critically. There are many resources in the internet nowadays that can guide you through a test drive for your business. As you see what works and what doesn’t, you can adjust your plans accordingly.
Remember I mentioned that Catherine and I used to frequently touch base, well, when she learnt that I was starting the pop-up markets, she would give me a few of her products to sample and sell to potential consumers in order to get feedback. She would join me in those pop-ups but at times she would be held up at work (she had yet to quit her job by this time- more on that below). She also had already been selling the products within her network and all the information she received enhanced and expanded her products line.
Register the business
To be taken seriously and to put your best foot forward, it’s best that you don’t neglect this step. Rwanda has one of the fastest, if not the fastest, business registration process there is in Africa. You can do it online through Rwanda Development Board and it takes a maximum of one business day. I was able to get the market registered within 6 hrs while Zerufi Organics was registered within 8 hours. On top of this, RDB does a follow up where you are called to attend a simple course in understanding what your responsibilities as a business owner are. How supportive is that?
Make it official
Giving 100% to your new venture is the best thing you could do to nurture and see it grow faster.
Much as doing it part time could be a viable solution to many for various reasons, giving your full attention to your vision means you are totally committed to it. You will also not have to use another company’s time and resources building yours which will internally give you the satisfaction of starting from a point of integrity. Writing a professional resignation letter giving ample time to your employer, ensures you don’t burn bridges unnecessarily because let’s face it, you are going into a world where you will be an employer and the last thing you need are enemies or bad karma following you.
Catherine tried to do her business part-time for a couple of months but it wasn’t sustainable especially with her tight work schedule. She hadn’t even started actively advertising the products at the time but she was getting a lot of customers as a result of referrals from friends and co-workers. She realized that she didn’t know how she was going to handle the demand if it grew beyond that and so she decided to quit her job.
Get your product to market
Now that you have your ducks in a row, the final step is to let people know about your product. There are so many avenues that can be explored here that it would definitely need its own entire blog. However, some of the common and more popular ways are social media, retail stores, mainstream media, print ads, billboards, fliers and of course let’s not forget your local farmers market.
Zerufi Organics has proudly been a part of the Kigali Farmers’ and Artisans’ market since its inception and the market has been very helpful in terms of visibility for the business. Catherine has made contacts that have led to amazing partnerships and collaborations and that have positively impacted the course of her business. Aside from that, the market presents an opportunity to have some quality face time with her customers and she gets to explain her products to them and engage on whatever questions they may have on the products. She also adds, ‘I’m truly grateful to be a part of the market and the initiatives it supports’.
Catherine’s parting words for any upcoming business is to get involved in initiatives such as the Kigali Farmers’ and Artisans’ market to grow their network as she feels there is a lot to learn by engaging with similar businesses as well as your customers. It also gives a different perspective to problems and solutions that you can offer as a business and as someone who’s also been and still on this journey, I couldn’t agree more.
If we could do it, so can you!
Are there other pointers you would recommend, let me know by leaving your comments below.
If you are a vendor interested in joining our 2nd March #womensdaymarket at the Kigali Serena Hotel, drop us an email with a short bio of your business to email@example.com or visit our website kigalifarmersandartisansmarket.com
Disclaimer: The opinions stated here are of the author and it’s imperative that one does their own extensive research before employing any business strategy