Becoming an entrepreneur in Kenya and learning to cope with stress

I have had the proverbial “entrepreneurial itch” since I was 21 years old. That was when my sister and I moved back from Ohio to Nairobi. I came back and I worked at a hotel in the CBD in Nairobi for two weeks and hated it! I told myself that it was better to have my own business and suffer in it than in someone else’s. My mum, sister and I proceeded to brain storm on ideas and a bakery sounded great ( the bonus was that I love baking ^_^!) We bought a charcoal oven, a few baking pans, rented a small shop locally and started baking and selling. Unfortunately, we didn’t really have a business or marketing plan written and that, coupled with the illness of a close relative – our business failed in 1 1/2 months.

Our relative sadly passed away and we soon shut down the shop and moved back home. The thing about me however, is that I am rather stubborn and hard-headed; I don’t give up easily. I decided to be baking at home and supplying to customers. Sadly, that was also done without a plan and in about 10 months, the business was very much in debt and slowing down to a stand still. My business idea had failed miserably. The thing about my family is that they know me very well, especially my sister; they had given up on the family business but since they knew I hadn’t accepted it, they let me keep going.

Luckily, a close family friend had a position in a church organization that was restarting their industries and there was a managerial position for their store ware-house and bakery. With my hotel management background and baking skills; he thought I was perfect for the job (and I was ^_^). He hired me in no time and I started the job. Since the place was restarting, it is possibly the hardest job I have ever taken; it is also the most rewarding job that I have ever had. The job involved setting up systems and operations for the various departments. Picking out new team members and harmonizing all the departments in order to work well together; it was like setting up a new business. We worked a lot of late nights and early mornings; we argued, encountered challenges, had set-backs; but somehow we created something wonderful that worked and we were proud of it ^_^!

After working there for 2 years, I started getting that itch again – I grew restless. I had ignored (or pushed them firmly into the back of my head) my entrepreneurial dreams. I would ask myself: If I can set up an effective system for someone else’s business, couldn’t I do the same for my own? I shared my thoughts with my sister who agreed that she had the same thoughts (she had also joined the organization a year after I had). We sat down one night and brain-stormed on ideas. Since I still wanted the bakery business, we agreed it was still a viable option. We just needed a plan; a business plan on how the business would be set up, what we would sell, how we would market and sell it, the capital and extra equipment required to do so. We planned over the course of two months and agreed on saving our money slowly to be prepared. When we were almost ready, we handed in over our letters of resignation 2 months ahead to let the organization find replacements for our positions. We set about taking care of last minute requirements e.g. permits, licenses etc. Two months later we launched the home baking business.

Now most people at this point would think that it was the end of our problems and the stress-free life of being your own boss had begun. Boy, would you be wrong, it was the end of answering to another boss – yes; but it was the beginning of running our own business and carrying its weight by ourselves.

My sister does our financial reports and advises on any major purchases, decisions, product launches and changes. I run the rest of the business, that is; all the operations, sales, human  resources, marketing ( my sis assists at times), PR and everything else that comes with a small business.

We have been doing well so far, we’ve been going strong for a year and three months. We’ve gone through many ups and downs, but we’re still here. We recently got a small shop to bake and sell from (I’m very excited about that ^_^!), and it’s been open for 7 weeks and counting. It is both a joy as well as additional stress (more expenses!). However, I am glad we’re still here and we’re still moving forward, slowly but steadily. At least there’s something I’m doing right ^_^!

I’m writing this post while wondering how I’ll pay rent that was due yesterday and an employee who wants his salary as well. Also wondering how to stretch my budget to accomodate for stock (can you say STRESS!!) At the same time, I have customers that come daily to buy our products and come back again and we get more cake orders every weekend from local customers. Our Bakery was featured in an episode of “Road to Success on KBC” last month and will be featured on “KBC’s Vijana In Action” in 2 weeks – hard work does pay off. (JOY ^_^!)

Me and some of the cakes that I bake ^_^

I’m so glad I resigned from my last job and grateful for all that I learned from it. Life as an entrepreneur in Kenya (especially a lady & a youth) is tough, difficult and stressful; but most importantly it’s rewarding, fulfilling and totally worth it as well. I’m learning to take each day as it comes, not to sweat the small stuff, to manage stress and not let it get to me somehow. It is a tough journey ahead, but I know that I will make it – Together we all shall ^_^!

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