What you need to know:
- Linda Alisa is the founder, owner, and director of Linda's Kitchen, an outside catering business that is located in Nairobi
- She returned home after working as a domestic worker in Dubai, due to low pay, mistreatment and visa challenges
Linda Alisa had always dreamed that she would one day become a news anchor. She wanted to be a news presenter and could picture herself pursuing communication in a college. This is why it seemed like the end of the road for her when her parents declared that they would not take her to college after she completed high school in 2009.
"My father couldn't afford the fees as he worked as a small-scale farmer in Lugari, Kakamega County while my mother was a stay-at-home mum," says Linda who attained the grade C required to enroll for mass communication. She was heartbroken. "It was painful seeing my high school friends proceed to college. There was nothing we could," says Linda, a fifth born in a family of six.
But Linda was determined to make something out of her life. In 2010, she started working as an untrained teacher at Mugumu Primary School near their home in Lugari with a monthly salary of Sh2,000. She taught for a year and moved to Nairobi in mid-2011 after landing another teaching job at Annabel School in Embakasi, Nairobi. Her new job in Nairobi did not last long. She lost it after the school shut down in mid-2012. Linda tried to look for jobs in vain. "In most places, positions for casual workers were taken. In others, I was told I was unqualified because I had not gone to college." Linda says.
"I decided that I would drop my pride and take on any job I would find." From 2013, she started working as a house help in Nairobi. This transition was not easy. Linda had gotten accustomed to being called Mwalimu. Her new nickname, Auntie, which is synonymous with house helps, cast her spirits down. "I longed to step into a class and teach. But no private schools were looking to hire untrained teachers. I had to embrace my new reality," she says. She changed employers multiple times. "Sometimes I would be jobless and sleep hungry for days," she says.
But in 2016, lady luck smiled her way. She got a job opportunity in Dubai. "I had heard stories about Kenyan girls who were abused and sexually assaulted while working in Gulf. I was afraid I could suffer the same fate. My fear subsided when I learned that I would be working for a Kenyan employer," she says. Linda was told that she would be earning Sh15,000 per month. This seemed like a dream amount.
Her employer processed her visa and she moved to Dubai. A few weeks in Dubai, Linda began to realise that her employer had lied about the pay and the job. "I found out that the salary was too small. I also realised that I was holding a visitor's visa instead of a work visa. To keep this job, I would need to return home after every three months for a renewal," she says.
She asked her employer for a salary increment and a proper work visa. "My employer changed and they started complaining about my work," she says.
She was desperate and so she stayed put. "I needed the money, but it was as if I had holes in my pockets and all the money I earned would disappear," she says. She hardly saved anything because every three months, she would buy a plane ticket to Kenya, renew her visa and go back.
By mid-2017 Linda could no longer stomach the low pay and the mistreatment. She left for Kenya and never returned. "I got another job as a house help in Nairobi. Although the pay was small at Sh7,000, the expenses were minimal. I could save a little," she says.
In 2018, Linda started offering cooking services in her employer's estate through house calls. "I started with one client. I was very careful about expanding my client base because I did not want to jeopardise my job or the relationship I had with my employer," she says. But in May 2018, she lost her job.
"I had to start my life from scratch. I ate and depleted my little savings within two months," she says.
Between May and December 2018, Linda advertised her cooking skills through friends and on social media. She also sold Deras to survive. In January 2019, she decided to fully concentrate on cooking and launched her food business. "I named my business Linda's Kitchen," she says. "I was passionate about cooking, and decided to turn my passion into a business."
Linda plowed all the profits she got into the business. "I did not have a physical location when I started. I offered cooking services through house calls. This kept my operating costs low," she says. She had planned to buy business equipment once she built up a gigantic amount of cash in her savings account, but the more she saved, the more she withdrew.
By the time she realised that this approach was flawed, Linda had cumulatively spent money that could have afforded some equipment. "I now buy my catering equipment one by one. I feel content when I buy five spoons. I'm yet to buy all I need, but this method is getting me there gradually," she says. Saving was not the only thing she got wrong. Linda did not know how to charge her clients appropriately. "I undercharged clients for almost two years," she says.
Three years on, Linda says that getting accepted into the industry has been her toughest challenge. "Food is sensitive. Customers take their time to trust a caterer," says Linda who runs her business from her home in Nairobi.
She adds that in her early startup days, she struggled to find someone who could mentor her. "I learned that in Kenya's business world, not everyone is willing to play the role of a mentor." Like most businesses in the hospitality sector, Linda was grievously affected by Covid-19 in 2020.
"The pandemic has been a very big blow. I certainly could have broken even sooner," she says, adding that up until now, hospitality businesses are yet to recover. "If I have made it through the Covid-19 lockdowns, I can survive anything. I am confident that my business will grow as the economy recovers," she says with a smile.
My business lessons
· If you're starting a business, take some classes on costing. This will help you know the range within which you will charge your customers.
· Never work without a contract or legal document to back you up. Working without a contract in business is like walking in darkness, and that's what I did in my first two years.
· Entrepreneurship isn't easy. Passion, hard work, and determination will see you through. Also, pray for your business and deliver the best.
· Grow at your own pace. Every entrepreneur has their own story.
· Have a good record of your finances. This will make you accountable for every coin you get. Spend wisely on your business and separate your business money from your personal money.
· Don't hire an employee if you don't need one.
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