Mariam Said is the founder and director of Tashakay Parties and Events, an executive events business based in Nairobi that specializes in corporate and private events planning and hosting.
I started my business as a free service to my friends and family. Whenever a friend or relative had a birthday party, a graduation or wedding, I would offer to plan and oversee the event as part of my contribution. One of these friends was impressed at how their event panned out, especially because she had rejected multiple events planners because of detail. She challenged me to turn my skills into a business and said there was a good market for planners with attention to detail. At the time, she pitched the idea, I had only Sh. 300 in my purse. I had to either wait until such a time when I could build up capital or I could utilize the amount I had. I walked to a cyber café and paid to have a business brochure designed in soft copy and sent to me. My plan was to leverage on the power of the internet to start marketing my skills.
It was not easy to get business. I was a newbie in the industry. Many potential clients would make enquiries but none would proceed to pay up for the services. It took close to two years before I started getting clients who not only made enquiries, but who also booked and paid. One of the main challenges I encountered was the lack of understanding on what the role of an events planner is, why an events planner is a critical cog in any successful event, and that an event planner is not an afterthought to be compensated in pennies.
Under quoting is major challenge in every startup. It can easily lead to huge losses. I once fell into this trap and gave a client a low figure without factoring all the extra expenses and installments that needed to be paid for in advance. I was forced to book the baker, photographer, videographer, and the Dj, and pay for transport for the supplies from my pocket. I also had to foot meals for them during the event because guests were using meal cards. All these bills left me with a loss when the job was done and paid for.
There are times when you will need to enlighten your target customers about your business. This has been a continuous process for me. The business of events planning and hosting is largely still in its infancy in Kenya. To break even, I have had to continuously and market my services to previous, current and prospective customers. In turn, this has opened the stream of referrals for me. However, I have learned that enlightening customers about your business solutions must go hand in hand with delivery. For instance, you must live your word for a wedding couple to be certain that their cake, décor, venue, and food will be professionally taken care of. Events and planning touch on personal lives, and if you are not careful, one bad customer report can run you out of business.
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I was in employment before I ventured into my current business. I was a fitness consultant for gym wear and equipment. It was only after I lost this job that I managed to fully give my attention to my current business. Looking back, my job loss was a blessing in disguise. Although I am doing well as an entrepreneur, I do not favour entrepreneurship over employment. I believe we are all blessed differently. Some of us do well as entrepreneurs and others do well in employment. It all boils down to being effective in your current role. If you’re in employment, work as efficiently as you do if you were running your own business.
I previously used a mobile wallet to save and transact. I used this account for both my personal and business financial needs. The ease of tapping in and making withdrawals ruined my financial discipline. I have since changed tact and now I use a business account to handle my business transactions such as paying suppliers.
This profile feature on Mariam Said was first published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.