My name is Ingy Zahran and I’m an artist and a business owner in Egypt. I was really excited when Ray suggested that I write an article about my journey from being a simple Road Design Engineer (yes, you read that right :)) to being a full time artist and starting my own business.
I remember, for years, I searched online articles and stories of people who made the shift from having a full time job with a stable salary to venturing into the somewhat risky life of an entrepreneur.
The dream seemed really hard and far from reach back then, but now, after achieving part of it, I can safely say it can happen but only if you have the perseverance and the passion to do it and not just doing it for the sake of escaping the madness that comes with a full time job without having a plan or goal in mind.
So, if you are one of those people wanting to achieve their dream and starting their own business, I hope this article helps in a way and gives you enough motivation to start pursuing it.
What It Takes To Start Your Own Business As An Entrepreneur In Egypt
- Coming up with an idea for a business
- Preparations before launching the business
- Branding and finding the right target market
- Finding the funds and launching the business
- Obstacles that faced launching the business
- How long did it take before the business started making revenue?
- Business expansion and future plans
- Final thought
Coming up with an idea for a business
After realizing that painting was my passion and deciding to pursue that as my full time job, I thought how can this be turned into a business?
I didn’t want to just be an artist painting on canvas. I wanted to be something much more. I dreamt that every home in Egypt, at least, would have a piece of my art somehow and, therefore, I realized I had to place my art on products that are demanded by people. And not in a single age group, no, but in the largest age groups possible.
So, I started searching for different materials and different color types and figuring out which colors would go with which materials, etc.
It was a totally new experience and a hard task to do as I had no references or people that can provide me with how to achieve something like this. So I started reading a lot of articles online, watching videos, reading different books to learn as much as I can.
This took a lot of experimenting which meant a lot of failures too, but eventually I reached a point where I almost had an acceptable number of trials that made me able to make a decision and narrow the products down to those I’m most comfortable with, or felt I could be most creative with, which currently are ceramics, wood, wall murals, furniture, and notebooks.
How I prepared for the business launch
Well, I did not have a precise launching plan exactly, however, what I did was that I started testing out my products on the people around me first like family, friends, and colleagues at work, and seeing their reactions, whether it would be positive or negative.
And while I was doing that, I started posting regularly on my personal Instagram account. Both online and offline results were somewhat promising and gave me the feeling that my project does have potential, if I pursue it professionally of course.
Branding and finding the right target market
After testing the project on a small scale of relatives and surrounding people, I decided I wanted to test it with the public. And I found the most appropriate method was if I took part in a bazaar, or what you can call a small market event.
I found a place that had just opened recently and, therefore, set a relatively small fee for renting a table to showcase my products. My husband was the one to encourage me to just pay the rent fees directly and think things over later. The event was happening in only two weeks, so I was really tight on time.
I worked on my products right after I came from a full day at work, and then woke up again at dawn to do more work before leaving for another long work day.
It was a rather hectic 2 weeks. But this experience made me think of business-related stuff that I haven’t thought of before like logo design, business card design, product packaging, product display, order recording, product pricing, and delivery, etc.
In these two weeks, I actually made a lot of progress in these aspects of the business. And although I almost did not sell one item in the market (due to the fact that the place did not advertise properly for the event, so it had very few customers show up), but I took it as an experience to see how people react when they see my designs, what they think of the pricing, how I should deal with clients and have answers to some questions and queries they may have, and so on.
So overall it was a positive experience. I can say that this was the starting point of my project as later that year, I started to take part in more popular markets which had a really positive outcome and attracted many of my target audience.
Finding the funds and launching the business
At first, I needed funds to experiment with the different products and materials as stated earlier. Then later, I needed funds to buy the raw materials, packaging of products, business cards, and banners, etc.
After that, I needed more funds later for marketing and ad campaigns on social media.
What I want to point out is that what was very beneficial for me in the beginning was that I had my full time job’s salary to use during the first 2 years (the period it took me to launch the business).
Because when you are just starting a project, you don’t always have enough data to be able to approximately estimate the amount of money you will need, say, every month, for example.
That’s why I always advise anyone looking to start their own business, to do so at first in parallel with having a stable income, as this is a very critical period for the project.
In my case, it was all spending at first, nothing was coming in yet, so without my stable salary I wouldn’t have had the funds to continue.
After the launching period of my project, I had enough data to calculate a rough estimate of the amount of funds I will need in advance if I was going to pursue this as my full time job.
In the case of this project, it was a minimum backup savings of 6 months from my full time salary to cover any costs that I will need along with any risks associated with it that I might face.
Obstacles that faced launching the business
Finding the right suppliers
There were many obstacles at first, one of them was managing to find the suppliers for my raw materials and with a relatively good price, to enable me to buy large quantities with the small amount of funding I had at the time.
And when I found suppliers, they had to be consistent as well because when I started the business, the market was not as stable yet, due to the political situation at the time following the 2013 revolution, so a lot of the relatively low priced suppliers had to close or change their product line entirely to be able survive.
In the beginning, I sometimes even had to cancel orders just because the supplier I dealt with decided to double the price all of a sudden, or simply stopped dealing in this type of product.
I had to pass through a large number of suppliers until reaching some that were reliable and had a stable business.
Finding a reliable delivery company
Another obstacle was finding the suitable delivery company to manage delivering my products in a good condition, and making sure they deal with the client professionally and not in any unacceptable attitude.
My main selling product currently is ceramic mugs, so finding a delivery company that will deliver it in good condition without breakage was a really hard task.
I can’t tell you the number of products that reached the client broken into 100 pieces and, here in Egypt, unfortunately, delivery companies state that any breakage of items is not their responsibility.
So you can imagine when a client gets their order totally broken and they needed it for a certain event, for example; I had to rush and make a copy of the product and go deliver it myself within 2 or 3 days, just to avoid losing this client or having a negative review on my page.
Fortunately, though, most of my clients that received broken or ruined products were relatively understanding and appreciated the fact that I sent a replicate myself to their doorstep the following day.
Another problem was that some delivery companies hire drivers that are not at all aware of how to deal with clients, so I had several problems with clients stating that the delivery men were rude, and some even wanted to cancel the order just to not have to deal with them.
I tried so many delivery companies until I reached 2 or 3 that were somewhat acceptable to me.
Handling the obstacles and putting the customer first
The only way I dealt with these obstacles is with trial and error and extreme patience. I eventually managed to find the right companies to work with, but this took a long time to do and was not an easy process at all.
As a business owner, the most important thing for me during these obstacles was that I really had to put my clients first. In other words, I always made sure that if they got a broken order or, for example, were angry at a delivery man that was really rude and did not arrive with their order on time, I really had to communicate with them fast and provide a direct solution.
I tried to give them the feeling that I’m not some other business that will just send a product and not follow up or care about the feedback and the client’s experience, whether that was during processing the order and the delivery or while using the product itself.
I’m also always keen to call clients or send them messages to know what they thought of the product and the product packaging, and if they have any advice or suggestions to add.
How long did it take before the business started making revenue?
I can say that through the first two years of the project, I was working in parallel with my full time job, so what was coming in was practically going out. So, you can say that I was just making ends meet.
However, during the third year, that was when I started to make sales. It was not a huge amount, but it was still of significant value.
Currently, within the 4th year, the project is running within its own funds, in addition to paying my personal daily expenses. However, the amount I’m able to save after deducting my expenses isn’t yet as much as I need it to be, but hopefully I’m getting there.
Business expansion and future plans
Of course you always have to have a major goal for your business so that you remain focused on moving forward and not get deviated by any means.
For me, I have several goals for my business. The first one is to be a well-known unique brand in the Egyptian market. I also want to expand my line of products to include more materials.
Another goal I have is I want to expand internationally, but currently I have a problem with the idea of delivering my products outside the country as the delivery companies set really high prices for international shipping that I cannot afford at the time being.
In the end, the success of the project all depends on how much you want it to succeed, and how much you are willing to work for it.
I just like to add that during the shift from a full time job to becoming an entrepreneur, a lot of people were against my step, and others thought that it will just be a temporary thing and I will get back to my day job.
Some even thought that I’m just fooling around and made fun of the whole idea of starting my own business.
But I didn’t care or let these people affect me at all, because I knew exactly what I was doing and trusted myself and the process.
So, make sure to always trust yourself and don’t let people pull you down or make you feel like you can’t achieve something, just because they think you can’t.
Finally, I hope this article somewhat motivated you to pursue your dream whatever it maybe. We only live once and why not live it the way we want it, rather than the way the whole society wants us to.
Author: Ingy Zahran
Artist of ceramics, murals, furniture painting, rocks, notebooks, glass and much more.
Owner of Nooge.