Ms Uloma Ibeawuchi is the managing partner of Clean Yard Services Limited. She speaks with KEMI LAWAL about life as an entrepreneur and the challenges of the job.
How much did it cost to set up your business and how did you source for the capital? Clean Yard Services Limited started as an enterprise in October 20, 2010. We upgraded to a limited liability company on February 24, 2012. We started our company with just N20,000. This was spent on the CAC registration and our first operation. Basically, every other thing was obtained by goodwill especially loans, although we paid for them when we started getting businesses. In May 2012, I received a grant from the Federal Government when we participated in the Youth Win Innovation in Nigeria Programme .
What is the focus of this business? Just as our name depicts, we provide professional cleaning and hygiene services.
Who are your target clients and how do you reach them? Our target clientele cuts across all sectors of the economy, including individuals, companies, corporate organisations and associations. With the awareness of the importance of a healthy environment, they need our professional services to attain their desired environments. We employ various marketing strategies, but the most effective is our referral marketing strategy. By providing our clients with the most satisfying services, at moderate and affordable rates, we get a lot of calls as a result of referrals, and they end up becoming our clients.
What are some of the initial problems your company faced? To start with, finance was a problem but we were also lucky that my business partner who doubles as the operations manager, actually gave us a section of his office for free. Getting clients was another challenge. When we started the company, we could go for one month without being called for a job. And sometimes, we had only two jobs in a month. All the equipment we used then were rented since we could not afford to buy ours. Luckily, the owners allowed us to pay for them whenever we had the money. Also, we had no professional licences to undertake some services. During bidding, some potential clients would ask for them and as they couldn’t be presented; we did not win any of the bids.
How did you overcome these challenges? We have not only broken even but we are now making profits and we have also rented our own office. Now, we have six permanent workers and four contract personnel working with us, and we are currently recruiting more workers. With some of the grants we received from the YouWiN programme, we were able to purchase some necessary office machines and operation equipment.
What is your educational background? In 2002, I graduated with a second class upper degree from Lagos State University where I read English Language. Later, I took professional courses brand management, corporate strategy and development, entrepreneurial psychology, corporate advertising, marketing management, business development and international affairs and the psychology of business success. Presently, my MBA degree is in view.
Why did you go into the business world at an early age? I am happy being my own boss. I realised that by being an entrepreneur, there is no limit to my progress. As an entrepreneur, I can decide whether to follow through with my ideas; when and where it needs modification. By being an entrepreneur, I have unlimited earnings potential. In summary, I’d rather have the tree that bears the fruits, than being a worker that eats one of the fruits.
Do you think the government is doing enough for young entrepreneurs? I can honestly say the Federal Government has been supporting young entrepreneurs. In 2011, the Federal Ministry of Finance created the Youth Enterprise with Innovation in Nigeria Programme. The YouWiN programme has assisted young entrepreneurs by organising training seminars nationwide (both with foreign and native tutors), and even assisted some young entrepreneurs with mentors. In May 2012, the Federal Ministry of Finance assisted some young entrepreneurs or awardees, as we are called, with N10m grants, for meeting up with their set assessment standard.
How challenging is it being a young entrepreneur? It is very challenging. You get to think of a million things at the same time and sometimes, it gets so frightening that you would doubt yourself and just want to back off. As a young entrepreneur, you will be faced with the challenge of not knowing what exactly you want to do. Many ideas will rush through your head at the same time; many people will advise you and want you to buy their ideas; but you’ll just have to stand firm and choose one. Only then can you begin the race. Sometimes, you will get disappointed when deals you are counting on don’t get to you or you get turned down because somebody somewhere doesn’t believe you are capable of doing it. The worst scenario is when some family members and friends start discouraging you. Believe it or not, there will be people who won’t believe in you.
Does an entrepreneur necessarily have to start big? No, an entrepreneur does not necessarily have to start big. We started Clean Yard Services Limited with just N20,000.
When did you make your first profit? We have started making profits and it is very encouraging; but I tell you, it was not easy. We made our first profit about 10 months after we commenced operations. Our first breakeven was about three months after we started, but the profits didn’t start coming until about six to seven months later. Our first profit was N13,000 and we were excited.
Why did you choose this particular line of business above others? In the past, I had the opportunity of working in a cleaning company, where I was more or less responsible for generating business deals. After I resigned from the company, my business partner, who was then a worker in the same company also resigned. While we were both at that company, I was responsible for getting the deals and he was responsible for executing those deals; so why don’t we team up? So I called him up, he bought the idea and that was how we started the company.
How do you ensure you and your business partner do not clash? I am the administrative partner, in charge of coordinating and overseeing the office’s daily functions. He is the operations partner in charge of running and overseeing the daily operations and services. We rotate the chairman position annually.
What does one need to be a successful entrepreneur? To succeed, a young entrepreneur must first and foremost have a vision of what he/she wants and must keep an open mind. Then he/she should get basic financial and managerial wisdom either by attending courses or by reading. Another key thing is that the person should have a mentor, who is also an entrepreneur. You have to sub-divide your accounts, especially if you have different products/services. This will keep you in perspective of what service brings you more business. Lastly, but more importantly, keep an eye on your accounts as it is very easy to spend, especially when no one tells you how to spend it.
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