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How I used my Sh. 15,000 salary to save and start my business

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Starting Errands Business in Kenya: Venturing into entrepreneurship was the last thing on the mind of Eunice Njoki when she completed her studies at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and graduated with a degree in computer technology in 2011. Like many other graduates, she was in a rush to get into the job market and starting earning. She got a job as a computer programmer at an IT firm that was based in Thika.

While the IT team at her workplace was energetic and resourceful, it was too small. This caused too many heavy assignments to crash down on her shoulders. “I earned Sh. 15,000 per month. It was a small figure since the job was too consuming. I would wake up at dawn and retire from my computer late at night,” says Njoki, who is in her late twenties. But she didn’t mind her pay too much. “My expenses were too low, and since I was fresh from university, I hoped that my employer would scale up my pay once he saw my skills at work.” This was never to happen. Instead of a promotion or a pay increase, Ms. Njoki got more work in her tray. Every end month, she would save 80 per cent of her pay in a bank’s savings account. “I was not too sure what I would do with the cash, but I was certain that I needed to start saving early and build a savings habit. I also felt that to make substantive progress in life, adequate cash would be the key,” she says.

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But the camel’s back broke in 2012. “I had been taking the heavy work in my strides, but the yoke became too heavy to bear when my boss attempted to force me to start night shifts at the office without any notice,” she says. She tried to negotiate for a pay increase, but her employer was insistent that there would be no pay hike. “I felt as though my services didn’t matter. And while every employee is replaceable, I felt too unappreciated and I quit.”

Her decision to leave did not sit too well with her employer. He decided to withhold her one month pay and any dues owed to her as punishment for quitting. “It was painful especially since I was a green horn in employment.” But taking the jump opened her eyes! “When the bitterness and fear of being jobless sunk in, I started to re-examine what the company did and how I could move my skills on. I realized that computer programming was largely underutilized in the country and began to solicit for freelance programming jobs,” she says. These were not easy to come by.

In 2012, she decided to venture into entrepreneurship. “I made a list of business ideas on a booklet and started carrying out a survey on their viability in the market. One by one, I struck out those that were too common or in highly competitive sectors until I settled on the right idea,” she says. This idea was a courier and errands company.

In 2013, she dug out her savings from her previous job. ‘I had saved slightly over Sh. 200,000 from that job and my side programming hustles,” she says. Out of this amount, she used Sh. 137,000 to buy a motorbike and office furniture. She then used the rest to rent a small office in downtown Nairobi, register her company, and secure business permits.

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Two weeks after opening her business, she got her first client. “He was a friend keen on supporting a friend. He also gave me a few referrals, but over the next five months, things went south. Business became too slow. I would spend nearly a week without a client. At some point, I began to question if venturing into entrepreneurship was the right call. Unlike my peers in employment, I didn’t have the comfort of a monthly pay. They’d make money monthly, and sometimes, I wouldn’t,” she says.

She tried to bring in a partner who could invest and in turn get a share of the business to no avail. “She said the business would fail. It was unrealistic and unworkable. I can still remember!” This ignited a fire in her belly. “I felt that failing would be akin to vindicating her claims. I had to succeed.” When her motorbike was on one side of town carrying out an errand, she would be on the other delivering parcels to offices on foot, filing cheques, registering businesses, collecting laundry or facilitating shopping for her small number of customers.

Gradually, her business began to pick up. She took loans and acquired more motorbikes and employed additional riders. She also got into partnerships with organizations that offered vehicle transports whenever she needed to deliver bulky goods across the country. Just as her business peaked, she suffered a set-back. “I had acquired too many loans and they came back to bite me. At one point, I lost my office which was the only parcel drop-off point and all the motorbikes I had. I had too many loans and bad debts that I needed to pay.” This crushed her to a point where she started considering closing the business altogether and returning to employment. In the end, she decided to give it one more try.

“I reorganized myself and got back up. I learned to keep off debt unless it is an extra income stream able to service itself without eating into my finances or the business.”  Njoki says that it would not have been possible to get back on her feet were it not for her clients who kept nudging her. “They were patient enough that deliveries that today take minutes would take hours without evoking complaints,” she says. “Looking back, I can only say this was possible because of the relationships I had formed with them. I have since learned that your client is the heartbeat of your business. How you relate and treat them is what determines if you continue to pump blood and live or not,” she says. Currently, Ms. Njoki is working to expand her business to two or three countries in Africa over the next five years.

Tips for Starting Errands Business in Kenya: 

  • Don’t cage yourself in a job you don’t like or a job that treats you badly just because of a pay cheque.
  • Understand that transiting from employment to business is never easy.
  • Get a dream, back it up with a business plan and budget for it. A goal without a plan is just a wish!
  • Don’t grow alone, pour yourself out to others behind you through mentorship.
  • Don’t pile up loans unless they are earning you tangible revenue and profits.

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