Startup Diaries: Overcoming Shyness To Follow a Dream

Gertrude Forson explains how she has overcome her natural shyness to launch a successful self-funded domestic staffing agency; she shares some of the lessons she’s learned along the way.

For the past three and a half years I have had real trouble finding a job. None of the job agencies would help me; I was rejected because of my origin. When I did get invited for a job interview, they would laugh at me, sometimes making comments right in front of me, such as "Oh, she's African. Does she really think we are going to hire her?" I felt slighted and dejected. At the time I was a very strong and confident person but these experiences changed that. I lost my confidence and eventually developed an aversion to applying for jobs at all.

I decided to start calling from home to apply for jobs rather than visiting the office in person. I thought it might increase my chances. This did work better; the owner would be pleasant and polite until I mentioned that I was born in Africa. As soon as I mentioned that, they would tell me that the position had already been filled or that I didn't fit their profile. 

I lost courage and was really worried that I would never be able to start a professional career for myself.

After completing my Diploma in Strategic Management and Leadership, I decided that there was one thing I could do and that was to start up my own business. I could start a business that would help others to find a job and also assist busy people, business people and celebrities with household tasks, care for the elderly, babysitting and childcare.

I chose this area for my business because my boyfriend and I struggled to find the time to do these tasks ourselves and I knew how good it felt to come home to find everything nicely in order.

It is such a wonderful, contented feeling which puts smiles on peoples' faces and that is exactly what I want to do; to make people happy. For me, that was the ideal combination to start the business.

Now I am running a luxury domestic staffing agency called VIP Golden Care. It is an agency which provides nanny services, babysitting, care for the elderly and domestic services for single parents and couples, celebrities and businesspeople. We provide a service tailored to the client's specific needs and which is available in France, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. We also specialise in estate and luxury lifestyle staffing by matching the right candidates to the right clients; we can provide a wide range of luxury services.

When starting a business, you need to know what you are doing and the risks involved. Starting a business in an area in which you already have experience and knowledge helps it to grow fast and increases your chance of having satisfied clients.

You need to know who you are before you decide to start a business. "Not everyone is qualified to be in school" applies to entrepreneurship as well: ‘’Not everyone is qualified to be an entrepreneur’’.

When I decided to start this business, I did a lot of research into my competitors and I found out that they all offer the same services. You could not differentiate between them. I knew that there were aspects that were missing in the domestic staffing services and that is why I wanted to create a domestic staffing agency that is different from all others. I wanted to create an agency that people will talk about and keep using.

When designing my business, I took everything into account. My business name was not difficult to choose; I knew the name right from the start when I first decided to launch a domestic staffing agency. Everything about my business links from one area to the other; from the logo to the design, from the design to the colour and from the colour back to the business name and my business culture. This all comes down to our service which is unique and of the highest quality.

I started my business with no funding from external investors. I took the risk and funded this business myself by using all that I had in my savings account.

Every penny earned goes back into my business. I have had to give up many things in my life to save money and invest in the company, but with my previous experiences, I am able to provide my clients with the best service and this means my clients often return.

I wanted to create a service for my clients that is unique and helps me to build long term customer relationships; a service that has a bit to do with my character and my background, which is a combination of African culture; sweetness, humility, openness, friendliness and kindness.

Nowadays, marketing is the most powerful ingredient to the success of a business, especially for small businesses. 

I always say to myself  "A business without marketing is like a car without a petrol". You can’t get far without it.

Marketing helps people notice that your business exists and that can lead the business to success. Although I don’t have the funds to hire marketing experts, I do my best to market the business myself. I visit different conferences where I think I might find my target group, and also attend many events that help me to sell my business.

If I go to these events and don’t show myself, no one will notice I am present. It is not enough to just attend. To succeed, you have to focus on why you are really there, so that is my tactic; to market myself.

I am a very shy person but being an entrepreneur and business owner, I have to overcome my shyness in order to cross the storm.

Social media is another free marketing source that helps me to market my business. Although not everyone on my social media list will end up as a direct client, word of mouth is another source. People may see your adverts and mention your business to someone who is looking for the service offered. One thing I have learned when doing business through social media (especially Facebook) is that you shouldn't push it too much. The people on your list will be your friends, family and colleagues and you need to be careful because not all of them will be interested in what you are doing.

I can’t go into too much detail now but I am working on implementing new technology systems into my business that will help provide quick, effective, safe, high quality services that will keep my clients happy and make their lives much easier.

Bootstrapping the company was a major challenge. I had many fears about the risks of starting a business and what the people around me would think about it. When launching my business, I encountered many challenges but they didn't stop me following my dream. 

A business startup can sometimes be disappointing, but ups and downs are part of a successful business. 

What I have learned is that when I fall, I stand up again, be myself, be open to new people and ideas and dare to take the initiative in talking to people. I try to take a negative comment as a chance and give myself a chance to be inspired.

After a few meetups and conferences, I have overcome my fears and am now able to approach people for ideas and to expand my network. I have learned that to create a successful business, a network plays a major role.

Born in Monrovia, Liberia, Gertrude was passionate about starting her own business from a young age. In 2001 Gertrude moved to the Netherlands with her family, enrolling in a Dutch school. After two years of completion of the Dutch language course, she enrolled in high school to pursue a course in Administration, after which she enrolled in the University of Applied Science to study for a Bachelors degree in International Communication and Management. After a year of study, she knew the course wasn’t for her and looked for something to prepare her to become a business leader as well as entrepreneur. Gertrude studied a Postgraduate diploma in Management and Leadership and then started her domestic services business, VIP Golden Care Agency. In 2011 she published her first book in Dutch, combining both fiction and non-fiction. 

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