“Buy your frozen fish!”
Where I come from, the voices of women calling out to customers can be heard as early as 7 am. I believe that the local, small scale business woman has a lot to teach young women in cities looking to startup their businesses. Growing up, I took note of how these local business women conduct their businesses, and noticed some habits.
Forget stereotypes, they are not weak, they do not whimper and they do not wait for men to feed or clothe them. These women have pull and sway and most of all, they do it to provide education for their children.
Here are some of them that have sustained local business women over the years and that you can learn from.
1. Consistency and persistence
At many warehouses, vegetable markets or cold rooms, it is not unusual to see women exhibiting highly skilled bargaining powers over produce to purchase at 5 am.
Growing up, I had a neighbor who cooked food daily to sell to the early morning crowd. She was always up before 3:30 am. I am amazed at the tenacity, determination and savvy displayed by these small time business women, many of whom are uneducated.
The “local” business woman, over the years, builds her customer base by being consistent and persistent even in the face of bad sales and weather. She is there, in the rain and in the sun. Small time business women never take holidays or breaks, even at Christmas! For those who trade in seasonal goods like green vegetables, they go far and wide to source for their goods off season, albeit at a higher cost.
I’m not saying you don’t deserve a vacation, but you can learn to be as focused on your trade as the fruit seller at your local market.
My grandmother never heard of a business plan or proposal. Yet, till her death at the ripe age of 103, people gave her money for safekeeping. What’s more, she sent my mother and her sisters to school up to university from the money she made selling farm produce.
People came from far to trade with my grandmother asserting her honest dealings as reason. My mom followed in her foot steps, selling garri at the next village and buying dried fish from that village to sell in hers.
During her diploma days in school, my mom would fly to Lagos and buy clothes and sell them at the secondary school where she worked. She is still running her business. Now she distributes well refined palm oil.
My mom practices the honest business ethic of her mother. Even after changing businesses, she still retained the patronage of her clients. The most popular words about her are “Miss no dey cheat person and she no dey sell fake things”. That’s Nigerian pidgin for, “Miss is honest and sells high quality products.”
3. Customer care
With sweet words, smiles and cajoling, local business women can change the minds of their customers. Talk about the art of seduction! (In a non-sexual context of course).
Ladies, I am describing a specific woman here, delete the idea of the “market woman” you have in your mind and instead picture this woman. These women start out with greetings, calling the customers either “auntie”, “uncle” or by their names or children’s names and asking them personal questions based on details garnered over time from previous discussions.
They listen and file away information for future use. This gives the customer a sense of importance. Some go as far as having the customer’s personal number and calling to just say “hi”. Imagine the lady that sells roasted plantains calling to check in on her customer. It happens!
Some women even go out of their way to serve as personal shoppers for the customer if the need arises. Talk about diversification.
The local business woma may have never read a book on the art of marketing, but she could probably sell ice to an Eskimo. They probably never heard of customer care, but the have loyal customers spanning years.
4. Sound investments
These small time business women may not know of investments but they have savings and assets. They invest their money wisely, from saving in various forms of local thrift savings scheme to buying real gold with resale values.
They are also usually involved in property, building and leasing out houses. Better still, majority of them own several houses which they rent out. And all this to ensure that they are investing in something more precious, their children’s education.
It is not strange to see a woman whose children are engineers now based abroad, thanks to the money she made from selling akara (Bean cakes) every morning.
Any local business woman has her ears always open for news concerning her business. Whether it is increase in wholesale prices, new products in the market, fall in prices, customer’s most popular demand, etc.
They make sure they’re always in the know. They form tight bonds with their wholesale traders who in turn keep them in the loop.
In summary, the small scale business women are the women we should not forget to celebrate today. They are the women on whose backbones some of us have grown and excelled, whose examples we have unconsciously followed.
These Motherland Moguls didn’t care to sit down and twiddle their thumbs. They did not let their degrees —or lack thereof, or their social standings or background hinder them. These women who have defined “The African Woman”.
I personally celebrate my mother, wife, friend, sister and multi-entrepreneur Patience Irene Omoruyi. Who do you celebrate?