Lilian Katiso on Gardening & Personal finance

#360Mentor is a continuation of the #40DayMentor series. In this episode, Robert Kabushenga (RK) speaks to Lilian Katiso (LK) on Personal Finance & Gardening.

RK: Lilian, good to have you on  #360Mentor. How have you been?

LK: Thank you Robert. Been fine.

RK: Lilian, there is a question I ask everyone at the beginning of the show, were you born with a garden tool in your hand?

LK: No, I wasn’t. It’s funny how you pick up some of these things. None of my parents or anyone in my family is keen on gardening. I don’t know where it came from, maybe it’s one of those divine things.

RK: When you talk about gardening, are you talking about something like I do?

LK: Yours is farming. Farming and gardening are different.

RK: So what is gardening?

LK: Gardening means that you take special attention to every plant. So I will know each plant, its needs and how to take care of it. Just like you could take care of a pet.

RK: But Lilian, I do exactly that. I even hug my matooke plants. You know that?

LK: Gardeners too are known to speak and sing to their plants. I don’t do the singing though but I know people who do. But yes, I am passionate about plants. I think the difference in gardening and farming is in the scale of it, the special attention and the variety. You can choose a crop to farm like matooke or coffee but gardening, you can have like a thousand plants collected together.

RK: By plants, are you talking about…

LK: Not matooke. Ornamental plants. The kind you put in nursery beds, in your homes, offices not what you put on a  farm. They are mainly ornamental and beautiful.

RK: So it’s for beautifying things?

LK: Yes. They have both the function of beauty and other things. Some are used for cooking. Others for purifying the air. Others aromatherapy. Just different things.

RK: What do you call home? I come from Kanungu District with some roots in Mbale

LK: I have been in Uganda for 18 years now. I am originally from Kenya.

Rk: Ahhh! The Penny drops. Everything falls in place with just that one question. And I will tell you why. I am always fascinated by people’s names. I always want to contextualise them. This person is anchored in this place. For the whole day, I couldn’t place your name.

LK: Some people call me Katosi. Is it linked to Katosi road or something?

RK: The reason I find your name fascinating is; my late mother and my daughter share a name with you with one minor alteration.

First tell me what does your name mean?

LK: Katiso is my husband’s name. It means something that shines.

RK: My late mum and my daughter’s name is Katisi. It means somebody who is blessed. The same name with exactly the same meaning in Kinyarwanda is Kaitesi, the batooro have Katasi.

LK: Interesting. Katiso is Kamba.

RK: Those people went before the name was clearly altered.

I want to go back to your childhood, what was that like?

LK: I grew up with my grandma in the village. What I vividly remember is that I would go to school barefoot in Kisumu, in the western part of Kenya.

RK: No. It is in Eastern Uganda.

LK: Hahhah yes. I am from the Luo tribe. The soil is so sandy. During the dry season, it’s so hot. It’s as if you are stepping on coal. You would walk to school barefoot but on coming back, we had to run.

RK: Why?

LK: Because the ground would be so hot. Like charcoal. So you’d just run home.

RK: How come you guys haven’t beaten the Kalenjins at running.

LK: Ours is seasonal. In the rainy season, you would find grass to walk on.

That’s what I remember vividly. From there, my late dad was a banker. He took us from the village to town. We used to stay in houses called Plot 10 in Kenya. I don’t know what they are called in Uganda. Plot 10 means you have many units together but you share a communal cooking area, bathrooms and cleaning spaces.

RK: They are called mizigo in Uganda.

LK: What would happen in each muzigo, you would have  a small space that would be yours. That would be like your balcony.

RK: So how many rooms were these miziogo of yours?

LK: We had a sitting room and a bedroom.

RK: Wow! And how many people were in the house?

LK: We were four children, so the sitting room would double as a children’s bedroom as well.

You’d have a curtain that divided the sitting room and the children’s rooms. The other room would be the parents’ bedroom.

RK: Let’s establish this. These stories provide context. We don’t do this to laugh at people. And people were very generous with their vulnerable points. It humanises their experiences. Sometimes even when we have arrived where we are, our journeys were never straight forward. And whatever you share with us is safe. There is not going to be any judgement.

LK: Thank you. The balcony I talked about is where I started putting small tins with plants  and I realised that I enjoyed seeing them grow. I was about nine. That is where my gardening journey started.

RK: Was there an element of hope and ambition and dreaming about the future that took you to gardening?

LK: At that point, I don’t think I was thinking of the future. I was just enjoying taking care of plants.

Even later when life improved and we moved out of the muzigo, I would go to boarding school and actually have a plant by my window side. It’s something I found I loved doing. Like one gardener said, planting something is having hope in tomorrow. Maybe I was hoping for  a better future, consciously or unconsciously. I wouldn’t say I had  a higher goal.

RK: With hindsight, do you think it expressed any kind of hope or ambition? And why did it stay with you all this while?

LK: Looking back, one thing that has stayed with me is that I like starting things and seeing them blooming. I have this thing that once I start something, I don’t give up on it. I want to see it coming out. That’s what I would say?

RK: After Primary School, where do you then go?

LK: I think my dad got a promotion or something because we left the muzigo for a better place. We went to a place with fewer people but we still had the communal sharing but fewer families. Then at one point we moved and went into a self contained house and I remember the thrill of having a toilet inside the house. It was like an achievement.

RK: The things people take for granted, for you it was a wow.

What happens with high school.

LK: High School was the first time that I went to boarding school. It was the first time I left my parents to go to a boarding school. Even there I realised I liked plants. I was fortunate to be  a leader at school, and so I got accommodation in a small room with just two people unlike the rest who were in dormitories.

RK: So for you the privilege of being in these smaller rooms was to have more room for plants?

LK: And privacy too.

RK: And here you are on a public forum! Hahaha.

LK: You know. That’s why I feel uncomfortable sharing some details.

RK: When do you start thinking of a career in finance?

 LK:  I never thought of a career in finance.

RK: Eh! How did you end up there?

LK: In our curriculum we used to have home science, here it is called home economics. I loved that subject from primary school. I continued with it till form 4. When I was choosing what to study at university, I wanted home economics because I was really very passionate about it. When I told my dad that I had applied to do home economics, he couldn’t take it. He forced me to change.

As I was waiting to join university, he took me to a private university called Daystar University where he wanted me to do project management. The only thing I could try was business administration..

I  went to the BA class and I had no idea. I had studied home science. The other students had studied commerce. I felt out of place and I had to go and do personal studies to catch up with everyone. I needed to catch up with the language. By the time I was done, I was in love with business and maths. I even scored an A in maths. That’s when I realised that if you put your mind to doing something, actually you can do it. I used to be poor at maths.

My accounting started in an interesting way. I met this lady carrying a book titled ACCA. Once you have studied this, you can work anywhere in the  world. Then it hit me that I also wanted to work anywhere in the world.

RK: Anywhere but Kisumu

LK: We call it shags. No one wants to work there.

So I asked her what she was actually doing and she told me she was doing a Bachelor of Commerce with accounting specialisation. I was doing another course. That is when I learnt that there is a power of friends you meet at that time 18/19 makes a difference. This friend really changed my life. I got that book and decided that I was going to do this ACCA thing since I wanted to work anywhere in the world. I decided to change from administration major to accounting major. I discovered I could do the course. The normal degree would take three years. We had something called block courses. You could study when others were on holiday. I used that opportunity to study my course in two and a half years.

RK: You girl! Why were you in a hurry?

LK: I was in a hurry to go and do ACCA. The other thing I had realised is that every time you go for a new semester, the fees would go higher. But if you could do it during the block season, you could do them at the rate of the previous semester. So it was cheaper for me.

RK: What was happening to the gardening at this point?

LK: I wasn’t doing gardening at campus. I would only do it in holiday. We had a self-contained house at home, so I could make a flower bed. I could do like a small flower bed. Most self contained places in Kenya have a sukuma wiki and spinach garden. But every time I would come back from school, I would find the sukuma wiki and spinach all thriving but my flowers would be dead. No one would take care of them.

RK: So you finished school and ACCA, what happened after?

LK: No. I didn’t do ACCA immediately. My friend had the means of affording both the degree and the ACCA but I didn’t. I finished my degree and I got my first job a month after and that’s when I applied for ACCA. I had to pay for my membership fee but my salary couldn’t afford to pay my subscription. Even after asking for an extension, I failed to pay and they dropped me off. By this time, my dad had retired.

I got an employer about a year or two later  and one of their policies was to do capacity building for their staff. So I utilised that chance and they had to pay for me. It was later than I had planned but I had still started it.

RK: Patience pays.

LK: True, it does.

RK: How do you wind up here?

LK: My fiance was living and working in Uganda. So when we got married, I had to move here.

RK: Tell me something; Mauwa & Zaddock and the principle of diversifying income, what drove you to go on the route you are on now?

Maybe you can first clarify what they are.

LK: Mauwa is the Swahili word for flowers. It was born out of my gardening hobby about 7 years ago. Zadock Associates started about 16 years ago. Up to now we do the Annual Health Care Directory. The 16th edition just came out. I was fully employed. I got a job where my role was to work with small and medium enterprises to set up their financial systems. It was an NGO helping businesses to trade within East Africa.

They realised that if they exposed SMES to the East African Market instead of them thriving they were getting challenges and some of them were dying off. We realised they were failing to meet the local demand and the new demand. They didn’t have the capacity and the right systems to scale up. It’s like you build a house without a strong foundation and then you put a heavy load on it. It will just come down tumbling. Even in business, you want to have some solid foundation. That is why I talk about systems.

When I am meeting these businesses and mentoring them, I will have a one on one business meeting with the owner. But one after another, I realised they had a common thread. I would meet them like Tuesday to Friday and Monday would be my office day.

I am not good at being idle or doing nothing.

RK: I will tell you something, in Finland, they are now teaching kids how to be bored.

LK: I should try to learn. Let me backtrack a bit. The two worlds intertwined somehow. I couldn’t afford to pay for my MBA so I got a scholarship. When I finished, I had a lot of time with nothing to do. So I started posting pictures of my flowers on social media.

RK: Where were these flowers?

LK: At home.

RK: So all this time, you had continued your gardening at home?

LK: Yes. I carried on along the way. The Daily Monitor was at the time running gardening stories every Wednesday and I reached out to the editor to connect me to a lady they had featured. So the editor also got in touch with me. She visited my garden and asked to write about it. She wrote a two page spread of ‘Katiso’s rainbow garden’. I got excited that I could make it to the papers with a hobby. She went to write about my garden for ten consecutive weeks. I decided to start telling my story. I started with a blog. Then I moved to Facebook, it seemed to be the place where everyone was.

So I joined a group of gardeners where people were always selling but I wondered whether they were making profits. So I asked in the group, “ Do you know whether you are selling or you’re just selling?” I remember Joan Mugenzi wrote back skinning me to always be writing advising people how to run businesses professionally.

That’s when I started #HowToProfessionaliseBusiness and every Monday I would share a nugget or two. People thought I had a consultancy. But I was not keen on setting up a company. I decided to incorporate it in an already existing company which I had already set up. That is how the accounting consultancy started out.

RK: Explain to me, you had your passion which you converted into a business. Then you had your professional work which you turned into a business as well. Why does an individual need to have diverse income sources?

LK: Good question. In april 2016, I went to work and my boss called me to his office and handed me this letter. And the letter gave me a three months’ notice. It was coming to an end.

I still had my contract running for another two years but NGOs have that close that says, “subject to funding”. The donor had stopped funding the project for which my contract was running.

To avoid such scenarios, it is important to have multiple revenue streams. My boss who handed me the letter had also received one. He was the Ugandan boss but the letter was coming in from the headquarters in Ireland. He was a chain smoker and that day that’s all he did. Then he came to me and asked me “we got the same letter, how come you are not worried?”

Why I wasn’t scattered was because of a journey I had started five years earlier training and learning. So I went through a phase. Set your 5 years personal goal and also set yourself a 5 year financial goal. And in that time I set my five year personal goal to be in consultancy and of course you must have a way out. Also I wanted to be financially independent.

I remember going back to a book I had read earlier, The richest man in Babylon, I gleaned the nuggets from there. I made them my goals. I adapted that to myself.

One of the things I had written was to have at least 6 months of my living expenses taken care of by the time I went into consultancy. In consultancy you don’t get a salary for a whole month.

RK: You may even go for a whole year.

LK: Yes. You get windfalls and you don’t know when the next one will come. I needed a buffer and for me to hit the target I had to be saving 10% of my salary. Before I received the letter, my consultancy days were drawing closer. I had one year left. And I had applied to work part time. I had sensed that things were changing. The grants were scaling down. I had offered to work on a part time basis to begin planning for my consultancy. In November of 2015, i put in my request but It was only granted in March 2016.

When I got the letter, I went back to check the amount I had been saving. I was using a unit trust. A unit trust allows you to save through a standing order. When I went to check, I was amazed that I had surpassed the 6 months of my living expenses. That’s why when I received the letter, I was ready. My job came to an end in july 2016.

Because I feared being home, I decided to open a flower shop to occupy me. My job ended on 31st July and on 1st August I opened my first Mauwa & Mo shop.

RK: Where was that?

LK: It was at Kensington. They had a space that was supposed to be an ATM booth but they had never used it. I requested to use it. They gave me the space.

RK: Let’s fast forward to today, how are those businesses doing?

LK: Mauwa & Mo started at that time. I had my first employee on the first day. I now have 8 on full time and 7 on part time. I had purposed to plough in the money so the business would grow. So it expanded. We have 2 outlets at Garden City.

RK: Having been through that journey, from that girl who was running home barefooted to the consultant today, what are those principles of life that have enabled you to scale all these challenges and get to where you are?

LK: The key one is my faith in God. I am a stronger believer. The other thing is goal setting. Someone said a goal written is 75% achieved.

RK: From the time you write it down, you are committing action.

LK: Yes. From the days of ACCA. Goal setting and looking forward to something is a good challenge. I remember my friend challenged me and asked me “where do you see yourself in 10 years?” She insisted and I wrote it down. I told her I wanted to be a finance manager. That time I was an assistant accountant. But 10 years later, I was a finance manager. That’s why I say there is a power in visualising things. The bible says “as far as you can see, I will give you” and that has been one of my anchor verses. I remember at some point after my ACCA, my MD also asked me the same question. “Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?” I said I want to have finished my MBA.” “Then why have you not started?” he asked. I told him I could not afford the MBA I wanted. Edinburgh Business School, he sent me a list of scholarships and among them was one which was what I wanted.

Comrade Otoa: How would you help a guy who would like to start their consultancy but they still have their doubts of jumping in full throttle? And for someone who doesn’t have the money, how can they go about it?

LK: Consultancy is not a straightforward thing. What helped me was that thing of being in spaces of thought leadership like blogging. I used to write every Monday. Also volunteering. Once I had a client who invited me to speak. I just gave a pro bono service but that gave birth to a retainer which earned me more. Find avenues to use your consultancy. Know where your niche is. Consultancy also works on referral basis. What has worked for me is volunteering, speaking engagements and blogging. The good thing with consultancy is that you don’t need capital to start. You need your brain and a laptop. Gone are the days when you had to have a big office to have a big consultancy running. Now all you need is data and a gadget. Consultancy is the least capital intensive business to start.

Akello: I am passionate about many things, how can I align them in a way that does not disadvantage me.

LK: When you say that you are interested, do you want to have them at hobby level or you want to advance them to become businesses? If so, it’s not that every passion can become a business. Every hobby should be turned into profit. It’s a process.

1.   You have a passion for it but are you able to deliver a profitable demand for that passion. Which means, can you package that passion and trade it for money? If you fail, it will remain a hobby not a business.

My gardening was a hobby until I started packing my plants into something that I could sell. It only became a business when I built the system in place. A system to make sure there is a consistent supply and demand for the product and it is profitable at the same time.

2.   Establish one business at a time, develop it and let it grow and then go to the next.

RK: A lot of us are involved in what is called expensive hobbies, a lot of people are not good at keeping financial records.

LK: The best way to start is to separate your business from yourself. It is also a legal requirement. Any money that comes through the business is business money. Have separate accounts. You will be able to follow the money that came in and that left. A gross margin is not a profit. It runs your business overheads.

When you don’t give yourself a salary, that is when it becomes an expensive hobby. Most people run side hustles but they don’t keep financials. You need a gauge that will tell you how far you can go. The other gauge is an income statement.

RK: Thank you Lillian. This has been very helpful.

LK: Thank you too Robert

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