Mother Knows Best!
At the beginning, all I wanted was to make money. And all of it! All the money in the world. I had grown up fatherless and knew what poverty felt like. This was of no fault of my mother. God knows how hard she worked to make sure we always had food in our stomachs.
Sadly though, a secretarial position at a local real-estate office in a peri-urban town all her hard work usually only equated to enough food to get us by. Luxury was something we only saw, never experienced. I remember waking before the dawn chorus to sneak out and rush to the town square to ensure I had a prime seat when a rally was scheduled. Just to see the flashy cars and suits on sometimes hubris individuals. Looking back, I am a bit ashamed of my actions – my mother raised me not to be impressed by such trivial things.
Later on the incentive to start my own business came from wanting to be in control of my destiny. Initially I went the conventional way – moved to the city, got a scholarship to attend university, got a job at a marketing firm, and I believed within a few years I would be promoted to mid-level management – but after two years of employment it came to pass that this would never be enough.
I became a zombie only going to work because I needed a salary. I was not passionate about my work, and I didn’t hate it either. I was hit by massive indifference about what I was doing every day. On the worst days I longed for the feeling hunger would give me. At least then there was something I was working to avoid, at least then I was feeling…. something. Even if it was extremely negative.
“Gabu, aki when will this life get easy? Why can’t things just work out how we plan even once?” Joanne asked me on a not so bad day at the office. She had a custom of breaking out into random rants, and I was in the custom of taking interest and listening because it provided a distraction from my mundane life. The fact that she was above average looks-wise also helped her cause.
“Ha! Joanne every time you make plans, God laughs.”
“I put my life and soul into this one piece, borrowed money to frame it, rented a car to drive it from my place to the art gallery and it finally sold. Now this bloody curator is trying to undercut me. He wants to take 40% of my profits! Did he do 40% of the work? What costs did he incur? Sawa it is his gallery, but si he has other artists?? I am so tired of these art guys taking advantage of us artists! How will I ever quit my job and pursue my dreams?? This is nonsense!”
“Why do you go through the ‘art guys,’ why don’t you go directly to the buyers?”
“There is no platform! These buyers are big deals! They don’t want to be dealing with someone in a panya road in town. They want to be pampered with a bottle of wine equivalent of my food budget for the week as they examine the art.”
“Keep doing what you’re doing. The money you make, save and start your own gallery.”
“Until when? It’s only the rich who can afford to save. I just want to do my art and not have to deal with these idiots who live off my work. But you get back to your ka marketing transactions. Let me seek solitude in my misery. Maybe I’ll find some inspiration and something beautiful may come out of it.”
This conversation changed my life. Walking home Jo’s words ‘only the rich can afford to save’ hit me hard. It took me back to when I was younger and was fascinated by glitzy cars and flashy suits, puzzled at what these individuals could have done to get them these luxuries. After all these were the buyers who sought to buy Joanne’s masterpieces.
Her fundamental problem was that she needed someone to negotiate on her behalf. The girl could paint, but she had zero people skills. She was in finance after all. It kept me up at night. How can I help this girl?
I called my mother. Her answer was so simple: “Be that person to negotiate for her, manage her. All you need is your kabambe, you can even do it over the phone during lunch time. Then you just agree with her how much you are going to get. But don’t gonga her, be fair and be honest about the sales you make on her behalf.”
The next day I took Joanne out for lunch and just like that she became the first creative I was managing. Getting her foot in the door was not easy, it took her a while to trust me. But as usual mum always came to my rescue. She would give me the contacts of some of the clients at her office she was friendly with, who happened to be buying a new house and might need some new paintings. I would put on my best pair of shoes, jump into a taxi, present myself at their place of business and present them with Jo’s artwork. I could tell that once we had that trust Joanne had the freedom to focus on her work. She was inspired and it was by far the highest quality she had produced.
But then she started producing it too quickly and I couldn’t match it in sales. The trust began to evaporate and I began to sink into apathy for life once again. The light in my eyes disappeared just as quickly as it had emerged. Mum came to visit after I stopped calling her for those contact hookups and could see how distraught I was.
“Haiya! What foolishness is this? You thought it was going to be easy? Who lied to you!!”
“But Ma, you know I have exhausted all the contacts you gave me. I have no one else to sell to.”
“So then spend some money expanding your network! Why am I teaching you, things you already learnt in school?”
“Money from where??”
“Get a loan! You have a unique business Gabu, you have a real opportunity to do something great. To change the industry, and I can see for the first time since you left campus you are really enjoying what you are doing. Don’t give up now.”
“Do this, take tomorrow off from work we go to my bank and talk to one of the bankers there we see if we can work something out.”
I hate it when she makes sense, she shouldn’t have to mother me even now. I am a grown man!
Walking into the bank the thirst for success was palpable. I almost felt ashamed being there, because my mother had to bring me. I should have found this place myself.
After talking to one of the loan officers about what the business was, sharing the financials, and sharing my ideas for expansion the next I thing I know she is handing me a loan application form telling me he thought it was highly likely I would get approvals. For a moment I thought maybe she was on something, it was shocking to see someone other than my mother believed in me.
After all, if we look at the blueprint, it all started with her and her ingenious advice.
Thank you for your advice Mama!