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Betting on self-employment to earn a living

By | April 26th 2012

By Jeckonia Otieno

While many young women, fresh from college, would sit and wait for a job to come their way, some are high risk takers, opting to instead venture into business and become their own bosses.

Camilla Ochudo falls in this last category.

After completing her diploma in Public Health at Kenyatta University, Camilla took it upon herself to go into retail business and her gamble paid off. She dismissed the idea of staying idle.

Living in the highly populated Mathare North Area 1, she saw a business opportunity in the numbers that reside in the area. Appreciating this potential, she hit the road and never looked back.

"I was jobless and I wanted something that would keep me busy, because to me life was not going to continue as usual after school," reckons Camilla.

To start off, Camilla was faced with a tough situation — identifying where to invest her seed capital. After some market survey, she realised that cereals had a market and this is where she decided to put her money.

"I realised that cereals had a stable market in this populated neighbourhood," she notes.

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Camilla reckons that investment capital was the first hurdle in the business. She says that as a casual labourer, she put aside some little money, which she decided to plough into the retail shop. At that time, she was still staying with her brother whom she says was very helpful when the business started.

Camilla says her initial investment was less than Sh20,000. And when her new venture started making progress, she recalls that a lot of discipline had to be upheld. This, she did, through avoiding spending her profit. She instead ploughed it back into the business to increase her stock.

She started with two sacks of rice, one sack of beans, a quarter sack of green grams and gradually, her business grew from a small outfit to a modern retail shop, which serves the kadogo economy just right. Now locals flock her shop for different basic consumer goods like flour, salt, sugar, cereals and bread among other essential commodities.

She says not many people would really understand how the micro economy works. The dynamics, she says, must be understood if any meaningful investment is to be set up.

Contrary to belief that consumers from such areas do not have money, Camilla discredits such notion and cites that banks that have dared to venture into slums, like Kibera, have ended up posting huge profits.

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"Surely, it is not the upmarket residents that come to bank in the slums, but those who live in the slums," says Camilla.

Camilla sees competition among small-scale traders as a stepping stone for her to make her business better. She reckons that without competition, there would be a lot of complacency among business people regardless of the size of business.

The biggest challenge that Camilla says she and other traders have to contend with is commodity prices fluctuation. With inflation steadily rising, especially in the past year, she states that frequent price changes have really hurt businesses.

"Often, when prices go up, customers think we are just being greedy...they do not understand that some circumstances are beyond our control as retailers."

She, however, admits that some unscrupulous retailers take advantage to rip-off unsuspecting buyers by using fake measures and weights. "At times, wholesalers cheat retailers."

Camilla has words of counsel to fellow women who would like to step into the world of entrepreneurship. She notes that the most important thing is to be focussed and aggressive despite the numerous obstacles on the way.

"As an entrepreneur, one needs to be self-inspired and should know what they really want to do and stick to it."

She agrees that there are so many people who will discourage potential entrepreneurs but the best advice she gives is to ignore such people. Also, she urges that one needs to do a peer review after every few years. She asks young people to look around and try to find out how those they grew up with or studied with are fairing.

As a businessperson, she knows too well that customer is king so she has to be there for them.

Camilla further insists on creativity in business, arguing that this helps in injecting fresh ideas into the investment.


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