Imagine handing in your resignation letter from a company you have been with for over a decade, to launch your own company and then having to immediately contend with the economic woes of the coronavirus pandemic. This is the story of Brenda Mussoko who just four months after registering her public relations company found herself in the thick of it.
Ms. Mussoko worked in the insurance industry heading the Client Relations and Communications functions for an insurance company. A decade later she felt that she was not growing in her career and quit to strike out on her own.
“In addition to feeling like my professional growth was stunted, there was also the constant office politics and I realised I wasn’t headed anywhere. So I handed in my resignation in August 2019 and after about two months I registered my own company –a PR consultancy firm,” she narrates. “Little did I know that four months down the road Covid-19 would be upon us, and nearly all facets of business would grind to a halt.”
With most established businesses focusing on measures geared towards survival, the initial excitement of starting something of her own and high expectations she’d had for her company began to wear off and in their place anxiety and uncertainty crept up as Mussoko begun to now grapple with how to anchor her startup—PRHUT LTD, through the bleak times. After all, hers was a business-to-business company that needed other companies for business.
As most businesses shifted their spending priorities or slashed budgets for what would be considered non-core activities, it was tougher for work to come Mussoko’s way.
And with the bad business atmosphere having entered its second year, Ms. Mussoko says new businesses like hers are still trudging through the murky waters of the downturn. And considers her decision to start small, a lucky break.
“Business has been quite unstable …many businesses are still on the edge, even though I’m trying to get out there and talk to corporates,” she reveals.
“What you need in a business like this is to sign up clients who give you retainers….. something sustainable. But this is where I’m at right now. So I’m trying to make it work as I go,” she says.
The nimble nature of her business has enabled her to operate virtually and still be able to swiftly reorganise after a lull and put together what is needed for operations at the snap of a finger when clients come knocking.
“When Covid-19 happened I’d just spent money to design a website, buy a proper laptop and create a structure to kick off, which meant digging into my savings,” notes Ms. Mussoko, “We’d also secured a co-sharing workspace.”
But despite this unprecedented crisis, Ms. Mussoko has chosen to respond with determination and purpose to harden her young business in the face of the storm. She has been open to opportunities that can get her start-up the lessons and exposure it needs in these formative but tough years. “For now I choose to build small and steady.”
Last year in March, at around the time the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in Kenya, the proprietors of an online US-based radio station commissioned her to build its brand and set up its website. After a lull, an NGO then hired her to train them on social media messaging.
“I’ve been able to weather the financial ups and downs of entrepreneurship during these tumultuous times thanks to the money I had put away during my working season.”
To keep herself occupied, Ms. Mussoko has not hesitated to take up unpaid work too. Last year she stepped up when a young author was launching a children’s book and needed help with promoting his work.
Earlier this year her company was recruited to align and develop a new brand for some two law firms following a merger. Her firm is also supporting a relatively new US-based women empowerment group with its strategic communications and has also partnered with a ‘strategic business company that offers tender services and automation of business processes to assist with the business development and internal process.
“These ‘small jobs’ count. They’ve helped me pay for my expenses and from them, I equally got other referrals. So I have learnt to appreciate all my clients as they come in different ‘sizes’ and potential.”
She draws from her vast industry networks created during her employment phase to spread the word of her new company.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is that it is important to build meaningful relationships especially with those in your professional circle. The initial work I got was purely from my past networks and friends. Amazingly, my former colleagues refer me. As you meet people along your career journey, have a genuine desire to know, appreciate, and help them because these are the people who will make it possible for you to have the impact you desire,” she says.
She also sees the digital world as a hot market to tap. “One ought to grow networks even beyond our borders. The digital world has shown us it is possible to handle work online and still deliver. Businesses can plug into PR services from any corner of the world.”