Patricia Ojora is the founder and CEO of PromoPrint Ventures Limited, an outfit that specialises in the manufacture and branding of gift items such as shirts, caps, bags, and other corporate give-aways.
Eager to know how someone with such multiple roles such as lawyer, mother, wife could be surviving and thriving in a high-pressure SME (small and medium-scale enterprise) environment, BottomLINE met with Mrs. Patricia Ojora for an interview and factory tour and came away with an impression of an extremely self-motivated personality.
She is a wife and a mother of three. She trained as a lawyer at university of London, Queen Mary College in the UK and returned to Nigeria to attend the Nigerian Law School. She has been married to Dapo Ojora for fifteen years. The union is blessed with three children. The business found her when she became involved in a charity.
She is a living proof that one should not be afraid of venturing out as fear is the killer of dreams.
Here are excerpts of the interview:
How did you start and where did the idea for the business come from?
Although I studied Law, my ambition has always been to run my own business. Early on, I became involved with a charity called Lifestream, set up to raise money for children with heart conditions. One of my responsibilities was sourcing branded T-shirts for our events. I discovered a part of Lagos where I could make them. With my direct supervision, quality checks, and the expertise of the makers, the T-shirts turned out very nice. Several people liked the products and started asking me for help with theirs. This turned into a steady stream of orders and I began to gradually acquire the machines for the business, one after the other while I operated from home. And in no time, I was heavily engrossed in it, acquired an office and a factory from where I operate today.
Prior to that, I had operated a transport business, a party supplies company and a games arcade. But printing has turned out to be a good business, but very stressful.
Did you have any formal or on-the-job training on this before you ventured on your own?
No, but because I started from the ground-up, I learned every process by observing, asking lots of questions and attending trainings. I can actually print myself.
When you were starting, did you find capital an issue?
My parents gave me an initial amount for the arcade business, which I ran for about 2 years. I used the money I saved from it to start buying my printing machines one-by-one, since I was always frustrated using other peoples' machines as I had no control over the entire print process from order to delivery.
What initial challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
We as business people in Nigeria tend to have the same issues- diesel costs, high rents, staffing issues, importation laws etc. I find that discussing my business problems with other people really helps. Usually there will always be someone with a solution. I have also learnt that collaborating sometimes with your competitors rather than confronting them helps. We can share tips, sources etc and when we have a crisis, another can wade in and assist. It's strange because the very next day you are bidding for the same jobs. But no man is an island, we all need help in one shape or form.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would have injected equity capital very early and built up the business twice as fast to gain a large share of the market. Waiting for the mythical moment when your cash flow will grow your biz is a lengthy process.
What sacrifices have you had to make to survive and thrive in business as an entrepreneur?
I refused to spend anything on myself, any extra money I have goes straight into the business. My time has also been sacrificed because growing any business in Nigeria involves a lot of sleepless nights, as the buck stops with you. I am okay with sacrifices; it makes you a more disciplined and focused person. I believe one's integrity is the only thing that should never be sacrificed.
What critical skills or personal attributes would you say are needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Strength of character, belief in God, a belief in yourself and in what you do.
Do you have any mentor in business? Are mentors a necessity?
Mentors are definitely a necessity. My biggest mentor was my father. He tried a few professions before finding his true calling as a doctor. He was an inspiration to many but I admired his business sense. He was a self-made man who foresaw the decline in the health industry years before it happened. He opened one of the first private clinics in Nigeria. He was even mocked in the papers but he had a head-start on most and built on his vision, which still stands today. I have many other mentors from all walks of life. I am also ready to learn from anyone. People unknowingly make an impression on you and guide you on your entrepreneurial journey, one of the biggest pushes I had was from a former employee of mine, who refused to let me think small.
What would you say are the critical success factors that an entrepreneur needs to be successful in business?
The passion for what you do. The sense to know when you are derailing and therefore need help. The humility to learn from your mistakes and the strength to rise up again after the few inevitable failures.
How do you combine family and business?
Running your own business is hard work but my family always comes first. I am a hands-on wife and mother. Regardless of my business, I do school runs, attend PTA meetings and duties and do my charity work. I do tire myself out but one of my biggest phobias is being idle. I have now got to the point that I can cut down on my office hours. My kids sometimes come to the office, do some tasks and get paid as Goodies.
What is your advice to intending professional female entrepreneurs?
Stick it out, it's going to be hard if you want to do it well but the fulfilment in your achievements will outweigh the sacrifices. Ignore the profiling that comes with a woman working hard. Keep learning and trying to improve yourself, we are capable of so much, don't limit yourself. Do your best in all you do, the rest is up to God.