- Company: Twin Cities Cleaning Services
- Player: Chris Ndongeni
- Est: 2007
- Contact: +27 (0)11 838 0294
- Visit: twincitiescleaning.co.za
In 2007, Chris Ndongeni and his two business partners decided it was time to start their own business. They came from completely different backgrounds in the automotive industry, and between them opened a business banking account with R150. Rookie mistakes and learning on the fly meant it took them three years to break even. Had he known then what he knows now, Ndongeni would have done ta few things differently.
Costly lesson 1: Much more research!
“We knew the challenges of starting a business so we looked for opportunities with low barriers to entry. We’d done a little research and decided on contract cleaning,” recalls Ndongeni.
Ndongeni and his partners landed their first contract with Man Truck and Bus, as their new business met the firm’s ED criteria. Ready to start their first day of business, Ndongeni was in for a big surprise. “We were very naïve,” he laughs.
“We walked in on our first day expecting the previous contract cleaner to have left cleaning equipment and chemicals. They hadn‘t and our first month was an expensive scramble of taking loans and cashing in provident funds to get equipment.
“We could’ve spared ourselves costly mistakes by researching the industry better, what the requirements and restrictions are, and would‘ve explored what existing companies were doing. We only discovered the National Contract Cleaning Association (NCCA) much later.”
Costly lesson 2: Understanding finances better
“When we started, we didn’t know how to balance income with expenditure. We were doing things ourselves in a basic spreadsheet and we were focused on getting equipment for the company, but we also brought on staff we didn’t need. This really ate into our margin.”
So in 2011 they hired an accountant who advised where they could cut costs and pave the way forward. One of those costs was a bitter-tasting cut in salary.
“I think entrepreneurs, like myself back then, think they can go into business and draw a salary they’re used to from the get go. All three of us partners were doing that and it was impacting the business badly.”
Costly lesson 3: Partners need to be on the same page
“Starting and running a successful business starts with the people you partner with and sharing a vision,” explains Ndongeni.
“We started with three partners but with the salary cuts an important division emerged. Myself and Kenneth Khumalo, operations director, wanted to grow the business, while the third partner wanted money. We were very fortunate that it didn’t turn into a drawn out and expensive buy out. I should have insisted on better communication, recorded minutes, and driven accountability.”
Costly lesson 4: Getting to grips with being a manager
“Before I became an entrepreneur, I wasn’t familiar with management, staff issues and needing to do disciplinary hearings, for example. These were entirely new skills sets and dealing with low education employees presents unique challenges. I ended up needing to take a course in HR to learn how to deal with and incentivise staff.”
Top tips from the school of hard knocks
- Your foundation is essential. Gain insight into your industry and health and safety regulations.
- Reduce expenditure where you can, and carefully manage cash flow to avoid loans.
- Systems aid compliance. Ensure you’ve got proper accounting and HR systems and your BEE certificate is up to date.
- Ensure your partners share the business’s vision to get your client’s (or your) brand’s attention.