Sharon Imbuga is the owner and director of Lush Naturals, a Nairobi-based business that deals with the sale of natural organic products for skin and hair.
In 2014 to 2015, I worked with Bank of Africa. I was based in Kisumu. I resigned from my position after falling pregnant. My tasks were too demanding and I couldn’t cope with the pressure. I returned to Nairobi and after the delivery of my baby, I needed to do something to fend for myself and my baby. I started doing odd jobs. One of those that I regularly did was the Mama Fua hustle.
I started selling natural products back in 2016. This was after I noticed that the organic beauty products were largely unexploited, yet the demand was on the rise. At the time, I was working in Nairobi as a ‘Mama Fua’. From this hustle, I managed to save Sh2,000. This amount was inadequate and I didn’t have the necessary experience to run the business. So I looked for a job as a sales agent for an organic products company.
I acquired my business skills from employment. My task was simple. I would get products at a discounted price and sell them. I held this position for one year. Within this time, I tried to learn as much as I could on what products the market needed, what people were buying, what complaints were common, and the profit margins that I could make. In 2017, I left this job and started my own business dealing with the same products.
During my employment days, I had built up a network of customers. One year later, in 2018, I broke even. I have had my own share of challenges. The biggest has been lack of adequate cash flow in my early business days. I had to rely on constant profit reinvestment to stabilise. Accessing products was also difficult. Most of the products I deal with are shipped in from different countries, and there are delays with importation, which can cause operational problems.
I learned to save money the hard way. When I started, I wasn’t good with saving money. I would sometimes use money meant for business on my personal expenses. This changed when I sought professional advice on how to handle money, and reorganised my business and personal funds and expenses. Today, one of the things that has worked for me is the strategy of paying myself from the business as if I am an employee. I also save through the Sacco. I have a weekly target for this. Previously, I saved through chamas. This didn’t work as I had expected. My money wasn’t growing.
If you are in business, it is important to treat all customers equally and with respect. This is what will give you an edge when it comes to customer retention. When I was transitioning from employment to business, I would not have succeeded in retaining most of my customers if I had treated them with disrespect, or only showed interest based on their money or spending power.