A friend asked me to attend an event she was setting up to discuss the challenges that women have when it comes to running a business in Kenya. Everyone knows that running a business has its challenges but what does it mean to have ‘women only challenges’? Are we saying that it’s hard for Kenyan women to run profitable businesses?
I can list the cost of doing business, from the licenses to the cost of raw materials. From the taxes to the high cost of living. From corruption to sexual harassment on these streets. However, while we talk about the external factors that affect our businesses, we rarely focus on ourselves as women entrepreneurs and what we do that may cause our businesses to fail.
When I thought about it, I realized that most of the challenges I have had, have little to do with the business environment and more to do with my attitude. These are challenges that have been in my control and could be fixed.
My doubts and my fears
When I chose to be an entrepreneur, I wanted to create a solution to a problem that many girls and women face. It took me a long time to figure out my path and in that time, I lost some relations. I had friends who were far ahead of me in life. They were investing in property and driving big cars. They were employed and happy, or so I thought. When business was slow, I would always fantasize about the lives ‘other women’ are having and how easy their lives are. This affected how I ran my hustle.
Then, I would often entertain the thought of going back to employment. I started doubting if I took the right path. I worried about how I would pay rent and fuel my small car. As this was going on, I was focusing less and less on the business.
My doubts would show when I told someone about my business. They would see I was not sure of myself. Why would they trust me when I did not trust myself to run a business?
My lack of confidence
I hated speaking in public, so how was I supposed to pitch my business in front of 100 strangers? How was I supposed to show how passionate I was about my business? I think I lost out in my first pitches because they did not see a woman confident enough in herself to speak out passionately about her business.
With practice, I have been able to speak in front of strangers. I start by telling a story, from the problems to solutions of my entrepreneurial journey. I find that the crowd is calm and ready to listen. I imagine that the crowd travelled thousands of miles to hear me speak and I cannot let them down. Now, I have been invited to speak at conferences and forums and before I take the mic, I remember the days I shook and stammered and I smile.
My exit plan
I always had an exit plan. If I did not do this business, I would run the best digital media house in Nairobi. I would spend hours imagining how I would bring Huffpost to my city and run it better than mainstream media. What I did not realize was that every time I would wander into the thought, I was detaching my mind from my main business. Every time I got a rejection email, I would always come up with another idea. This made my business slow down and I kept blaming it on the tough business environment.
Yet I did not sleep, eat and breathe my business. I was entertaining other ventures and not giving my main 100%. I was not knocking harder on the closed doors because I filled my head with these other ideas. I felt that I needed an exit plan.
Now, the only exit plan I have is to sell to a big corporate company when my company is worth millions of dollars.
My social life
Ever had love so good that you make your business an afterthought? Having relationships affects your business either positively or negatively. For a long time, I did not know how to balance my relationship and my business. I did not have the discipline to say no to those late night dates that affected my performance the following morning. I would spend time on the couch watching movies and enjoying our time together, then rush to beat deadlines the following day.
What I realize as a Motherland Mogul is that I do not have the luxury to enjoy a weekend or a holiday as an ordinary person. Work comes calling at odd times and as the leader of the team, I simply cannot ignore the calls just to have a great night out. That time will come, just not now. Whenever I meet a great person, I make sure to tell them just how important my business is. I ensure they realize that my work comes first and when we have made those millions, we can afford to take a one month long holiday and relax. But for now, my work comes first. If he is understanding, he will stay.
I have learnt to point the finger at myself first before blaming other factors for the poor performance of my business.
Share with us what challenges you have learnt to overcome as a business woman.