Vivian Savia :‘Women should share their stories, pains and victories’
A seasoned accounting and finance professional, Vivian Savia holds an M.A. in International Business Management from Middlesex University, MBA from Alliance Manchester Business School, United Kingdom and B.Sc in Accounting from the Imo State University, Owerri. The Lead Formulator and Founder, Nature’s Bar Co, she is a professional member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) and the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) London; trained Formulator at the Little Soap School in the Cotswolds and Formula Botanica, London.
Savia has over 10 years of experience in Budgetary Control, Project Accounting, Grants Management, Organisational Assessment and Capacity Building, working in the Banking and Non-profit Sectors, as well as with multiple donors, including the Global Fund, USAID, and several Civil Society Organisations established Nature’s Bar Co. in 2015. While she continues to serve as a Financial Manager in the private development sector, ensuring project resources are effectively and efficiently utilised in order to achieve project goals, Through a Digital Skincare Society Platform, She also shares her burgeoning knowledge in skincare, coaching, training and helping women unlock their hidden potentials. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her journey as an entrepreneur and finance professional.
Take us through your career journey as a finance professional juggling entrepreneur?
I started my career over 13 years ago in the banking sector, before moving to the development sector where I am responsible for the financial management systems and processes within an international language technology organisation. As at seven years ago, I had no desire or plan to dabble into business, not to speak of establishing one. However, in 2015 I had a mindset shift after listening to Myles and reading the Richest Man in Babylon. While on holiday, I came across a beautiful fragrant bar of soap, and a God idea flowed.
Initially, I made products during the weekends and after work hours during weekdays as a means of maximising my free hours after work. At some point, when the business started expanding, I had to consider if I should continue with the business and drop my career or vice versa, or most importantly, how to setup the business in such a way that it would run without me being involved on a daily basis. I had an epiphany when I was reminded of the ancient story of Isaac who dug up all the wells and so if he could, so could I with the help of God.
I was advised by a member of the Board of Nature’s Bar to structure the business professionally and put together a team that can run effectively without me being involved in the day-to-day operations. As a result, I have had to build a close-knit team and get out of the way in the business to allow the team to carry out the vision while outsourcing other professional functions such as auditing, HR and logistics.
What informed your decision to take on organic and natural body care? Any experiences?
Prior to getting started, I did not believe that I have what it takes to flesh out a business idea and implement it successfully. Even though I have an accounting background and a Master’s Degree in International Business, I had a limiting and negative mindset regarding entrepreneurship.
However, when my mentor, Myles Munroe, passed on, I started devouring his books and listening to his podcasts, and I remember in one of his podcasts, he talked about time and all that you could do with your time even when you have a nine to five job. After listening to him for a period of time, my mind actually started changing, and I started becoming open to the idea of having a business.
Fast-forward to a few months later, I was in Dubai for a holiday and came across this really beautiful bar of hand-made soap; it was nicely wrapped and smelled so good. The first thing that came to my mind was to set up a franchise of the product in Nigeria. However, in the process of conducting my research, I discovered that I could make cold process soaps by myself.
I went ahead to send an email to the company requesting for information regarding setting up a franchise to distribute their products in Nigeria and I got no reply till date. Right after sending the email, I was back on online reading all the articles and watching the videos on how to make natural soaps. As at then, I had been in that phase where I was detoxing from using toxic products and using only natural products for my skincare, and I was using a really nice foreign plant-based skincare brand at that time. So, skincare was already on my mind, but for personal reasons.
When I found out that I could make cold process soaps that were non-toxic, enriched with quality oils and essential oils, I was fascinated. That very evening, I got the idea to set up a natural skincare company that would be called ‘Nature’s Bar’, as it will be a natural bar that offers a plethora of natural options when it comes to skincare. The next morning, I went out with 200 dollars and I bought my first set of ingredients (essential oils) for this dream. I kept on studying, practicing recipes, and buying the equipment that I needed and in about three months’ time, I made my first batch of cold process soap. Later in the year, I went for Cold Process Soap training at the Little Soap School, in the Cotswold and the rest they say is history.
Do you think your career background has impacted your entrepreneurship journey?
I would have loved to say yes, however, I have met fellow finance professionals who run businesses, but do not apply any finance principles in running their business. My entrepreneurship journey has been mostly impacted by a mantra from my mentor, Jim Rohn. He said, ‘When you change, everything changes.’ As a result of this, I’m constantly seeking out relevant information and knowledge to help change my mindset and perspective and ultimately change my results in business.
At the beginning of my entrepreneurship journey, I learned that accounting is the language of business and that what is not measured does not grow. These two statements struck me and have greatly impacted my entrepreneurship journey. As a finance professional, I’ve, however, had the advantage of being able to interpret and measure the numbers of my business which I know several entrepreneurs struggle with. This has resulted in a steady increase in our growth trajectory, despite the economic woes post-COVID 19 issues.
What are the various hurdles you have had to cross over the years as an entrepreneur in Nigeria?
It’s been quite a bumpy ride as an entrepreneur in Nigeria. From fuel scarcity to prolonged power outages, to severe exchange rate fluctuations, to the devaluation of the naira, to the recent flooding that caused delays in inter-state deliveries… the average Nigerian entrepreneur has a lot of challenges to deal with while identifying ways to remain profitable in such as dicey climate.
On the flip side, it has been an advantage to me as it has touched me; got me thinking in ways to solve problems, think out of the box. You realise after a while that your vision maybe fixed, but the methods of achieving the goals should be flexible to be able to survive in the Nigerian business landscape.
From a strong financial point of view, for a novice looking to investment opportunities, do you advise the Organic Beauty Sector is worth looking into and what is the return looking like?
According to existing research, the beauty and personal care market in Africa was estimated at €6.93 billion in 2012 and it currently increases at a higher rate per year than the global market growth rate. The market is presently worth several billions of US dollars, with Nigeria possibly being the largest market in Africa; Nigeria is blessed with a growing population of over 200 million people.
In recent times, we have observed that the Nigeria beauty market has witnessed an influx of investors from international companies who are keen on seizing the numerous investment opportunities within the market. This is due to the expected population growth and an impressive positive performance by beauty and care products within the market. For an investor looking to invest in this sector, there are several avenues and opportunities for investors to tap into the market.
For example, there are so many ingredients with growing demand locally and internationally such as shea butter; a main ingredient featured in many natural skincare products. Investing in growing and exporting these raw materials on a larger scale to cater to local and global demand is a definite investment opportunity.
Another area that will be profitable for investors is in the processing of raw materials into high-quality ingredients that are of an international export standard. By building factories and facilities and investing in technologies that can help upcoming small businesses manufacture and process their products, investors can help expand the industry and also profit in the long run.
How can we get more women to successfully thrive and rise to the top as you have done? Share some tips?
I have come to understand that one of the best ways to get more women to successfully thrive and rise to the top is to show them that it is possible! When I saw and read about successful women, it dawned on me that if they could, then I can. You know, what you see, you can become! This is one reason why I have become determined to share my story as much as I can so that women can see that it is possible to start from scratch and succeed against all odds.
So, I encourage women to share their stories, share their pain, and share their victories. Stop hiding because you might be the only light that some young girl observing on social media can see and know that it is possible to succeed. As the good book encourages, after you have gone through the difficulties of life and you are successful, strengthen your sisters who are bound to go through the same difficulties.
In addition, it is very important for women to invest in themselves, most especially their minds. Improve your vocabulary, your way of thinking and your knowledge of various topics. Master your area of specialty or field of business. Be the best that you can be in what you do and inevitably you will rise to the top. When you serve your craft or skill with excellence, you will invariably rise to the top like yeast.
I am constantly seeking out ways to improve my skillset, knowledge, and abilities, through constant learning, reading books, and getting onto rooms filled with great minds even if I have to pay for it. As they say, success is predictable, so if you put in the work, the law of seed, time and harvest is guaranteed to work in your favour.
Finally, any woman who learns to practice excellence can succeed. I love speaking about excellence, because I have understood how it distinguishes you from the crowd. To me, excellence means going the extra mile and this is something that the average person is not willing to do. So, if you can go the extra mile in your field, you are bound to be distinguished and to be successful.
How do you get inspired and stay motivated?
Goal setting based on my life purpose has helped keep me inspired and motivated. When I think about who I want to become, the lives I desire to impact and what I want to contribute in life, it helps me stay inspired and motivated irrespective of the successes or challenges that may come my way. I always remind myself of why I started in the first place, why I am here on earth and this helps keep me focused even on the bad days.
It is said that what you see is who you become and so, on a practical level, to stay inspired, I always go back to my life manual, the Bible, especially the book of Isaiah and there will always be a word of promise that pushes me to stay inspired. In addition, I constantly read books and listen to speakers regarding several topics that help me stay true to my course.
Finally, the ancient book of Proverbs tells us that he who walks with wise men will be wise and so I always surround myself with friends and associates who are purpose driven and can speak the right encouraging words to me on the good and bad days.
What is your life philosophy?
Like I mentioned earlier, one of my mentors, Jim Rohn, said something that has been my philosophy. He said: ‘When you change, everything around you changes.’ I apply that to my life personally and also to my business. When I have a meeting with my staff, and we have a challenge, and are trying to decide what to do, instead of looking out for excuses or whom to blame, we have the mindset that if we change, meaning that if we change the way we offer our services, our pricing or the quality, or even the way we see the problem, it all starts with us, so when we change, everything around us changes.
Sometimes, the change can be the target of the month, and we usually will either meet that target or come really close to it. But before that, if we hadn’t had that mindset shift that everything is possible, we would usually be comfortable with the previous sales that we have been having. This philosophy has helped me greatly especially in really difficult situations in my career and in my business. To keep this mindset, I consistently expose myself to new things, experiences, training, and information basically. With more information I change, our products change, our results change, we improve and we adapt.