We started a business as our retirement plan
By Caroline Okello | April 8th 2020
When Dr Patricia King’ori-Mugendi decided to start a business, it was out of a need to try out something different with her life. And so she quit her job with Samsung Electronics as a business leader and started Holos Creative Solutions Ltd- Afrika, a consultancy business with her husband Prof Mugendi M’Rithaa.
“A time came when I felt I had given the best I could to my employer. Having worked in the electronic industry for 12 years, I decided to move on to something new, something that would help me ease into retirement.” (HCS)-Afrika specialises in applied research and strategy with special relevance to African contexts and realities. Patricia speaks to us on the realities of starting a family business.
What financial preparations did you make before quitting your job?
We first had the idea to start HCS in 2016, and with a capital of around Sh1 million, sourced from our savings (a cost we contributed on a 50/50 basis), we started formal operations in 2018.
The beauty of a consultancy is that it has few operational overheads as the value resides in our collective expertise. You can actually operate quite effectively from a home office, provided of course you have the necessary office equipment (such as a computer or laptop and printer or scanner) and a reliable internet connection.
Notwithstanding, we reserved some personal savings to use on client projects once we were up and running. We made it a point to avoid any kind of loans.
How do you keep your costs low?
HCS is still a young organisation and we try to keep our overhead costs low. We, therefore, recruit additional staff depending on the project we are working on.
What is the hardest thing about running a consultancy business?
The greatest challenge is in securing a steady and financially rewarding stream of work. Consultancy work is often not consistent in supply, and one needs reliable contacts and committed clients to thrive.
There were moments when I have yearned for the security of paid employment, but one soon comes to appreciate and celebrate the freedom and flexibility that self-employment offers. We engage new clients through our networks and LinkedIn. We also rely on word of mouth from past clients. Our strategy is to plough back profits into the business and focus on our core expertise.
Did you go for any entrepreneurial training when you started your business?
My MBA, training courses in sales and marketing, as well as 25years of work experience certainly came in handy. Additionally, I have great mentors who gave (and continue to give) me valuable insights and useful contacts.
There’s a Somali proverb that says “Be a mountain or lean on one.” A good mentor can contribute greatly to your future success by showing you the ropes and equipping you with the skills to anticipate potential pitfalls and barriers way in advance.
What do you know now that you wish you knew then?
If people know they are going into a specific business, they can be more deliberate in identifying the strategic networks and ecosystems (such as suppliers, research assistants and so on) relevant to their business. I wish I had started building my future networks and investing in my ecosystem earlier.
What business mistakes did you both make and what did you learn from them?
We made cost mistakes such as undervaluing professional fees in terms of factoring hourly rates and putting in an adequate contingency margin that can cover unexpected costs.
We have learnt to cost our time and talent realistically and competitively. Another key learning was in appreciating the importance of professional project planning and management for the effective submission of project deliverables.
How do you divide the roles between yourselves?
I deal with operations and finances, my husband handles applied research and allied dynamics, and we both handle strategic and technical aspects of the projects.
What are the advantages and challenges of running a business with your husband?
There’s something beautiful about working with someone you trust and know reasonably well. Additionally, we complement each other in our visions, temperaments, personalities and competencies; this is a key incentive for working with him.
He also happens to be my greatest cheer-leader. Fortunately, we understand each other well and rarely disagree on professional matters. If on rare occasions we have any divergence of opinion, we discuss the same in the knowledge that ultimately, our faith in God would bring about an amicable resolution of the same.
The challenge of working with my husband, though, is that we tend to take our work home – literally and figuratively. One needs to draw a balance between work and life. We have learnt how to decompress and declutter our minds by taking regular walks together and reminding each other of the fundamental basis of our marriage – a multifaceted partnership for life. We also look forward to our weekly date night when we can focus solely on one another.
Are your children keen on taking over the business later?
Yes. They contribute to the administrative aspects of our business at present. Notwithstanding, we have encouraged them to pursue their own dreams and plug in to what we do professionally.
What advice would you give couples who want to start a business together?
I would advise them to negotiate a couple’s compact in advance. A couple’s compact is essentially an agreement where they decide how they want to anticipate and handle pitfalls or their dynamics in advance. They can agree on how to resolve conflict, handle stress, and how to keep the spark alive in their marriage even as they work together.
The agreement must be respected and honoured by both parties. To use a metaphor, a new business is like a baby – it often keeps you up at night, but as it grows, you learn to relax and enjoy the fruit of your investment.
How about working professionals who want to venture out on their own?
One should be realistic as it typically takes up to 18 months to 3 years for a new business to break even. Keep enough savings to take you through the rough patches before the business gets established. Get as much experience from the work environment as you can and build your networks.
How is the Covid-19 crisis affecting your business?
The COVID-19 global pandemic has been hugely disruptive as our work is primarily with people in situ, in their respective physical contexts (as opposed to virtual environments).
Notwithstanding, we have rediscovered the power of video conferencing and data sharing platforms for applied research and client meetings and briefings.
In view of the impact of COVID-19, many elements of life will change. It is not the strong who will survive, but those who can adapt. Let us use this “stay at home” period to device strategies for adapting.
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