Shereen’s story: making education accessible for all
Shereen Hassim is on a mission to make education affordable and accessible. Our Road to Growth programme supported her to do it.
Johannesburg, South Africa
Shereen Hassim owns Book Express, a shop that sells academic books, mostly to university students. She’s on a mission to make education accessible and affordable for all. Our Road to Growth programme supported her to boost her sales and marketing skills so that she could grow her business and support more students around the world.
“My name is Shereen Hassim. I have been running a bookshop called Book Express for 20 yeas. My mission is to make education accessible and affordable for all. We sell academic books, mostly for university courses.
We deliver all over South Africa, but also the rest of the world. We send books to China, Korea, New Zealand, Brazil and Afghanistan. We have a huge footprint. We offer a door-to-door service at an affordable rate, that way students never miss out.
My mission is to make education accessible and affordable for all.
I became an entrepreneur after studying management at university. I really battled to access the right books during my studies, and I had to rely on friends and family to give me lifts so that I could visit bookshops. So, the idea of starting a book delivery service came to me then. If you look at my logo, it’s a car. The idea of Book Express is that it’s the books that travel. When I was a student, I was often broke, sometimes failing courses due to not having the correct textbooks. So that’s why I offer a second-hand service. It’s affordable and widens access to education.
As a woman entrepreneur I’ve faced challenges. When I initially approached courier companies to go into business with, many of them didn’t listen to me. Eventually, I managed to convince one gentleman who looked at me, shook his head and said “okay”. He took a chance on me. I’m pleased to tell you that today my delivery costs are the same as when I first started. Of course, these days it’s very normal to buy something online and have it delivered to your house. But 20 years ago, it was a novel concept. Getting people onboard with the idea of delivering books was a challenge.
By growing the business I’m able to help more people access books and can employ more staff.
The Road to Growth programme gave me the opportunity to focus on the changes in the business world, particularly in the digital space. I was keen for information and tips on how to navigate this ever-changing landscape. I also wanted to understand how to target my audience online, in order to increase my profit. By growing the business I’m able to help more people access books and can employ more staff. So, business growth is important for me.
On the Programme I learned that sales and marketing are two very different things. And that’s been useful because I had never really considered this before. I also learned about the importance of using social media and WhatsApp. I now send my customers personalised messages. It shows I care about them and take an interest in what they’re reading or studying. It’s certainly helped me retain customers. Getting new customers is easy, but ensuring they come back is much harder.
The programme helped me to achieve more business and some of that comes down to having a better understanding of my target audience and best methods of reaching them.
The programme helped me to achieve more business and some of that comes down to having a better understanding of my target audience and best methods of reaching them. There’s no use marketing to everybody who uses Facebook or Instagram. So gaining that understanding of who my customers are and how I can reach them has been useful.
It gave me the confidence to get out there and grow my networks, which in turn have given me access to other networks. I now have a mentor. He’s encouraged me to attend business and technology conferences and I have so many new ideas about how I can grow and develop the business.
Being able to sell my books around the world means I can make lives better and that matters.
On a more personal note, during Covid I was extremely ill and ended up on a ventilator. The Road to Growth programme gave me the personal boost and charge that I needed to get out there again. It enabled me to take on new challenges and ultimately feel more alive.
Africa is a continent with so much opportunity. We just need to get on the bicycle, coordinate the pedals, and explore what’s out there. I may be 52-years-old and not particularly digitally savvy, but you know what? Being able to sell my books around the world means I can make lives better and that matters.”