Yvonne Shasuvila Lwoyelo, 33, is the enterprising force and managing director behind AmEntres Limited and Grande Villa Home Care, two training and placement agencies whose main aim is to change attitudes around the workplace. She shares on why she quit her marketing job to start the businesses
Before venturing into self-employment, I worked at Bridge International Academies, Safaricom Limited and Total Kenya. Employment was a learning curve for me. I picked up beneficial skills in communication, public relations and customer service - all of which have helped me run my business. In 2013, I felt that time had come to seek out new opportunities, expand skills and knowledge I had acquired in formal employment and to finally grow myself by starting my own business. I knew the time was right so I got everything in place and trusted in God too.
I have always had an eye for solving problems, fixing broken systems and creating non-existent ones. I had gone through very high turnover (among other competency issues) at a time when I was running my previous restaurant business. I was also experiencing lots of problems at home with regards to my home care staff. Speaking to friends and family who were running businesses and those who had nannies and house managers, I realised they were going through the same problems, if not worse. I knew something had to change. I took that as an opportunity to solve the staffing problem in the country.
What happened next
The research came primarily from my personal past experiences. I had had my fair share of problems in that regard. The other research was data collected from entrepreneurs, family and even staff in various organisations who volunteered to participate in the surveys I came up with.
I started out with Grande Villa Home Care nanny training and placement, whose main aim is to make life easier at home for clients. I began by researching and coming up with the curriculum and training material. I then came up with a business plan so as to know who my target market was, what my cost structure would look like and the revenue streams the business would bring. After that, I started training the home care staff on my own and once it had workable structures, I hired someone to assist on that end.
I did the same with AmEntres Limited training business for white collar staff. This took more time to take off because it needed more convincing of entrepreneurs to invest in their staff training and up-skilling.
My friends and family have always been very supportive of my business ventures. They are my toughest critics and also my biggest supporters, which I always appreciate. I had my fears about venturing into business again after I ‘failed’ in the restaurant business. So much time, money and invested emotions had gone through the business and when it did not work out, I was crushed. I had to refocus and look to ‘what next’. My main concern was the unknown. It took a great deal of self-confidence to take up the risk again. The research and the surveys conducted proved to me that there was a gap in the market and I took that as an opportunity to solve that problem.
In Kenya, we have graduates with First Class Honours who cannot communicate effectively, handle presentations or even have basic Microsoft Excel knowledge. This really frustrated entrepreneurs and leaders in organisations. We have all seen it whenever we receive services from most organisations. The soft skill training was way overdue and needed. That’s the gap my company is filling.
Running a startup:
I wake up at about 5am. After my morning prayers, I go through my morning exercise routine and dash off to work. Once in the office, I meet with my staff individually and plan for the day. We begin executing and going through the duties of the day which include trainings, meetings with clients and trainers and servicing contracts.
I started the business with two partners who are non-executives directors. They are not involved in the day-to-day running of the business. They, however, contribute towards the business in various ways. I also have a Sales and Operations Officer, Admin Officer, and a Sales and Marketing Executive who deal with the home care staff.
Since the business revolves around staff fulfillment, my main focus when it comes to my staff is to ensure that ‘charity begins at home’. But of course because we are dealing with people, nothing is ever 100 per cent rosy. Aside from a few solvable issues here and there, I must say I am quite blessed on that front.
Because not many businesses are doing what we are doing in the way we are doing it, there were not many people to learn from. We have had to create those footprints afresh, testing and executing various ideas then adjusting where needed. That has been our major challenge.
The other has got to be getting individuals to sign up for the trainings. Many have not embraced the value of continuous self-improvement. Once they are done with their university studies, they assume that that is enough to get them hired. In an ideal world, that should be the case but unfortunately it’s not. The curriculum does not cover real life situations in the job world. The ones who are hired have settled into their roles and are really just going through the motions of work and life and see no value such a training would add. So passing on the value to our potential candidates had been a challenge.
Through the trainings that we have had, we have been able to place all the candidates. We are proud of that. On top of that, the employers are extremely happy with the ‘product’ coming out of AmEntres. We have received lots of referrals from our initial clients. The placed employees are also happy with their jobs and are performing very well. Which to us, is the best gift of all.
Where I am now
As a company, we are working towards our vision - changing attitudes around the workplace. We want to get to a point where majority of Kenyans are fulfilled at work. Everything we do revolves around that. When we began, we only had one class a year. We are very pleased that that has increased by 200 per cent. We are currently holding four training series a year; in January, April, July, and October. We also have three permanent staff and a good number of highly skilled freelance trainers.
The immediate expansion goal we have is working towards getting permanent trainers on board. We are also hoping to move to a bigger office where we can hold the training sessions and even have multiple classes a week. The ‘grandioso’ plan is to get to a place where we will move regionally into East and West Africa.
Start lean. Have a list that should state what and when you need a particular item or service by. Having a confident yet reflective mindset when it comes to your own decisions, how you lead your team, and how you deal with customers all helps position you and your company for success.