She learnt the hard way. At the height of her success, Maria Nakaweesi regrets letting down her guard and allowing her employees run the show.
It cost her Shs260m. She had made a Shs300m capital investment and only had Shs40m to look at. Worse still, she was indebted with a number of suppliers asking for payments.
Her business had collapsed. During her first pregnancy, she took time off, a decision she regrets but learnt from. She thought of ways she could get the best out of her employees.
She turned to career coach, Simon Ssenkaanyi whom she paid Shs5m for a two-hour talk with her employees about work ethics. Meanwhile, she resolved to repay debts and get the business running no matter the sacrifices involved.
It took three years to recover. Raised in a family of agri-business people, Nakaweesi, gleaned some ideas on operating business.
At the age of 16, she made her initial trip to Kampala to study. At 25, she cut her teeth into trade, starting out as a petty trader at one of the shop verandas at Nabukeera Plaza in downtown Kampala.
She was trustworthy, a trait that enabled her find footing. Established traders trusted her with their goods. She would sell and pay back. Trust and diligence were her seed capital.
In 2011 when her business was on its knees, she sought help from the people she had traded with. Her sister gave her Shs5m.
A friend lent her money to cover her air ticket. She travelled to China’s Yiwu town where she had established contacts. She bought merchandise worth Shs5m, returned to Uganda, paid Shs7m at customs office in taxes and later on made a profit of Shs11m.
That was from ‘small ties’ traders had code named ‘Obama’. They were high on demand yet cost little in the Chinese Yiwu market.
Nakaweesi cleverly found out where the then monopoly trader in the ties, and bought them.
“For three years, I did not make any money but concentrated on repaying debts my business had accumulated. I went to Guangzhou, a place with a big Ugandan community, in search of business. It was not as lucrative and conducive as Yiwu town,” the 38-year-old business woman, explains.
For a while, she became a broker in China, doing market research and knowing where particular goods were so she would transport traders there to purchase goods and in return be paid a fee.
Trying her hands at business only to fail drew a lot of mockery. But she turned a deaf ear to the ridicule.
Fresh start in cargo
She redeemed her business through venturing into the cargo business.
She levraged on an established mentorship partner who operated a clearing company.
He taught her how to manoeuvre the business ropes. Nakaweesi was the face of the business.
Thanks to her credibility, many business people entrusted her with their cargo that would be loaded onto containers and transported from China to Uganda.
But her partner was not honest. So, she ended up forking out profits from the clearing and forwarding business to pay damages.
She estimates that they lost about $35,000 (Shs130.6m) in such settlements.
Emerging from failed partnership
She later parted ways with the partner and formally registered Maria’s Cargo Company Limited as an international business that handles freight forwarding with expertise in preparing and processing customs ,other documentation and shipment.
She was keen on doing business the right way, including declaration of her goods to customs and duly paying taxes.
In one of the meetings in Yiwu, the business people in China were introduced to Dicksons Kateshumbwa who she says was very helpful to traders, irrespective of level, to understand the processes and dynamics of clearing goods.
“As a group-age importer, understanding the processes was a big relief. He removed the brokers and streamlined payment of income taxes. For the time he has been in office, people have learnt about paying taxes,” Nakaweesi explains.
She adds, “He supported people who are starting out. He was a good listener and always made follow-up to help traders. He was a man of integrity.”
The other person who has been important in her business journey, is Andrew Lusiba, a fellow business person who has provided her with finance with no conditions and at no interest.
“When I was going to China, I was indebted. I owed him Shs5m at the time. When I paid him, he said I was trustworthy. Over time, he has willingly lent me money, from $30,000 to as much as $100,000, with no interest,” she reveals.
The business woman runs offices in China and in Uganda, at Jumbo Arcade and Mukwano Courts. She employs 55 people, 25 in Uganda and 30 in China. At the moment, business is slow, owing to the outbreak of Covid-19.
“I used to clear 30 to 40 containers a week but business has slowed to a point that I only clear five to seven containers weekly. In a year, I would clear between 400 to 500. I am hopeful that after Covid-19 pandemic , business will pick up ,” she projects.
One of the lessons she has learnt during the lockdown, is the need to have her eggs in more than one basket. She has invested Shs7.5m in starting a bricklaying factory to supplement the cargo business.
On her wish list is a plan to start a bond so that for every container that comes in, there are goods it can take out of the country. She is looking at exporting coffee, simsim, beans and other agricultural produce on demands in Dubai, china and Canada.
She has secured an export licence. Her advice to anyone planning to do business or one who is already doing it, is to uphold the traits of honesty, patience, determination and persistence.
“If you are 18 years, start concentrating on studies with an aspiration of starting a venture that come bring you income, however small it is. Many look at starting with a lot of money.
Start with a small amount but be focussed, determined and decisive. If you fail today, stay on course. Do not look at me driving a good car and what that for yourself there and then, I have a journey behind me and I am still yearning to achieve a lot,” Nakaweesi advises.
She is born in a family of 12 children to Prisca Nassuna, Petero Kakooza. She is the tenth and last daughter. She hails from Kyotera, Rakai district. She prides herself to have been the first child to board a plane.
Tips to improve sales
1. Understand the market. In the logistics business, having an effective communication is the step number one to make people engage with your company.
2. Efficient networking. Agents constantly need to be in contact with other agents around the world, in order to make freight happen efficiently and meet international demands. Technology has made it easier for these connections to be made through the concept of networking.
3. Know your message
Know exactly what kind of message about their company they want to transmit. How do you want prospects to see your business?
4. Invest in your differentials.
A successful freight forwarding company will most likely boost their sales if they know what their differentials are and work around them. (Twig Blog)