It’s important that we understand what motivates an individual to start a business, because the small business sector is the biggest current employer of labour, and is widely considered to be our best chance of tackling our current high levels of unemployment.
According to BANKSETA, small, medium and micro enterprises (SMEs) are estimated to provide employment to up to 60% of the South African labour force. No surprise then that the National Development Plan says that “most new jobs are likely to be sourced in domestic-orientated businesses, and in growing small and medium-sized firms.”
And yet, despite their importance to the economy and society as a whole, the truth is that entrepreneurs have to overcome many challenges – and 70% to 80% of them fail. South Africa, in particular, has one of the highest failure rates for new businesses.
In other words, creating and sustaining a successful business is rare.
With an Honours in Industrial Sociology and a Higher Diploma in Education, Marine Louw could have built a corporate career. Instead, some 28 years ago, she elected to build her own company in the fashion sector. Her company, Bonufusion, imports high-end ladies’ fashion from Europe and wholesales the garments to boutiques around the country.
The unique value proposition is that the garments are imported in small quantities to maintain exclusivity. Garments are often modified here with perfect finishing touches, and to suit local tastes.
Marine explains her motivation for leaving behind the safer corporate world: “It was key for me to find my passion, completely believing in my talent and abilities and then choosing to create a business where I could live my passion.”
She also makes it clear that to a certain extent she was actively retreating from a workstyle that did not appeal to her, especially corporate red tape and the time wasted in meetings. If you are running your own business, she says, there are no boundaries or ceilings, and you can choose how you spend your time – in her case, growing the business, selling and keeping customers happy.
When it comes to obtaining finance, the entrepreneur’s passion and commitment are also paramount, Marine believes. The entrepreneur is the business, so the financier will be investing in him or her, essentially. “It’s up to you to be so passionate about your dream that you will inspire the investor to invest not just in the business opportunity, but in you as a person,” she explains.
This passion and commitment are also essential to overcome the inevitable setbacks and challenges that will arise. “In all circumstances, maintain a positive attitude – yes, it’s hard to achieve, but it can be done,” she advises.
Marine says that a key success factor in any business is networking based on word of mouth referrals from happy customers. Customers that are happy are always ready to share the good news that they have a supplier that delivers.
“Good service, great product and a positive attitude equals good business. It will only happen if customers believe they are dealing with a reliable business,” she says. “There are four key points to remember when you start out: Find your passion, believe in your ability, work 24 hours a day when necessary, and be prepared to give everything up to live your dream – or don’t bother to start!”