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Most women-owned businesses are risk averse

By Ijeoma Thomas-Odia
05 March 2022   |   4:10 am
My first degree was in Biological Sciences interestingly but it was my interest in business that motivated me to change disciplines.

Amarachi Stanley Duru is an experienced business professional with a demonstrated history of working in the banking industry. She is a Business Growth and Development Expert, digital skills trainer who offers training on the use of Business Systems to develop strategy and build sustainable businesses. She is the Founder of the Small Business Workshop. A project she founded focused on providing training, advisory and consulting services to small businesses. Duru is the author of the book, Moving From Idea to Profit – Your First Steps to Starting Your Own Business. She volunteers as Lead, Training and Leadership Development on The Joshua Leadership Project and as a Facilitator on The John Maxwell Global Youth Initiative (JMTGYI).

A Certified Coach, Speaker, she works with individuals to help them improve productivity and achieve personal goals. Contributes to the development of organisation and business strategy for small businesses, through her signature programmes – the Business Planning Bootcamp, Personal and Business Finance Coaching. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for helping individuals build sustainable enterprises.

Share with us your educational background and how it influenced your passion as a professional in business?
My first degree was in Biological Sciences interestingly but it was my interest in business that motivated me to change disciplines. So I proceeded to take a Masters programme in International Management with the University of Liverpool. Before I decided on International Management as a course of study I had already drawn up in my head the kind of solutions I would want to provide to society. I didn’t have a very clear understanding of how to do it but I knew what I wanted to do – which was help individuals build sustainable enterprises. So, I’d say my educational background provided me the exposure I needed to confidently engage in the market as a professional, because passion without confidence, requisite knowledge and skills equals poor result.

As an experienced professional with skills in personal financing planning, wealth management, sales, relationship management, and more, how are you able to hone your skills?
I’d say continuous learning and improvement. The world as we know it when I started out as a banker in 2005 isn’t the same as it is today. Every business should have a continuous improvement plan, so should every professional. So I have to retool myself, taking classes in the same disciplines (wealth management and personal finance), getting coaching certifications with the John Maxwell Team, venturing into Behavioural Analysis and getting certified. I had to take a course with The Cornell University, USA on Women Entrepreneurship, which was sponsored by the Bank of America Institute, Strategic Human Resources and Organisational Behaviour, with the Management School of Business and Mentorship. As a professional seeking to be relevant in your field, you never ever stop sharpening your skills to meet the ever-growing demand of the market.

You are a certified coach and trainer, how are you helping individuals achieve personal goals and improve productivity?
Having coached several individuals from those who are just starting out in business to the professors who are already established in their practice, one thing I have noticed is that within every individual irrespective of how confused they may seem lies the answers and solutions to his perceived problem and my job has always been to patiently work with them through my coaching programme, the Personal and Business Finance Coaching Programme to help them see this.

Together with the client, we will go on a journey of self-discovery, identify the issues, together we work out solutions, create and set up systems to ensure sustainability both for the individual and the business. To be honest, this is not the easiest of jobs but I absolutely love it because of the transformation it brings to my clients’ lives. To know that your work with one client changed the lives of so many other people who you probably would never meet, is pure joy! I consider this heaven’s assignment and it’s been an absolute privilege doing this.

You also authored a book, what inspired this book targeted at starting up a business?
Oh wow! Honestly, it was the mistakes starting out as an entrepreneur. I’m writing another book on that now. There’s statistics that more than 70 per cent of businesses started in Nigeria do not survive the first three years. That’s staggering number and one of my failed businesses is part of that data. Anyway, when I started my consulting and coaching practice, I discovered that this wasn’t peculiar to me; it was the problem of most people trying to start a business. A lot of aspiring entrepreneurs have fantastic ideas but they are stuck at the point of answering the question, ‘will I make money out of this business?’ the book, Moving from Idea to Profit provides the reader with a guide on how to come up with a business idea and then test the idea for profitability before you launch. Seeing these tools work for me inspired me to share it with the rest of the world. We can actually build businesses that will not just survive but thrive.

What do you consider a major challenge for small business owners in the Nigerian economy?
Entrepreneurship is hard. Add that to running a business in Nigeria, which is tough! There are so many problems but I’d like to start from the basic, which is the most neglected, Knowledge. My mentor, John C. Maxwell will say, ‘You have to know yourself to grow yourself’. The same applies to your business. You must have basic knowledge about the business, the industry, market trends, value chain, pricing mechanism, how government policies affect the industry.

You must understand the kind of legal entity your business should be registered as, the implications on taxes, seeking funding, and bankruptcy. You must know how to set systems and process. You need basic soft skills like negotiation and relationship management. You need to know where to apply for funding if you need funds – locally and internationally and what the requirements are. Many seemingly big businesses struggle because they face the same challenge – lack of knowledge.

How can more women rise to the top and live their dreams?
I honestly cannot claim to have the answer to this question. I’d rather ask the women what are your dreams? At what stage are you in your life journey? Do your dreams align with your priorities at this time? When can they all come in alignment? Are there some of them which you can execute now? Do you have opportunity to take the chance? Then take the chance! Celebrate yourself and reach for the next goal! We joggle several balls, yes, but do not keep everything for later. Later never comes! Rise to the top one-day at a time, every day, one stone on another! You can Sis. No pressure!

What tips do you have for women-owned initiatives that are struggling to stay afloat?
Collaborate. To stay strong and remain relevant in these times, you would need to collaborate with other businesses. I know a lot small business owners frown at partnerships, I understand your concerns and they are legitimate fears but I don’t know if you have heard this expression, ‘One will chase a thousand and two will chase ten thousand’. Get a lawyer.

If you can’t afford one draw up an agreement and have both parties sign in the presence of a witness. Most women-owned businesses are risk averse but to scale you have to take a chance, even the risky ones.

What key activities are you focused on through the Small Business Workshop you founded?
The Small Business Workshop is a project I founded in 2021 and our focus is sharing knowledge and providing advisory services. We holding monthly webinars where we share knowledge with small business owners on how to start and scale your businesses. We have strategic partners who come in to train for free. We offer advisory services to members of our community, creating opportunities for them to network and collaborate. We just started a mentorship programme for those who purchased my book which will end by June.

How do you stay inspired?
Prayer. I get my strength in the place of prayer. Sometimes when I feel like it’s all getting too much, I remember it’s not about me, so I ask for grace and I get up and just do it, motivated or not. Secondly, I submit to mentors and coaches.

Every coach needs a coach. Someone needs to hold you accountable for your goals. My mentors have walked the path so when they share their stories I am inspired to stay my path. Thirdly, I’ve got four kids. When I look at them it’s enough motivation to fight for their future by building mine.

What key lessons have you learnt in your years of practice?
I have learnt that the key to growth is continuous improvement. People want value, give them value; all that value doesn’t have to reside with you that’s why there are other professionals, so you can collaborate. In addition to that, I have learned that everything is not about money. You do not have to make people pay for everything. Provide solutions not because you’re going to be paid for it but because you find fulfillment doing so.