Interviews with businesswomen. Natalia Rak
Social portal “Career for a New Life” as an information partner of the NGO “Modern Woman” publishes interviews with participants of the training programs of the Center for Small and Medium Business Development.
What rules do businesswomen follow in developing their own business? Natalia Rak, a graduate of the third wave of the Business Development Training Program, which took place in February-March 2019, talks about business and life. Natalia is the owner of Pryanville TM and the KavaVille coffee shop. The company has been operating since 2016, the scope of activity is roasting and selling coffee and making honey gingerbread, desserts, and handmade cookies.
The Business Development Training Program was conducted by the Center for Small and Medium Business Development of the Project “Center for Gender Culture as a Platform for Empowerment of Women and Youth”, funded by the European Union. The work of the Center for Small and Medium Business Development is coordinated by HGNO “Modern Woman”.
Please tell us where you started your business? How did you choose the type of activity, what were the first steps? Which city did you start with?
In the summer of 2014, due to the start of hostilities, my family and I were forced to leave Donetsk for our parents, in Druzhkivka (Donetsk region). My husband and I lost our jobs, we had to decide what to do. Then I remembered my old hobby – making handmade gingerbread. I decided to make a few pieces for my family, posted a photo on the Internet – to brag to my friends, and that’s when the first orders came. Friends, acquaintances, and strangers from Facebook asked to make gingerbread for St. Nicholas and the New Year. Then I earned my first money in a business that I considered pure creativity and realized that a hobby can become a job. And it all started in the usual home (mother’s) kitchen.
How did you move your business to Kharkiv from Druzhkivka?
We started working officially in 2016, we have two employees. It was the heyday of our small family business – we carried out large corporate orders, cooperated with cafes and confectionery stores, among our customers, were public and humanitarian organizations, manufacturing companies. Circumstances were such that after a while my family and I decided to move to Kharkiv, and the production remained in the Donetsk region. And so they lived until 2020 – in two cities. Quarantine helped determine who should be where and I moved the business to Kharkiv as well. At the same time, we have expanded a bit and opened another area of work – roasting coffee beans. And now the coffee business is the main one for us, even though we conceived it as an auxiliary confectionery business.
In the development of your business, what problems did you encounter on your way and how did you manage to deal with them? What experience did you get?
Rather, they were no problems, but tasks in the organization of business processes. First, the organization. When I went to work with staff, I had to organize the workload, provide responsibilities for all participants in the process, then – properly distribute the funds of my micro-company: rent, taxes, wages, purchase of raw materials, and packaging. The most difficult task for me was to find new customers and partners. The main experience gained is not to stop, constantly learn and look for ways to solve problems.
Could you name a few principles or rules that guide you in doing business?
The first is to work as honestly and transparently as possible. What depends on me – I do as legally as possible. The second is not to be afraid of mistakes. To do well, or not to do at all. The motto of our family business is “Let’s fry for you – as for ourselves”. And these are not empty words: we do what we love, and we love what we do. And most importantly – flexibility. Especially in today’s environment, you need to learn to adapt and adapt to the circumstances.
Have you noticed the pressure on women who are starting or already doing business from acquaintances, relatives, close people?
In my experience, the difficulty is that when you are a woman and do business, household chores are not shared. Stereotypes that a woman should do her homework are a little overwhelming and uncomfortable. I pay taxes on a par with male entrepreneurs, as well as participate in public life. Fortunately, there are now many opportunities for women: training on personal growth, psychology. In my work, I did not experience pressure or any major obstacles. Maybe even the fact that I am a woman helped me – there was a condescending attitude, compassion, help.
How well do you combine business and personal life?
Our business is family, we work together with my husband. We have a partnership with him, both at work and in the domestic sphere. We have learned to negotiate and cooperate, to be equal, sometimes to yield. I do confectionery, he takes care of the coffee. We want the family and business to function as one. But to organize the work of this organism, to organize it – this is a woman’s task.
What knowledge and skills do you think are most important for women entrepreneurs?
At first glance, entrepreneurial skills are something that can be developed and acquired. I myself have been to training on “Development of business skills” several times. However, my experience suggests that not everyone can become an entrepreneur. Someone is more comfortable working with guaranteed wages, vacations, sick leave. And this is normal – we are all different, we have our own pictures in mind.
My business acquaintances and I are united by the desire to dream. And we are building our way to come to it. If you see that you can influence something – influence, if you understand that there is no opportunity, lack of strength, or resources (and nowhere to take) – accept what is, and think about how you can use this situation. You also need to look at who is next to you. Without support from loved ones, it will be difficult. I manage to build my dream because I was supported by family and friends. And, of course, you need to constantly learn – economics, finance, psychology, sales – it’s all very necessary! And be open to the world and other people.
Did participating in the Business Development Training Program benefit you?
I took the training program in 2019, but I remember the trainers, the participants, and the courses as if it was yesterday. The speakers helped me to organize the information that was already somewhere in the depths of my mind, to get and put on the shelves, to understand where and how I can use it. There was new knowledge on financial issues, marketing, promotion, work on the Internet. I continue to communicate with some of the girls in our group, they have become my clients.
What changes have taken place in your business and personal changes since the end of the training program?
At the time I was training, my business was still operating in Donetsk. Of course, there were thoughts of moving him to Kharkiv, but the big city scared me. Participation in the program allowed me to join the usual atmosphere of social life and get rid of the fear of the big city and that I will not be accepted by my new environment. Communicating with fellow participants, I realized that around the same people as me, energetic, life-loving dreamers. They also started and continue to work quite successfully. It worked for them – it will work for me!
Are you planning to expand your business or, in parallel, already have a new one?
We expanded on the eve of the introduction of quarantine. We moved the business to Kharkiv, opened a Coffee Shop in March. And now the economic situation is such that we are trying to optimize existing areas and reduce costs. Therefore, we do not plan to expand or open anything new. We have to work with what we already have to reach a stable income – this is our main task today.
What advice would you give to women who are planning or starting a business?
If you have a plan and desire – I always advise you to try. It is better to do and feel sorry than to regret all your life what you did not do. What will change from this attempt? It will work out – great, there will be another successful project in the world! And if it doesn’t work out, then either it’s not yours, or you need to organize something different, you can even try twice, three times – as long as you want. In any case, if you do not know what to do – take a step forward!