Sketchbook Girl Musings

Sketchbook Girl Musings: Don’t Do Anything for Free (or so my dad says)

Musings from Bahraini entrepreneur, design agency creative director and magazine editor, Wafa Alobaidat

I have been an entrepreneur since I was 22 years old, now I am 15 days away from being 26 years old. But like every business, it is now time for growth and expansion. But how to do that..?

After one of my lectures at the University of Bahrain, one of the students asked me what free resources were available in the country for them to take advantage of in terms of funding and support. I suggested Tamkeen, BDB, and the Unido program; suggestions which were given to me as well by others who have gone through the same process I did. And then came the daunting question:

“Miss Wafa, I haven’t heard of the Unido program before, have you tried it?”

Awkward silence follows. And the truth came out.

“No I haven’t.”

I felt awful for promoting a program I haven’t actually experienced. So a few days later I signed up to an intensive Introduction to Business course at Unido. 3 hours a day, 3 weeks, with only Fridays off. Yikes!

You see, I have the basics. I have my business plan, I have my marketing plans, my numbers get added up by an accountant. But did I have a growth plan? Did I have a 3 year marketing strategy? Do I want to expand? How so? Unido taught me the importance of growth, of stepping out of the day-to-day routine of managing a business and planning ahead for expansion.

One thing that struck me the most was when on day 7 of the program, Eman Burashid our marketing mentor suggested that we offer something for free to our customers. She talked about how she does a free half an hour consultancy, free seminars and lectures for charities and prospective clients. At the same time, I heard my dad’s voice in my ear telling me not to do anything for free. And it helped to have someone okay with the way I felt about giving something to get something else in return. I’m a big believer that the more you give unconditionally the more you get in return.

So I went back and emailed the young lady who asked me if I attended it, and highly recommended the program.

But if I could sum up what I had grasped in the three weeks it is this:

  1. Know your numbers yourself. And know them well.
  2. Do something you are passionate about. Even if it is not that innovative, you can do it differently. Give yourself that competitive edge.
  3. Get customer testimonials on your website.
  4. Borrowing funds is a good thing… only if you have an exact plan of where the money is going.
  5. Don’t overpay yourself (i.e. salary-wise).
  6. Know your target audience. Ask your customers how they heard about you, conduct surveys, etc.
  7. There is never a right time to launch your business. Just do it and adapt accordingly.
  8. Work on your weaknesses. Outsource what you can’t do, but know your stuff, don’t just dump everything on someone and say “get it done”. Learn to micro manage.
  9. You don’t need partners to launch your business. A partner has to fit like a glove. So if it doesn’t fit, venture on your own
  10. Don’t spend so much on decor and styling your office. Focus on developing staff, client relations, marketing materials, capitalizing on tools and resources.

Find out if you have the Unido program in your country. For small and medium sized businesses, this course helps with business planning, human resource, basics of finance and accounting, and marketing, and gives you one-on-one counseling after the program.

Wafa Alobaidat writes a bi-monthly column for Khaleejesque and muses on fashion, art, culture and culture shock in the Middle East. Wafa is also the editor of Sketchbook magazine and runs design and PR agency Obai and Hill.

To get in touch with Wafa, email her at wafa@obaiandhill.com or follow her on Twitter @fashionambition




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