How Udoka Uju Turned Her Hobby Into A Painting Business

In this interview with Fidelity Forum’s radio programme, Udoka Uju, Owner of The Lady Painter, explains how she turned how passion for painting into a viable business. Excerpts:
Q: What did you study in school?
Udoka: I studied Economics.
Q: How did you get into painting?
Udoka: I’ve never been artistic. If someone had told me two years ago that I would be a painter I would have said that it was impossible. I had an interest in interior design and I wanted to specialise in an area that did not need much capital because I wanted to start my own business, so painting was the first thing I thought of. It was easy and didn’t require much capital. It was something I could learn on my own, so I went online and watched videos and practised in my room. My friends gave me the name The Lady Painter.
Q: Why did you make that the name of your business?
Udoka: I needed a name that could stick, a name that whenever anyone hears it they would want to know more about it. I put the name up on social media and LinkedIn and it caught people’s attention.
Q: You were in the banking industry when you started painting. You started painting on the side, as a hobby. When did you realise it was worthy of becoming a business?
Udoka: When I was working in the bank I wanted more. I did not just want a job that would pay my bills, I wanted to really love what I do and make money from it and at the same time inspire people. Painting seemed like a great idea. It’s not a hobby now. It is paying my bills and I’m touching a lot of lives with it. I do jobs in Lagos and outside Lagos. It has been very interesting.
Q: We’re talking about turning a hobby into a business. At what point did you realise that painting was going to fetch you money?
Udoka: I noticed that people were living and working in boring spaces, I used to watch “telemundo” a lot. I see how beautiful and colourful their houses are. So, I said to myself, why can’t we have that here? And I realised that it was something that people would really buy into. I decided to sell the idea of making people’s homes and spaces look beautiful with colours and patterns. They bought into it.
Q: Did you have to go and learn under a painter?
Udoka: No. I didn’t do that. The first job I did was a four-bedroom duplex. My friend just believed I could do it, so she gave me her house to paint. I called in professional painters to help but I didn’t tell them that I wasn’t experienced.
Q: Did you get paid?
Udoka: Yes. I got paid and we did an excellent job.
Q: So painting was supposed to be a hustle on the side?
Udoka: It was supposed to be a hustle I do on weekends. That gave me the confidence to go out and tell people that I’m a painter.
Q: What was your initial capital for starting this business?
Udoka: What I did was that at the end of every month when I was paid my salary, I set aside a particular amount. I started with saving money to register the business. The next month I saved money to open my website. The next month I saved money to print my business cards. I was doing everything monthly, which made it really easy for me. I didn’t start with so much.
Q: When you started the business, how many people did you employ?
Udoka: When I started, it was just me and the contractors. We were busy and I realised I couldn’t do it all on my own and if I wanted the business to last longer than myself I have to bring in someone. So, I got an amazing painter whose name is Joy. Joy has been with me for over a year.
Q: How long has The Lady Painter been running as a business?
Udoka: We kicked off officially in July 2016.
Q: Tell us about the structure of your company and your staff strength.
Udoka: I have two full time staff and 13 contract staff.
Q: How do you source your staff?
Udoka: First of all, you have to be interested in art, you have to be interested in making people’s homes look beautiful. Artists approach me and tell me what they can do. I try to bring in as many people as I can, because I have jobs both in and outside Lagos. Wherever I go, I always look for artists that can do what I want and I’m always there to supervise them.
Q: Since your business is based in Lagos, how do you make sure the business is runnig when you’re out of town?
Udoka: When I travel, Joy is my eyes and ears in Lagos. Joy handles everything perfectly well, as if it was me.
Q: What else inspires you to come up with your designs?
Udoka: I find inspiration everywhere. I come to my clients’ space and find out what it is that they want for that space and how they would feel when I’m done. I make sure that when I’m done the space is exciting. It’s motivating. It makes them productive.
Q: How did your family react to your decision to leave your job and become The Lady Painter?
Udoka: They didn’t like the idea initially. My mum was calling to find out if I was okay or if there was something wrong with me. At one point I actually thought that there was something wrong with me. I was scared but I had to let them know that this is my life, that it was my decision, and they should just allow me take the risk. Life is all about taking risks and if I didn’t take that risk then I wouldn’t be here. I would have still been unhappy and unfulfilled.
Q: After one year and eight months on the job, how is your family looking at you right now?
Udoka: My mum calls herself “mamma lady painter” (laughs). She’s proud of me and that makes me really happy.
Q: As an entrepreneur, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had to handle?
Udoka: The first one is being a lady that’s supposedly doing a man’s job. Initially people didn’t really accept the idea. I go for a job where there are other guys and people are looking at me like “who is this small girl?” or asking where is my boss. It was a really huge challenge. I have to do more to convince my clients that I can do the job. Another challenge I had was accounting. I didn’t know how to manage my funds. I spent as the money was coming in. But now, my books are all straightened out.
Q: How did you stabilise your business?
Udoka: I had to decide on what I was going to pay myself monthly, because I was spending the money mostly on myself. I had to discipline myself. It’s actually all about discipline. I got an Accountant, who is also a contract staff, to help me. It cost me money but I just had to do it.
Q: How long have you had this Accountant?
Udoka: About three months
Q: Are you a feminist?
Udoka: I wouldn’t say that I’m a feminist. I believe in equality for males and females but I’m not a feminist.
Q: What makes you stand out as a lady painter in the industry?
Udoka: I don’t just paint a space. I do 3D visuals for my clients to see what their spaces would look like before it is painted. I also offer professional services. My job is detailed and done professionally from start to finish.
Q: Do you face gender challenges in the course of your business?
Udoka: I had those challenges when I started. Now, a lot of women are coming out and claiming to be painters. I think society is beginning to accept it.
Q: I’ve heard about the #GrabAbrush and #ColourAlife initiative. Tell us about that.
Udoka: After some months in the business, I wanted to give back. I wanted to touch people’s lives. #GrabAbrush and #ColourALife is all about inspiring spaces and inspiring people’s lives. It could be a school or an orphanage in Nigeria where I paint the place and make it look beautiful. I do it for free. I raise funds from the business or elsewhere.
Q: What are the other services you provide apart from painting?
Udoka: I do 3D visuals for clients, I do consulting. I also supervise different sites where they are painting.
Q: What convinced you to go into this male-dominated profession?
Udoka: I wanted to fulfil my purpose and I couldn’t see myself doing it any other way.
Q: What advice do you have for young aspiring entrepreneurs that don’t even know where to start?
Udoka: It’s not going to be easy. It’s still not easy for me. There are still a lot of things that I have to go through and a lot of grounds that I intend breaking. But I’ll advise them to go for it. You should go for whatever makes you happy and can make the next person happy and can also pay your bills. Your success should be your focus. You should make sure that you fulfil your purpose.
Q: Have you ever been told No because you’re a lady?
Udoka: Yes. I have, but not out rightly. I remember going to a site where it was just men and I was telling them that I was a painter and they thought that I was not serious. I stood my ground and still did not get the job.
Q: How can people reach you on social media?
Udoka: You can search for “The Lady Painter” on twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Credit: Fidelity Managed SMEs