Linda Chepkwony is the founder and managing director of Kyle & Ibrahim Limited, and the founder of the Abraham Lincoln Youth Initiative. Kyle & Ibrahim Limited is an export firm based in Nairobi.
Greatest milestone: This has been the ability and opportunity to export products to the United States through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) pact. The pact is aimed at giving economies within the sub-Saharan region opportunities to do business within the US economy. Since my first export, I have gone on to build a customer base in the US. This has not been easy. It has taken a go-getting spirit risk and daring to dream to penetrate the highly competitive US market. Currently, my business deals with exports to the USA under the AGOA, and general supplies under the 30 per cent access to government procurement opportunities (AGPO). I also manufacture organic and natural peanut butter, and package specialty teas, Shea butter, and natural face soaps and face mask powders for export.
Biggest money mistake: I did not know the importance of having separate bank accounts when I started my business. I used to mix my savings, profits, personal money, and business capital in one bank account. I also had poor book keeping skills. These complicated operations and finances whenever I needed to bring in new stock for processing or settle pending bills. I have since separated my finances, and in saving, I now use a fixed deposit account which earns interests.
Building a business: I have managed to accelerate the growth of my startup through patience, and researching widely about what my competitors are doing. I also closely follow the latest trends in my industry. In the same vein, I leverage on social media a lot to create awareness about my products and services to grow my customer base. Through my journey, I have learned to believe in myself, my brand, and put a guard against intimidations by other companies and brands who run similar products. It is important to avoid competing with competitors and instead be innovative in the delivery of your own services and products.
If I could start all over again: I would do thorough research before opening my business. I would develop a more solid business plan. These two prerequisites would be good guides especially on production costs, trademarking, patenting, fixed and variable costs, unique selling points, competitor brand analysis, skill sets, and pricing.
Handling losses: While I have not experienced a major loss in my business, I have been quick to learn from successful exporters in the industry. The best way to mitigate losses in the export business is to ensure that goods slated for export are of the right quality and standards. Once quality is compromised, the exported consignment can be easily rejected and shipped back to you with costs, which will inevitably be a gigantic financial and reputation loss to the business.
Business vs employment: I would pick entrepreneurship due to the flexibility it has accorded me. Entrepreneurship makes you your own boss, allows you to explore and experiment without much retribution, and gives you the opportunity to network and create opportunities for other people.
My parting shot: Use your skills, talents and passion to either create employment for yourself, or generate direct and passive income. If you are in entrepreneurship, you must understand from the word go that it is a journey. You must be patient. You must never wait for opportunities to come knocking on your door. Go after them instead. Do not be fascinated by how so and so made a quick kill and fall into the trap of dubious and corrupt money-making deals. Stay focused, know the latest business trends, what is selling and what isn’t, and trust in God.
This feature on Linda Chepkwony was first published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.
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