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HUSTLE: How We Successfully Pivoted Our Businesses

by kenya-tribune
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Two years after the raging effects of Covid-19, some entrepreneurs have been forced to pivot their businesses to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

Pivoting a business means to make a shift or turn in a new direction when current products or services are not moving, or meeting the needs of the market.

Three Kenyan female entrepreneurs spoke to Eve magazine about how they successfully pivoted their businesses.

PATIENCE ATSANGO (30), WIFE AND MOTHER

WHAT DO YOU DO FOR A LIVING?

I am an entrepreneur in the business of personal and brand development. After graduating from university in 2015, I worked for a local bank for a year. Thereafter, I was poached by an international IT company. I was hired as the regional marketing manager at age 25 and was handling about 17 accounts. However, in October 2017 the company downsized and I lost my job.

HOW DID YOU HANDLE THE JOB LOSS?

I was calm as I had some money saved up. I wanted to rest and re-strategise, but after about a month I was hired as a sales manager to run a team of six by an SME that was selling Microsoft solutions.

I am often bold and willing to take risks and I would pitch ideas, but unfortunately, the CEO was not willing to take risks. I realised that if I stayed it would stifle my growth and so together with a colleague, we left to start our own company. We registered an IT company, a Microsoft Partner company to sell their different products in 2018.

HOW DID THE PARTNERSHIP WORK OUT?

It was a disaster. I was not equipped as an entrepreneur as I did not have the right training. We were both doing everything wrong because we simply did not know how to run a business. I lacked leadership skills, plus, there was mismanagement of funds and poor management in general, and after about a year the partnership came to an end. I felt so much loss because we had technically wasted a whole year.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

I do not believe in giving up, so I decided to pivot and learn from my previous mistakes and then try again. Once I decided to start a business that would deal with building strong business and personal brand development through coaching, I did a leadership course from a coach in the US. Also, I worked for a company that did training around personal and business branding to get hands-on experience, and in 2019, Digitech was born. Everything was going well until the pandemic struck.

HOW DID COVID AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS?

Firstly, we had to move the business from the office to home and we made losses. Also, before covid, a lot of our income was from physical training workshops. Later on, we tried virtual training but quickly realised that people were not so quick to adopt it.

Refusing to be discouraged, I investigated and found out that as a result of covid businesses were now more interested in digital marketing as more people were moving online, and so we filled this gap. So covid was a win-and-loss situation for me because I had to cut back on workshops; however, on the corporate side, a lot of companies benefit from our digital marketing services. Our workshops are now back to being our top earner, and we are in a good place.

ANY ADVICE FOR BUSINESS OWNERS?

As a female entrepreneur put your head high, especially in a market that is crowded by men, and maintain integrity in the job market. Be consistent in what you are doing. Also, be flexible and open to change, and smile at challenges because they are all part and parcel of having a thriving business. Lastly, trust God and pray.

ANN MUGURE (35)

HOW DID COVID AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS?

I have run Annlys Beauty Nail and Beyond saloon for four years now, and during the lockdown, the physical flow of clients was disrupted. We had the option to close shop or to pivot. To survive we started home visits for clients and cut costs by being creative where necessary. Further, my landlord gave us 50 per cent off on rent for a whole year, which helped to keep us afloat.

HOW IS THE BUSINESS DOING POST-PANDEMIC?

We have a good number of clients who now prefer home visit saloon care, and we cater to that. However, most of our clients are walk-ins. thankfully, we are now back on our feet, but I feel the business has reached a plateau. For this reason, I need to pivot again.

DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO REVAMP YOUR BUSINESS?

To get myself out of the rut I did a roll call of my customers to find out what I could do to make their experience better. I am in the process of providing new services. Secondly, marketing has always been a challenge for me and so I hired an expert marketer.

Also, networking is important, and that is why I belong to networking groups like Business Network International and I Am African. I have not only gotten new customers through networking, but I have also had the chance to meet and talk with people in similar businesses. I have asked questions about the plateau I find myself in, and I realise the next stage for my business is expansion.

ALICE MIGWI (46), WIFE AND MOTHER OF THREE

WHAT IS YOUR WORK HISTORY?

I worked for Maersk Line, a shipping company for 15 years. While there, I held various positions and worked in different countries. I moved back to Kenya from Tanzania in 2013 after resigning from my job. When my family and I came back home, we bought a piece of land where we grew crops and would sell the excess to neighbours and restaurants. Later on, we saw the potential in farming and invested in greenhouse equipment and other farming equipment. I applied for jobs but I was not successful, so I focused on the farming business.

HOW DID THE BUSINESS PERFORM?

We began supplying different restaurants and businesses with fruits and vegetables. Looking back, I realise that the business grew faster than I could manage it. I also offered too many products and gave our clients long credit periods, and they would either pay late, pay less or not pay at all. In the end, we found ourselves in debt and, eventually, the land we had bought was repossessed by the bank. We had invested about Sh14 million in farming and we lost it all. The period between 2016 and 2018 was difficult for us as a family but, in life, you have to keep moving and learning.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

I do not believe in giving up and so I tried my hand at different businesses. I even started a kibanda (makeshift restaurant) in Westlands. I have always loved plants and so I found a way to display them in my restaurant. Clients could not get over how I had managed to grow a garden in such a small space. They would ask questions and even request to buy some of the plants I had put in the restaurant for decoration purposes. That was when I began to realise that although people in Nairobi live in small spaces compared to rural areas, they still want to create beautiful green spaces within the urban spaces they live in. I saw a gap and decided to do a course on Urban Gardening. I signed up for a Post Graduate Certificate in Urban Nature: Connecting Cities, Nature and Innovation from Lund University in 2019.

DID YOU START A BUSINESS AFTER?

In 2020, Gardenology was born. We provide gardening solutions for urban spaces, and the services we offer include setting up, educating, and maintenance of growing edible and ornamental plants in indoor and outdoor urban spaces; and efficient waste management through modern composting techniques. Whether it is a small balcony, backyard, farm, lawn, or even a container garden, I love when I transform spaces into productive and attractive ones.

DID THE LOCKDOWN AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS?

We had to close our Westlands restaurant. At the time I and my family were renting a house in Matasia, Kajiado County, and we had good space. I took advantage of the space and for the whole of 2020, I improved my gardening skills by watching Youtube videos and reading books. I also began a YouTube channel and challenged myself to grow 100 different types of vegetables, herbs, and ornamental plants (house plants and circulants). My videos did not go viral but one or two people saw them and contacted me to teach them about gardening. Also, a lot of people became covid gardeners, and I took advantage of that and started online classes, often for free because what I wanted was teaching experience. Jubilee Insurance’s Wellness Department asked me to train their members and their children on various gardening skills as they wanted to add value to their members. I did the training on WhatsApp and telegraph.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

I found myself with too many plants that could not fit in my garden space. Hence, I rented another space in Matasia where I put up a nursery and began selling the plants. People started buying the plants in droves and I realised I needed to pivot again. I intentionally hired specialists – a botanist and an agricultural engineer – since they had specific courses in gardening.

My business flagship is training, and this time I decided to start training gardeners. My clients would hire me to train their gardeners on different gardening techniques. We also started taking on small-hold farmers with the land below 5 acres and training them.

Further, we increased our skills by getting training at the Global Gap Academy on the best agricultural practices, which are normally used by export companies. We wanted to use our training on best agricultural practices to train local farmers to produce the best quality products to be sold locally.

I am also pursuing a course on the soil food web, so I can be a soil consultant on top of the other services we provide at Gardenology. The space I was renting for my nursery in Matasia, which I had originally used to offload the plants I had grown during Covid was no longer enough. This year we moved to land my husband and I own in Isinya, Kajiado County. Our goal is to put up a family home and grow vegetables, an orchard, indigenous trees, and a nursery.

ANY ADVICE ON HOW TO SUCCESSFULLY PIVOT?

Use what you have and do not be scared to do something new. You also do not have to move away from the industry you find yourself in. This is because every industry has possibilities, so if one angle is not working, try another angle within the same industry.

Also, if you must move into a different industry remember that the skills in one industry can serve you in another. I for example originally came from logistics and shipping, and in my current business logistics is a big part of what I do.

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