How Pinay went from being OFW to successful entrepreneur

By Imelda Ahalul Dagus

Posted at Mar 14 2015 11:04 AM | Updated as of Mar 14 2015 07:04 PM

(Note from The Business Mentor: There are many OFW stories worth sharing in the hope that it provides inspiration and encouragement to other OFWs who will one day have to return to the Philippines.
Imelda Ahalul-Dagus, an Executive Assistant working for an Oilfield Drilling Contractor in the Sultanate of Oman, shared one such story with the Business Mentor.
Imelda and her family lived in Oman for 18 years and had been working abroad for the past 26 years.
According to her, the biggest challenge she encountered as an OFW mom was when her son had to come back to the Philippines to pursue a college education.
In view of the fact that Filipino children growing up abroad face dramatic adjustments in Manila, she wanted to be with her son to at least guide him in the first year, but how can she do that when her employment allows her only 30 days of annual vacation? This was a moment of truth for her and the ‘trigger’ to think of an alternative.)

My last job as Executive Assistant for a major oil drilling company in Oman

MANILA, Philippines -- I started working abroad in 1989, few months after I graduated from college. If not for my strong desire to start earning, the thought of going to a place like Yemen for the first time and at a young age would have been a “think it over” kind of decision.

I was adamant because I am the eldest among 7 children with no mother and an ageing father. I thought of building a roof on my head before the rain pours and was bent on being prepared because I could not let my younger brothers and sisters down.

As it is with first jobs, you normally don’t get the best. You have to start with low pay and long hours of work and of course, be away from the family! Patience and perseverance changed the course of things, which got even better when we moved to Oman in 1997.

In 2008, after working in the Middle East for 19 years, I realized that being an OFW is very temporary and you can lose your job due to ‘nationalization’ political unrest, economic downturn, etc.

Thereafter, I started thinking and searching for a back-up plan (Plan B). The numerous books that I have read and the seminars that I have attended led me to discover what I really wanted to do – be an entrepreneur.

By stroke of luck and most likely "law of attraction" in action, in 2012, I crossed paths with some “Angelpreneurs” who inspired me to take a look at our family business and the possibilities of growing it.

I got more encouraged and determined after attending seminars conducted by GoNegosyo and the Association of Filipino Franchisers, Inc. (AFFI). I was furthermore inspired to pursue my dream project after learning more about the industry as well as the efforts and initiatives taken by the Philippine Coffee Board, Inc. to revive the Philippine Coffee Industry.

Having realized that my “treasure” is right in my backyard, I have now set my foot on preserving a heritage, Dennis Coffee, a coffee shop that my Grandmother started in Patikul Sulu in 1962. With the help of my team, I am transforming and expanding an old-town café into a “first-of-its-kind” social nook in Zamboanga City.

Crossing the bridge from OFW to entrepreneurship is definitely not a ‘walk in the park’. I have encountered quite a handful of challenges:

1. Initially, I had family members who were worried about me losing my job abroad. Their worry was aggravated by the fact that they have always known me to be an ‘employee’ and going into business would be navigating an unfamiliar terrain

2. Changing the mindset from being an employee for 23 years is overwhelming. It takes not only effort but also time; not only months, but years. It took me a lot of soul searching, reading books, attending seminars, learning from mentors, networking with business-oriented people and trying all sorts of part-time businesses including network marketing, where I learned so much but paid a very high tuition fee.

3. Raising funds – most OFWs don’t get to save much because what they save in one year, they spend in one month during annual vacation either in the Philippines or elsewhere. Fortunately, we have acquired some properties which we could sell or use as collateral for home equity loan.

4. Fear of detaching oneself from paycheck is like riding the zip-line for the first time, very scary! And the higher the salary, the more difficult it is to let go!

5. In the office, you are accustomed to performing one role, in your business you have to wear multiple hats

6. Business is a team sport, building a winning team and getting things done is a test of leadership and character.

7. Unlike a job, which gives you sure salary at the end of the month, there is no easy answer and no guarantee that you will succeed in business. It is a matter of knowing your truth and believing in your inner compass!

Despite the challenges, I have made up my mind to do whatever it takes to make this project a success because the fear of getting stuck abroad for the rest of my working years is more than the fear of losing in business.

I am glad I finally discovered not only my Plan B, but also my passion and purpose. Indeed, it took me so long (23 years) and had to go places to find it, but just like Santiago in "The Alchemist," I believe the journey was necessary.

For those who are considering to also ‘cross the bridge’, I offer the following tips:

1. Plan well and plan ahead. If you want to go home for good in 2 years’ time, preparation should start now. Be prepared physically, mentally, emotionally (emotional intelligence is a must in business) and of course financially!
2. Be a part-time entrepreneur - this helps you gain knowledge and the skill set required in the world of business.
3. Do it slowly; you can start building the foundation while you are still working abroad. This shortens the gap between the time your salary stops and the time you start earning from the business.
4. Connect with people who can help you build your dream project.
5. Find mentors – it shortens the learning curve.
6. Be decisive and courageous to take the leap of faith.

With all said, nothing can be much better than keeping a steady communication and well rooted faith in God the Almighty.

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For questions and more information, you may contact Armando "Butz" Bartolome by email: [email protected] or on Twitter (https://twitter.com/philfranguru). His website is www.gmb.com.ph