7 Important Lessons My Mentor Has Taught Me In Four Months

I recently agreed to take up a consulting job for an upcoming conference center. One of the main reasons why I decided to do so; is that there is a business lady I wanted to work with. She is a business woman based in Nyeri; however she does business all over Kenya – her name is Irene.
I am humbled to have her as my mentor-ess (^_^). It’s amazing how much you can learn from someone who has a vast amount of knowledge and wisdom in a short period of time. I’m constantly learning a lot from her and I’m glad I chose this opportunity to do so. I never knew how important it is to have a mentor, especially if you’re a start-up entrepreneur.
Here are a few important things I’ve learned from her in such a short time; that will help any entrepreneur(s) out there.
1. Create more than one stream of revenue.
When you work on your start-up and it stabilizes; create another income generating project and if possible, another. This will guarantee when you have lows in the economy – especially in some industries, you’ll have a kind of cushion when it comes to the revenue you’re collecting. If possible, ensure that the income generating projects are in different industries. An example of how my mentor does that is by having a business in the hotel industry, one in the road construction industry and another as a wholesale distributor of goods to institutions and large organizations.
2. Be tough and authoritative
If you are a start-up entrepreneur; you will wear many hats, especially the one of a manager. You will have to make tough decisions especially when it comes to your employees. As important as it is to work with your employees and get to know them; you are still the boss. If there are difficult issues to be addressed; no matter how hard it is, you should address them. If you have employees who are likable but are not working well, make sure to address the issues at hand. They may not like it; and you may not either, but you have to do it. If you are a manager in an organization; some changes may be necessary to make, they may not please everyone – but you are the boss, so they will have to follow suit. Don’t be timid in your directions, be authoritative.
3. Have your own unique personal style
Don’t be afraid to dress the part as a start-up entrepreneur; dress accordingly. If you’re in a corporate setting; dress professionally and according to the industry setting. You can dress more casually if you’re industry calls for it; or if you are in the fashion industry – ‘dress to kill.’ Make sure you dress comfortably and appropriately. Select outfits that give you confidence and make the right impression. If you’re as brave and confident as my mentor, feel free to dress in bold colors such as yellow and red ^_^. They make a statement and your look exudes confidence as well.

Even Beyonce knows how to rock a pant suit ^_^

Even Beyonce knows how to rock a pant suit ^_^

4. Be generous: give and you shall receive
Most start-up entrepreneurs I’ve met and even heard about have big hearts; therefore it’s not hard for most of them to follow this advice. Give in any way that you can, it doesn’t have to be money, give your time to people in different ways. You can teach people a skill you know and want to help them empower themselves. You can share information about a certain topic that will help many people who have similar passion or interests but don’t know as much as you do (a great way to do this is starting a blog that offers information on a certain topic e.g. baking, saving energy using jikos, etc.). You can join a group of people who help others e.g. a church, youth or common interest group. You can volunteer your time or services to an NGO that helps people. There are many ways to give back to the community. Choose one way and start giving; you’ll be blessed in return.

Be Generous

Be Generous

5. Network – network like a fiend!
One thing I’ve noticed with Irene is that she knows a lot of people in many different industries and walks of life. She is a great connector and is always meeting different people as well as introducing me to different people as well. At first it seemed to me like a talent you have to be born with due to how easy it was for her. She has however taught me to be constantly on the look-out for experts in different fields, entrepreneurs who can help by offering great products and/or services. As well as just meeting people in order to enrich your life; spiritually, mentally or business-wise. I have realized you can gain insight on many topics and industries from certain people even at one sitting. I have gotten better at networking and even though I have a long way to go; with more practice it will come naturally to me in time. Ensure you do the same everywhere you go. If you identify great entrepreneurs and individuals who seem to have insight into specific things, get to know them. Connect with them, ask questions and if possible; keep in touch. You will grow exponentially when you learn how to network.

Connect with insightful individuals

Connect with insightful individuals

6. Have faith; in God and in yourself
I am a Christian and I have a very strong faith. Whatever religion you are, make sure you have a strong belief in your faith; it will keep you strong especially through the tough times (and they are many!) You should also make sure you believe in yourself and abilities. As start-up entrepreneurs; sometimes we often feel overwhelmed by some projects and we can start doubting our skills and abilities at times. It’s necessary to be self-motivated as an entrepreneur. Believe in your idea or passion in the same way you take breath every moment of your life. Have faith in your skills and ability to grow and keep learning. My mentor is the kind of person who encounters challenges in life and doesn’t seem affected by them at all. She always finds a way out or around any issue and believes they is always a solution. She has the utmost confidence in herself and her ability as a business woman; to me that is truly inspirational.
7. You can be a successful entrepreneuress and have a happy family life
In this day and age; many marriages don’t last and families are constantly breaking apart. A large reason is mainly due to the spouses being too busy to nourish their family life and work on their relationships in order for the marriages to work. A lot of start-up entrepreneurs (especially women) find it difficult to run a business and have a successful family life. It is not an impossible thing; one just has to work hard at the relationship and work as partners with your spouse. Many great business women have shown great examples of how it’s possible; my mentor is no different. She has a successful family life and maintains a good balance of business and family most of the time. She shares that it’s not a perfect life but she knows when to give her time to her family and when to focus on business – that is the key. Create time to nurture and grow your personal and family relationships even as you do business. It’s very important in life and especially when you need moral support. It’s very inspiring for me to see up-close how achievable it is (I won’t lie, I was skeptic before ^_^).
I hope these bits of advice will help you out as an entrepreneur; I know they’ve helped me a lot. You don’t necessarily have to go out and find a mentor; but it’s advisable to have one. You can even choose someone who inspires you and read about them; learn from their actions (and even mistakes) and if possible – connect with them.
Do you have a mentor, or just someone who inspires you, challenges you to be better and gives you guidance? Feel free to share any piece of advice you’ve learned from him/her below. Thanks!
If you found this post helpful, make sure to spread the love by sharing with your friends ^_^

5 Ways To Build A Positive Corporate Culture In Your Business

I’ve been rather terrible with my content scheduling since last month I will admit, (due to a busier schedule ^_^) and so I’ve decided to follow my own advice – plan ahead and stick to the plan! Today’s post is motivated by three different business cultures that I’ve encountered over the last two months that have highlighted the need for a deliberate organizational culture in any setting; whether an NGO, Church organization, Government organization or business.
I’ve encountered two negative corporate cultures; in a festival setting that I was involved in and a church organization I’m consulting for that’s in transition from one leader to another. I’ve also encountered a very positive and open culture with a vendor I deal with that is very inspiring. This made me realize that whether a business or organization leader chooses to cultivate a culture deliberately or not; a culture forms anyway. If a leader or leaders of a business or organization cultivate a positive culture deliberately, they build a very positive, happy culture and staff that extends to their clients or customers as well. If a leader does not actively promote positive attitudes and perpetuates a negative attitude and actions as well, the organization’s culture becomes a very negative one that also extends to clients, customers and even interns (if such a program exists within the organization). This should motivate any entrepreneur to cultivate a positive business/corporate culture in his/her business for long-term success in the business. Success will be achieved because you will have highly productive employees who are happy and have a positive attitude. This positive attitude will shine through in daily operations to vendors, clients, interns and this will lead to people being satisfied with your business and staying loyal to your brand. Here are a few ways you can build a deliberate positive corporate or organizational culture in your business.

1. Show your employees respect at all times
Many company or organization leaders, especially here in Kenya, don’t show respect to their employees. They like to treat them like lowly servants and show them they are of a lower class, by addressing and treating them in negative ways. This is a colonial and out-dated way of thinking and it’s becoming increasingly ineffective in the management of companies. Many successful companies in the world these days have very positive cultures and focus on ensuring the satisfaction of their work force e.g. Virgin or Hubspot. They realize that happy employees are highly productive and will help you build a successful business. No matter what your position as a leader is in an organization or a business; respect your subordinates, whether you are a manager, department head or even the CEO or founder.

Respect each other

Respect each other

Bottom Line: Treat your employees with respect and dignity as you would treat any other human being and you would like to be treated in kind. Listen to them and do not put them down verbally or otherwise. This will earn the respect of your employees and they will work hard for the company to make it successful.

2. Keep an open line of communication in your business
Are employees afraid to speak up in meetings? Are they afraid to answer honestly when you ask any question? Is it difficult for employees to reach you when they want to discuss a sensitive matter with you? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you need to change the way you communicate with your employees or subordinates. Have brief meetings weekly with your staff to get their opinions on the way the business is running and any challenges they are dealing with daily. Encourage honest feedback on operations and any other issues that concern the business. Employees may share important information on challenges being faced and ways to overcome them in your organization.
Bottom Line: Whether you are a small startup where your staff report directly to you or a larger company where they report to unit or department managers; ensure there is always an open line of communication. This will cultivate a culture of happy employees who feel they are listened to and their opinions are important to the company. They will work hard to make sure your company is a success.

3. Trust your team
If you have hired a team to help you run your business e.g. an accountant, a human resource manager, head of operations, a secretary etc. You have chosen them due to their qualifications, experience and they have showed they work well with minimal supervision and deliver positive results. Don’t micro-manage them, trust them to do their jobs without having to call them or stand over their shoulder every minute to inquire on the progress.

Trust your team (Image: mashable.com)

Trust your team (Image: mashable.com)

Bottom Line: Trust your team to work well and efficiently; monitor them periodically by putting systems in place to check the progress on all operations. Don’t micro-manage.

4. Show accountability
Company leaders are always asking their employees to be accountable for their actions and their work. A good leader leads by action; if you want your staff to be accountable, you should do the same. If you set goals that involve your employees or make any promises in the work place; make sure to work hard and achieve the goals, as well as fulfill your promises. If you’re not able to, communicate the reasons why to your staff and how you intend to deal with the situation effectively.
Bottom Line: Be accountable in your company or small business. Employees feel motivated to be accountable in their work if their leaders are accountable as well.

5. Have fun at work
As a business leader, CEO or founder of your business; you spend 90% (or more) of your time at work. Your employees also spend most of their week at the work place as well. It therefore makes sense to make the working place an easy and fun environment to work at for any individual who works there. It’s alright to loosen up and have some fun while working. You can even plan monthly team building or sports activities that are fun for your employees and will create a bonding experience for the whole company.

keep calm - work hard and have fun poster
Bottom Line: Ensure your employees are having fun at work, but not at the expense of professionalism or your company’s business goals.

These are just a few ways of creating a positive corporate/organizational culture for your business in order to ensure success for your company as well as your employees.
If you have any other suggestions feel free to comment below.

If you find this post helpful and would like to share – please do so below.
Spread the word ^_^!

Interview with Pauline Twala of Affordable Eats, Kisumu

I’ve recently been meeting great people and also connecting with amazing people online. I’ve decided to start a segment where I’ll be sharing some interviews with inspiring entrepreneurs who have built a successful business or are in the process of doing so. I will have them share their insight on what they do and a bit of entrepreneurial advice for all of us start up entrepreneurs out there.

Pauline Twala of Affordable Eats

Pauline Twala of Affordable Eats

I recently connected online with an amazing lady (we bakers gravitate towards each other ^_^) called Pauline Twala; she’s the owner of Affordable Eats – Kisumu’s Boutique Catering. Affordable Eats is a catering business that serves events as well as a bakery that makes cakes for occasions and weddings. Pauline is also a baking instructor who teaches students how to bake and decorate amazing cake creations in Kisumu. Pauline is not originally a pastry chef or culinary artist; she has a background of political science and public administration. She is however a self-taught baker and cake decorator who followed her passion and started her own business about two years ago in Kisumu. To learn more about her story, please click on this link.

Pauline in the Daily Nation - she's the next big thing!

Pauline in the Daily Nation – she’s the next big thing!

Here is our online interview; very insightful responses.

1.) Why did you start a business? Why in this industry?

My passion for baking and cooking developed when I was very young. I remember I was a member of the cooking club back when I was in St.Georges’ Primary School – Nairobi at the age of 9 and I’d always go back home to try out recipes we had learnt. Then life took over I did a degree in Political Science and Public Administration at Moi University. I have worked as a market researcher and an office administrator with a number of organizations but I just couldn’t settle and felt so unfulfilled. After my contract ended with Italian Embassy – development co-operation in December 2011, I thought it was about time I change careers and do something that I enjoyed doing.Initially when I started in 2012, my main focus was outside catering but the demand for catering services tends to fluctuate primarily because catering services reach peak demand for special occasions i.e. wedding and end year corporate parties. I later added the cake section in the same year in response to market demands and after a lot of research. You don’t need an occasion to celebrate cake and it was the best decision I made. I have fallen in love more with cakes as I really love the creative elements of cake designing.

 2.) What’s your niche in your business? What problem do you solve?

A niche is basically “find a hole and fill it” So the hole I fill is creating a cake that tells a story as well as push limits with cake and create things that look so real that someone may have to ask “is that cake”

3.) How do you market your business? Is it effective?

I figured early online the importance of having an online presence and took a DIY approach to build my website as well as a Facebook page to grow the business and drive customer growth and this has greatly opened doors for us not only with clients but with media coverage as well.

 4.) What is your motivation? How do you get inspired?

Cakes make people smile. I get delighted when I make others excited with unbelievable cakes and it keeps me motivated to get better at what am doing.

5.) Favorite inspirational quote?

My favourite quote and one that I also live by is “Never give up” This quote has kept me going. I am where I am right now because I believe in my dreams and I am inspired to make them a reality. God has blessed me with a talent so I will be acting ungrateful if I didn’t use it. So sometimes when things get hard and I want to stop, I remind myself that He would not have given it to me if I could not bear it so “never give up”

6.) What is your morning routine? When do you wake up?

Every day is different and since I’m a “night owl” my mornings do not all begin at the same time. However currently am in between routines, trying to come up with something I could fit in an hour or less that still has all the elements that nourish me on the physical, mental and emotional level.

7.) How do you de-stress? Relieve business stress?

In no apparent order: I take deep breaths, take a walk, listen to my favourite music and sing it out loud, laugh out loud, watch a movie, call a friend or family to vent out if need be

8.) Top 3 favorite websites? and why?

I bookmark any site that has great decorating advice and tutorials as well as forums to connect with others to talk about baking and decorating

9.) Any advice for any youth who have started a business in Kenya & facing challenges?

I would just say this – if you have the desire and inspiration and eagerness then do it and never despair the rest will happen along the way. There are many people out there who will tell you that you can’t. What you’ve got to do is turn around and say ‘Watch me.’”  It is also so important that you have fun and treat it as a joyful experience. Also make sure you have a good support system around you, whether it be a spouse, family or friends.

10.) Your current favorite song?

I have loved still love and will always love “so close I believe” by Hillsong this song is so inspirational and will get me into tears just being amazed at God’s faithfulness.

11.) What’s the best part of your business? Worst/Annoying part?

My highlights: Firstly it’s finding myself through this journey of cakes. Now I can’t imagine my life without Affordable Eats. I live it, talk about it and most times bake and decorate cakes in my dreams. Secondly without a doubt, seeing the smiles on my client’s face, the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. When they take the time to write feedback and say thank you for the inspiration or for a great cake. That for me is the most rewarding feeling. The same applies to my students whom I teach cake baking and decorating it’s so nice to see a student’s face when they realize they can and giving them skills at a shot at making it a career…Lastly I have made so many virtual friends through Affordable Eats although I’ve never met them in real life, I do consider them friends, bound by a common interest. It’s Amazing the kind of support I have received from fellow “cakers”! Who knew cake could do that?!

For challenges: Firstly there’s no universal cake language – you can refrigerate fondant covered cake/you cannot refrigerate fondant covered cake, fondant should be used up immediately it’s made/fondant should rest at least 8 hours or overnight before use, you should use straws to dowel/only use wooden dowels………….it’s a long list of this is the way/that is not the way. Secondly the time investment can be pretty tough and I mean REALLY TOUGH. Most of the cakes take 20 to 30 hours each.  I’ve had some that took more than 50 hours and all this in between meeting clients, making deliveries, book keeping, social media marketing and advertising, answering calls and emails, classes etc. It’s physically demanding. Cake decorators are really a special breed – to make cakes we can stay up until wee hours of the morning and then still manage to function during the day, as if we were sleeping well all night long.

12.) Who are your key influences/ role models?

You can learn so many things from so many people around you but my favourite role model has to be my late mother. No word can encompass her but she was simply the best

13.) Five words that describe you?

Determined, Fighter,Spontaneous,Generous,Reliable

14.) How do you deal with financial crisis in your business? or any other crisis?

By taking actions that will cut on spending as much as possible and focusing on increasing cash flow or generating more income and saving that income even if it means extra hours.

Amazing cake by Affordable Eats.

Amazing cake by Affordable Eats.

Great interview! Amazing Kenyan female entrepreneur to watch out for, I wish her all the best!

Make sure you check out her business website as well as her Facebook page for Affordable Eats – Kisumu’s Boutique Catering. If you’re in Kisumu please order some cake for any occasion as well as catering services ^_^

How to maintain a healthy Romantic relationship while running a start-up.

So today’s lifestyle topic is about maintaining a romantic relationship while running a start-up.

You may wonder why I’m writing about such a topic on a blog about business (February was the month of love – I was inspired ^_^), well, I like to address all topics that affect young entrepreneurs. To be honest, there are things that we entrepreneurs may not talk about because we’re not expected to, but I’m sure more than once, a romantic relationship has suffered due to the strain of one of the partners (or both) being in a situation where they concentrate so much on his/her business to the detriment of the relationship. This is one of the challenges that an entrepreneur faces, but often will not talk about. Today I want to address the topic.

To be honest, when I started the bakery, I decided to remain single since I was aware that a business would require all the time I had and since a relationship also requires time and commitment, I felt that I did not want to comprise any side (it also helped that I was not dating anyone at the time – so, easy choice ^_^) However, one might find that they are romantically attached to someone and they want to continue the relationship, as well as start a business. It’s not to say that any side should suffer, you just have to work hard on both activities to keep them going as well as plan accordingly. Based on observation (and a bit of experience), I have found a few tips that will help entrepreneur couples to keep their relationships strong as they continue to do business.

You can make it in a relationship as an entrepreneur

You can make it in a relationship as an entrepreneur

If you are in a relationship or would like to be in one and you’re not sure if it will work, I hope these tips will help you in building your relationship or strengthen your current one.

  1. Share at least one meal a day

    As easy as it sounds, it can be hard for entrepreneur couples to find the time to even share a meal together. I would suggest doing so; whether it’s an early breakfast, brunch, lunch or making sure that you eat dinner together. Try and make sure you do so; it’s a great time to catch up on the day, share any ups or downs of the day. This helps you maintain the bond required to build a lasting relationship. If daily is not possible; at least aim for 3 to 5 days weekly.

    Share a meal & share your day with your partner

    Share a meal & share your day with your partner

  2. Communication is important

    I can honestly say that I have been in a relationship that has ended due to poor communication between both of us. For most, it’s lack of it; where you find that you don’t talk for at least 3 days or even text each other. Make sure that you communicate at least once daily and if you can, try 2 or 3 times, no matter how busy you are. It’s good to keep in touch and let each other know how you’re doing, even though it’s one or two texts during the day.

    Communication between both partners is important

    Communication between both partners is important

    Couples that don’t communicate find that they are out of sync and fight more often due to misunderstandings that can be easily avoided.

    Another kind of communication is the verbal kind, it’s good to be honest about opinions and situations so the other partner can understand your point of view on a certain topic or challenge. Some couples just ignore any negative feelings or opinions they have and decide not to share with their partner. Unfortunately all those feelings build up in a negative way and the relationship suffers. So make sure you communicate your feelings in a mature, reasonable way to your partner to avoid misunderstanding.

  3. Personal Time Together

    This is another thing that seems simple enough, but can be tough on entrepreneur couples. As an entrepreneur, it’s hard to keep a balance on personal and work time. Most of the time, as an entrepreneur, work time is all the time ^_^. Make sure you make time for personal dates, whether out or within the home, make sure you try and do it weekly or if not possible bi-weekly. This helps maintain your strong bond, but also lets your partner know that they are still important to you, enough to make time for them. Even once a month, if you’re extremely busy, is enough to make the point ^_^.

    Make time together - go dancing ^_^

    Make time together – go dancing ^_^

  4. Do Something Special for your partner

    When you do something special for a loved one, they feel loved and appreciated. This is something that couples forget (especially when they get past the ‘honey-moon’ stage). When you do something special, and it doesn’t have to cost you anything, it reinforces to your partner how special they are and that you think of them, and they feel appreciated. An example of a few things to do would be; sending a special e-card with a message to them, getting them a coupon for one of their favorite products (like a bakery coupon or a gym gift certificate), getting your lady a single rose to make their day or evening, if you live with your partner; leaving out their towel for them before getting prepared in the morning.

    Do special things for each other & your relationship will last a long time.

    Do special things for each other & your relationship will last a long time.

    I once had a guy who used to call my phone and leave a voice mail of a lovely song with a message so when I woke up and listened, it just made me smile ^_^. You can even make a music playlist for your special someone of songs you know they love and can listen to during their daily commute or while working out. I’m sure there are lots of small gestures you can think of to do daily, or weekly for that special someone to give their day an extra lift.

  5. Keep the faith during hard times

    I’ve added this last topic since I have been in such a situation where the relationship goes through hard times and it feels that the best course of action is just to break up. I believe that if you are committed to a relationship and you really want it to work; you should try as hard as possible to get through the tough times, they are what makes or breaks a relationship (and when you get through them, they make the relationship stronger).

    Of course, all relationships have different dynamics, however, if you’re both committed, then it should be a question of getting through these times together. When times are hard, try and understand what your partner is going through, and remember why you chose to be in the relationship originally. Talk to someone you trust who is close to you for advice and then work out your problems with your partner positively.

Relationships with entrepreneurs are difficult but not impossible, if you truly want yours to work, it will. Just like a business, you have to constantly work on it, be positive, keep learning from your mistakes, adapt to your partner and situations and never give up.

If you have any other tips to offer, please feel free to comment below, thanks ^_^.