What you need to know:
- In between road projects, Anne made do with supplying hardware and building materials to various institutions.
- She recalls the day when she got her first big order worth about Sh4 million.
- She needed at least half of the amount to start with, yet she did not even have 10 per cent of it. She knew that she was pushing her luck asking for a loan for a start-up and as expected the bank declined her request.
It was 2009 and Anne had just been voted the best manager in her bank’s branch network worldwide. Having started out as a clerk in 1991 and risen steadily through the ranks, things could only get better.
However, she wanted out. “It was a fulfilling and exciting job, but I had always wanted to start my own business and I felt it was time to leave banking,” she recalls.
Anne also yearned to get away from her demanding job as the head of Small and Medium Enterprise, liabilities and transactional banking, and spend more time with her family.
She wanted to bond with her children and attend their big days, things that were becoming increasingly harder to do.
Anne and her husband were already running a hardware shop in Sultan Hamud, started the previous year, but she wanted to start something of her own.
She planned to open another hardware shop and bid for contracts to supply construction materials to institutions around the country.
However, a chance meeting with a woman in the construction business at a friend’s get-together lunch sparked her interest in construction too, since it would complement the hardware business.
She registered Ansy Construction Limited and handed in her resignation. She then enrolled for a course at the Kenya Institute of Highways and Building Technology where she qualified as a contractor.
“I had management skills but I knew I needed to equip myself with skills to help me handle road projects effectively,” she explains. However, getting road projects was challenging, especially because she did not have experience.
“To work around this, I took smaller jobs that were within my reach and I was always candid with the technical staff. I would tell them: I have never done this before, so I’ll need you to hold my hand, and they helped me.”
Trust as security
In between road projects, Anne made do with supplying hardware and building materials to various institutions.
She recalls the day when she got her first big order worth about Sh4 million.
She needed at least half of the amount to start with, yet she did not even have 10 per cent of it. She knew that she was pushing her luck asking for a loan for a start-up and as expected the bank declined her request.
“Before I resigned, there was a friend I had told that my biggest fears were about lack of capital and she had told me that capital was the last thing I needed in business,” she says.
Anne called this friend, told her about her current predicament, reminded her what she had said about capital and asked if she could lend her half of the money she needed for the project.
“My friend did not have the money, but she referred me to her friend, who wrote me a cheque worth Sh1.3 million shillings without signing any documents. The only guarantee was my word that I would pay her in two weeks when I was paid.”
Anne shares that building this kind of trust with various suppliers also helped her build her business even though she had little capital at the beginning and got orders that were beyond what she could afford.
“Any time I got an order I was able to get the goods from a supplier without signing any document and with only the understanding that I would pay later. They trusted me when I had nothing, and because of their trust I was able to build my business,” she says.
Even though she was able to deal with capital challenges, Anne had to grapple with working in an industry often associated with corruption and shortcuts. “Yes, there are times when people will solicit bribes from you to give you contracts, but I don’t do it and that has not driven me out of business.
“It depends on how you position yourself. Define your values upfront and people will work with that. I can give a token of appreciation where people have really assisted me in something, but never a bribe. I always insist on business above board; if you take shortcuts, it will eventually catch up with you.”
Last year, four years after her resignation, Anne finally opened a hardware shop at the City Stadium roundabout in Nairobi. Anne has also handled a couple of road projects in Makueni, Kitui and Marakwet. She plans to open more hardware shops and employ over 100 people in future.
“I feel a great sense of achievement; I believe that there are bigger deals and challenges ahead with major road projects.”
HOW SHE DID IT:
- Anchor your goals to God in prayer.
- Believe in yourself and you will achieve your potential.
- Get some business management skills: learn how to handle finances, customer service, branding, and how different environments affect your business.
- Differentiate yourself through customer service. Aim to go the extra mile.
- Focus on the strengths of your staff and tap the good in them; they will do a lot more than you can ever imagine.
- Resilience – things will get tough, but hang in there. Change strategy, but don’t quit.