In 2017, while I was on the Mandela Washington Fellowship I visited several business hubs in Chicago. The idea of having a space where startup entrepreneurs could gather to learn and/or work from was so appealing. I had also benefited from a few hubs in Ghana – Hapaspace, Kumasi Hive, Impact Hub, etc. As someone who was new in entrepreneurship and had had a few challenges under my belt, being part of such a community had been so helpful. I kept thinking, what if we had an event and co-working space specifically for women? The idea was great oh, except where was I going to find the resources to fund a hub?
First of all, in my mind I thought I needed a lot of $$$. Mind you, I had not even sat down to come up with an estimation of how much I actually needed. Secondly, I thought I needed a big organisation to give it to me and provide all the resources I needed. While that would not have been bad at all, it was far from the reality. Let me summarise what really happened: I bootstrapped. At the time when the desire to set up Fab Hub Ashanti was so strong, I didn’t even have the money I needed to pay for rent. When I look back, I can’t even understand how I had that kind of faith that I could do it. Faith was definitely important because it pushed me to focus on finding ways to make it happen.
And focus I did! Every single income I earned in that period was invested in this project, except for domestic expenses of course. The fact that I also hardly spent on non-essential stuff really helped me save. I broke down the project into tiny phases and conquered each when I had the money to. A few friends also supported with services which really went a long way. It took a while, and with God’s grace the space was ready for use. Fab Hub Ashanti has been in use since June, 2019. COVID-19 disrupted our in-person events and thank God we are gradually bouncing back. We have bigger dreams of course and we will keep pushing.
For me, this is one of the many testimonies which remind me that all things are possible indeed. If you knew the state of mind I had at the time, you will understand why this was a big deal for me. I interact with many people with brilliant ideas who are stuck because they don’t have the resources. I feel you. In the following paragraphs, I want to share a few of the strategies which have worked for me. Read on if you need this or share it with someone who needs it:
Like I explained above with the Fab Hub Ashanti story above, I want to encourage you to start with your own money. Please don’t tell me ‘Ama, I don’t have any money’. You want to be an entrepreneur, right? This is one of the places to exercise your creativity. I have ever had to sell personal items like perfumes, accessories, clothes, etc to raise funds. And why not? Some of us have closets full of unused, in fact, never-to-be-used clothes, shoes and bags. Actually, take a look at the kind of phone you are reading this blog post on. Is it making you way more money than its price?
Do you get where I am going with this? Search your own environment and look for what you can sell. Learn how to sell if you don’t know how, as an entrepreneur selling is one of the most important skills you will need. You can also bootstrap by using resources you already have at home. A typical example is a fashion designer who starts with a hand-me-down old sewing machine. Or a caterer who starts from her kitchen. Two of the women I seriously admire to a fault started their schools from their garages. Now if you are shown their schools, you will not believe where they started from.
Form partnerships with other startups
This is one of the best moves you can make for your business. When I started my company, I had the support of many startups. Reaga Right handled (still does) our graphic designs and video productions. Vera Obeng Photography still gives us fabulous photos after almost 6 years on this journey. Dom 21 handled printing of our souvenirs. Abby’s Wand handled our makeup. The list has widened since 2015 of course.
Because we were all startups at this time, we looked for ways to help each other grow. Forming these partnerships hugely slashed my bills and I know it was of value to them too.
Think about it this way. You need money to start your business right? OK, list all the items you need the money for. Now for each of the items ask yourself, ‘who can I partner with to get this item’? Have a long list of possible partners and start work on contacting them. Pray before you speak to each and please do not be discouraged when you get a no. No is just a part of the exciting journey of an entrepreneur.
Find more affordable sources of hiring
Yes, at some point you will definitely have to hire. Oh the fear I felt when I had to hire my first Assistant! I used to worry a lot about whether I would get the money to pay them at the end of every month. Hiring assistants to support me was one of the best decisions I ever made. I first hired a Part Time Assistant to work a few hours a week. Later I got an Intern from a hub which trained the youth on employability skills.
In Ghana for instance, National Service Personels, students and graduates looking to intern for work experience are a great avenue to source from. Start by training and giving them specific tasks they can help you with. With time, you will be amazed at what some of them are capable of. Additionally, you will have a pool of trained people to hire from when you are ready to hire full time.
Look out for funding opportunities
Pitch competitions are super hard for some people while others just go about pitching and winning. In the beginning, it was also difficult for me to put myself out there in competitions as well. No, I don’t like competing. However, one thing that motivates me to consider a pitch competition is the bigger picture. I ask ‘how will this competition help my business so I can help my clients better’.
Chale, sometimes it is hard but who should do it? I have applied to many of such opportunities and won a few. I am so glad I did because there is no way I would have organised certain events had I not had external support.
If you are African, you can start by googling ‘Opportunities for Africans’ or the specific field you are in. The least you can get in such a competition is the education on how to apply. And then there is exposure, networking and access to the funding itself. I have to warn you though, don’t spend all your time competing. Run your business as well so it does not collapse while you are on stage.
There are many other funding sources but I hope these four will help for now. I would like to iterate that the first and most important step is having faith. Theodore Roosevelt said ‘Believe and you’re halfway there’. It is sad, but most of us don’t take the step at all because we lack faith. As Marie Forleo puts it ‘Everything is figuraoutable’. Have faith that God is helping you. You see, the dream you have is not just yours. God has put it on your heart so you can be a blessing unto His people. So have faith as you take the actions you need to take.
PS: The replay of my Instagram Marketing For Beginners Online Workshop is available for. Please read more and sign up here http://bit.ly/InstagramMarketingForBeginnersWorkshop
Photo Credit: Vera Obeng Photography