In this article, I’m kindly joined by Nebat Abbas, an HR consultant based in Ethiopia. Nebat runs a business called Phoenix Business Consulting and we’re going to be delving into the work she does and the way Nebat is successfully growing an HR consultancy in Ethiopia.
Meet Nebat Abbas, the founder of Phoenix Business Consulting.
Based in Adis Ababa, Phoenix Business Consulting provides HR consulting, training and recruitment services.
Read on for our discussion on:
- What HR consulting Nebat does and who she helps.
- The current status of the HR consulting industry in Ethiopia.
- What was good and not so good about becoming an independent consultant.
- How Nebat got her first few clients and how she finds them now.
- How Nebat has managed to be interviewed on the radio several times.
- Whether or not to smooth-out cashflow by systematising your services and/or to partner with other HR companies.
- Nebat’s views on change and challenges in the Human Resources industry as a whole.
- Any interesting people and resources to check out that can help HR businesses to grow faster.
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Over to Nebat . . .
What’s your background? How did you get into HR consulting?
When I first graduated from university I joined the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia. I was a graduate trainee there and as one of the major commercial banks around, the program was very intense; lasting an entire year.
After working for the commercial bank, I joined Shell Ethiopia LTD. I spent the majority of my career at Shell where I worked in different departments such as Finance, Sales and marketing and finally HR, where I found my life’s calling.
After Shell divested from the Ethiopian market, I worked for the new owner- Libya oil Ethiopia briefly.
Then I worked for the franchise bottler of Coca-Cola products in Ethiopia (East Africa Bottling Share Company) and a pay/cable TV company called MultiChoice Ethiopia.
The last position I held as an HR manager was for a company called New Zealand Milk Products which was the first and only manufacturer of fortified powdered milk products in Ethiopia.
Towards mid of 2016, I decided to establish my own consulting company called Phoenix Business Consulting.
What does your business do? Who are your ideal clients?
I offer consulting, training and a little bit of recruitment service on the side because my customers are asking for it.
My clients range from multinationals that seek recruitment services and training on a variety of topics ranging from HR functional training to different personal effectiveness programs. There are also local private limited companies who would like to streamline their Human Resources function or even set up a brand new HR function if they don’t have it already.
Some clients have the HR function buried under administration or finance. So more and more companies are now requesting an HR department to be set up for them. Developing HR manuals or reviewing their existing HR manuals is also among things I do.
What’s the current status of the HR consulting industry in Ethiopia?
More and more businesses are asking me to help set up their HR function. It is on the rise. These businesses are seeking to create a new HR function and pull it out from finance and administration to create a new function or they would like to expand the function that already exists.
For example, they may have a personnel officer sitting somewhere in finance or the administration department. But now more companies are seeking consulting services to set up HR functions to employ HR managers and even specialists in particular HR fields.
In Ethiopia, there is a lot of demand for consulting services not only in human resources but in general, marketing, finance (specifically tax compliance), and HR consulting – they are definitely on the rise.
How do you know what to offer to different prospective clients?
Usually, potential clients contact me because they have gone to the company’s website and have seen the services that I offer or referred by a previous customer.
So mostly, the business comes mainly through referrals.
People who come across my services on the website they contact me and then usually they have a specific request to handle.
We do a joint diagnosis of their business needs and then I propose what I think is the best solution for them.
In some cases, there are companies that work as franchises or local branches of an international company. The parent company, therefore, may have certain standards in terms of meeting human resource requirements for the local franchise. This is usually ensuring compliance with the Labor proclamation of the country and ILO conventions with regard to providing quality work.
How did you get your first few clients? What are your main marketing channels for getting new clients now?
My first few clients were actually were my ex-employers.
When they found out that I had opened a consulting company, they still wanted my services so they contacted me and that’s how I started.
Now I go to networking events relentlessly, at least twice a month. I distribute my business card during these networking sessions, I describe what I do and then that’s how I find new customers.
One of the Networking events I regularly attend is called AWiB.
It is a membership-driven association for women who would like to develop their leadership skills. Although membership is limited to women, their monthly networking session is open for both men and women. The speakers at the monthly sessions are really high calibre and the sessions are relevant as well interesting to many business owners.
I go to those events. Sometimes I distribute fliers that describe my company’s services. On other occasions, it’s possible for members to book a table to display what services or products that are selling. I also take advantage of these opportunities.
The other networking session I attend regularly is called SHRME (Society of Human Resource Management in Ethiopia). It has the ‘Who’s Who‘ of HR in the capital – Addis – and it’s also one of the best ways to find new customers.
I noticed that you have been interviewed on the radio a couple of times. What were the interviews about and how did you get those opportunities?
The radio interviews are for AWiB – the association mentioned above. It has an event called the ‘May Forum’ – an annual event whereby we dedicate an entire day for personal and professional development.
I used to be a board member for AWiB. Now, I’m part of the strategic leadership team for the association and I mentor new board members. So in that capacity, I was interviewed by a couple of radio stations.
On another occasion, I was invited to share my experiences as an HR consultant at the same radio station.
The last occasion I was interviewed for was to promote our local Toastmasters Clubs – clubs where we develop our public speaking, communication and leadership skills. Toastmasters is not something that we set up ourselves here. Ours is actually one of the more than 15,000 clubs that exist all over the world. It has been established in the US in 1924 and the first club in Ethiopia was chartered in the 1950s. The club that I belong to was established in 1998. That was the other occasion that I was interviewed to talk about – how to develop our public speaking communication and leadership skills through participation in Toastmasters club.
What are your thoughts on smoothing-out cash flow by partnering with other HR service providers?
I work with a couple of other HR consultants when they need help in a particular area where I have special expertise.
We also collaborate when they can contribute to consultancy assignments that are handled by my company.
So, we all keep busy while our own respective companies run independently.
I look forward to doing more of that.
The HR industry continues to evolve at a rapid rate. What change and challenges do you see now and in the future?
Overall, the consultancy industry in Ethiopia is quite robust.
Our people are really interested in having competent, motivated, engaged human resource staff because they know that it will have an overall positive employee experience.
However, there are still challenges because our universities do not offer specialised HR degrees at the undergrad level. There is a Master of Arts (MA) program offered by local universities as well as universities abroad and on a correspondence basis so that the field is definitely on the side of growth.
For employers, the challenges right now are around employee retention. It is very challenging for companies.
I sometimes find it difficult to convince clients to invest in the development of their employees because they feel that they practically recruit on a yearly basis but employees do not stay for long with them.
I mainly do personal effectiveness training such as time management, stress management, managing own performance as well as HR-related training such as Ethiopian Labor law, training on functional HR topics such as recruitment and selection, performance management, etc.
Nebat has built up an excellent HR consulting business and she has developed a solid book of clients to support. I wish her ongoing success!
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