Caroline Gikunda is a director at Alpha Charlie, a construction business that supplies building materials within the larger Coastal region and the Mount Kenya region, and runs holiday homes and villas at the coast.
I will always vouch for Chamas. These are the table banking groups. I have initiated several such groups and they have built up the members. This is where you identify the birds of your feather and pool resources together. Members borrow money at an interest and pay at the agreed group terms. It’s a small world of financial freedom for friends by friends.
The groups are run digitally on social media for optimum convenience. To wake up in the morning and be able to access a loan of say Sh. 500,000 in a few minutes on your WhatsApp is the best thing that can happen to a business person. This is not your money, but it’s available for you whenever you need it. The principle of trust and integrity rules here. You must come together with people that you can trust; trust they have earned over a period of time.
The key to your breakthrough is in someone’s hands. You mayn’t know who that someone is. Make it your job to find them. It doesn’t have to be the big boss. It could be the lowest person in the social ladder. Someone will advertise for a job. Someone will interview you. Someone will employ you. Someone will work with you. Someone will work under you or you will work under someone. It’s always about people. Treat them right.
I have learned when to stop and cut my losses when they’re still manageable. Today, I am aware that if a client is having a difficult time paying for a tonne of sand, they will certainly not be able to pay for tens of tonnes of the same product. I have also learnt that everyone cannot be my client. This has helped me set my standards, treat my customers equally, and give them the space to make their choice of supplier.
I was barely two years old in the heavy transport industry when I made my biggest loss yet. A certain guy approached me one afternoon and claimed that he had won a big tender with China Roads for which he needed to hire trucks. We negotiated and settled for Sh. 18,000 per day for each of my two trucks. He’d be paying after every 15 days. It was a good deal. I was looking at money literally. We went to his advocate in Mombasa who drew an agreement. We all signed and the trucks were released to Voi. Come the 15th, he failed to pay. He started spinning lies.
At the end of the month, he switched his phone off. I visited his advocate’s office only to learn that the advocate had moved out of town. We withdrew our trucks which were in very bad shape and lost Sh. 1,080,000. They needed mechanical repair and our banks needed to be paid. It was a rough patch but I walked out alive. You can always avoid or reduce losses by asking for payment upfront.
I have learnt that in this country there are no shortcuts to making money. Once, someone came to me with a business deal that needed my input. It sounded so good to be real. I got a loan to finance it. Later, I got seriously burnt in it. It was a pyramid scheme in disguise. I lost money. This experience taught me the essence of trust in business.
Don’t just trust anyone because a deal sounds good. Let your trust be earned. In business, you have to go the very long way. You will lose and you will gain. Don’t lose hope when you are losing. But if your skills and passion are not in it, don’t engage in it. Because when you are no longer making money, what will be your driving force?
I value integrity because it has made my journey easier. Pay your debts. In business, you will always find yourself with cash flow problems. To be rich is not to always have all the money that you need lying in your account. To be rich is the ability to access money whenever you need it.
I always tap myself on the shoulder for bringing sanity and order in the heavy transport sector in this region. People seeking transport services in this region would suffer so many inconveniences. Often they’d lose money to brokers. I was a victim of these shoddy services some years back. I yearned to change this. I got all trucks to bear the owner’s contact number and we registered a Sacco known as Transmasa (Transporters of Malindi Sacco) where I am the Treasurer.
This feature was first published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.