Why Starting Small, But Thinking Big was Sibongile Mphilo’s Ticket to Success

Why Starting Small, But Thinking Big was Sibongile Mphilo’s Ticket to Success


Vital stats:

  • Company: Sibongile Security Services
  • Player: Sibongile Mphilo
  • Est: 2002
  • Turnover: R70 million
  • Contact: +27 (0)12 343 1164
  • Visit: www.sibongilesecurity.co.za 

Her company was named the woman-owned business of the year at the Standard Bank Top Women awards in 2014, and its annual turnover of R70 million will leave no one in any doubt.

39 year-old Sibongile Mphilo registered Sibongile Security Services in 2002, after training as a security officer. At home, however, money was in short supply, forcing her to work as a petrol attendant at an Engen service station near Tembisa. “I had always wanted my own business, but for a long time that was just a dream,” Mphilo recalls.

Related: How to Start a Small Business

Saving every cent

Her determination could not be quashed and being lowly skilled was not going to stop her. Instead, she gave customers excellent service and got great tips in return. Remarkably, she saved enough of this loose change to start setting things in motion. 

“I saved because I knew I was investing in something bigger. As my savings grew, I became more motivated. I worked even harder, and signed up for overtime and extra shifts.”

No short cuts

Once the company was registered, she used her spare time to research the security sector and found the best opportunities were in Polokwane, where local government was seeking entrepreneurs.

Even after winning her first contract with the Sekhukhune Magistrate’s Court, resulting in a R12 000 monthly retainer for six months, she continued to work at the service station.

“I wanted to make sure the business would be sustainable before I left my job,” she says. “I was right. When the contract came to an end, there was nothing further in sight for another six months.”

Learning how to tender

Mphilo is adamant about acquiring knowledge and experience. “Because I knew nothing about the tender process I went to workshops, where I was usually the only woman. People with the best tender knowledge are the most successful when it comes to winning. When I failed to get a contract, I would go back to find out why, and what I could do better next time.”

In 2003, Sibongile Security Services was awarded a large contract by the Department of Public Works in North West. By 2005, the business was flourishing. Between travelling and using only her days off to focus on the company, she was struggling. Mphilo finally made the decision to resign, turning her focus to the needs of the company, which she was running with the help of her sister. The risk paid off. EM

Breaking into the corporate supply chain

Too few small businesses become suppliers to South Africa’s largest organisations. With help from Telkom, Sibongile Security Services got a much-needed boost, sparking significant growth for the company.

Tapping into a large commercial supply chain and becoming a supplier to a big company can be a game-changer for small businesses.

Global studies show that when a small supplier lands a contract with a larger company, its revenues increase by around 250% and they create 150% more jobs in only two to three years.

Mphilo’s big break came in 2011 when Telkom awarded a contract to Sibongile Security Services. It was also a big wake-up call. Small businesses can be a risky investment for corporations. Among the biggest worries is that the SME can’t scale to their needs.

“The Telkom contract required us to make a huge capital outlay for new vehicles, uniforms, and firearms and control room equipment,” Mphilo recalls.

“None of the banks were willing to provide finance until Telkom’s procurement team stepped in to back us up. That was thanks to the effort both sides made to develop a healthy relationship.”

But Telkom also wanted to see the security company beef up its management and operations processes. In the first year, Telkom helped Sibongile Security Services develop and implement a quality management system that is ISO 9001:2008 compliant.

Here are some of the benefits of ISO compliance:

  • Well defined and documented procedures improve the consistency of output
  • Quality is constantly measured
  • Procedures ensure corrective action is taken whenever defects occur
  • Defect rates decrease
  • Defects are caught earlier and are corrected at a lower cost
  • Defining procedures identify current practices that are obsolete or inefficient
  • Documented procedures are easier for new employees to follow
  • Organisations retain or increase market share, increasing sales or revenues.

For Mphilo’s business the results were phenomenal. Sibongile Security Services went from being a micro enterprise with a turnover of less than R5 million, to a large supplier with an annual turnover of more than R35 million in less than two years.

Learning from Mphilo’s experience

  • Be patient. Mphilo used her profits to expand her business to other provinces, which meant that she sometimes had to sleep in her car to save money when travelling to tender briefings.
  • Be an employee in your business. She believes that if you treat your employees as colleagues and not as their boss, they will always be on your side and help you get through the challenges.
  • Do not fear challenges. For Mphilo, every challenge – like learning how to use a PC – has resulted in an achievement that she has learnt from.

Related: The Companies Act: Friend or Foe of Small Business?

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.