Saturday, July 2, 2022

How our businesses recovered from the year of corona

The past nineteen months have not been an easy period for businesses. Thousands of businesses were forced to shut down. Others, though, braved the pandemic, and now, the sky can only be the limit. Here are two entrepreneurs that survived the hard year of corona, how they did it, and what they are now aspiring to achieve as the economy recovers from Covid-19 economic turbulence.

Francisca Rangya, the managing director at Sunrays Rent A Car Safaris Limited, a car hire, and tours and travel company based in Nairobi.

We started this business in 2005. We have managed to hit a number of milestones over the past sixteen years that we have been in business. But there is no milestone that beats the pride we got from getting a contract from the American Embassy in July 2015. We were contracted for the transport and logistics of the historical visit of Barack Obama to Kenya as president during the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit. The summit was held in Nairobi and got global coverage because it was the first time that Obama was coming to Kenya as president. I took a lot of prestige in that job. It was a moment of vindication that even a local company run by a woman can be rightfully trusted with any responsibility no matter how enormous it may seem.

The year 2020 was not good for business. The coronavirus put the brakes on many businesses. Revenue streams dried out. The pandemic resulted in our biggest business loss yet. Our revenue relied 80 per cent on corporate and international clientele. Since the onset of the pandemic, the business to consumer (direct sale of goods and services between a business and consumer) business concept has not been the same. However, we managed to stay afloat by leveraging on our partnerships. We have since shifted to the business to business model (a form of transaction between businesses) within the local market which is working out well. Since July last year, we have been on the recovery journey. The business is now able to pay for its statutory bills and salaries despite the prolonged impact of Covid-19. At the very least, we have broken even from the economic ravages of year 2020, and can now aim for profits in the current financial year.

Sunrays Rent A Car Safaris is a family business. Family businesses can be both the easiest and hardest to operate. We have seen giant family owned businesses collapse due to lack of proper systems and structures. To avoid this route, we have deployed several strategies that have been working very well for us. These are consistency, passion and commitment, personalized customer service, adaptation of technology, and merit-based decision making processes.

I have had the opportunity to be part of the SheTrades Commonwealth Forum. This is a forum that trains and supports women-owned business with over 51 per cent shareholding by women. Out of this, I have learned the importance of separating personal and business accounts. You cannot achieve cash flow if you use the same account for your individual and business expenditures, investments, and savings. The forum has been seeking to connect up to 1 million women entrepreneurs to the global market.

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Pancras Karema, the chief executive officer at Expeditions Maasai Safaris, a tour and travel company based in Nairobi.

In 2020 Covid year, I was honoured to win the annual Founder of the Year (FOYA) Awards. I scooped the top award as East Africa’s Most Promising Founder of the Year Under 30. This came only two years after winning the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award at the inaugural Young Entrepreneurs Awards (YEA) 2018. This was not just a validation of my business, but also a consolation in a year that saw many businesses in my sector go under.

A business idea is only as good as the market it hopes to target. Aside from looking at the world from a different set of eyes, you also need to establish a solution that draws in your target audience. Many people have exceptional business ideas, but forget to come up with a bulletproof execution plan. To run a successful business is to encounter challenges ranging from finding suitable employees to accepting rejections from clients with grace. Without a plan, it’s impossible to survive in a turbulent marketplace.

I have had to master the skill of budgeting to properly manage capital allocation. Adhering to a strict budget allowed me to stay in control of the business’ finances in 2020. I had to make it a habit to project the company’s monthly spending to avoid a total shutdown of the business because of insufficient funds. Most entrepreneurs struggle with discipline, and what has worked for me is to focus only on the business’ core expenses and to press pause on expenditures that don’t fit the budget.

In 2020, I lost my dad, Dr. Karema. He was my biggest cheerleader, way before this business became a tangible enterprise. Navigating a global pandemic as a young entrepreneur without my father’s guidance has been tough on me and the business. The COVID-19 pandemic almost brought our company to its knees, but we adapted with the changing customer behavior. Despite all operational restrictions, we have seen our company scale to greater heights. Throughout the pandemic, young entrepreneurs have feared failure, but I’ve learned that the more you fail, the more you learn and the better you get at executing your dream. Never cave in to the pressure to be perfect in the public’s eye. Rather than striving to fit into the marketplace, follow your gut and stay true to your dream.

Every business needs to evolve and suit the financial statuses of its target clients. This is why in 2018 I invented a flexible payment plan to enable travelers on a budget to afford decent holidays. This plan allows existing and aspiring travelers to pay for tour and travel packages in small installments without breaking the bank.

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