In August 2016, my friend and I took the plunge and decided to launch our very own social enterprise. Born out of many long conversations and brainstorming sessions, we finally settled on creating an organization that could help address some of the challenges Nigerian girls are facing stress-induced their educational development. That was how Give Girls A Chance came about.
We were giddy with excitement as we embarked on the process of registering the organization and launching a fundraising campaign. In January 2017, we had raised enough money to sponsor the first group of girls in the program with full scholarships including tuition, fees, books, and uniforms. We also recruited five amazing volunteers to serve as mentors through our dedicated mentoring program. With all of this in place, we set to work running the organization like the bad-ass boss ladies we are.
Half a year later, we can honestly say that this been the hardest undertaking of our lives thus far, but also the most rewarding thing we have ever done. Mind you we both decided to do this right at the moment when our other professional careers were taking off. I had just joined the UN in August and was posted to Zambia. My partner Hauwa was wrapping up her youth service and about to start working as a full-time doctor.
But this idea was something that had been on both of our minds for a long time and we did not want to wait any longer. We are both deeply passionate about public service and believe that it is our duty to contribute to the development of Nigeria. What better way to do that than by training up the next generation of women and future leaders of our country? So, we took the plunge, and for better or worse, we have survived to talk about it.
For every success that we have had, we have had twice as many failures and faced countless roadblocks. When it comes to laying the foundations for your businesses while holding down your day job, here are some of the experiences we’ve had and advice we would like to share with the readers.
Say goodbye to sleep…at least for the time being
Before you take this flirtationship any further, imagining the idea of starting a side hustle, business or organization while keeping your day job and still managing to get 8 hours of sleep, stay fit and avoid stress-induced acne, let me stop you right there.
Unless you are Wonder Woman (and who knows some of you very well may be), you should know now that you’re going to have to make a choice between bringing your business to life or getting the daily recommended 8 hours of sleep. I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights we’ve had and how many things we’ve had to miss out on because we choose to invest our waking hours and our resources into growing our organization.
There is so much research, planning, and coordination required to grow a business and if you have to do this alongside a job that demands the 8 hours of the day when most people are typically productive, it simply means you’re going to have to cut into your sleep and leisure time to stay on top of everything.
The good news is that the joy of seeing your idea come to life is unparalleled. Nothing beats that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment you will have when you start to hit your targets. And if all it takes is skimping on sleep every now and then, that’s a small price to pay, right? You can always make it up later when your name is up in flashing lights and you’re rolling deep in that moolah.
Budget, budget, budget
I grew up with a banker for a father and he tried his best to instill in me the spirit of budgeting and saving. But I like shiny things too much and I’m always ready to take on the challenge of seeing how much stuff I can get for all the money in my account.
I am so thankful that Hauwa is in charge of the finances for Give Girls A Chance. We managed to raise a significant amount of money when we first launched and true to form I wanted to go big and sponsor as many girls as we could but Hauwa talked sense into me. We decided to start with 11 girls, put some money into savings so we could pay for events and plan for the future.
We knew that it would not be cool if we sponsored 200 girls for one semester or two, but then had no money to keep on going. The girls would end up right back where they started, having to drop out of school because they could not afford to go. Instead, we decided to take things step by step, prudently accounting for every kobo and making sure we were getting the best return on our investments.
As the new school year approaches, we are thrilled as we can now comfortably take on more girls for an extended period of time. My advice is to use the resources you have wisely and always have some money left in the bank.
Because we both have full-time jobs, the only times we are able to work on Give Girls A Chance related activities are in the evenings and on weekends. In fact, that’s not true. We end up replying to emails, texts, and requests during our lunch breaks at work too!
Saturday mornings at 9 AM are set in stone for our weekly check-in meetings and Sundays at 8 PM we check in with our strategic support team. Without fail, every week. Yes, this means even when one of us is on vacation in Zimbabwe or busy with bridesmaid’s duties at a friend’s wedding, we still make time to check in and get work done.
From the beginning, we also agreed that even though we had to start small, with a limited budget and resources, we would always strive for consistency. This means that we have set the organization’s calendar to run a major event or campaign every month. It’s been hard, but we have followed through on that promise.
Slowly but surely, we are building our presence and making a name for ourselves in the NGO space in Nigeria and people are starting to take notice.
Ask for help
If you plan to grow a business successfully from scratch, you’re going to have to get very comfortable saying the word, please. From the beginning, Hawua and I were clear about what our strengths were and what things needed to get done that we were not capable of doing ourselves.
We knew that if we were clear on what our vision was, along the way, we were bound to run into people who believed in our vision as well, or at the very least believed in us. These people would be willing to lend us their time or money to show their commitment.
We got my cousin to build our website for free (shout out to Urey Onuoha), we got help from our parents and friends as we drafted and refined our strategy, our friends and family were also the first to contribute substantially to funding the organization.
At the SheHive in Joburg last year, I met the amazing Yetunde Dada who heads her own social enterprise CRNCH. CRNCH has been instrumental in helping us get our strategy right, making our grant proposals look amazing and spending hours brainstorming and working with us on everything from how to fundraise to how to make our mentoring program more effective. All of this for free and in their spare time.
So my advice is to network like crazy and don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and ask people for help even before you are able to afford them.
Plan for your growth so you’re not surprised when it happens
Having a plan from the beginning will help you avoid a lot of confusion further down the line. A good question to consider is, “Do I want this to remain a side hustle or do I eventually want to get this business to the point where I can quit my day job and focus all my attention on this?”.
Another question could be, “Do I want to keep my business local, take it nationwide or global?” For Give Girls A Chance our vision is to grow the organization to the point where it becomes a major player in terms of work being done at the intersection of educational development and women/girls issues in Nigeria.
We want to have a presence nationwide, basically, anywhere there are large groups of out-of-school children we want to be active there. So while we are currently focused on our activities in Abuja, and limited by bandwidth and resources, we are always on the lookout for new opportunities and partnerships.
We are exploring diverse fundraising streams and we are learning from best practices globally on how to structure and deliver educational development practices. We may be small but we are agile and easily adaptable. The question is not will we grow but rather how soon?
Never lose sight of your vision
There are going to be many days where you will look and think to yourself, but why am I killing myself softly with all this wahala. After all, I have a daytime job to fall back on so why not just focus on that?
You have to be ready for those days. At the beginning of the year, we compiled a list of the top 10 goals we wanted to achieve through Give Girls A Chance and I printed and stuck those to my dream board so I am reminded every morning of what we are doing and why I must remain committed.
The cause is also one that is dear to my heart, helping other girls succeed and make the most out of their lives. So at the end of the day even if GGAC were to only change one girl’s life, that would still have made all the difference for me.
What is that one thing fanning the flames of passion in your heart? What is it about this idea, business or organization that you know you must achieve and won’t stop until you do? Remind yourself of that as often as possible, especially when the going gets tough. It will help you keep you on track.
These are just a few of the things that we have learned along the way that we hope could serve as encouragement and motivation to other women who may be thinking of embarking on the same journey and establishing their own businesses or organizations.
Wherever you are in the process, we would love to hear from you and hear your thoughts. What have you learned from starting a business while keeping your daytime job that you would like to share with us and with the other readers?