The challenges of being a creative in Botswana – Part 2

Bob is a self-proclaimed entrepreneur and loves money, he’s obsessed with it. He likes to look good; to him, appearance is everything – ‘if it looks good on the outside then what’s on the inside is even better.’ Bob is a character; fun to be around, jovial and for the most part, a decent guy with aspirations of becoming the next Richard Branson. But he can be stubborn and spoilt and has a temper when things don’t go his way. 

For all his flashiness and bravado, Bob actually came from humble beginnings. Bob didn’t do too badly at school but didn’t go to the university – he’s the kind of guy who believes in the school of hard knocks and the university of life. Most of Bob’s wealth comes from winning tenders. He wins contracts and then outsources the work to someone else while taking a nice slice of the pie for himself. When he won his first tender, he went and bought a brand new Mercedes. Tender after tender, his material wealth grows and, of course, his wardrobe improves.

But when it comes to personal grooming, Bob walks a short distance from his house to his ‘barber’ under a tree. He’s used this guy for years. His barber isn’t a trained hairstylist, he just invested in some clippers and shaves heads for 20 bucks a pop. It’s essentially a small shed he built at the end of his plot with a chair, a mirror and a few wooden boxes for waiting customers to sit on.

Bob had been away visiting family and helping out at the cattle-post. Upon his return, he found an email about a very lucrative tender opportunity and was invited to attend a meeting. Bob knew he needed to look his best, so off to the tree he went. Sadly the guy wasn’t there, he was also away and wouldn’t return until after Bob’s meeting, so he decided to go to a salon. All his life, Bob had used guys under a tree, so he had no idea what salon to use. He doesn’t live too far from the city centre, so decides to go to the business district and find a salon there. It didn’t take him long to locate a salon, but the stylist was attending to another customer, so Bob had to wait. 

It was quite different to this barber’s shed, as he sat on a rather comfortable sofa, looking around and soaking up the finery of the environment, which even had air-conditioning. Remember Bob likes to look good, so being in such a wonderful salon made him feel great. Bob thought his day was about to get even better as a pretty young lady approached him and asked if he wanted a coffee while he waited. Bob (now realising his chat-up lines weren’t needed) nervously asked the girl, how much for the coffee? He nearly fainted when she said there’s no charge, it’s complimentary for customers. Naturally, Bob accepted the free drink and sat there in amazement while he sipped his coffee. 

His turn arrived and he told the stylist the salon was amazing. The stylist gratefully welcomed the compliment as he put the cape over Bob and asked him what he would like. What do you mean, asked a rather puzzled Bob. The stylist said, what do you want me to do with your hair? Bob normally has two styles, a shaved head or a small afro and today he was sporting the latter. Bob took a few moments to think and told the stylist his favourite movie was ‘Bad Boys’ and asked if he could have the same hair as Will Smith. The stylist smiled and said sure bro.

Bob was surprised at how relaxing and easy the job was going. He mentioned his usual barber would catch a few of his hairs in the clippers, which was sore. The stylist laughed and said, maybe your guy needs to oil the clipper heads from time to time. Through the course of the conversation, the stylist gathered this was Bob’s first time at a salon. Bob mentioned his mother took him to the tree when he was a boy and he just continued the same practice.

The job was finished and Bob was stunned! In his mind, he was the next best thing to Will Smith. The stylist led Bob to the sink area, where another lovely young lady washed his head and gave him a head massage. At this point, Bob thought he had died and gone to heaven. He was used to sweating it out in a shed in the harsh heat, leaving a bit sore and endlessly itching from the hairs down his back. Now he was in this hair paradise being treated like a VIP. 

The lady finished washing his hair and thanked him. Bob was so chilled out and walked away shaking his head in disbelief. He got to the reception area and the lady behind the counter asked him if everything was okay. A very happy Bob said, “I’m more than happy my sister.” The lady smiled and said, “that’ll be 160 bucks.” The mood changed as Bob looked at her and asked her to repeat the price. Bob’s attitude rapidly went downhill and his eyebrows lowered as he questioned the price. He couldn’t believe he was being charged 160 bucks when he had become so used to paying 20 bucks. 

He started to work out an imaginary invoice in his head, telling her he didn’t ask for the coffee, he didn’t ask for the head wash, nor the massage, basically accusing her of adding these services to bump up the price. The stylist (who was also the owner) heard the commotion and walked over to ask what the problem was. Bob told him the price was too much and told the stylist exactly what he told the young lady, who was quite shocked. The stylist explained that the coffee, the head wash and massage was all part of the service and they weren’t add-ons.

Bob protested and reeled off comparisons between the salon and his guy under the tree. The stylist simply smiled and said he meant no disrespect to Bob’s usual guy, but I am a professional, a fully trained and qualified hairstylist with many years’ experience. This salon is a professional environment, even the lady who washed your hair is trained. It’s not just the haircut, you enjoyed the whole experience from the second you walked through the door. You have to realise I have overheads, electricity and water bills, staff salaries and rent to pay. He went on to say his training cost, his equipment is expensive and even the product he put on Bob’s hair costs?

Bob snapped back saying, “I bet you live like a king charging these prices!” The stylist said no, I live in a modest house. I actually saw you drive into the car park in your Mercedes, you actually parked next to my Toyota. Like everybody else, I have groceries to buy, school fees to pay, a mortgage, etc. You’re making assumptions about me and my lifestyle, but I could do the same. You drive a Mercedes, you’re wearing designer clothes, you don’t look like a guy who can’t afford 160 bucks. Bob quickly addressed that statement and told the stylist he can afford it, he just refuses to pay it.

The stylist, now reaching the end of his patience, tells Bob that comparing him to his guy under the tree is like comparing apples and oranges and it’s actually very offensive. A nonchalant Bob, now firmly in stubborn mode, told the stylist that he and the barber basically do the same thing. In fact, his barber is smarter since he trained himself and built his own ‘salon’ on his property and doesn’t hire anyone. At this point, even the receptionist was struggling, looking at Bob with a rather perplexed expression on her face. 

The stylist, now upset and borderline angry, shook his head. It’s not easy receiving such criticism and comparisons, which essentially degrades his entire livelihood. Battered and defeated, he admits he can’t force Bob to pay the full amount and it isn’t worth calling the police. He told Bob to leave and never come back. Bob paused, thrust his hand in his pocket and threw a 20 note on the counter before storming out of the salon. 

His attitude immediately changed as he walked to his car. He felt rather pleased with himself, as though he just negotiated a great price for a winning tender. He was so happy with himself he thought he’d treat himself to a six pack of beers on the way home and toast his achievement. Of course, Bob can easily afford to pay for beer, just as he could easily afford to pay for the haircut, but that thought never entered his head. 

—————

Over the years and especially since I moved to Botswana, I’ve been asked what is it like being a graphic designer and what is it like being self-employed. The story above is my way of answering those questions. They are made up, analogies if you will, to describe what it can be like being a graphic designer in Botswana. Hopefully, you found the story amusing, but this is my reality. 

The story is based on real experiences. However, I can’t put them across in real terms since graphic design and the creative process is not properly understood, nor (in some cases) appreciated. Hopefully, by wrapping the truth with a bit of fiction helps you understand the frustrations. 

This story portrays the challenges with pricing. 

Local fashion designer, Mothusi Lesolle, said in an interview with the WeekendPost. “The reason why there’s no growth [in Botswana] is because amateurs dilute the market and unfortunately, the Botswana market is so cheap like that. They use bottom of the barrel to benchmark their price tag and they expect you to price your product similar to D List products that make the market filthy. Unfortunately, those that put effort into their work don’t even get seen as a result.”

I couldn’t have put it any better myself.

I should highlight that this doesn’t apply to every client. Thankfully, there are some who are fantastic and appreciate the work I do for them. 

Source: YourBotswana writer

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