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Women & Money: Onyinye Udeh Learnt Financial Discipline The Hard Way

Women & Money is a monthly PiggyVest series that explores the relationship between real Nigerian women and money. This series sheds light on money, career and business from a female perspective.

For this month’s episode of Women & Money, we spoke to 38-year-old Onyinye Udeh, aka Tory Teller. She is a businesswoman, writing consultant and content creator living in Lagos. 

In a chat with PiggyVest, she talks about building a career as a storyteller and the impact of the Nigerian economy on her food and drink business.

What was your relationship with money like as a child?

Our financial situation was average. My parents provided for all of our needs, so I didn’t have access to money per se. When I got monetary gifts, they went to my mum. I never had any buying power, and on the rare occasion that I had any money to spend — probably offering money I didn’t use — I had to sneak out to buy the stuff I wanted. 

How did that change as you grew?

I started interacting with money after I entered secondary school in 1995. I was given my pocket money and quickly realised that I was a careless spender. I was living large: I finished my ₦5k pocket money in one week.

Luckily, my older sister was a class ahead. I ran to her, and after giving me the scolding of my life, she decided to support me for the rest of the term. My carelessness was really bad, though. By the time the first visiting day came around, I had lost everything I came to school with. The only property I had were the undies I wore; even the clothes on my back belonged to my sister.

Your parents must have been livid!

It was a shocker, no doubt. We knew that I could not look out for myself, let alone handle my allowance well, so my sister became my bank. She would give me daily or weekly stipends from my allowance. This continued until I entered SS3, after she graduated. Those years were my first introduction to financial discipline.

Every time I received my allowance, I would set some aside for a rainy day. Sometimes, I would finish my budget ahead of time and have to manage for the rest of the month. But I never really borrowed money to survive. I was terrified of debt; I still am.

Did something happen that instilled this fear?

Two friends in secondary school had a huge falling out because one owed the other money. A fight broke out; it was too messy. I promised myself to stay away from loans that would be hard to repay. 

This doesn’t mean I don’t borrow. I do, but the timeline and amount must be realistic. I’m never at peace when I owe people. And if I realise I can’t meet up on the agreed date, I inform my creditor of the situation. Usually, we agree on a new date.

You should teach a masterclass on how to be a decent human being.

[Laughs] I’ll consider it.

You’re a writer and writing consultant. What influenced this career choice?

I’ve always been a storyteller. Young Onyinye was really introverted in school but talkative at home. My keenness and observation skills were unmatched, and I would watch everything unfolding around me in school and narrate it exhaustively to my family. 

In secondary school, I was less reserved. I talked more and loved scribbling stories for my friends to enjoy. Writing stories and passing notes to my friends during prep hours, when everyone had to be quiet, was one of my favourite things. 

It’s a huge part of why I chose to study Mass Communication at uni. 

Wow. That level of self-assuredness for someone young.

Communication was an innate desire of mine, and I believed Mass Comm would propel me in the direction I wanted to go. That was also when I really started to harness writing as a skill. 

During my IT, I thrived more in print than broadcast media. The fact that my only job at the broadcast station was to buy amala for my supervisor every morning definitely didn’t help. So, I only lasted two weeks before I ran back to print. The print media house, The Sun, was such a fantastic place to work. I grew as a journalist and even returned for my NYSC. 

What year was this?

2007. That was my first stint at writing on a professional level. After NYSC, I became a teacher, which also involved a lot of writing and teaching. I used to post all my thoughts on Facebook, and after many friends and family insisted I try my hand at blogging, I started my blog.

How has the journey been so far? 

I wasn’t sure about how I could sell writing as a service. But in 2019, I got a job at a ghostwriting company. This was my first time professionally writing for money, and in the three years I spent at the company, I learnt the nitty-gritty of writing: how to structure my writing, make a profit, content creation, and finding people who had the ideas but not the time to write their stories.

My blog is for random ruminations: fiction and real-life stories (mine or other people’s), trending topics, and motherhood lessons.

What do the next five years look like, career-wise? 

The disadvantage of ghostwriting is that sometimes you forget yourself and your voice. I churned out so much content for others and should have paid more attention to my brand. I have an identity. I also have other businesses on the side. 

So, the next five years will see me focusing on improving my brand visibility, and creating content I am proud of and enjoy. I want the Tory Teller brand to be one to be reckoned with.

You talked about motherhood and businesses. How do you find the time to do it all?

I have to acknowledge God first because He gives me strength. In our FYB yearbook, I wrote that sleep was my hobby. Even my father-in-law knows. Before we got married, he said, “This one that Nonso wants to marry a person that likes sleeping. Hope my son is safe.” 

But my husband assured him I was just a witty person; it wasn’t that deep. But I honestly used to love sleep, and, now, no sleep for the wicked. [Laughs] Good thing I’m not lazy, and I know how to schedule things. It’s not easy.

You’re doing amazing!

Thank you! I’ve always been business-minded anyway. I finished secondary school in 2001, but I didn’t get admission until 2004. While I was at home, I had to help my mum with her food and snacks business.

My job was to monitor her cash flow and help with baking and stock-taking — generally managing the daily operations. I did all of this before I finally got admission and moved on from that.

Then I had my first child, my daughter, a year after I graduated in 2009. After that, I went back to my parents’ house because the media house was closer to them. My mum helped me with my daughter on the weekdays, and on the weekends, I helped her with her business, which she opened only on Sundays. 

It was around this time I started making zobo. My sister taught me how to make it, and customers always requested alternatives to carbonated drinks or expensive fruit juices. I saw a demand, and I filled the gap. But then NYSC ended, and I returned to my home fully. 

Did you keep up the business?

Yes o! A friend of my husband tasted my zobo and started requesting it. Then, I got a job as a school teacher and began selling to my colleagues. I stopped teaching in May 2019, and around July, my sister advised me to pick it up again just to pass the time. She gave me about ₦50k. I used this money to rebrand. I got suppliers for bottles and branded stickers and kicked off the business full-time.

During the lockdown, I started trying my hands at different pastries. My chin-chin was the star of the show. After the lockdown, my brother and sister-in-law took it to their respective offices, and their colleagues loved it. My husband encouraged me to accept their orders, and I’ve been getting requests since then. 

What challenges have you faced running this business? 

Mainly the economy. This economy has been after my business. I bought my first bottles at ₦9 per bottle; it is now around ₦35 per bottle. Then add the cost of fresh fruits and logistics. Many of my customers are mums looking for healthy alternatives for their children, but now I am competing with the cheaper, unhealthy options.

Power is also a problem. I make my zobo with fresh ingredients and so it can go bad. I also recently relocated to the Island from Surulere, so sourcing materials and connecting with a new customer base that can afford the new prices has been challenging. But this is just a phase; it’ll pass.

It will. What is financial freedom to you? 

To me, it is having enough money to fulfil all ny needs. And then extra.

How are you working to attain this? 

By doing everything I possibly can. I put myself out there as a problem solver. If you need something done, contact me, and if I can’t do it, I’ll find someone who can. I always know a guy.

What lesson did you learn in your journey that grounded you and put you on the right track? 

Hmm. One day, I was deep in research when I saw something that struck me. It was, “Bring value to the table before you start thinking of money.” As a business person, your product or service must be of high quality before you can start charging what you want to earn. 

People will pay large sums for value; there’s always a target audience for your service. But you must remember you’re not the first person in your line of business, so stand out.  

What advice would you give your younger self? 

Ah, a lot of things. But the first thing will be, “Don’t overthink it, just do it.” I used to hide behind my writing, but now I’m ready for the world to see and get to know me. 

Are you good with money?

Mostly, yes. Let’s say 6/10.

That’s almost an A.

It is. At least I’m better with money than my husband. He’s like 3/10. But I gave myself a six because I’m kind of an emotional spender too. Not on myself sha; one shawarma and I’m good. I just tend to start feeling the need to buy things for my kids or husband or start buying gifts for people who have gifted me in the past.

Don’t worry. Many of us are in this category. What about money mistakes? Have you made any?

In 2017, I lost ₦20k to one random Ponzi scheme. I never told my husband. Sorry babe, I know say I no dey hear word. [Laughs] Since then eh, I’ve been much more careful with money. 

What’s your favourite purchase you’ve made?

My last phone. I had it for a while too. When I was about to give birth to my second child, Sam, I went into the labour room using my brother’s phone. I used that borrowed phone for months before I finally got a job and could buy myself one. 

I was separated from my husband then (I wrote all about this in my book.) He had been buying — and still buys — every gadget I’ve used since we’ve been together except for that phone. I was really proud of myself. 

What financial or career advice do you have for women who want to venture into business or a writing career?

First, I will always advocate that women work, even if it’s just a little. You need to find something that will put money in your wallet because you never know. Then, diversify your streams of income. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Finally, I’ll advise women to open their minds to learn. Don’t remain in your bubble. Take courses if you must. Learn about the businesses or fields you are interested in. You can do this by finding people in the careers you admire and learning from them. There is a wealth of knowledge on the internet that you can apply to change your life!

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