With a passion for coffee, Leap Sopheakun quit her job, rented a shop and started her own business, Amazinglies Cafe.
The business was her dream, but the 34-year-old faced many challenges and obstacles. She was trading without a carefully developed business plan, and when the Covid-19 crisis hit, it almost ruined her business.
Thanks to financial support, training and networking, Sopheakun was able to weather the storm, and today the cafe has two successful branches.
The support came from the Wellbeing Advancement Organization (WELL), which helps women entrepreneurs who run micro and small businesses under its four core values: health, finance, relationships and knowledge.
Sopheakun said that she was finding it hard to attract customers, and lacked a marketing plan. Initially she ran the business by herself, but later hired employees. Unfortunately, she had no effective management or scheduling in place.
During Covid-19 pandemic, the cafe lost a lot of customers. Her main issue was that she had no financial resources to sustain the business. She negotiated reductions in shop rent, water and electricity bills, which helped somewhat, but was also committing her own household money into the cafe.
She was lucky in that her staff felt like members of her family, and were comfortable receiving their salaries in installments.
“WELL taught me about financial management, the division of business and personal money, staff management, recording expenses and women’s networking. Through the networks they helped me build, I gained a lot of valuable knowledge and was able to save my business,” she said.
One of the three female founders of WELL, Sinara Sagn, said their core values were chosen because they believe they sum up the challenges every entrepreneur faces.
Sinara, who graduated in entrepreneurship and tech Innovation through the Chevening Scholarship, spoke to The Post about the values in detail.
“The first priority is health, because if a business owner is not taking care of themselves, they can’t take care of their family. We want our organisation to promote the wellbeing of entrepreneurs,” she said.
She added that learning how to manage finances effectively was obviously crucial to any business.
The third value is relationships. She pointed out that effective communication is the key to building and maintaining them.
“Communication is not just about speaking with customers, but with family and the community around you. This is important when it comes to building support networks,” she added.
“When people get to know one another, they share knowledge; and from this knowledge best practices are developed,” she said.
WELL was formed shortly before the Covid-19 crisis. Its mission is to build entrepreneurial leaders who can positively impact their communities by facilitating access to financial inclusion, capacity building and networking for underserved women.
Sinara, an entrepreneurship innovation specialist at Khmer Enterprise, works with two other women, Virak Bunnarath, who won the Australian entrepreneurship award and is project manager at Lady Saving Group, and Sophak Chim, founder and trainer at Mutita Training and Coaching Service.
Sinara, who grew up in the US, said that many development programmes focus on business development and growth, but WELL conducts an ‘overcoming obstacles programme’ instead.
“We created WELL shortly before Covid-19, and the pandemic forced us to pivot and focus on helping entrepreneurs to maintain their business,” she said.
“We have helped a lot of women in the micro and small business sector through financial relief, for which we received support from USAID through their core project We Act,” she added.
Peng Lody, deputy director of the active women entrepreneurs’ project at Pact Cambodia, addressed a March certification ceremony for 40 graduates of WELL’s programme.
“Apart from celebrating this ceremony, we have the opportunity to build a business network together. We believe that if women receive training to expand their knowledge, their businesses will grow. Society will thrive through the increased participation of women,” she said.
The 40 women received specialised training in budgeting, marketing and how to achieve a focused business mindset.
Kong Sorita, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, also spoke at the ceremony, and used the occasion to announce that the ministry is preparing to launch a women’s entrepreneurship development centre.
”The development programme will focus on four components. The first will be support and development activities, followed by support for start-ups. The third will examine entrepreneurial research and nursery centres, and the fourth will expand networks and gather entrepreneurs together,” she said.
According to a study we conducted, micro and small entrepreneurs played a key role in pushing economic growth, and 65 per cent of these businesses in Cambodia are run by women, said Sinara.
“We discovered that many of these women were deficient in some skills – especially service providers, like cafes, restaurants and small stores,” she said.
WELL produces short instructional videos and provides tips for marketing and financial management.
“Besides providing knowledge and financing, we also provide one-on-one consultation and monitor their business. Currently the 40 entrepreneurs are in touch with each other, and if can share things they have learned or challenges they may be facing on a dedicates Telegram group,” Sinara said.
“When a member of our group faces a crisis, the organisation helps them to get back on their feet, remain stable, and even grow,” she added.
She said that some of the recent graduates were about to close their businesses, but had been able to carry on, and were now flourishing. One had closed one of her two businesses, but that was a question of time management, she said.
“Because USAID’s We Act project has almost finished, we are looking for a new project to support or possibly a new community. We are currently preparing a request to seek more assistance,” she added.
As a person who had the support of the WELL network help to overcome her own business challenges, cafe owner Sopheakun wanted to send a message to encourage female entrepreneurs to stay strong.
“I want all woman business owners to remember to remain strong, no matter the circumstances. Do not be discouraged, but focus your mental strength. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance, even if it’s not financial. If you have a broad network, you will receive the advice and support you need,” she said.