Tariro Makina: Billing per hour doesn’t work in Africa

tariro makina

Virtual reality is the world we’re living in. Tariro Makina knows this, that’s why she set up Twenty47 Virtual Assistant, a business that provides social media strategy and email management, among other services to clients. SLA contributor Glenda  Makumbe caught up with Tariro in Harare, where they talked about starting a business in Zimbabwe while remaining grounded, the challenges of charging by the hour in Africa and the perks of being a virtual assistant.

Tari tell me a little bit about yourself and Twenty47 Virtual Assistant.

I am a 30 year old IT geek who is passionate about helping small business owners manage their businesses better. Twenty47 VA had always been an idea in my head until the end of 2013 when I actually gave birth to it. I had fallen out of love with my job and I did not want it anymore. So I just woke up one day, wrote a business plan and registered the business in early 2014. Soon after, I quit my job. I wanted more and I wanted to build on my passion. Currently, most of my clients are based here in Zimbabwe but I also have clients in South Africa, Zambia and the US. My main clients are in the services industry – forming a mix that is spread across various sectors. These include business consultants, event organisers, educators, technology and logistics companies and non-profit organisations.

Why Twenty47 Virtual Assistant as a name

I chose the name Twenty47 Virtual Assistant because I had a vision to create a global business that served clients in all time zones. I have no problem working evenings (sometimes) so it makes it easier for me to accommodate clients in different countries around the world. However, this has often been construed to mean I am available for every client 24 hours a day and 7 days a week **sighs** this is why you should be careful when choosing a name.

What does your business entail?

Twenty47 Virtual Assistant started as a one woman business and had been until 2015 when I was joined by one other person.  I am involved in the general management of a client’s business online and this is usually the little things like administrative tasks that are considered not entirely important, brand awareness, customer service through various marketing and client engagement channels. Many small businesses shun investing in these areas as they are afraid it may be wasting money, time or both. Yet, they can have a huge impact on the success or failure of a business. I also take care of certain functions of a business or project for those focused business owners or professionals who understand that they cannot do it all by themselves and wish to take advantage of delegation. This way they have an opportunity to focus on what they do best whilst entrusting me to do the rest.   I especially specialise in social media strategy formulation, implementation, monitoring and reporting. I do email management as well. Keeping up-to-date with the current industry trends and information plays a major role in social media so as to stay relevant to your audience. This requires a lot of research as well. So I do not have a structure of how a typical day in the life of a VA would look like, but, in a nutshell, it involves planning, lots of it, and staying on top of things.

Is there anything in your educational background that helps you in managing your business?

I have a Computer Science degree from Midlands State University here in Zimbabwe and that has been a great foundation for me. I have had to learn new things on the job like web and graphic design as my previous roles had nothing to do with design. I found there was a demand for this kind of work and it has helped increase my service offering.

How have people received this type of business in Zimbabwe?

Selling the idea of what I do to people is not hard, it’s the billing part that was initially hard. So I found that people received the idea of having virtual assistance as something really useful. I came with my approach of billing per hour based on research I had done in other markets. Little did I know that some approaches don’t work in Africa! And I say this with much respect for the continent – one size does not fit all. Because some clients were not time conscious, I still billed them for my time that they would have wasted. This would sometimes anger some clients and it was one of the things that would have made me give up on my business. The moment I changed approaches – put up value proposition packages – things improved. A value proposition package is in a sense packaging my services such that the benefits are clear. For each benefit I present, there is an associated value based on comparable market elements. A prospect can therefore be able to evaluate whether the value proposed versus the cost is something they would be interested in investing into. Many find it easier and clear to make that investment decision compared to when you just say “My services are $20 an hour”. This was a learning curve for me as I learnt that you have to be flexible in business, understand your market and model your business approaches to suit the environment you are in if need be.

How do you keep fun in your business?

If you spend time with me you are going to laugh. The nature of my work requires me to know my clients’ true personalities. I have to show up and be as authentic and original, as I require them to be.

Why did you decide to stay in Zimbabwe?

I have faith in the continent and in Zimbabwe. Whilst everyone is looking for a chance to run away, I want to stay and make my business work here. If I can make a business successful in Zimbabwe, I definitely can make it anywhere. I also did not want to be labelled a failure, I have many people looking up to me.

What are the challenges of running your own business at such a young age in Zimbabwe?

This was my first business ever. I had never sold even a sweet (candy) so this was a bit of a challenge for me. Trying to put yourself forward as someone who knows what they are doing can also be hard as people just look at your age and dismiss you and this can be intimidating.

Getting into the right circles and meeting the right people was also a challenge. In the early days of starting my business, I had little to zero information on networking events. Access to training and information on how to start a business in Zimbabwe is limited and some things are not as transparent as they need to be.

What can we expect from Twenty47 VA in the next five years?

I have a vision to take the business to other cities in Zimbabwe, as I aim to grow my team and provide employment. Don’t be surprised when you hear Twenty47 Virtual Assistant has changed names in the near future, we are growing, we are in a process of building it into a much bigger business.

What lessons or advice would you give other young women wanting to start their business in a difficult context like Zimbabwe?

“Don’t do this” she laughs. Be patient- very patient because you are likely not going to make a profit in the first or the second year.  Get the right training, there is a lot of free training especially for young women, all over. Learn business skills, soft skills, finance – how to manage money in your business. Get advice and a mentor. Things are easier when you have someone you look up to guiding you – whether you know them personally or not. Get into an accountability group. An accountability group is a small group of at least 2 people that you meet with or are constantly in touch with for support, encouragement and guidance in achieving a particular goal or goals. Members help each other maintain commitment to a vision by keeping each other accountable. I joined an online group in October, and ever since things have changed for the better in my business because it helps me maintain focus.

How do you keep Tari grounded?

I have three values I live by; integrity, honesty with myself and with my clients and commitment to the work I do. Apart from this, I have a very strong support system in the form of friends, family and colleagues who have been cheering me on since the day I decided to launch Twenty47 Virtual Assistant. I know they want to see me do well. All these keep me grounded and focused.

Three words to live by

  1. Honesty
  2. Commitment
  3. Humility

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