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Dreamers & Doers: Entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women

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Tricia Ikpowonba (Triciabiz), Samiah Oyekan-Ahmed (The Gift Source), Oluwatoyin Onigbanjo (Augustsecrets), Gina Ehikodi (geenafoodiesandspice) and Aisha Ayensa-Obuobi (@christiebrowngh) are young, intelligent, ambitious and innovative African women who went from dreaming to making their dreams come true. Founded at different times, The Guardian recently partnered with Facebook to share the stories behind their businesses.

From human capacity development to fashion, culinary to baby food manufacturing and gifts merchandising, these audacious African women from Nigeria and Ghana explain to Toke Laoulu-Ogunranti in the Dreamers & Doers series their journey to success, the role of social media in promoting their crafts and how young entrepreneurs can leverage technology to reach a wider market. You can also watch Dreamers and Doers, an original The Guardian series on tv.guardian.ng now.

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Ikponmwonba

Tricia Ikponmwonba (Triciabiz)
TRICIA Ikponmwonba is recognised as one of Nigeria’s leading business coaches and often referred to as the business fixer. She stumbled on a report on small businesses in Nigeria and that was the game-changer.

The report opened her eyes to the number of small businesses in Nigeria and the challenges they encounter. Prior to starting Triciabiz, she had gained ten years of experience building multinational brands and with that knowledge, she was confident she could help small businesses grow.

In order to translate her success working with multinationals to small businesses, she launched Triciabiz in 2017. The focus for her is to boost the competitiveness of small businesses and she does this through a range of business services, which includes one-on-one coaching, online courses, and training.

“Triciabiz primarily lives on Instagram,” she said. Instagram had been her only sales channel for a long time. Upon launching in 2017, she decided to pick one social media platform and make the best of it, that platform for her is Instagram. Tricia went on to learn how to market, partner, network, and give out content on Instagram.

“For two years, the whole of 2017 and 2018, except I was dying, I was on Instagram live every Wednesday by 7 pm,” Tricia said, adding, “I was teaching for one hour on Instagram live free of charge.”

That she said was a deliberate move in building her audience, and with over one hundred and eighty Instagram followers, that strategy sure worked.

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Since 2017 to date, Triciabiz has trained over 120,000 people and most of them have been online. Social media has played a major role in the success of the online classes she runs. Using Facebook and Instagram tools, Tricia teaches students in groups in order to help them master a particular business skill.

Triciabiz also looked into Facebook advertising with the intent to get people outside Africa to gain attention and attract more audience outside her borders. The outcome, for her, has been phenomenal.

“I got people who had never heard about me in different countries, not Nigerians, sign up for my course,” she stated.

Tricia added that Facebook advertising has taken her brand to the next level. “Being consistent on these social media platforms, understanding how it works, and not being scared to try new features have helped the brand upscale.”

Oyekan-Ahmed

Samiah Oyekan-Ahmed (The Gift Source)
SAMIAH Oyekan-Ahmed founded The Gift Source, a leading supplier of top quality and aesthetically pleasing gift products sourced locally and internationally, in 2013 to fill the void she noticed in Nigeria’s gift market.

Trained as a Medical doctor, her voyage into entrepreneurship was not smooth. When she started out seven years ago, she was quite inexperienced but she had a fierce determination to succeed.

“I started very green, I didn’t have any experience but I knew I wanted to fulfill a particular need in the gifting industry in Nigeria,” she said.

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With no lofty expectations, Samiah took a step at a time, and in no time she experienced phenomenal growth.

“I always tell everybody when they ask me what contributed to my growth, I tell them It’s Instagram,” she hinted.

The first thing she did when she started in 2013 was open an Instagram page for the business and ever since, Samiah has been consistent with the use of the platform.

“With no stock, no client, I had nothing, but I kept posting ’’ she revealed. From zero followers when she started, she has grown her following on Instagram to well over fifty-two thousand.”

Growing followers and engaging them is important to The Gift Source because it translates to having a community of people that responds to what is put out.

“We put things out on Instagram before they even make it sometimes to the store or on the website, they are sold out,” she stated.

For Samiah, Instagram is responsible for about 80 to 90 per cent of their growth, adding, “even people that didn’t come from Instagram, came from people who came from Instagram.”

Samiah relentlessly advocates seeking knowledge about the path to thread, so learning from experts about the use of social media was a no brainer. She also shadowed some businesses that she loved, how they were running their businesses and these conscious efforts have made The Gift Source grow from an idea that started in the corner of her living room to a business that has two brick and mortar stores with a fully e-commerce-enabled website.

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In addition to Instagram, Whatsapp has also been instrumental to the growth of the business because it helps cater to the older generation who are not able to maneuver their way around the more savvy social media platforms. The instant messaging app has also been useful in collating valuable information for the business and most importantly forming a basis for their database.

With the different tools available on these social media platforms, documenting her business’s journey and growth has been easy.

“I always say to people, go right down to the bottom of my Instagram page, you will see how organic our growth has been,” she said.

Samiah believes her organic growth has made the brand more relatable and has caused more clients to connect with The Gift Source.

Ehikodi-Ojo

Gina Ehikodi-Ojo (Foodies and Spice)
THE initial idea when Foodies and Spice started was to have a big television show modelled after the likes of Oprah Winfrey show, but Gina Ehikodi-Ojo soon realised it was going to be quite an expensive venture to launch into. Undeterred by the hurdles, she opted for an easier format because of her love for cooking.
Gina is the brainchild behind the cook show, Foodies and Spice on television and social media platforms.

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The show takes viewers through fun cooking and eating in a fashion even a first time viewer will relish. When it first hit the screens in 2013, it immediately garnered amazing followership no food and travel show had attracted before in Nigeria.

“Food is a thing for me, I started cooking before I was nine years old, so why wait to achieve a big show when I can just cook and make it a show,” she said.

The show launched October 2013 on a satellite channel and the style, format and creativity of the show made many resonate with it.

“It was great, acceptance from the first season was fantastic,” she pointed out, adding, “Foodies and Spice became the second most-watched show every Saturday after Nollywood.”

She found this encouraging as she never envisaged that kind of acceptance. Gina is quick to attribute that feat to her use of social media.

“From the beginning, I knew that social media would be some sort of booster,” she revealed.

With the understanding that people are more on their phones than glued to their television, she took strategic steps in moving her fans from social media back to their TV screens.

“I was using Facebook to promote the show, giving them details of when and how they can watch it,” she said.

From making just one minute videos on Facebook to promoting her cook show on a terrestrial channel, Foodies and Spice has grown into a show aired on eleven different channels with top-notch ratings.

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“I know that those watching my show on a particular channel are not the same people watching on another channel,” Gina said.

With a Facebook community of over 185,000 followers, Gina says the reach has been incredible. “We do like an average of two point seven million in reach monthly on Facebook.”

Consistently posting and telling food stories have also helped Foodies and Spice grow on Instagram. “We got verified last year when we didn’t even have more than fifty thousand followers when people say that’s magic, I tell them no, we are putting in the work,” she stated.

The various tools and features available on these social media platforms have also made it possible for the brand to get instant feedback and know the kind of content the audience would like to see.

“You have to learn how to tell stories with your caption, you cannot just dump a post and let people look at it and leave, you must tell a story with your caption,” she said.

Gina is convinced that sponsored ads on both Instagram and Facebook, collaboration, consistency and using great captions are strategies that have helped Foodies and Spice evolve from just a cook show to producing Food travel series and documentaries and also organising very successful food events.

Onigbanjo

Oluwatoyin Onigbanjo (AugustSecrets)
AUGUSTSECRETS was born out of necessity when Oluwatoyin Onigbanjo had her child, Jaden, outside her country, Nigeria. Upon returning, she bought all available infant meals only for her baby to keep rejecting them. It was a frustrating experience for a first-time mother.

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Since she couldn’t watch him starve to death, she began the journey into looking into alternatives, it was in the process of searching she found solace in African and Nigerian foodstuffs.

With the enthusiasm of a mother, she tried locally made, fresh homemade food for her son, and to her delight, he took them and grew healthier. She started sharing her recipes with other mothers and proceeded to launch August Secret in 2016.

A recipe developer, child food blogger and founder of AugustSecrets Nigeria, she started the company to share her discovery with the aim of helping Nigerian mothers, home and abroad, feed their children healthier food options.

Trained as a journalist, her entrepreneurial journey has been one of discovery and evolution.

“Immediately the company started, the future was in view, we kept asking where do we see ourselves? That has been guiding what we do. We aim to be the most innovative company providing nutritious solution options to children in their first one thousand days.”

With that in mind, Toyin knew that both hard work and smart work would have to be their mantra if she wanted to attract the attention of young and new mothers.

“I immediately opened a Facebook account because that’s the smart thing to do. I wanted more people to know about us, and I wanted to come across as helpful, so I kept sharing recipes on Facebook,” she revealed.

Facebook has given the brand the kind of reach she never dreamt of and that has caused AugustSecrets to grow exponentially.

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“We have people from as far as Russia reaching out to us asking for our products through Facebook,” an excited Toyin said, adding, “for us, this has been a market without borders.”

She continued: “The good thing I like about Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp is that it helps us get instant feedback and recommendations. We also get to know the mind of our customers concerning a particular issue,” she revealed.

This has helped AugustSecrets grow as a brand and made them closer to their customers.

Although Toyin revealed that the focus for the brand has been to provide value rather than grow social media following. However, she believes that consistency on the various platforms have played a huge role in staying relevant over the last four years.

“We show up on these platforms every day, every sunrise we are all across these platforms trying all its features, taking advantage of the opportunity it brings and using it to bring value,” she said.

From selling to friends and family, AugustSecrets has evolved to that company leading the cause for child nutrition with wholesome solutions and has fed over 30,000 children within and outside the shores of Nigeria.

Aisha

Aisha Ayensu (Christie Brown)
SINCE winning the 2009 Emerging Designer of the Year Award at the inaugural Arise Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa, Christie Brown has grown to be one of the top African fashion brands to reckon with. From winning that award, the label has catered to international celebrities like Beyonce and public figures alike whilst showcasing unique and eccentric designs.

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Behind the rising African label is Aisha Ayensu, the founder and Creative Director of Christie Brown credits the success of the fashion house to her embrace of the modern African woman. As Christie Brown continues to catch the eye of various women around the globe, it’s clear the label founder has her sight set on something bigger.

Aisha got her love for fashion from her grandmother, the original Christie Brown, who was a seamstress but never had a big fashion house. In honour of her, she decided to name the label after her. The push to start a fashion brand came as a result of wanting to be part of a movement to change the narrative of Africa.

“In 2008, there was the whole Africa rising movement and I absolutely needed to be a part of that, the only way I knew how was through fashion,” she hinted.

Without a clue of how to stitch or draft a single pattern and no technical skill, Aisha decided to launch the brand in 2008.

“I believed in this dream, I knew it was what we needed in this part at the time and I was really inspired to go ahead and pursue my dreams.”

After she launched the label, Aisha realised the need to enrol in a fashion school and immerse herself in the technical aspect of fashion.

The fashion label got attention just about a year after launch when she won the ‘Emerging Designer of the Year Award’, but she still needed the world to experience the side of Africa she lived each day. With the aid of social media, she was able to share her talent with the world.

Remember that this is a young brand starting out in Ghana, West Africa, how else will the world see what you’re doing, if there weren’t platforms like Facebook at the time,” she said.

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Having social media presence and putting good imageries out have been a very crucial part in making the world know what Christie Brown is all about. Beyond this, it is also top of mind for the label that their quality of product matches their imagery. Aisha also attests that leveraging these social media platforms have helped to drive sales.

“Ever since we started using Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp to actually drive sales for the brand, we’ve seen an astronomical leap.”

For Christie Brown, Instagram has been instrumental in shattering the glass ceiling created by the COVID-19 pandemic, which almost every sector experienced. The label was able to hold a virtual show to showcase their latest collection.

“We did everything on Instagram, we first started with IG live and it was super interactive, the comment section was amasing. We then transitioned to IGTV where the main show was aired,” she pointed out.

The brand was able to connect with over 30,000 viewers from that virtual show and it, in turn, had a positive effect on their sales.

Through Whatsapp, the label is able to communicate with their clients both locally and internationally, especially when there are new pieces. ‘’ When there’s new stock in the shop, instantly we are able to curate a little catalogue and send to clients ones you’re on our mailing list’’ she pointed out.

From a label that started as a made-to-order business, to opening its first shop, Christie Brown now makes ready-to-wear apparels and has launched an e-commerce store where potential customers can make purchases and their products get shipped to them wherever they are in the world.

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