Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Liz Gitau: How I started my business with Sh. 600,000 loan and what I learnt

Liz Gitau is the Director at Web Staffing Kenya Limited, a domestic workers placement agency that connects families with skilled domestic workers.

I started the business in 2015. I was employed but had a lot of free time on my hands. I frequented social media during my free time, and one day, I came across a Facebook Group post by a mother who was asking what to do because her house-help had told her she wanted to leave, yet she had a meeting the same morning. In the comment section, many more women complained over the challenges they were having with their house-helps.

One mother was on her 6th domestic manager. It was clear to me that there was a huge need for skilled, reliable domestic workers. I decided to resign from my job and open an agency for house-helps 3 months later. I started the business with a loan of Sh. 600,000 which I used to furnish a house which was to be our training center and placement office.

My business did not pick up as I’d expected. We shut down within 3 months. This was the lowest part of my life. The huge challenge was industry dynamics. I had not taken time to understand the domestic service sector.

I ventured into the business with just theoretical knowledge. Most domestic managers did not want to train, others never wanted to work because they were on transit to something else and some employers wanted trained domestic workers but were not willing to pay for it.

It was hard to maintain the house and I closed down. I took some time to reevaluate the business model and after 2 months I reopened but this time not as a training agency but as a placement agency. I cut on so many costs and focused more on vetting and screening, and the business worked.

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I took a loan to start a business. This was a mistake. There is more to starting a business than just having the finances. But in my mind, I only thought I needed money and did not think about the business, where to source for clients, the marketing tools to use, the income model, customer relationships. I should have tested the idea first then taken a loan to scale my business.

My greatest business moment happened in 2016 when I realized that I can’t serve everyone. Initially I wanted to serve each client who approached me for my services and this led to frustrations and I lost my ideal clients while trying to serve everyone. Then one day I attended training on how to nail my niche. It was then that I learnt how to define my ideal customers, how to attract and pursue them, how to engage and convert them into paying customers.

I also started the Domestic Professionals Association of Kenya (DPAK). It brings together the domestic service sector players where we advocate for professional development of domestic workers and promote quality service in the home.

If I could start all over again, I would ponder more deeply on the question, ‘why should my business exist?’ I would dig deeper for a better purpose than just making money. I found my purpose later and it has made working easier than initially when I was more focused on the financial projections.

I would also test the idea first before making a huge investment. If I had interacted with domestic workers and their employers, I would’ve gotten an idea of what would work and what wouldn’t work. Instead I dived into it without knowing the actual realities of running this type of business.

I save my money through Welfare Groups and Sacco. It has been very effective in cultivating a saving discipline because there are rules one must adhere to and penalties for failing to remit your savings.

I have previously tried to save in a bank account and money apps. But because of having easy access, I often found it difficult to build up a significant lump sum of savings.

I have leant from my parents that it’s important to invest in relationships. Be they family, business, work, any person you meet can be the person who has the key to your next opportunity. My dad is my greatest role model when it comes to money matters. I tell him he is the richest man I know. It’s now over 20 years since he retired and he is still very financially independent.

It is not about the size of your income, it’s about your level of management. He educated all his 8 children and still managed to take his 2 bottles of tusker on Fridays and kept some for old age yet he did not have a huge salary.

A version of this profile feature on Liz Gitau was also published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.

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