Owner of the flowers shop Olga Bernard
Olga Bernard takes her keys from her handbag, to open her shop; it bears a sign saying ‘Flowers’. “Come in,” she says, inviting us inside. Just a year ago, Olga worked in recruitment for a large company. Tough demands were placed upon personnel and she suffered from a permanent headache, due to tension and stress. She realised that she had to change her career, so she handed in her notice and, after job searching for six months, and being registered with an employment centre, decided to train in a new direction. She applied for a state subsidy and now runs her florist’s.
“I never have headaches now,” she admits, arranging some flowers and removing dry petals. “However, since opening my shop five days ago, I’ve hardly had time to sleep or rest: I’m working continuously.”
Olga admits that the greatest challenge was to find premises. She needed a small pavilion and, after long searching, succeeded, paying almost Br3m a month in rental. She comments, “I had to spend around $5m on renovations, plus Br37m on a cash register, second-hand refrigerator, stands and some other minor items. I invested almost Br12m in flowers and packaging, with Br700,000 on a simple sign. You can easily calculate how much you need to start up.”
A buyer interrupts us, saying, “I need a bouquet of white and red roses. Can you do that for me?” Olga bows confidently, “Of course.” However, as soon as the customer leaves, she exclaims, “I have no white roses! I need to quickly go to my supplier!”
Olga is taking her first steps, so isn’t keeping a large stock, concentrating on those she believes are most in demand. However, it’s not easy guessing peoples’ preferences. On the first days, people were interested in gerberas; as soon as she stocked up, interest dropped off.
It’s time for Olga to go to her supplier who, she admits, isn’t always reliable. She relates how she often arrives to collect her order, only to find that the delivery is delayed, or of poor quality. “It’s made me nervous! However, I’m not afraid of difficulties. I plan to employ staff, so that I have more time to independently settle issues with suppliers and documents, while opening more outlets and launching Internet sales.”
is engaged in making cabinet furniture
Another new entrepreneur is Alexander Zolotarev, making cabinet furniture. He retired from his job in a factory, in pursuit of launching his own business: a long held dream. He tells us, “I have a wife and a child. I understand that financial problems are inevitable initially, as I need to accumulate clients.” Alexander collects his toolbox and sets off to meet a customer within the hour. “My wife supported me, saying: ‘I’ll give you a year’.”
He admits that his studies at the Labour and Social Protection Ministry’s Institute of Qualification Improvement have been of great help; he attended its classes while unemployed and registered at an employment service. Lecturers helped him prepare a business plan and Alexander learnt more about running a business.
He opens his car to show me his work tools, explaining, “I bought them with money allocated by state subsidy: around Br16m.” He needs to meet all requirements: working as an individual entrepreneur for no less than a year and paying the required tax of Br1.5m for six months. He only has a few clients so far but, unsurprisingly, is trying to work hard. “When I see that clients are taking their time to decide upon designs for their future kitchen, I never try to unduly hurry them. I propose possibilities and leave it to them to think about it. Some people are indignant on my behalf, saying that my modest income gives me the right to demand that customers decide within a certain timeframe but I ignore those comments.”
Alexander made most of the furniture in his flat but admits that he and his wife don’t always agree on the details, saying that they often debate long and hard over something as simple as the shape and colour of a handle. Of course, modern clients are demanding so Alexander designs each piece to suit individual needs. “I believe that a professional must focus on a single niche. With this in mind, I’d love to concentrate on kitchen production,” Alexander explains, beginning to assemble a piece of furniture.
The village of Spichnik, in Pukhovichi District, is our next destination. A new farm is soon to open here: Sergey and Yelena Marchuks plan to breed pigs. The host meets me by the gates. Dressed in a uniform, he explains, “Sorry but I’m not in my best clothes. I’m working from sunrise to sunset. To do everything, I wake up at 4am.”
The farm is yet to open, but the couple are preparing documents, repairing the premises and choosing machinery, while constructing their own house. Sergey and Yelena have three children. “Our middle son — Leshka — helps so much that even adults are envious,” Sergey says proudly, taking his son by the shoulder. “We’ve taught our children the value of work since their earliest years; my own childhood was the same.”
“We’ll cope well, jointly with my husband,” adds Yelena, and Sergey hugs her, “Everything will be fine. If you can’t stand the heat, keep out of the kitchen.”
Clearly, these ‘young’ businessmen are living through hard times; they need to prepare documents, and find land and loans, while facing unexpected problems. They know the theory quite well — receiving good support at the initial stage. However, life will show who’ll manage to remain afloat
In the first half of 2015, the employment service assisted 992 jobseekers in launching entrepreneurial activity. All received subsidies for new businesses. Overall, 1,825 should receive similar support this year
Natalia Dolbik, Head of Economics and the Management Chair at the Republican Institute of Qualification Improvement and Staff Retraining at the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection:
Jobseekers wishing to launch their own businesses can address an employment department. Then the local staff can send them to our Institute to study the basics of entrepreneurial activity. This year alone, 142 people attended our courses, including 36 from Minsk. Many have received subsidies to open their businesses: a one-off non-repayable state monetary grant, equal to 11-times the minimum wage, or 20-times the minimum wage if the entrepreneurial activity is connected with implementing sci-tech research and innovative developments. In Minsk, 61 people have received subsidies.
Grants can be used to buy equipment, machinery, raw materials or services to set up entrepreneurial activity. You apply to the employment department where you are registered, providing a business plan. At our Institute, lecturers help ‘pupils’ make proper business plans. Many interesting projects have been born as a result. Our students have proposed a confectionery workshop, a workshop to restore architectural monuments and a service of serenade singing under windows.
Not long ago, we liaised with a surgeon who wished to patent a helmet for toddlers. He had plenty of ideas so we transformed them into real projects which produce profit. Many of our former students are successful businessmen and it’s hard to believe that they were once unemployed.
By Taisia Azanovich
Photo by Tatiana Stolyarova
Photo by Tatiana Stolyarova