Sarah Karingi is the chief executive officer of Sarma Enterprises Limited, a company that is involved in the supply of timber products, construction materials and interior décor.
Biggest milestone: In 2010, my company lost Sh. 20 million worth of stock, machinery and three quarters of our premises to an arson attack. Giving life back to the business after this arson attack set back is my biggest milestone so far. This was not easy. I was devastated. But I picked myself up, and started building from the ashes. It took six years of patience and consistent work. Today, the company is back on its feet and running smoothly. This experience taught me that with the right focus, resilience and determination, you can do anything. Also, always treat your employees and suppliers right and they will come in handy in your time of business need. Personally, I had employees who stuck with me even when the business was not generating income, suppliers who gave us goods on credit to repair our machinery, and lenders who were graceful enough to extend our credit line and repayment periods. Always have such relationships and most importantly, keep them in good health.
Saving method: I have insurance policies, shares and a little money in the bank for emergencies. I hardly let my money stay in the bank but instead multiply it through investments. Previously, I kept money in the bank but realized that I was losing more than I was gaining through currency devaluation and inflation. Instead of keeping lots of money in the bank, go borrow and invest it.
Building a career: Invest in information technology. In the current age of technology, your business and career will benefit hugely if you use information tools such as social media and websites adequately. Have a website for your business that will sell your products and services, and connect you with your customers. I am also a firm believer in the power of prayers. Never compromise your quality. In my work, I would rather make little money but not cheat on quantity and quality. Treat your customers the same way you’d want to be treated if you were a customer.
Cracking a business: Investing in entrepreneurship knowledge. This is because it has been the key that has opened up all the doors in entrepreneurship that I knocked at the onset. In 2015, I joined an enterprise development programme at Strathmore University that changed my approach in business. I have also learned the essence of creating a network of the right people. It opens the channels on which ideas and business opportunities are shared, developed, and executed.
Biggest money mistakes: Failing to pay myself a salary and taking business money to invest in projects that do not generate income continuously are my two biggest mistakes so far. The latter has taught me that although investing in land is a viable investment option, it might choke you when you need to sell and access cash on quick notice. On the contrary, investments in shares have a more flexible access to money.
If I could go back in time: I would carry out good research on my business, and engage in a thorough pursuit of entrepreneurship knowledge through books. I would also seek to fully comprehend and exploit the power of social media in business. This is because knowledge is king in business and wealth creation.
Entrepreneurship vs employment: I would go for entrepreneurship. It has more freedom. It gives you leeway to make mistakes and learn from them. There is also the joy of discovering your strengths through becoming your own boss. On the contrary, when I was employed, I found the journey too limiting. You cannot make too many mistakes in employment, just as a naive error could end up costing your job.
This feature on a costly arson attack was first published in the Saturday Magazine. The Saturday Magazine is a publication of the Nation Media Group.