Over the next several weeks, Business Times will profile women involved in business, who will share their success stories and experiences of how they made it in the cutthroat, competitive and male-dominated business world. They will also tell us how they started out, what inspired them and how they have managed to make their business dreams come true. On Saturday, PETERSON TUMWEBAZE talked to two women entrepreneurs, Grace Mbabazi Mulinda and Clementine Munezero
SHE STARED failure in the eyes but was brave enough to stand her ground and trudge on. This attribute of ‘women of steel’ has seen her grow her enterprise from a small company to a multi-million firm, employing scores of workers.
Meet Grace Mbabazi Mulinda, the managing director Royal Links, a clearing and forward firm, in Kicukiro Kigali.
Mulinda says venturing into business was not an option, but a ‘must’ as she was tired of working for other people.
She also notes that to do something unique for herself. “That is why I started a clearing agency firm, a business that was introduced to me by my former schoolmate,” Mulinda explains.
But there was a problem; she had no start-up capital. However, this challenge, too, was not to stand in her way, and her next stop was at a commercial bank to apply for a loan.
“I did not want the fact that I lacked capital to be an excuse. Therefore, I decided to acquire a bank loan, which I first deposited on a fixed deposit account for two years so it could accumulate more capital,” she explains.
She says she was earning an interest of seven per cent per month on this money and used the time as a grace period, where “I talked to the right people and networked before I could hit the road.”
There was also another driver that influenced her determination and zeal to soldier on and follow her dream.
“I could never imagine looking for another job after I had quit my previous job to start my own business. This, therefore, forced me to work hard, not because I was a woman, but for my survival and that of my family.
How I made it
Mulinda attributes her success to mastering principles of financial management and believing in herself.
As time went on, I discovered that there was a need for me to put a clear financial system in place, which included paying myself, as well as knowing the business’ budget and targets, she notes.
“This is what made it possible for me to advance from employing two people to 15 workers and earning Rwf60m per year from Rwf6m in 2008,” she says.
“If you have no mechanisms of managing a business and rewarding yourself, chances are that you will use the capital and the venture collapses,” Mulinda advises.
She also says women should have integrity, money discipline and honesty to succeed in business.
“Delivering services and goods in time is what makes the difference between a successful business person and a mediocre,” Mulinda points out.
Challenges and advice
According to her, if you want to grow your business, you have to understand the importance of having the right contacts and networking.
“It is through networking that you will be able to learn of new big business ideas and get deals,” she adds. She notes that her good fortunes could also be attributed to her ‘never say die’ spirit, which she says kept her going in her tough first year in business.
The clearing agent, who says she handles mostly corporate firms and government institutions’ business, observes that identifying your business target helps you lower the risk of operation.
Challenges will always be there, so people, especially women, should never shy away from starting businesses by such issues, Mulinda notes.
She advises aspiring women enterpreneurs and those running businesses to always look up to fellow women who have made it and use that as an inspiration.
“There are times when you will feel very low, but always look up to someone who has made it...that will give you the motivation to move on. I was inspired by my former boss who used to tell us to always think big and be flexible when handling business matters. This kept me going even when I could get two clients a month,” Mulinda counsels.
Mulinda, who is due to join the transport industry, notes that there is a need to teach women, especially those in business, to understand and appreciate the importance of paying taxes.
“Some women still think that paying taxes is a man’s obligation... this is embarrassing. Women must know that to succeed as a business woman, you must pay your taxes promptly,” advises the seasoned entreprenuer.
Mulinda urges the government to initiate more training programmes to equip women with entrepreneurial and business management skills.
“If I hadn’t learnt the art of running a business earlier, I don’t think I would have come this far,” she notes.
Clementine Munezero shares her story
It is said that learning a savings culture makes the difference between a successful person and a failure in life. This principle is what has driven Clementine Munezero, the in charge of income generating activities at the Rwanda Genocide Women Survivor’s Association, to the top (literally) in the business world.
She also values the principle of separating one’s personality from business, saying it is key to success in the male-dominated business environment.
How she started
The daring entrepreneur, who acquired a salary loan to start a small drug shop in 2002, says she was forced into business to supplement her monthly income from her white collar job.
Munezero says after losing her parents in the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, she had no choice but to work hard to put food on the table and look after her simblings. She says she worked with a principle that her job lasted while she had it.
“When I got my first job as a women business and project planning officer in Gatsibo district, I kept on thinking of what would happen if I lost the job. This, ultimately, pushed me to think of alternative ideas, which included starting a drug shop. The venture would not only supplement on my Rwf65,000 salary, but also help me support my brother and two sisters,” she says.
Advice plus tips of success
Many women fail in business because they squander the little money earned from their enterprises.
“Most people forget that there is a big difference between the person operating a business and business itself. Yes, the business could be yours, but remember the money is for the business,” Munezero advises.
She urges women who want start enterprises but lack cash to acquire loans, noting that fearing to get funding because you are a woman is accepting failure.
“That’s why I got a loan at an early age of 25 years. When people acquire loans and don’t stick to the original plan, 75 per cent chances are that they will fail,” Munezero says.
“When, for instance, you get a loan to start a pharmacy and instead channel it to construction, chances are that you will fail to repay it. Therefore, sticking to the original plan is vital for the success of one’s business and also to avoid defaulting.”
Munezero kept her dream alive when she got a loan of Rwf360,000, which she used to start the drug shop. The shop has grown from a Rwf200,000 turnover per month to Rwf2.5m a month.
The enterprising woman, who has since started an events management business and is planning to join construction sector, says many women fail in business because they lack self-belief.
“In most cases, society thinks that women can only succeed through marriage and having children. Women should get out there and exploit the many business opportunities this country offers,” Munezero counsels.
“If a man is the head of the family, then the other remaining parts are the woman, which makes us very important for our families. This is why we need to go out there and work hard.”
Munezero is currently working with 75 other women at AVEGA, 45 of whom she has helped get loans to start up their own business.