‘I started a business with Shs3,000’
Mary Abalo is a mother of one and a second-hand clothes vendor in Pece Vanguard, Pece Division, in Gulu Municipality. She is happy with her work and is clearly doing well.
But things were not always like this. In 2001, her husband, who was the sole bread winner in the family, passed on. Life got tough and she realised she needed to find a way to make a living. And so she started her business with only Shs3,000 as her initial capital.
“I decided to start selling green vegetables [locally known as boo], because of its high demand in the area and also as a way of creating employment for myself. My earnings were not so profitable, but at least it used to sustain the family and on good days, I would earn Shs12,000. I saved Shs4,000 each week,” Abalo says.
When her savings grew to Shs200,000, Abalo, in 2005, started selling matooke. She would get it from West Nile region and sell them at Gulu main market.
“Business at the main market was competitive and most of the customers wanted quality products, I was able to capture their attention since my matooke was good. This made me get higher sales.” Abalo says from her daily sales at the market, she made sure that she saved Shs10,000 every week.
In 2006, she started selling second-hand dresses for women with an initial capital of Shs600,000 that she had saved from the previous business.
“At that time, I had the capital to do a bigger business, however, I was limited in business skills,” she says. This hurdle was jumped when she went for a workshop on entrepreneurship. In October last year, she attended a one-week business skills training that was conducted by Enterprise Uganda.
“I heard over the radio, about free training skills workshop that Enterprise Uganda was going to conduct for the youth within the district. I registered and to the date, I am reaping from the acquired skills.
I have since then invested Shs1m in produce business specialising in selling cereals like beans, maize, groundnuts, sorghum and millet, that doing quite well on the market,” she says.
Rearing local breed chicken is another business she is doing that supplements on her incomes. “I started with only two chickens early this year that I bought at Shs11,000 and within six months, they have increased to 11. If I sell them at the current market price, I will earn Shs210,000.”
On average, Abalo gets Shs1m in profit every week, from selling cereals.
She says she has been able to pay her son’s school fees in one of the best boarding schools in Bunyoro region and also provides all the basic needs in the family without any difficulty. “Soon I will not be renting,” she boasts. “I have been able to purchase a piece of land where I will soon put up a shelter.”
There are still some challenges she faces. She needs more capital for her business to grow, in order to realise good profits. She also laments the taxes imposed by the Gulu Municipal authorities, saying they are hefty.
But that is not putting her down and she has even bigger plans. She hopes in the next five years, to supply most of the traders in Gulu main market and others in the region with cereals and venture into commercial farming.
‘I used pocket money to start my business’
After graduating in 2012 with Bachelors degree in Counselling and Guidance at Nsamizi Training Institute of Social Development, Sheila Amulo decided not to hunt for a job.
Afraid of joining thousands of unemployed youth on the streets, Amulo used to save money from the pocket money she was given. She planned on starting her own business.
By the time she completed studies, she had saved Shs150,000. She used this money to start selling juice, beverages and other general merchandise in 2012 in a makeshift container in Soroti town.
“It was a profitable business given my suitable location.
Every day I was assured of at least Shs15,000 in profits,” she says. But months later, her shop was demolished along with others by Soroti Municipal authorities.
Amulo opted to bank her capital and savings of about Shs6m, for fear of squandering as she looked for what to do next. “I thought of venturing in first-class clothes but felt this was a waste of time given the fact that this remains a seasonal business,” she says.
It was while she was still figuring out what to do, that an opportunity by Enterprise Uganda to train youth entrepreneur came by in 2013. She attended the workshop and learnt how to manage business finances. She then decided to reinvest her money in produce, buying cassava chips, maize, grain and other cereals.
From her first purchase of 100 bags of maize last year, she obtained Shs3m in profits after ploughing in Shs3m, saying this was enough to boost her business.
In the last two years, the 25-year-old has managed to expand her business to milling, after acquiring and installing a milling machine at Soroti Industrial area at the cost of about Shs25m.
She was able to pay Shs8m upfront for it. The rest she paid off in instalments. She bought the machine, so she could save money spent on grinding cassava chips for Karamoja and other central markets.
Amulo says she employs about 10 casual workers.
“This is the busiest season when sales are at the peak, because of the shortages in Sudan and Karamoja. We can’t store anything, every commodity that comes in today, is disposed of the next day,” she says, adding that she has received offers to supply schools with maize.
According to Amulo, produce business at times tends to be tricky, because of inflation. And, some seasons are hampered by drought or excessive rain, which brings about little harvest.
Also, the costs incurred in transportation are high and affect what one would get as profits.
That said, the business still does well because, Amulo says, every day, the population needs to eat. She now plans on installing rice and maize haulers to add on her cassava grinding mill.
“I am looking at expanding my produce business, I am hopeful that at a certain time I will supply produce outside Uganda,” she says.
‘Using a loan boosted my trade’
Geoffrey Omony, 26, a motorcycle rider in Gulu Municipality, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Development Studies from Gulu University. Omony says after he completed studies last year, he did not find much in his search for a job.
So he worked as a boda boda rider. He had been riding his boss’ motorcycle from 2009, and would get paid Shs50,000 per week. In April 2012, Omony enrolled for business training by Enterprise Uganda, and things changed.
“The training was an eye opener. I got the Shs1.5m I had saved from riding the boda and decided to buy a motorcycle,” he says. In order to do that, he acquired a loan of Shs2m which he added onto the savings and he bought his own motorcycle. He later paid the loan in a period of 10 months from April 2012 to February 2013.
“I had wanted to get a loan, but because of the fears and little knowledge on how to use the money, I always shunned the opportunities, until I received the training,” he says.
Although Omony is still in the boda-boda business, he has diversified. In July last year, he planted pine trees on a two-acre piece of land, given to him by his family in Nwoya District. He bought the pine trees at Shs400,000.
“Bee keeping has also been part of my new initiative. 50 beehives on the same piece of land are already in place,” he says and he has already realised profits from bee farming. In the first harvest, he was able to get Shs1m.
“I have saved Shs8m from the harvest of honey since I ventured into the business,” he says. From the boda boda business, he earns Shs30,000 to Shs50,000 on good days and on a bad day, he can earn as little as Shs10,000.
Some of the struggles he faces now are transporting more beehives to the site. Each beehive is transported for Shs20,000 which is expensive. It cost him Shs1m to transport the first set of 50 beehives to his farm.
“Also, my skills in harvesting honey are inadequate, coupled with lack of equipment for harvesting. I am forced to apply the local skill in harvesting the honey, but this lowers the quality of the honey, yet I am aiming at good quality products,” he says.
In the future, Omony wants to take more bee hives to the site He also wants to get more trees to be planted when he acquires more land.
‘Small-scale farming got me out of poverty’
Tonny Oyugi, 35, is a businessman in Ading Trading Centre, Kwera Sub-county in Dokolo District, happy about the way his business is doing. But 15 years ago, the story was different. He had completed his O-Level education at Kangai Secondary School in 1999 and could not continue with his studies because of lack of money. Oyugi dropped out of school and started engaging in small scale commercial farming after his parents told him that they could no longer support the education of all the nine children. He used his parents land to grow simsim, maize, cassava, beans, soya beans and sunflower.
“Life was very hard and I regretted why I was born in a poverty- stricken family,” he says. “But as time went on, I picked the courage and started farming seriously, and from my sweat, I was able to raise Shs400,000.”
It took Oyugi three years to come up with these savings, which he used to start up a small retail shop at Ading Trading Centre in 2004. And after saving Shs7m from his business, on November 29, 2013, he bought a vehicle and got into the transport business. This was after benefiting from a training organised by Enterprise Uganda around October the same year.
“From my transport business alone I can now save Shs50,000 daily and in a period of four months, I have saved Shs3m. I want to build a commercial house at Ading Trading Centre, and upgrade my shop to a fully-fledged wholesale,” he says. Oyugi like any other businessman, faces some challenges. Besides the limited capital, his business is seasonal. May to September sees him get few customers. But he plows on, one step at a time, determined to fulfil his dreams.
‘I started with Shs400,000; now I have a mini supermarket’
Charles Ewalu 26 owns City Life mini supermarket situated at Campswahili in the outskirts of Soroti town. He says starting out the business was as hard as pressing water from a rock.
After sitting for his A-level exams on in 2006, he was pessimistic of the future. There was no guarantee that his parents would be able afford his university fees. Ewalu then attempted to convince his father to sell one of his two bulls, for him to start a simple business. His pleas fell on deaf ears, as his father feared that he would squander the money.
But Ewalu pressed on until his father gave in and sold one bull for Shs400,000. With that money, Ewalu started an open stall, selling salt, soap, beans, sugar and other basic needs, and had made savings of Shs2m in 2007. At around that time, results were released and he scored 14 points in MEG, but was unable to make it to the university on government sponsorship.
Ewalu says he chose not to risk spending the Shs2m for a Bachelor’s degree in Education at Kyambogo and later end up dropping out. “I instead invested the money in business, growing to a shop level. By 2008, my working capital had shot to Shs19m, enough to clear my tuition fees for the entire course, but I decided not to do that.
I paid for a single semester, and while at school, I entrusted the business to my elder sister. I only came to help during holidays,” he says. “Our profits grew and we were able to pay for my tuition and to re-stock the shop as well as pay fees for my young siblings.”
After attaining his degree in education in 2011, Ewalu decided to expand his business from a shop to a mini super market.
“The old man has never regretted selling his bull. He has had some of his would be responsibilities withdrawn,” the youthful entrepreneur says. There have been some challenges, Ewalu says.
“When I ventured out to buy a plot in 2013, and later on construct, the business showed signs of depreciating,” he recounts. It was at that point that he went to the trainings Enterprise Uganda was giving.
I learnt that tampering with business monies in its infancy can cause collapse.
When I learnt that, I stalled the construction. Also, before, I would get money to appreciate relatives. My view about that has changed.
I only give money from my pocket when available, not the business money. I have also been able to cut costs. Before, I spent a lot on transport costs. Today Enterprise Uganda has connected me to suppliers who deliver goods at my door.
“Prior to this training, I did not know what record keeping was. Today every sale done, stock in and debts have to be recorded. After closure of business, the books have to be balanced.”
Every morning, before opening the business as early as 6am, he says a prayer. “I need God in this struggle, many people start business but never have their business mark their first birthdays.
For this, I am grateful to the Almighty God.” The 26-year-old says he wants to upgrade his mini-super market to a hyper-super market in the near future and also to become a money lender.
‘I am no longer called a beggar’
Catherine Obote, 33, and a mother of four deals in groceries at Agwata Trading Centre, on Kachung Road in Dokolo District.
Obote dropped out of school in S3 and had no source of income. She ended up begging for whatever she needed. “I used to beg for everything including food,” she said.
But when she heard about the Enterprise Uganda training, she took the courage to borrow Shs5,000 from a sister with the ambition of getting a certificate.
“During the training, I was blown away by the numerous testimonies. I decided to start immediately, no matter the circumstances,” Obote says.
After the training she went to a neighbour and offered her labour to winnow rice, for a fee and after two days, she had earned Shs14,000. It is this money she used to start her business on December 27, 2013.
Obote bought matooke and some fruits, which she sold and within three days, she was able to raise Shs70,000. At this point, her business started to grow.
Two days later, she borrowed Shs50,000 from a friend, which she topped up to buy a pig at Shs120,000. She then slaughtered the pig, roasted the meat and sold to the people at Agwata Trading Centre. The pork business alone was able to get her a profit of Shs30,000. And since May this year, Obote has been bagging between Shs30,000 to Shs40,000 as profit daily.
Her business is now worth Shs1.3m. She has involved her children in the business; they count the day’s proceeds at the end of the business day.
Obote’s main challenge, she says, is her alcoholic husband who seems bent on taking her business proceeds away. But that has not distracted her, happy that she is no longer called a beggar or a poor person. She plans to buy land at the beginning of next year and construct a semi-permanent structure for her family.