Often a relentless sense of optimism, persistence and willingness to work is all you need to succeed, says Afia Mansoor
If you’re hardworking, enterprising and have a positive outlook on life, you have all the tools you need to earn your bread and butter and enjoy a decent standard of living. Sounds unbelievable? Read on and see how many people have proved this fact again and again.
Life perhaps gives all of us a chance to ‘make it’ as the saying goes. There are some who rise to the challenge and brave the odds to become successful at their enterprise. People belonging to the lower economic strata especially, need to be extremely enterprising, since the decadent state of public education and the difficulty in securing a decent job through merit ensures that the massive majority of the poor are trapped forever in the vicious circle of poverty.
This scribe talked to some entrepreneurs who started out with literally no financial resources, who belong to the lower income groups and who now manage to support their families respectably and have successfully evaded the poverty trap.
Kashif, a part-time employee in a government organisation, was financially broke eight years ago but had a burning passion to improve his family’s standard of living. He worked as a part-time computer operator in two companies, yet it was very difficult for him to make ends meet.He grew interested in the catering business and entered a partnership with a friend on commission basis. In three years, he learned how to cook as well as all the ins and outs of the business; he hired a cook and opened a small kitchen to sell a 15 rupee plate of biryani. The first day he sold 12 daigs and never looked back.As the business grew, he hired more cooks, got hold of a financier and three years later opened his new office with a custom-built kitchen. He says, “After eight years into the trade I have tremendous patronage from customers. I have come a long way and nowadays I am selling various three-course menus and have arranged food for events running into millions of rupees.
I have introduced my own improvisation on dishes like lagan gosht and shahi biryani which have gone down very well with my customers.”It has not been all smooth sailing as he explains, “I didn’t have any initial investment or monetary support which is very vital if you are opening a new enterprise. Once I lost all my money by investing in a barbecue set-up. Also, in this business you tend to sacrifice on family time as I usually get home at around 4 or 5am. However, our efforts have been gratifying as eight years ago, we lacked even the bare necessities and today I have a comfortable home, a car, my kids go to decent schools. What more could I want?”
Sultan, 20, is a tailor who learned the craft as an apprentice at the age of 14 and then decided to start his own work. He lives with his family in the servant quarters of a house in Lahore’s Defence area and this family has been very generous in permitting him to carry on his work from their house.Sultan’s modus operandi gives him the edge. He has a number of customers from whom he picks up the clothes, stitches them within two days and delivers them right to their doorstep. His clients vouch for his neat cutting and stitching.Sultan exclaims proudly, “When Begum Sahiba’s daughter was getting married she got me to stitch her daughter’s and the entire family’s clothes. I stitched some 80 dresses in a month, working as long as 20 hours a day at times. She paid me generously in return!”He continues, “I have kept my prices a little lower than the market rates and the fact that I visit clients at their home, even buy the accompanying lace or buttons for them and deliver the stitched clothes to their door saves them time and fuel and the hassle of running around after tailors.”
Bushra got married to her cousin when she was 16. In another six years she had four children. She lived in a little village near Sheikhupura where she tended to the needs of a large family. Her husband was illiterate and lacked any marketable skills. He drove a tonga and was not able to support his family due to the rising cost of maintaining the animal.Though Bushra’s in-laws were supportive, she found it increasingly difficult to fulfil the basic needs of her children. After all her backbreaking labour she still had no cash in hand to meet her expenses.
Seema, another villager, offered to teach Bushra the art of waxing which is a lucrative skill and in great demand by women who prefer to have waxing done at home rather than visit a parlour. Bushra, with her family’s consent learned the skill and was sent by Seema, along with her homemade wax, for the first appointment. Bushra was nervous but the client understood her predicament and encouraged her to go on. In fact, she paid Bushra more than she dared to demand. From that day, she never looked back. She would book appointments by using the local grocery shop’s phone who would charge her Rs2 for each call, but in spite of this investment she made a substantial profit.
For several years she persisted at the task, some times with no client for days. However, news of her skill and punctuality spread through word of mouth, and her reputation followed her even when she moved to Lahore. Her husband left work when they moved and now accompanies Bushra to every house. Today she is extremely proud of her journey. Sixteen years of rigorous labour have enabled Bushra to feed her four children, marry off her three sisters-in-law, and help her to financially support her brother-in-law’s family. She has educated all her children and is usually booked with appointments for the whole day. She says, “I have worked exceptionally hard to achieve financial stability. However, along the way I met some supportive people who gave me encouragement when I really needed it.”
Tamkeen is another ‘waxing lady’ in Lahore. Adept in the added skills of threading, facial, manicure, pedicure and massage, she is able to secure a good income each day and works only by appointments. She sends her children to a good school, swimming classes and is taking English Language tutorials herself to improve her communication skills. She has the added advantage of being able to drive, so she does not have to wait for male chaperones to accompany her to various homes.
One of the main success factors for each of these people was the availability of cell phones as this was the method through which they established and secured their business. Low calling costs have also helped these small-scale entrepreneurs who need to connect to their customers on a regular basis. Nearly all the entrepreneurs admitted that though some of their clients haggled over payments, they were largely satisfied by the money they made each day.The common factor between all the people interviewed was their relentless sense of optimism, persistence, and willingness to work hard and it is undoubtedly these traits that have made them successful. They all made adversity work for them. Perhaps this could be a lesson or two for people who end up blaming the system for their own shortcomings.
This article was published in The Review, Dawn Newspaper on November 27, 2008.