Money Flow #003: The Risky Businesswoman Surviving The Hair Business

Money Flow is a series intended to understand how entrepreneurs within Africa interact with money and how it affects the health of their businesses.  


Tell me about your business. 

My business is a full-time job but also a side hustle. Let me explain. So my business is the dream, it’s the future. It’s my future. But to fund the dream, I need a 9 – 5 because there is the security of a paycheck at the end of the month, even though it is not enough. You know how business is; it’s great when it’s great. When it isn’t great, you are just going to be suffering. 

What exactly does your business do?

My business provides goods–weaves and extensions and services–wig making, hair laundry, coloring, and styling, to women in Nigeria and beyond. I cater to women of all age groups. The goal is to help more women get creative with their looks.

How long have you been in business?

3 years plus. 

What was your financial background like? 

I was definitely not born with a silver spoon. I was born with an okay-enough spoon to get me through, private primary school, government secondary school, one private university, another government University. So I can say my spoon was pretty bronze. My financial background was steady but rocky sometimes. My mum worked at this job which was great but it was a contract job. When there was no contract, no money came. My dad had a thing he was doing. It was personal business. It was a lab thing. It wasn’t great but it was good.

What’s your history with entrepreneurship? 

Listen, every time I tell this story, I laugh because it’s a funny one. The first time I was exposed to entrepreneurship, my mum had this poultry farm when I had just finished secondary school. We had land that was not in use at the time. My mum is a business woman. Actually, I was exposed to entrepreneurship from the womb. My mum has been selling stuff since I remember. There is no business you can name that my mother has not done. She has done it all.

So yeah, she thought the land was wasting and we decided to start her own poultry farm. She started with 100 birds, I think they were broilers. And when it was time to sell it off, it became a problem. My mother would want to use us as free laborers. I mean, my brother would be by the side of the road shouting, “Buy your chicken” during festive periods. I just knew it wasn’t for me. My mother would ask me to do it and I would tell her I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sell anything. Eventually, she had to hire people because it wasn’t working for us at all. That was my first exposure to entrepreneurship and I was like nope, not for me

But let me tell you the funny story of how I got into the business. I was at 200 level in university. My great grandmother had just died. So I went to Anambra for this burial. While I was there, I asked my mother for money. She was the one we always asked for money because she made more money. They had sent me money before I came and I spent a week in Anambra for the burial. When my mother told my father that I was asking for money, he was like, “ah ahn, did we not just give her money last week?” She now rubbed his back and said, “Two more years and we will never have to give her money again.” I was standing just at the door to their room, overhearing this conversation and thinking so these people are planning to cut me off after I graduate. It hit me that I was going to be independent. 

I started thinking of what would happen when I graduate and I want to buy things for myself and can’t afford it because my parents have cut me off. I was like nopes, we can’t have that. I started thinking of something I could do for myself. Something to fall back to–a bedrock. I thought about what I was good at. I wanted a hobby that would earn me money. I knew I was good at picking out nice hair. Even if I bought a weave for 20k, the way I would carry it, someone would ask if I had bought it for double the price. I know how many people I plugged to my plug when I was in Benin. So I thought, man, I could buy hair to sell. The business started as a poverty alleviation thing. When people ask, I say I got into entrepreneurship when I was trying to not be poor. I won’t lie to you, it wasn’t a passion thing. Even though I love hair, I didn’t start my business because selling hair is sweet. No, I started because I didn’t want to be hungry. I knew if my parents cut me off, I wouldn’t have anything, I started the business with buying and selling weaves which eventually became me making wigs myself. I got all the wig tools. I also ship in wig tools.

How much did you use to start your business?

When I had the plan, I told everyone about it but it seemed like a dream that would never come true. At 300 level, something happened. It was the year of MMM. When I knew about it, it wasn’t popular. There was a girl in my hostel. She had graduated from school a while ago. She was another entrepreneur that inspired me a lot. She used to make cakes. She made a lot of money from making cakes. She bought a car, a house and now she owns a bake shop. She doesn’t even know but I stan her. I was in her room one day and she was like ah, they’ve paid me. I asked her who was paying her, that I need them to pay me too. She gave me the MMM gist. Do you see how people are cashing out from Piggyvest referrals? That was me with MMM. I made money off that shit. I started putting money in MMM by April or May and by June I was telling people about it. I earned more on referrals. So at the start of my business, I had 100k but I did not put it all into my business because I needed to go to Lagos. I did not want the person I bought hair from in Benin to be my supplier because his hair was expensive. I didn’t want to start off expensive because nobody would buy it.

I had a boyfriend at the time who helped, he was in Lagos, he went to the market with me. The 100k also included getting a hotel in Lagos for two nights plus transportation. He added about 50k so I had 150k at the start of my business

Did you lose money to MMM?

Yup, about 200k in December 2016.

How did this affect you?

It was bad, but I had a business. It wasn’t necessarily my business money I lost but it affected me. Also, indirectly because my boyfriend, at the time owed the business about 70k that he lost to MMM. I suffered that loss.

What is your pricing model like?

For my service, I monetize my effort, stress and time. For my products, I make sure I make a profit of at least N5000 on every sale. Also depending on how valuable my product is, I put my profit at any amount.

How has the journey been so far?

My entrepreneurial journey has been a lot. I did not know much. I was taking shit as it came. After sourcing for a supplier at Balogun market, I would buy hair from her to sell. After three months, I found out she was ripping me off. The hair I bought from her was too cheap for her to sell to me at that rate. It was crazy. Let’s say what I would buy for N5 is supposed to be sold at N1.50k but she knew I was new. Also, I came to her shop with a man. Don’t ever go anywhere to buy hair and carry your boyfriend. She took advantage of me. I make it a point of duty to make a profit of N5000 on any hair sale except during discount sales. Sales are great.

If you used to get two customers before, during sales you get 10. I think, in retrospect, I should have done proper research.  I should have done feasibility studies, you know, proper business things before starting. But as I said, I started it to evade poverty. If you start a business to run from poverty, you will probably follow my footsteps. Also, I was so timid. Someone would buy something from me and come back to tell me it’s spoilt. It didn’t even have to spoil. They probably won’t brush the hair well but then they’d call me to cuss me out. Next thing you know I’m crying and asking them to send the hair back, not anymore. I find that people take advantage of refunds so now I don’t do it. I find other ways to compensate.

What other ways?

Other ways like a good discount on their next order. I could throw in a free closure or free service like wigging, delivery, whatever.

Okay…

But whatever you buy from me now cannot spoil. If it’s something that can spoil, I would let you know. I give my customers terms and conditions at the point of sale. I learned that people really just want to be satisfied. A satisfied customer does way more for you than any advertisement. I used to sell hair at my old school. It was a private school with rich kids. That really helped me. It was a huge platform for me. If I didn’t have it, Ò pa ri o. If I sell weaves to 2 girls in a Faculty as big as Law in that school, people would ask them where they got their hair from and then they would put me on.

My greatest achievement is that I am still in business after all this time and obstacles. The hair business is very capital intensive. If you don’t have money, you can’t do it. That’s the truth. If you don’t have money, you will start with low-quality hair which is great because it’s cheap and people will buy it. But they will never come back because that first sale would color their minds about your brand. Another achievement is registering my business, getting a corporate account, and applying for funding. I am in the works of getting a POS now. I would have never imagined that I would get here so yay me.

Have you ever received a grant or loan?

Nope. I have been offered a loan once. The thing is the person was proposing a partnership. I have a problem with partnerships. I think it stems from how my business started. I told you I was in a relationship and he added some money to my capital. That made him think he was a partner and he started telling me that he needs to be making a profit. So I run away from partnerships. If you want to invest in my business, I want something like a loan that I could pay off. Proposing a partnership gets a no from me. I’m one of those people who would never publicly trade their company or sell shares to anyone. It’s solely mine. I built this thing on my hard work, my blood, my sweat, my sleepless nights, my almost failing exams. So, no partnerships

How do you deal with competition? 

It’s hard. I tell myself what’s mine is mine. Before it used to suck, especially when my friends buy hair from someone else. I would feel like dying. But now, I’m like who go buy hair from me go buy. I step up my marketing strategy on social media. Social media is my shop. I try to reach out to more customers and all. But honestly, it will come to you. Do the work you are supposed to do and hope it comes to you.

Do you have financial advisors? 

My financial advisors are my best friends. It’s funny because I can’t afford a real one right now. But when I need to make an expensive decision, I let them know and they give me great advice. At the end of last year, I wanted to buy a really expensive phone that worried my friends because it wasn’t necessarily a wise financial decision to make. But I knew it was going to help with my work. I’m on my phone 24 hours a day so I need a phone with optimized speed, battery life, and camera. I needed the best of the best. Besides running my business online, my 9 – 5 requires me to be online. It’s content creation so I have to be online. A lot of my friends advised me against it. They suggested something just as good but cheaper. My brain wasn’t agreeing with what they were saying. So I found a way around getting the phone.

How?

I got a phone from the US. My cousin helped me buy it on credit. They give you a credit card and you have to pay it off over a specific time. That way I didn’t have to spend all that money at once. I am gradually paying it off.

What would you say about doing business in Nigeria?

It is really really hard.

Honestly, if you have an alternative, don’t do it. A lot of people see me and think it’s glamorous. I have helped so many women get into the hair business but I also know three who have stopped because dem no fit. Even me, I no fit. I honestly don’t know how I’m still here but thank God I guess. Doing business in Nigeria is a shitshow. Logistics services will fuck you up. I saw a tweet that said, “Vendors propose, Delivery people dispose”. It’s so true. I sent out a wig on Wednesday. By Thursday morning, the dispatch rider called the customer to say his bike had some faults but he would still deliver. That package didn’t get delivered till Friday. I was just frantically texting him. Business in Nigeria makes you a crazy person. 

What is your biggest challenge in Business? 

Logistics. Logistics. Logistics. Eventually, when I have left this ghetto 9-5 behind, my goal is to have a logistics company that works for only me. I have cut the one I am working with off so many times and threatened to stop doing business with them. But I still use them because they are the best out of the rest. And that sucks. Also, scammers. So because my business is online, I suffer a lot. They are people who have money and want to buy but they ask, “is there pay on delivery” and I say no. And they say, “sorry, I have been scammed before”. There is no convincing them. I apologize and give them my word, that I would not take their money and run. It doesn’t change their mind though. Out of 10 people like this, only one took a chance on me and didn’t regret it. Scammers ruin things. Nobody wants to be giving someone on the internet over 100k to buy a wig and get scammed

Your costliest mistake? 

One time, I did a waybill with one transport company I won’t mention. They said the bus had an accident and it wasn’t insured. Then, I used to give the drivers the packages to deliver. I didn’t register it or insure it. It was over 200k but my luck was that this person was an understanding woman, so we split the bill 50/50. It had happened before. The customer was trying out a new product I had just bought and it wasn’t great. So she told me she understood that I didn’t produce the hair so she proposed splitting the bill. Some clients are angels. I almost lost over 200k but that woman split the bill with me.

Something you wish you knew at the start?

The first thing is to document everything. I didn’t do that before but now I have records. Another thing is having a rate card. Especially if you are providing a service like making wigs, hair laundry, treatment, etc. I didn’t have a rate card until this year. People would ask me to make wigs for them and because of friendship, I would accept N2000 from them, never again. If I could go back to 2016, I will tell myself, girl you better have a rate card. It’s not negotiable. It’s your service. It’s not like a product you are buying and reselling. You can bargain the price of my products but not my service. A client once asked to make their wig for free. I said I never work for free. Another advice; separate your personal finances from your business finances. Another advice I would give is to add the price of shipping to the product and then declare shipping free.

What’s your favorite quote about money?

‘Money gives you the power to do whatever you want to do. I like the idea of being in complete control of my life.’ by Louise Mensch That’s me. I hate being at the mercy of anyone. So if my money can buy it, I will buy it. I love being able to control things with funds that’s why I love that quote

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