Your Business Can Start With Your Friends, But It Shouldn’t End There.

Ada Souzey's Nigerian Hustle

By the time she finished serving her friends and contemporaries, and making good money off the stretch, Ada found herself and her business on a lonely desert of some sort, stranded. She had no customers, no partners, and what little revenue she’d earned hadn’t been well harnessed.

That was when she realized she hadn’t actually done any form of due diligence or survey before starting her food business. She was 25, and had an extensive string of friends and friends of friends either getting married, or christening their babies. At those events, all the main courses, the small chops, and cakes were her forte. Turning friends into customers, she didn’t need to build trust afresh, everything just added up. She also got a good many referrals, so that when she wasn’t working for people she knew, she was for people who had been told much about her. But eventually, the network reached its end after a busy eight years, and she ran out of kindred customers.

Ada was extraordinarily good at making food and confectioneries, but she needed to initiate a strategy for marketing herself afresh, even though she had been in the trade for over eight years.

“My achievements were scattered, and I could hardly remember any remarkable milestones in my career. But something helped me develop an approach. When Facebook brought up reminders for my friends’ wedding anniversaries, I recalled my role in those weddings with some sense of fulfillment. So in 2015 I started to ask them to do me a favour and contribute their thoughts as I pieced my profile together.”

Today, Ada’s business story is concise and attractive to clients outside her social circle. She has other challenges, but she’s taking the restructuring and reintroduction of her business in phases. Already sorted is the base of her business for the short term. Going straight into an office or shop would have been financially unrealistic, so she started and continues to operate from home.

Ada’s Mystique Creations sits on the fairly spacious partitioned area of her living room and dining area in Ikeja, Lagos. She established the company to handle events catering, and has gained vast experience over the last ten years. Working from home, though not her ideal, does give her flexibility, the most obvious plus point being lack of overheads, such as rent.

About the sufficiency of her space, she says:

“I don’t run a restaurant (though that’s in my plans), so I don’t need space for tables and chairs on which customers would sit and eat. I also don’t need to hold stock; cooking for big events is usually done at the event venue or the client’s house. Only the small chops and cakes emanate from here. That’s why I have the dining area to hold my equipment. I probably wouldn’t even keep them in an office if I had one, because they are very expensive. So, this place works just fine for me.”

Ada is mindful enough of her bookkeeping to split utility bills between the business and her private accommodation, and to allocate running costs accordingly. She spends her week visiting grocery retailers, suppliers and prospective clients. These commutes help her maintain focus on her business and ways to improve it, as she could easily be distracted by other interests since she is her own boss.

As for contacts, does she give out her home address? And what about staff?

“I have done things for my peers before, so I know what it means to not be taken seriously. Now, I want to give out the right impression at all times, and sometimes doing business at home can hinder that. My principle therefore, is to not invite business contacts to my home office if I can help it. I also try to demonstrate that although my business is small, it is always growing, and I am serious with my work. There are providers for meeting rooms in town, and I use those for serious meetings.

“The core staff I have come to the house; the others, whom we recruit according to the scale of events per time, do not.”

Ada’s proudest achievement so far is weaning her business from depending on her friends’ patronage for survival. Every time she meets clients who learnt about her online, or who saw her work first hand, she feels proud and gains a mental incentive to keep pushing. Today, she not only works with individuals but with institutions as well. Her dreams around Mystique Creations are always on the fore of her mind, and having established a good business ethic, she believes she will get there.
She holds a University Degree in Food Science and Technology, and believes she is armed with both learning and experience to succeed in the industry. She is also very open to sharing her experiences and exposing prospective entrants to the rudiments of the industry.

“The industry is big enough; it can’t get overcrowded anytime soon. I would like to see more people venture into this industry without necessarily having a bunch of friends that they think it’s a cool idea to serve. They can still succeed. People work hard in society to earn money, and when they succeed, they celebrate, and that’s where I come in. I believe in people, and that forms part of my belief in myself. When they come calling, I’ll be here. And I will give them the very best.”