Third Time Lucky

Third Time Lucky

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Vital stats

  • Player: Samantha Harper
  • Company: Nu Beginnings
  • Est: 2010
  • X-Factor: Delivering a professional, ethical service in a sector that’s developed a poor reputation.

“Signing a partnership agreement is a lot of paperwork. Let’s start working together, see how we go and we can look at it in a year.” These famous last words are burnt into Samantha Harper’s brain. They cost her a business but they taught her a vital lesson – don’t take things at face value, and always get a legal contract in place before you enter into any kind of partnership or agreement.

Harper was running a small recruitment consultancy in Cape Town when she entered into an agreement with a Johannesburg-based agency to launch their brand in a Cape Town branch. She moved across her clients, database of candidates and every piece of intellectual property into the new company under the new brand name.

The partnership agreement never materialised and the partnership turned sour. Harper says she’d expected to at least get a majority shareholding in the Cape Town branch, given that it was started with all her clients. It wasn’t to happen and she was eventually ousted from the company.

 “I took the case to the CCMA and won, but I’d lost my business and had to start over again,” she says. The lesson was simple but powerful – only trust when you have a watertight legal agreement in place.

“I was behind on my rent, had to sell my car and my dad took out a second bond so I could start Nu Beginnings,” she says. It was to be the third recruitment company she started and Harper was passionate about getting it right this time.

She’s successfully differentiated the business as ethical, above-board, professional and thorough in what is often seen as a notoriously dodgy industry.

She’s found a niche focus – on the competitive, skills-short IT industry. But by her own admission it‘s taken her a while to find her feet. She describes herself as being ‘all over the place initially’. “One month we were specialists, the next we were servicing everyone. First we were doing Cape Town and Joburg, then we were only doing Cape Town,” she says. That all changed thanks to an unlikely catalyst.

 

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“My receptionist told me one day to get a grip and focus, that I was confusing everyone. That really hit home!” she says. She focused on finding direction but she believes she would have got there sooner – and avoided many mistakes – if she’d done her research and been better prepared. “If I’d thought things through first before jumping in with my boots on I would have defined the direction, the market and the business offering earlier on,” she says.

The learning process is an ongoing one. “I struggle to balance being an entrepreneur, a wife and a mother. I look for young female entrepreneurs who are in the same situation so I can build a network with them. Sharing lessons with people in the same boat can be very powerful,” she says.

Looking to Commit to a Business Partnership? Here are 10 Questions You Need to Ask.

Juliet Pitman
Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.