Six years ago Nigeria’s Abimbola Balogun – affectionately called Bimbo – was a frustrated graduate, trained in petroleum marketing but coming to the sad realisation that it was going to be very difficult for her to get a job in the oil industry.
So at 29 she went out on a bead stringing course. She says that she just wanted something that kept her busy until “the real thing came” and she found a proper job.
I knew I had to be different from every other beaded jewellery designer so I went online”
She started her business with an investment of just N400 which bought her enough beads to make two necklaces.
She sold them for 5,000 naira – more than 1,100% profit – reinvested the money and never looked back.
In a country where there are so many people in the beading business she separated herself from the pack by making high-end products with special gems. And for inspiration she started looking at design websites.
“I knew I had to be different from every other beaded jewellery designer so I went online,” she told the BBC Africa’s Victor Okhai.
Now Mrs Balogun runs two outlets in Lagos, has a weekly television show about jewellery and trains other beaders. Her company, Bimbeads Concept, is now worth around five million naira and has five employees.
Pride in African colours
Mrs Balogun is aware that in Nigeria, like in many other parts of Africa, women are becoming increasingly proud of their local cultures.
Good quality colourful beads – including precious and semi-precious stones – that match their outfit are preferred by many of them to expensive gold or pearls. To a great extent that is probably why her range has had such an appeal.
“My designs are different because they are customised… They are designs that are uniquely and individually crafted,” the entrepreneur explained.
She says that she knew very little when she started out but has learnt everything on the job.
She has also continued studying. After starting her business, she got a scholarship from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Woman Initiative to study Entrepreneurial Management at the Lagos Business School.
Mrs Balogun also talks about the importance of networking and of women working together to achieve success.
She speaks at mentoring and motivational events and is a member of a number of organisations, including the Nigeria Network of Entrepreneurial Women (NNEW), a platform of Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA).
“I started by calling myself a mobile trainer. So I was going from one house to the other, training people and earning some money but when I joined NNEW I was advised to take the bold step to get an outlet which I did,” she said.
“Of course, I was scared. I had the fear of failing but the passion kept me going.”
She later moved to a bigger place and opened a second outlet, also in Lagos.
“My products cut across all classes of people: Lower, medium and the upper upper class,” Mrs Balogun said.
According to her, she has some very high-profile clients, including wives of governors and kings, and women in politics.
Mrs Balogun added that her weekly slot in the TV programme Every Woman’s World has also helped to increase her clientele.
“That actually was one of the things that made me popular,” she explained.
She said that the major problem she has encountered is that in Nigeria “everybody wants to reckon with the successful, nobody wants to give the growing ones a chance. If your name is not there, if you’re not one of the first three top designers, then you’re nowhere.
“With consistency, passion and hard work I was able to overcome all of that,” she said.
Now her dream is to add – like precious beads to a necklace – new outlets to her company and expand across Nigeria and West Africa.
This article was originally published by the BBC African Dream team.
African Dream is broadcast on the BBC Network Africa programme every Monday morning, and on BBC World News throughout the day on Fridays
Every week, one successful business man or woman will explain how they started off and what others could learn from them.