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Betty Kyallo: 7 lessons I learnt after facing a business setback

By Peter Muiruri | Aug 22nd 2018 | 5 min read
By Peter Muiruri | August 22nd 2018
Betty Kyallo, owner of Flair by Betty.

When Betty Kyallo opened Flair by Betty, a hair and beauty spa along Nairobi’s Lenana Road last April, it took many by surprise. A few months earlier, after all, she’d teamed up with a friend to operate a similar business.

In a tweet, Betty shared her doubts about her ability to go it alone after what was widely described online as an acrimonious break-up with her business partner.

“I thought I was crazy to start the project, I questioned my ability and was sometimes extremely discouraged when funds ran out,” she said.

So how did she get back up and seize her second chance? What lessons did she learn and what advice does she have for those on the business rebound? She shares her tips.

1. Learn to make sacrifices

It’s easy to take things for granted when you’re in a partnership.

When you go it alone, however, you must design a clear business vision for yourself.

In my case, I had to scout for a location convenient for my customers, make an inventory of the tools I had and then draw up a budget. I didn’t want to go looking for cash blindly.

I also leveraged on my savings, making personal sacrifices such as forgoing a holiday or extensive shopping. I even had to make some painful decisions, such as using cash that I’d saved up for my daughter just to get Flair by Betty off the ground.

It was a gamble but banks won’t open their doors before you show them what you’ve put into your business.

2. Stick to your lane

Many people asked why I chose to stick with the salon business rather than try something new. Others have asked what makes my new business different from my previous partnership across the street.

Well, I’d already put my hand in this industry and knew that you can’t go wrong with a product that targets women. Most of us want to look good and will do anything to achieve the look we want. I simply created a homely place where my customers can spend quality time.

Look at it this way. A person will walk in here in the morning to have the hair and nails done, get a facial treatment and even a massage. Now, if that person is going to spend between two and six hours of his or her day at my salon, then the place might as well look and feel like home.

3. Be positive about new beginnings

Nobody starts a business with the intention of failing. But businesses fail and recovery is painful. It also takes a lot of money.

However, I focused on things that worked in my previous venture rather than focusing on what went wrong. I needed to remember the mistakes without repeating them.

It was better to think of the reasons things didn’t work rather than focus on individuals. I meditated on the positive feedback from customers.

I tried to think of what made my customers satisfied to the point that they’d follow me to my new location.

I never lost business momentum. I told myself that people had many other choices and were not going to wait for me to settle.

I wanted to pick up the pieces as fast as I could and move on.

4. Treat all customers equally

As a public figure, many expected that my clientele would largely consist of celebrities. True, a number of them are my customers, but I didn’t want to make the mistake of treating them differently based on their social status.

In fact, I had some customers who were scared by the presence of such celebrities. I have since talked to my staff and encouraged them to treat everybody who walks into the business as a valued customer, regardless of their social standing or how many people recognise their faces.

Betty Kyallo serving customers at Flair by Betty.

5. Know your customers

In the brief period I’ve been in this business, I’ve picked up some useful characteristics of my customers.

A salon can be a place of solitude for some and a social place for others.

Some people like to chat with you while others prefer some peace and quiet. I’ve learnt to be flexible and to give my customers what they want.

If they get good service, they become your mouthpiece, eliminating the need for extensive marketing.

Any market research I did was geared toward knowing what my clients wanted, and the decisions I made were for them, not to suit what I personally liked.

6. Don’t make excuses for not getting started

As a young person venturing into the big league of business, I had my apprehensions. Like many others, I was fearful that I would fail.

On the other hand, I told myself that you can’t fail in business if you’ve never tried. So I needed to look at my idea critically. I scrutinised it and analysed the smallest of details.

I demolished the idea and reconstructed it. I enlisted the help of my family, who actually tore up my idea. There were times I was heartbroken.

In the end, however, I found a formula that worked. If you are young and thinking that you can’t hack it, call on the people you trust without exposing your ideas to those who might work against it.

7. Build a strong team

In our business, we deal with people on a very personal level. Therefore, it was important that I get not just a team of good workers, but people who were going to be friends with each other and who had a keen interest in the business succeeding.

Fortunately, I got people who had experience in the industry.

These people move my business even when I’m not there. You only get such people by investing in creating lasting relationships.

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