Building a business
Griselda K. Togobo used to be a management consultant for Deloitte LLP. Then she set up her own business and is now advising other women on how to start and build theirs.
She is joining the Workingmums.co.uk expert panel to give business advice from both her professional and personal perspective.
Griselda was fully intending to go back to work when she went on maternity leave just over two years ago. But after having her son Makavo, she realised she couldn't return to a life of travelling and the long hours needed to climb the corporate ladder with a small baby in tow, especially since her husband is a doctor and works very long hours.
“I thought I would be back at the office six months after giving birth,” she laughs, “but then I started getting those feelings of not wanting to leave my son. My husband was so surprised. 'You have changed', he said. I still wanted all that I did before I had him, but I wanted to be part of my baby's life.”
Griselda, who is based in Leeds and used to commute regularly to Newcastle, decided to set up her own business. She had always wanted to work on her own. “When I went into the corporate world it was to get as much experience as I could. My mum had several businesses. We are quite an entrepreneurial family,” she says.
While she was on maternity leave she had time to read and she starting reading about women who had set up their own businesses. “It was very inspiring,” she says. “I thought why not. I could do the same thing I was doing at work, but do it for myself.”
She started blogging and spoke at a life coach event. Just from that one event she got two clients.
She went back to her managing partner and asked to be able to work from home when she returned from maternity leave. “They said they wanted someone in the office. I thought I already have two clients and I knew I could do it so I decided to leave and set up on my own.”
She set up a registered company, www.awovi.com, and gave herself several months to prepare herself mentally, networking with other entrepreneurs, building her professional profile as an authority on business and finding out about what her values were. “I wanted to be a mum who was part of her baby's life. I didn't want to live with the guilt of not being there,” she says. “To do that I needed to come to terms with not pursuing my career the same way I was doing before I had the baby.”
She developed her writing and speaking skills and started approaching people who were doing things she would like to do. She would ring them and say she liked what they were doing and could she meet up for a coffee. “I built my network from zero. I literally didn't know anyone,” she says. “I realised I had to offer something to the people I approached so I would offer to feature them on my blog or mention them in my newsletter to help publicise what they were doing.”
She approached the Huffington Post and got one of her blogs on motivating staff for business published. She says she sets aside time every week to market her business by contacting new people. For Griselda one of the most important tools for promoting her business has been writing. “The web has created a content-hungry consumer. You are not serious about your business if you don't create content and promote it,” she says.
She can now work around her son, who goes to nursery three days a week and can even sometimes take him to meetings, depending on how family friendly her clients are. She works mainly from home, but when she goes to London she takes her son with her and he stays with her mother-in-law. She adds that her nursery is very flexible so if she needs Makavo to go in for an extra day they can usually accommodate her.
When he was a baby, she could work around his sleep times, sometimes talking to people with him sleeping on her shoulder. As soon as he became mobile, that was impossible. “It's good for him to have a structure around him at nursery,” she says. “But it means I have to be very focused so I can get more done when he is not around, grow the business and be able to afford the help I need to keep growing.”
She also works in the evenings when Makavo is in bed, but says she tries to do a 9-5 day with evenings only as a back-up plan rather than a normal part of her routine.
She recently wrote a book, How to become an expert in 7 simple steps, which is published on Amazon. The idea of the book is a step-by-step guide on how you could go about establishing yourself as an expert in a way that is commercially recognised and rewarded. She says: "I learnt the hard way that it takes more than degrees for people to see you as an expert."
The book is an account of how she went about establishing herself as an expert and how others could do the same for their business. She wrote it as a series of blog posts as she says she finds it easier to write a page and then build from there.
In her work with clients, money is always a key issue, but she feels it should not hold people back. “It's easier to start a business now than at any other time in history,” she says, “even though the banks are not lending. If you write a good business plan and put your ideas down in a coherent manner, showing you understand your target market and how you’d make money with the idea, you should be able to get funding. It doesn't need to be glossy or 30 pages long. You just need to show that it is commercially viable and you’ve done your research.
She adds that there are many business plan templates available online. The real problem, she says, is doing great research.
For Griselda, starting a business is challenging but, after that initial hurdle, the real test is keeping the business going and profitable. That is where she supports her clients the most. She adds that women should not hesitate to seek support to grow their businesses . A good support network of peers, mentors and advisers can be invaluable in taking things to the next level, she says.
All of her clients so far have been women. “I find it fulfilling to work with other women as I understand them and I love seeing the transformation once they start to believe in themselves and are more motivated and confident about pursuing their dreams," she says.