“It’s not about how fast you pedal, it’s about how clearly you focus.”
That’s what one of my college teachers wrote on the board at the end of her class, and then she walked out. You know how people always get up quickly when class is over? That day, I hang back asking myself what the deeper meaning of the quote she’d written was, and why she’d left it there.
I didn’t come up with any profound answers back then, but later on in my life, the quote made perfect sense.
The other day I was with Lisa, my PR manager, and after finishing up with a meeting, we decided to grab lunch in one of the malls near us.
Since it’s the festive season, each shop had either a Christmas tree or a drawing of Santa on its windows.
And I just started laughing, and went straight to one of the panes. Lisa asked what was up, and I started narrating a story.
There was a time in my life I was so broke that I almost gave up. I was just about to complete college and my pockets were really empty. So I went to a high school classmate of mine who’d just started his own company and begged for work.
“Don’t give me fish; show me the lake,” I told him.
There is this notion that most entrepreneurs won’t want to show you the lake in a day because it took them years to discover it themselves, which is totally understandable.
But I’d gone to my friend for the lake, not the fish. He brushed me off and told me he’d call me.
That was around the end of November, and I had no bus fare that day, so I walked back home and got to thinking. I asked myself what I have and how I can convert that into cash.
And believe me, this isn’t something made up, it’s a true story. I got home and grabbed a paper and pen, and wrote down a whole strategy on how I would make money during that Christmas season.
I had saved up Sh1,200, which was to serve as capital for my new business venture. During my trek home, I’d remembered that I was an A student in art back in high school, and figured I could capitalise on my talent and do work that stands out. The following morning, I was on Nairobi’s Kijabe Street asking about paints.
Building the image
I spent the entire morning on Kijabe Street, writing down paint prices and in the afternoon, I entered a cyber café and did my research, took notes and went back home.
I was so excited about my idea. I woke up the following morning and created a portfolio of the Christmas decorations that I’d decided I could paint outside business premises.
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The power that lies in branding is bigger that we perceive it to be. I wanted to build a brand, so I went to River Road and got about 30 business cards made. So now I had a portfolio and a business card with a logo of my new company, ‘Mchoro’. All I needed now was the language and to look good.
I went to my kinyozi and then bought three decent outfits from the second-hand market Gikomba. By this point, I’d spent about Sh800 of my Sh1,200.
When pitching, the most important elements to keep in mind are making sure the client is satisfied and that you bring out what’s ‘extra’ about your product.
So now picture this: a young man, who’s clean-shaven, well-dressed, carrying a colourful portfolio, and who throws in two or three lines he’s read from a business article online. That was me.
I had one other trick up my sleeve. I’d learnt that people believe in structure, so I went into meetings with a good-looking lady friend of mine who I asked to take notes.
I’d walk in and say: “Hi, my name is Kennedy Ombima, and this is Angie, my PA (personal assistant).”
But what made me truly stand out from all the other Christmas painters is that I had an extra presentation on how the premises would engage with its clients during the Christmas season.
Another element I added was after-sales service – most painters would paint Santa and that’s it; I promised that when the season ended, I’d be back to clean the windows. That sold Mchoro.
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You might come across a very powerful advertisement but find that the product or service doesn’t match the ad.
I pitched to seven shops and all seven told me to return the following day. Now I took a major risk and made it look like I had a busy schedule. I’d ask Angie during meetings, “When’s the next time I’m free?”
Angie would throw in a day the following week. It paid off. Before I knew it, I’d painted more than 70 shops at an average of Sh5,000 each, and business was good for three or four years. And then I got into the music business.
One of the shops at the mall used to be a Mchoro client. I walked in with Lisa and asked to speak to the manager. He came out, recognised me and we just started laughing.
Happy New Year to all my readers, and share some love with your neighbours.
The writer is an award-winning artiste and entrepreneur.