One of Abimbola’s greatest motivations is the look of pride on her little daughter’s face when she is excited about one of her mother’s products. This is something that keeps the illustrious agro-entrepreneur going regardless of the harsh tides and seasons in her business. “I want to always make something she can be proud of. I want to always be someone she can look up to”, Abimbola says.
Abimbola Oludare-Ojo spent 17 years in the banking industry before leaving to start Nareli Farms and Agro-Allied Business in 2017. Nareli Farms is a budding business in the agricultural sector that trades and packages items like She Butter, Black Soap and edible products like bread and spices.
This article is going to discuss her journey as an entrepreneur and lessons from her experience as an entrepreneur.
You left a fulfilling career in banking after 17 years to pursue your agro-business, what spurred you to make that change?
Farming has always been a part of my being. Growing up, my father was a passionate farmer. He worked full time as an electrical engineer but he had a rural farm that he always took I and my siblings to. At the farm, he taught us how to plant corn, cassava and other local foods. He also taught us how to fry Garri.
I have always wanted to run my own business. After I graduated from the Master’s program at the University of Ibadan, I tried to get a job in the food processing industry but that was tough so I ended up getting a job at the bank as a Relationship Manager. In that role, I learned a lot about satisfying customer’s needs, I learned about different businesses and read a lot of feasibility studies.
While I enjoyed my job there, I always had this longing to leave and start something of my own. I kept saying, “one day, one day” but of course, one day turned to 17 years in the bank. I got moved to another sector of the bank and it made me interact even more with business owners and when I would see a business similar to the one I wanted to start, I would feel bad and thoughts of leaving would come up again.
Another thing that spurred me to leave was the feeling that I was not spending enough time with my family. It was something that had been tugging at me for some time and leaving to start a business where I could manage my time proved a solution.
One day, after some soul-searching I walked up to my boss and told him it was time to go. I made him realise that I had to leave. I had to start Nareli Farms.
If you could go back, would you change how your entrepreneurship journey played out?
No, I actually would not. Leaving was a tough decision, but I am glad I did it. Leaving took a lot of courage. In fact, some people thought I wasn't normal. The pay in banking is good and when you think about how your next venture might not sustain the lifestyle you have, leaving seems less enticing. My supervisors could not believe it and they kept asking me if I was sure. But till now, I know I made the right choice.
The only thing I would have altered was my spending habits. While I was working, I spent a lot of money on equipment I thought I would need for my business but till date, I have not used many of them.
There’s this idea that when you are on the right path as an entrepreneur, there won’t be challenges, has that been true for you in your journey? What are some of the challenges you have faced in the course of running your business and how have you been able to manage them?
There will be challenges regardless of whether you are on the right path or not. When I initially started, I had a million and one ideas in my head. I did not know which product I wanted to launch first or how to really go about it. So I joined a network- NECA’s Network of Entrepreneurial Women.
The amazing women in this network helped me to figure out my business in the early days and held my hand through the process. Joining this network was also instrumental to me leaving my job. Before joining, I did not have the courage to actually take that step. I was three months into the network when I realised that I could do this, I could actually start something for myself.
I was also a part of the cohort at the last FCMB SheVentures program where I learned about growing and running a business. In fact, it was like attending Business School. I would have made some wrong business decisions if I did not attend some of the Masterclasses in the program. My amazing mentor, Cynthia Umoru helped me to challenge myself as an entrepreneur and I grew from that.
Another challenge we face right now is having skilled and reliable people on our team. Sometimes, workers that are supposed to do certain things will not show up and that can slow down the process. However, when they realise that as a supervisor, you are able to do most tasks by yourself, they cannot hold you to ransom.
What have you learned from your experience running your Nareli Farms and Agro-Allied Farms?
- Don’t let rejection stop you. As an entrepreneur that has to keep looking to put my products on store shelves, I get a lot of rejections and I hear “NO” a lot. When we started the bakery, I needed to put our products on supermarket shelves, so when I set out in the morning, I set out with the mindset of not taking no for an answer. I’ve had a number of rejections from some of them, but I keep going back for my yes. All I want is for my product to be on their shelves and that is going to happen.
- Be financially vigilant. Know the market and know the right prices of the raw materials you are buying for your business. There is no shame in shopping around for better rates and prices because the better rates you get, the higher your profit margins.
- Ask Questions. Nobody is going to flog you. It is best to ask as many questions as you can to avoid costly mistakes. You are only as limited as your knowledge is.
Abimbola’s journey with Nareli Farms is set to be an exciting and fulfilling one. To shop quality Shea Butter and Black Soap from her business, Nareli Farms, click here.
FCMB is passionate about empowering female entrepreneurs, helping them build their businesses, and improving the overall success rate of businesses owned or run by women. To find out how FCMB can support you as a woman-in-business, please click https://fcmb.com/she-ventures.