Sunday, 22 July 2012

This Has Been Mine

 In August 2008, I saw an advertisement in the daily newspaper. The advert said that a media house was looking for people to sell advertising space. I sent my application, as I had done with many others before. I forgot about it. A few days later, when I was called for an interview, I barely remembered having made that job application.

I was interviewed and hired as Editorial Assistant, with a salary of Kshs. 10,000/- which is approximately USD 120. Despite the low salary, a lot was expected of me. As part of the job, I was required to interview people, write stories and take pictures that would go with the stories. I was also required to cover corporate events and generate content that would run in the bi-monthly magazine.

Besides editorial work, I was also given an additional duty; selling advertising space. For any space sold, I would receive a 20% commission. In addition, as an incentive, if I sold advertising space worth over Kshs. 500,000/-, the editor told me that he would pay tuition fees for me to pursue a marketing course at a leading college in town. I considered this to be a generous offer.

Thrown to the battle front

I was a man thrown to the battle front. From the onset, I did my editorial work as well as I could. I would make numerous calls and fix appointments for interviews with company executives. I would then sit down and write the stories. In time, I was able to get a number of executives to share their stories with me. The stories were generally well received.
Selling advertising space on the other hand was not easy. Anyone who has sold advertising will tell you that it is not a walk in the park, especially when the brand you are selling the space for is not a well known brand. In this case, the magazine was barely two years in the market and was just one amongst the many that cluttered the market.

Armed with my folder, after having secured an appointment with clients, I would board a Matatu mini-bus that would take me to the part of town where the clients' offices are located. Usually, because public service vehicles do not have access to certain areas, I would be dropped a little further away from the office block.

I would then cover the remaining distance on foot. Just before I got to the gate, I would get a shoe-brush out of my pocket and polish off the dust on my shoes. (I always made a point to carry a shoe brush). I would then walk in for my appointment. Once inside, I would make my presentation and at the end of it, like any good salesman, I would go for the kill. 'Will you give us the business?'

Not easy

It was not easy. God knows I spoke to hundreds of clients, made as many presentations and negotiated a number of deals. I came so close to cutting some good ones. In one instance, a leading bank headquartered in the US promised to give an advert worth about Kshs. 150,000/-. This had been the break I had been waiting for. Because so much was riding on it, if I closed this deal, I would be home and dry with a tidy sum in my pocket.

Just before we had the contract signed, my contact would not pick my calls. She wouldn't return my emails either. In a funny way, I understood, I know she would have given me business if she had gotten the approval to spend the money. But there was the credit crunch at the time. The bank had filed for bankruptcy in the US and I doubted that buying advertising space was on top of their priorities at the time.

'Minimum wage'

Because of my low pay, my brother (I love you Marsh), once told me that what I was earning was 'minimum wage' and he would never do a job such as mine that paid so little. His observation was not far from the truth. A casual labourer doing odd jobs in a construction block probably took home more money at the end of the month that I did during the same period.

A few days later after the candid chat with my brother, one of my friends told me that she was earning eighty thousand shillings. Feeling short-changed, I went back to my employer and rather desperately, asked him for a raise. Citing the lack of any advertising revenue on my part, he asked: "Where are the results?"

Four months into the job, I had not signed a single order. To say I was disappointed, is an understatement. That was a difficult time. There are moments during that period that I bore doubts about my ability to close a sale. There are times that I thought I was probably better off writing exclusively. But because of the low pay, I needed to supplement my income. Selling advertising space offered me an opportunity to do so.

'You are such a kid'

At the look of it, whichever way I looked at things then, the odds were stacked against me. I had to prove myself. It helped little that I had a not-so-mature face. Sometimes, while seated opposite an executive making my pitch and looking at their facial expressions, I could sometimes a hint of doubt and cynicism. I actually had one client say good-naturedly to my face, "you are such a kid."

On the other hand, I had attributes that often worked for me. One key asset was the fact that I had a deep voice. Each time I would make a call to book an appointment, I would make it even deeper and more authoritative. This helped a lot to secure appointments. Having overcome this first obstacle, I was at least able to get my foot in, setting the stage for the next step in the sales process; pitching for business.

When I got my first advert, my shirt was wet. I had been rained on on my way to see the client somewhere on Argwings Kodhek Road, in Hurlingham. When I took that advertising order form to my boss, I was excited. I got my first raise soon after. Things were finally looking up.

Thereafter, I brought in more business; getting my second, third, fourth and my fifth advertisements. By bringing in more business, I got my second, third and a few months later, my fourth raise. In addition, I got my promotion a few months later and my title became Media Coordinator. The initial struggle and sacrifice was beginning to pay off.

Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

But even in those initial difficult days, it wasn' always gloomy. There are so many little pleasures that came with my job. I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet many people who are successful entrepreneurs, professionals and renowned executives by their own right. This gave me the impetus to do what I did in the hope that one day, I could use the vital lessons learnt from these people.

One of the most notable people I met was Dr. Julius Kipng'etich, the Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Wildlife Service. If you studied what I did -Tourism Management- he is the man to talk to. He sits in the board of amongst others, the Kenya Tourist Board. However, when I met him, I didn't ask him for a job. Instead, I asked him for an advertisement that he was kind enough to give us. I am sure however that in future, should I need his assistance, I can always give him a call.

While I credit my editor for vital lessons learnt in those early days, I also experienced first-hand, the challenges of working with an owner-manager. Working with an owner- manager is not easy More often than not, they call the shots and decisions are made on a whim. Looking at the high turnover in my early days, I realised that to guarantee my stay, I had to work harder-I had to make money for my boss, and in the process, for myself.

Out of my own experience, I also realised that to succeed, I would fail many more more times. I also realised that each day I wake up, I would have to prove myself. I know that I will need to work a lot harder and that ultimately, the difference between Maroa at 20 and Maroa at 50 would be the lessons I learnt and how I spent my time.

What's your story? What was it like when you first set off on the path that led you to where you are today? Looking back, did you ever think you would get through those initial disappointments? What are some of the lessons learnt? Share with me, I would be happy to hear your story.
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