“What help can you two provide to my business?”
During the kick-off meeting in the town hall, the aspiring middle-aged businesswoman – Merly, “challenged” Peggy and I with the question.
To be very honest, having no prior consulting experiences, I felt excited but more nervous to do hardcore work for a company in the real life. The stress has been unprecedented, as I know any tiny mistakes implemented could lead to a real loss to Merly’s company.
“We can’t tell you exactly what we can do at the moment. Only after having an overview on your business can we offer concrete help for you. One thing we’re sure is that we promise to do our best. But we’re not the sole side of helping, our relationship is mutual that we can learn much from you as well.”
I tried to cover my nervousness and relieve the anxiety of the ambitious yet puzzled businesswoman, giving her a confidence on two 19-year-olds whom she had never met before.
Merly’s business – Merly Cashew Nuts and Delicacies, is a small-sized producer of processed snacks, with a wide range of product lines including nuts, piyaya, mango tarts, etc. I would never forget the first time Peggy and I came to Merly’s factory. It is a little workshop right next to Merly’s own house. Stepping into the workshop, the first sound that came to my ears was Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself. Working under Justin Bieber’s music, three workers were working attentively with simple but interesting machines that I never saw.
After the workshop tour, Merly brought us to settle down. Then she proudly introduced her products to us one by one. From how she presented her products, I could really tell how devoted she is on her business. Her products indeed looked very nice and appealing, especially when I have an obsession of mangoes!
The seemingly fine business is not without challenges. Merly began to share about her difficulties. One significant problem is that the bookkeeping was unorganized. The business costs were not counted separately from the family’s living expenses. And some operation costs like electricity and transportation expenses were not taken into account. Moreover, the sales record was far from complete, and the figures were only a lump-sum amount of the sales of a whole month, without distinguishing the sales of each product.
Merly also revealed to us her ambition of expanding her products to a broader extent. She believed that her products have the potential to be popular in the island, in the nearby Iloilo, in other areas of the Philippines and even worldwide. However, the reality might mean the dream of exporting to overseas has been too big because the food-processing company is still of a very small scale.
Furthermore, as requested by her customers, Merly was planning to launch dried mangoes to her existing product category. She asked for our opinion on the product extension decision. As we found her decision is quite arbitrary without considerations on new emerging costs, we advised her to pause the plan temporarily until figuring out the production and financial capacity of Merly’s business.
Therefore, the first task for us was to figure out the financial performance of the business and devising a simple and systematic accounting system so that Merly can sustainably adopt and follow!
Over the last week, we had another three meetings with Merly. The direction was clear – to figure out the production cost of each product, the profit margin of each, and thus the overall profit of the whole business. Peggy and I examined the cost of each product cautiously, digging out more and more cost and tax information from the mouth of Merly (as she does not seem to be keeping any source documents). After repeated calculations, we estimated the profit margins of every product. In order top ensure the sustainable run of Merly’s business, of course, we taught Merly on basic accounting skills as well. We believe a clearing accounting record can help her to monitor her business’ performance tightly, and provide her with a logical rationale to follow before making any business decisions, like the launch of a new product. I could not forget how Merly thanked us when we assisted her to find out the cost of the first product!
“Thank you! Thank you! Now I know the way!” Merly thanked us with a smile curved like a crescent.
I was still doubting whether I could really provide the business something constructive before I cam to the Philippines. After spending a week with Merly’s business, I feel encouraged, lightened, and motivated. It were the little smiles and twinkle eyes from the deepest kindness of Merly, boosted the confidence of mine.
While many would consider themselves as saviors when they come to developing countries to help the local businesses, thinking they can come up with something powerful and make them largely profitable, I never see the relationship as one-way. As what I said in our first meeting with Merly in the town hall, the relationship is actually mutual. Working with Merly has lifted my confidence. Now I feel encouraged to handle further challenges of her business, as well as facing any constraints in my future career path.
Extraordinary achievements are always accomplished by the hands of ordinary people, aren’t they? This quote applies to Merly who brought so many products out of the little bit of nuts and flour like magic, and I hope it would apply to me as well! Salamat Merly!