Ghanaian born Sheila Afari, 31, has been successfully reigning the business field for ten years. She shares how her journey began and her success tips to young people
You’ve been entrepreneurial your whole life, was it something you wanted to pursue growing up and who were your biggest influences who supported your entrepreneurial journey?
Yes, I’ve been entrepreneurial for most of my adult life. Growing up I never thought I would be an entrepreneur. The idea never really crossed my mind. I grew up in a very academic culture, that is often the case in most Ghanaian households. I thought I would become a doctor or a lawyer.
I never really had any big entrepreneurial influences growing up. It did, however, come to my attention after starting my second business that my parents are actually entrepreneurs and perhaps subconsciously there was something coming to play there. I was fortunate enough in the early days of starting my first business to have kept a very strong entrepreneurial network which helped me on my journey. I attended a lot of business networking events and I even ran a Young Entrepreneur’s Business Network. In terms of who has supported me on my journey, I would say my close friends and family. Always encouraging me to keep going.
You started Lavish Industries (an events management company) ten years ago and a PR company in 2012, share how it all began and how you got your first clients
It sounds corny, but I believe “entrepreneurship” chose me. I had no plans of starting both businesses, but opportunities presented themselves and a) I was able to recognise the opportunity b) believe I was capable at delivering more than was expected c) formalise a business structure quickly.
I started Lavish Industries when I was still at university. I literally found a pamphlet on the floor whilst walking and picked it up. It was advertising an entrepreneurship week and it intrigued me and I decided to attend the seminar. At the seminar, I was inspired by all the student entrepreneurs on campus and learned how to register a business. By the end of the week I had registered my company (not really thinking it would be operational whilst I was still studying), and at the closing function, I was seated next to an established entrepreneur who asked me what I do. I told him I own an events company. He told me he had an event coming up and asked if I would be interested in organising it. I said yes. My first event ended up being a staff party for a multi-millionaire who was kind enough to give me the opportunity to learn and gain experience. From there it was word of mouth and referrals on campus and I ended up doing 21st birthday parties and res formals. After university, the type of events I did were from graduation to weddings and corporate functions.
Starting my PR company was very similar to how Lavish Industries started. I was not planning on starting a PR business and I had no PR experience, but there was an opportunity to provide PR services for a fashion designer I had worked with. Having previously managed to get her some publicity in magazines, I believed if that was a role I was to take on, I could garner her more traction. So I registered the business and provided the client with PR services. After the project duration, I found myself sitting with a PR company. I then approached a beauty brand that I thought was cool but no one knew about them and offered them free services. A few months later they were a paying client. From there I did some music related PR which boosted the company off the ground as I received lots of referrals and word of mouth traction.
What have been some of the challenges you experienced in your journey as a businesswoman and what lessons have you learned?
I’ve experienced too many challenges to list, but I’ve gained even more lessons out of them. Over the years the challenges haven’t been wildly different – they still have to do with cash flow, managing people, team dynamics, clients, business development, personal well-being and so forth. They just take on a different scale or have a different impact because the company and the people in it aren’t the same as the previous time a similar challenge happened.
Through the lessons learned, I’ve been able to grow a thick skin and deal with challenges better. It has also thought me not to stress about things outside of my control, and often that is the case with challenges. You need to stick it through and weather the storm and know you will come out on the other side stronger and more capable to handle bigger business and success.
How many employees do you have under the Sheila Afari Group and what is your management style?
I have a team of 6 people. I’m a goal-oriented person and creatively think through different ways of achieving things, so that’s what I like to drive through to my team. It’s a bit difficult to have loose structures in a small business or approach everyone the same but ultimately, I would say I have a democratic management style. I like to get my team’s opinion on things and include them and how things run.
Those that are quite independent workers I let them take the lead on what they’re doing, for me the process is not as important as the end result i.e. just because I do it a certain way, you don’t have to if you find something that works for you and helps you get the results you need. Those that need coaching I’m happy to play that role, but ultimately my aim would be to get all team members to independently run with things without much micromanaging or hand-holding.
What traits best describe an entrepreneur and what, from your experience, are necessary skills that a business person needs to be successful?
I believe resilience best describes an entrepreneur. To keep at it day in and day out, you have to be resilient. I believe the below skills are necessary to have to be successful:
- Hard working (I believe it’s better to work “smarter” than “harder”, but the work ethic around working hard speaks to something different – you just can’t be lazy to win at this game)
- Adaptability (markets change, you experience setbacks etc – adapt and keep moving)
- Resilient (never give up – success is imminent regardless of how many failures you experience)
Share some of your highlights you have had as a businesswoman
- 10 years as an entrepreneur. 6 years without a break. They say if you can get through the first 5 years chances are your business will survive, so I guess that’s something to celebrate. Year 5 was probably the toughest.
- When I first realised I made my first 1 million turn over – wasn’t bells and whistles – that 1 million clearly wasn’t sitting in my bank account, but the realisation that it was possible, that it wasn’t something far-fetched or “difficult”, that if I was ever down and out I could do it again…
- Visualising my office space to what it is now when it was still an open space with missing panels and construction workers walking around. I’m now visualising my home office – it’s time to move onto something different for a different season
- Looking back at the last 6 years and having tangible examples of work done that has made a positive impact on the careers or a lot of people
Who is your role model and what is the best business/ career advice you have received that you still apply today?
I don’t have a business role model. I’m inspired by a lot of different things and people that keep me going, from the matric student who didn’t have a teacher for half the year or textbooks but still managed to pass with 7 distinctions; to the person who arrives at work at 6am and leaves work at 10pm, not just because they want to climb the corporate ladder but because they are passionate about what they do and work to a level of excellence.
The below quote by Napoleon Hill resonates a lot with me. I’m confident that I am going to be a successful entrepreneur one day because I can see it and believe it. For this reason, I won’t give up even when times are tough because I know greater things await me. “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”
Describe your busiest day
My busiest days are usually when events are involved. Because my day could run from 5am – 5am. Otherwise, in a general sense, a busy day for me is having a few meetings amongst numerous deadlines. There’s lots of time pressure to make sure things get done on time. This is generally a few days a week, that’s why I’ve started cutting back on a lot of meetings.
How do you define success and have you reached it?
I think success is subjective. I probably will never walk around thinking I am a success. I probably will also never give myself a goal and achieve it and be satisfied that I am a success and think there’s nothing left to achieve. Broken down into pieces, I think I have run a successful business. If I closed shop today I wouldn’t be caught up in “what could have been”, I believe I would pat myself on the back for the race well run.
Currently, when I think of success, I think of how my business will run and operate without me (very little of me) – so no I have not reached it yet.
What are your success tips for an aspiring entrepreneur or one who is on the brink of giving up?
- Don’t stress over what you cannot control
- Success is imminent
- Be kind and humble
- Be patient
- Focus on your service/product and perfecting it – money will come
Client’s testimony: MO FLAVA:
READ MORE: My Journey To Success With Mo Flava
Metro FM and house DJ, Mo Flava shares his experience with Sheila: “Sheila Afari is a very efficient and reliable business person, which I believe are important traits to have. She really delivers on her client’s expectations and keeps her promises. She also communicates when she cannot deliver (which is rarely) and I like that about her. She is very strategic in her approach but also incorporates her clients’ suggestions and inputs. In a nutshell, I have a pleasant experience working with her.”
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