INTERVIEW (Udoka Uju, Founder, The Lady Painter)

Turning a Hobby into a Business Venture- The Story of The Lady Painter

The Fidelity SME Forum is a weekly radio programme organized by Fidelity Bank Plc to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses. The interactive radio programme features subject matter experts and model entrepreneurs as guests on a weekly basis to share their insight and unique success stories. In this interview, Udoka Uju, Founder, The Lady Painter gives valuable insights on “Turning a Hobby into a Business Venture- The Story of The Lady Painter”. 

Q: What did you study in school?

Udoka: I studied Economics in school.

Q: How did you get into painting?

Udoka: Actually 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 specialize 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 and it was something I could learn on my own, so I went online and watched videos and practiced in my room. My friends gave me the name The Lady Painter.

Q: Why did you decide to call 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 left the banking industry for painting, but you started painting as a hobby on the side. When did you realise that 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, so painting seemed like a great idea. It’s not just a hobby now it’s paying my bills and I’m touching a lot of lives with it. I do jobs in Lagos and outside Lagos and it’s been very interesting.

Q: We’re talking about turning a hobby into a business, so at what point did you realise that this 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 and 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 so I decided to sell the idea of making people’s homes and spaces look beautiful with colours and patterns and they bought into it.

Q: Did you have to go to a painter and learn under him?

Udoka: No I didn’t do that. The first job I did was a four bedroom duplex, my friend just believed that 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 the weekends, and that gave me the confidence to go out and tell people that I’m a painter and it is what I do.

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 out a particular amount. I started with saving money to registering 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 so it was really easy for me. I didn’t really start with so much.

Q: When you started the business how many people did you have under your employ?

Udoka: When I started it was just me and the contractors. We were actually busy and I realised that 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 as a business been running?

Udoka: We kicked off officially in July 2016.

Q: Tell us about the structure of your company and how many staff do you have now?

Udoka: I have two full time staff now and 13 contract staff.

Q: How do you source your talent?

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, and I try to bring in as many people as I can, because I have jobs both in and outside Lagos. Wherever I go to I always look for artists that can do what I want and I’m always there to supervise them.

Q: Since your business is situated in Lagos how do you make sure that the business is run concurrently even when you’re not there?

Udoka: When I travel Joy is my eyes and ears here in Lagos, Joy handles everything perfectly well as if it was me.

Q: What else inspires you to come up with all the 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. So I make sure that when I’m done the space is exciting, it’s motivating and 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 ok or if there was something wrong with me and at some 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 and it was my decision so 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: So after one year and eight months down the line 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 actually do the job. Another challenge I had was accounting, I didn’t know how to manage my funds and I spent as the money was coming in. But right now my books are all straightened.

Q: How did you stabilize 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 a. It cost me money but I just had to do it.

Q: So how long have you had this accountant?

Udoka: About 3 months

Q: Are you a feminist?

Udoka: I wouldn’t say that I’m a feminist. I believe in equality for male 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 doing your business?

Udoka: I had those challenges initially when I started, but now a lot of women are coming out and claiming to be painters. So now I think society is beginning to accept it.

Q: I’ve heard about the #GrabAbrush and #ColourAlife initiative, so tell us about that.

Udoka: After some months when I had gone into the business I wanted to give back and I wanted to touch people’s lives, so #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 go to and 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, and 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 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 and 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, but I stood my ground and I 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