Before I became the popular blogger that I am today, I was a struggling entrepreneur. I started my modeling career in 1998 before I turned 18 and started my company Blackdove Communications in 2004 when I was just 23+. Blackdove was a modeling agency/events company and I operated from a 2-room office in Jibowu, Yaba for almost three years.
In 2006, I decided to try something that I'd always wanted to do - become a magazine publisher. My dream growing up was to be a journalist. These days many people argue whether I am a journalist or not. I don't consider myself one. I'm a blogger, though being a journalist was my dream. In fact, I wanted to study Mass Communications in the university but I unfortunately didn't get it. I got English instead. But I've always had a love for writing, putting stuff together, informing people about what's going on etc.
In in 2006, I mustered the courage and saved enough money to publish my own magazine. It was called FM&B (Fashion, Modeling and Beauty) magazine because that was my industry at the time.
For my first edition, I used my photo (duh...lol) left. It took me months to put this together and I used money I made from my business to print the magazine. I did a grand launch and really hoped for the best. After it was released, I didn't recoup the money I'd spent on it but I knew I couldn't become a successful magazine publisher over night. I knew the road was long and hard and I had to keep at it, I knew I had to print more editions before people and sponsors could take me serious.
Anyway, I printed my second edition (right) and didn't recoup either. The vendors will take the magazine and not pay you. Some would claim they didn't sell...some, you would chase for your money for so long you'd get tired of chasing them and then you leave them alone. And it was especially hard to get adverts for a new magazine. I would go to companies and sit in their offices for hours, hoping they would buy advertising space in the magazine, but for where? Lol. I remember I offered a telecoms company my back page and inner pages for N100k but they were not interested ...lol. (now, na them they chase me with adverts...lol).
But I managed to get a few companies to advertise (I talked about it here in 2008 and later in 2009) - it took months of being on the road - going from one company to the other, convincing them to support the effort - still it wasn't enough to print the next edition so I had to once again use my own money to print the magazine. It was tough but I didn't want to give up. I wanted to succeed by all means and I knew consistency was the key. I figured by the time I was on my fifth edition, some companies would take me seriously and start to advertise and by the time I was on my 10th edition, I would be a well known magazine publisher like my mentor back then, Mrs Betty Irabor of Genevieve magazine. So 10 editions of the magazine was my goal - but I didn't go past the 4th edition - though I paid part payment for the 5th edition but it never came out.
Something happened with my 4th and last edition (right) that almost broke me...and that inspired 'I'd Rather Be Selfmade.'
You see, right from when I was young, sleeping with men for money/come up was never an option for me. In fact, I found girls who engaged in such back then, disgusting. Now that I am more mature, I kinda understand it, I don't condone it but I understand it and I am not so quick to judge these girls. That's why I'm trying to help girls with dreams instead of condemning girls who find different ways to survive. It's tough out there, guys!
Anyway, for my 4th edition, I didn't have enough money to print it...and I was so sad about it. The magazine was ready but no money to print. It was going to cost me N500k back in 2008 to print 2,000 copies and all I had with me was N150k. I needed N350k and I was determined to print this magazine. I wanted it to succeed by all means so I decided to do something I'd never done before. I went to the bank to get a loan.
There was a neighbor of mine back then who I found out was the chairman of a community bank on Ogunlana Drive Surulere (all community banks have since shut down). So I approached him for a loan ...N350k, the exact extra amount I needed to print the magazine. I promised that I would pay back once the magazine was published and I was able to get ad money out. This was in 2008. After weeks of going back and forth and the bank staff coming to my office in Surulere then to see where I was operating from, I was given a loan of N350k. They actually made out the cheque to the printing press so the money didn't come directly to me. It was a short loan - just three months - and I was supposed to pay back with interest and I was so sure that I would pay back - I had three months and I was a hard working girl, I believed I could do it. But you see, sometimes, life does what life is supposed to do - it happens! With no questions...life just happens.
For some weird reason, I was only able to pay back N100k after the three months deadline. By now I was owing close to N400k including interest. I asked them for more time, and they gave me time ..and I managed to pay another N150k or so after a few months. After then, I became stuck.
My business wasn't going well...and for months I was struggling. The guys from the bank came to my office and told me I had a month to pay up or they would have to do what they usually do get their debtors to pay, that the reason they hadn't done it up until then was because of my neighbour relationship with their chairman. I promised I was going to pay and a week or so later, I was able to pay another N30k.
And then very early one Monday morning, sometime in 2009, my younger sister, who used to work with me at Blackdove, Sandra, quietly entered my room and told me that some men were looking for me, that they were at the door and that she'd seen them talking with the bank chairman. She said she suspected that they were police men.
If I tried to describe to you how I felt at that moment, I wouldn't be able. I stopped breathing for at least 3 seconds. I told her not to let my parents or any other member of our family know the men were outside (Only she knew about the loan and actually went with me to get it). I found something to wear and went to meet the men outside. To be honest, I was hoping they were from the bank and not police men but when they introduced themselves to me (three of them) I froze. They said they were men from the Special Fraud Unit, Ikoyi, and they had been sent to bring me to their office to answer for a loan I took from a community bank and refused to pay back. I was going to ride in their marked anti-fraud unit car - sandwiched between two men.
I didn't want my parents to know what was going on (it would have killed my mum) so I quickly went back in, put on more appropriate clothes, told Sandra to follow their car in my car so she would go with me to their office. I remember sitting in that vehicle as they took me to their office in Ikoyi, and wondering how I got to that point. It was like a nightmare. I couldn't believe it was happening. I got to their office and they made me sit down in front an officer who was handling the case. (Sandra was allowed in but she was sitting in another area.).
The officer brought out my case file, and said I was owing the bank N190k for almost a year and I wasn't going to leave their custody until the money was made available. You know, I've had bad days in my life...I mean, who hasn't? But up until that point, I'd never felt worse in my life. Nothing I'd ever experienced up until that day, sitting in front of this man, and beside other offenders/debtors, was anything close to this. Nothing! Even now, I can't even express how I felt that day, what was going through my mind. I felt like a failure. I remember my eyes welled up, because I knew I didn't have N190k and I didn't know anyone who could loan me. I started to explain to the officer, then I began to beg...and I talked and talked and then I began to cry. I couldn't believe the situation I was in. I knew it would break my parents hearts if they found out where I was.
I remember Sandra just sitting there and looking at me...and trying to be strong. She was broken to see me so broken but she kept it together. She started calling people, asking for a loan, I heard her from where I was sitting, calling friends and asking if they could loan her money. No luck. We were there for hours, eventually the officer came to me and said they'd decided to be lenient, that they would give me a month to pay the N190k back to the bank and failure to do so would be automatic arrest and I would not be released until the money was paid. They gave me a form to sign but said I needed a surety and without a surety I would not be released that day. I called a friend who came and signed for me. The officers told him they were releasing me to him and would also pick him up if I failed to pay up. Fortunately he agreed and that was how I was released. I was there from morning till evening and those hours were some of the worst hours of my life. Thankfully, other members of my family didn't immediately know this happened to me. (They found out months later).
But fortunately I recovered quickly. I knew there was no time to mourn. I had just one month to raise N190k or myself and my surety would be picked up and locked up.
Today, I have shoes that cost more than N190k, but back then, that was a lot of money to me...and I didn't have it. So for the next two weeks, I put myself on the road. I started chasing all the agencies owing me money. I ran up, down, to a hole, up a ladder and every where in between and finally raised the money which I paid back to the bank. It was an ordeal but it was finally over!
Months later, I raised some more money to print my 5th edition (above). The content was finished but once again, I didn't have enough money to print it. I had only N200k and I needed N500k. I wasn't ready to give up on this dream. No way! But of course I wasn't going to go to a bank again..lesson learned there...lol. So instead I turned to the printers. I told them I had only N200k and would pay them the balance of N300k when the magazine was out. One printer agreed, took my money and half way into the job told me he couldn't go further without any more money. He basically held me to ransom. I pleaded and threatened for months and they wouldn't budge, wouldn't print without more money and one day I was like, 'you know what?' I give up! I'm done!' I told them to keep the money and the magazine, that I was done. I was just tired of it all. And that was the end of that dream.
Then I decided to face another business idea. I wanted to start a fashion, modeling and beauty school. This time I went to real banks (not community banks..lol). None, not even one looked at my business proposal. I was hoping to get N1million to start this business, but no bank was even willing to talk to me. After months of chasing this idea, looking for money etc, I also gave up on it and moved to the next thing!
A few months later, I shut down my office (after my landlady increased my rent - I could not afford to pay it). I gave out some of my office equipment, sold some and packed the rest of my things and went home. I was going to continue operating my business from home.
This was in 2010. I turned 30 that year and I remember having the worst day of my life - so far - on my 30th birthday. I'd lost my office, I'd given up on my magazine dream. My other businesses weren't doing well. I'd been hustling since I was 17 and I thought that by now I would have made it, but here I was at 30, losing it all (or so I thought) and starting all over again.
But you see, in all of it, no matter how bad a day I had, no matter how tough it was, no matter the other dreams I gave up on, there was something I never stopped doing, I never stopped blogging. I would cry, wipe my tears, pick up my laptop and blog. If I didn't have internet at home, I would go to a cybercafe, pay for time and blog there. This work/passion ultimately changed my life.
Sometime in 2012, when I'd started making money from blogging, a young lady talked to me about her struggles. She needed just N85k to start a nail and eye lash studio. She had someone who was willing to give her space to operate from, but she needed money for other equipment needed for the business. She told me that N85k would change her life and that of her family. She wasn't even asking me for the money, she was just talking about her struggles and how hard it's been for her to raise capital. She mentioned she'd approached a bank for a loan and no bank was willing to give her. She said she didn't know how else she'd get the money but sugar daddy wasn't an option. I remember smiling and I made the decision right there and then to give her the money for her business.
I remembered my life as a struggling entrepreneur, getting picked up by the Anti-Fraud Unit over N190k. I remembered how much help I needed and how little I got. How nobody could really help because they had their own issues and struggles. I remembered my dark days. I remembered all the people I begged to help me, to believe in me, to believe in my dreams. I remembered all the doors that were shut in my face. All the office receptions I sat in for hours. All the Nos I heard. All those who turned their backs. And how sometimes, I just wanted to give up. And I knew there were plenty girls like me out there, with ambition, with dreams, with fire burning in their soul...but who can't get far because they have no one to help, not just with money but also with words. And I made up my mind that day, that whenever I get to a position where I could help other young ladies with dreams and aspirations, I would help. Because I've been through it myself, I know how difficult it is to start or run a business in this country. That's why I want to focus on young ladies with dreams and good business ideas.
So far, I've touched 15 lives (see here)...I hope in my lifetime, that I am able to touch thousands more. God willing. This is the project I've decided to take up. For as long as I remember my over 8-hour ordeal at the Special Fraud unit in Ikoyi, I will always be here to help a female entrepreneur - if not with money, then with advice and guidance.
I struggled o. I used to do an annual fashion show called Style Night. I did it from 2004 to 2010. (see some pics here, and here here). I also tried to do a reality show called Nigeria's top model search with Linda Ikeji...no sponsor. I give up...lol. Catwalk with Linda TV show..no sponsor, I give up! Lol
In 2010, I wrote an inspirational book titled 'It Takes You' to encourage people not to give up on their dreams. I spent a lot of money to get this published because being an author was one of my dreams and I was determined to realize that dream. I made it come through!...:-)
I was still working on my dreams when companies started asking me for advert rates for my blog. I created my ad rate in early 2011 and my life hasn't been the same since. I left everything else and concentrated on this. Sandra is now the CEO of Blackdove...:-)
Sandra and I pictured above (She worked with me at Blackdove from 2004 when I started until 2011 when she took over the company. She was my rock for years! I doubt I love anyone more. She's older than my other sister you all know, Laura. )
Anyway, I plan to do all I can to help as many young women as I can. I'm using my money for now but I would eventually talk to rich people and corporate bodies to get involved and raise as much as it's possible as start-up capital for young female entrepreneurs. Too many unemployed individuals in this country. Let's start creating jobs instead of always looking for one. Plus I don't want anti-fraud people coming to knock on your door...lol.. or you turning to men. I hope all your dreams come true...and I hope no matter how tough it gets, you never give up.
Source: Linda Ikeji's blog