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Start-up Advice

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

Patience and perseverance paid off for entrepreneur Sibongile Mphilo who saved her tips to start her security company, Sibongile Security Services.

Monique Verduyn



Sibongile Mphilo

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Vital stats:

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


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 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+.

Company Posts

3 Companies With Memorable Slogans, And How To Create Your Own

Three companies that have enjoyed these benefits as a result of creating memorable business slogans are Nike, Carlsberg, and Apple. Let’s look at each one now.

Jeff Broth




A good slogan serves many valuable roles in business. First, it reinforces recognition of your brand. After hearing it a few times, your consumer instantly thinks of you when hearing it again. If it’s catchy enough, they may even find themselves saying or singing it in their head, reinforcing your brand even more.

Slogans also share a little bit about your company. For instance, if your slogan is funny, it says you have a sense of humor. If it contains your goal or mission, it tells the consumer what is important to you. Some slogans share the problems the company is trying to solve or the consumer its trying to help, making it easier to identify the target market.

Finally, a slogan sets you apart from your competitors. It differentiates you from all of the other companies who offer similar services to you. And if it’s memorable enough, it puts you ahead of them in your consumer’s minds.

Three companies that have enjoyed these benefits as a result of creating memorable business slogans are Nike, Carlsberg, and Apple. Let’s look at each one now.

Company #1: Nike – Just Do It


Though many people use Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan as a reminder that they can do amazing things if they just put their mind to it, its author, Dan Wieden, reports that this line actually has a grim beginning.

In fact, it was an idea he derived from a statement made by Gary Gilmore, a double murderer who, before being executed by a firing squad exclaimed, “Let’s do it!” Still, it has stuck in consumer’s minds and is undoubtedly one of the most memorable slogans of all time.

Related: Registering a Trademark

Company #2: Carlsberg – That Calls for a Carlsberg


Initially, Carlsberg’s slogan was ‘probably the best beer in the world.’ Many consumers came to know and love this slogan; however, in 2011, the company rebranded and created a new slogan: ‘That Calls for a Carlsberg.” The goal of this new slogan, according to CEO Jorgen Buhl Rasmussen, was to encourage the consumer to do good things and then enjoy a Carlsberg after as a reward for a job well done. Both have stuck in the minds of consumers, albeit with some discrepancy as to which one is most preferred.

Company #3: Apple – Think Different


Apple is a company known for thinking (and creating) outside the lines, so its ‘Think Different’ slogan fits it perfectly. According to Rob Siltanen, creative director and managing partner at the company that helped design this Apple pitch, though there are many accounts of how this slogan was created, its true inventor is Craig Tanimoto. Siltanen says that Tanimoto came up with the idea to use black and white photos of some of the most revolutionary people and events of all time and, atop each one, simply display the words ‘Think Different.’ Catchy, right?

Related: Smart Marketing Ideas For Small Businesses

How to Create Your Own Memorable Slogan

These are just three examples of how creating a memorable slogan can help your company get — and stay — in the minds of your consumer. So, how do you come up with this type of campaign?

One option is to get some of your company’s best talent together and see what slogans you can come up with. Have everyone submit one or two ideas and talk them out. See if any jump out at you and, if not, use them to inspire you to come up with even more possible ideas.

Another alternative is using a slogan generator. This enables you to come up with a simple, memorable slogan using keywords related to your brand. Just go through the list and of results and see which ones stand out. You could even pick your top two or three and let your social media followers vote as to which one you should select.

If you find yourself at a dead end and unable to come up with a memorable slogan, or if you lack the creativity or the time, you can also hire a marketing firm to help. Give them a little insight about your company and see what slogans they create. It may cost you some money to take this route but, as companies like Nike, Carlsberg, and Apple have taught us, a good slogan can really propel your brand.

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Start-up Advice

Dear Family And Friends Of Entrepreneurs…

Young entrepreneurs often struggle to establish their businesses as they are not getting the support they need. Sometimes it is not only the obvious support of financiers and supply change developers which is lacking –but also not having that critical “home-ground support” can negatively affect the success of your venture. How can family and friends support entrepreneurs?

Lusanele Mahlutshana




Entering the market as a newbie entrepreneur is a brave step, and having your family and friends share in your vision for success is critical.  Once you have convinced them that being an entrepreneur is in fact “a real job” – one that requires a lot more sacrifices and hard work than a salaried worker – you can continue to encourage them to support your journey, to ultimately share in your success.

Get a job

In some communities, being an entrepreneur is not recognised as a profession. Therefore, those who pursue enterprise development are seen as irresponsible or lazy as it is not regarded as ‘real’ employment. Societal pressure to attain certain material possessions thus prevents them from pursuing their true passion.

This kind of resistance discourages a lot of entrepreneurs, making their pursuit for success even more difficult.

Related: How To Deal With Unsupportive Friends And Family

Finding out who your real friends are

Financial support is the most obvious support needed by entrepreneurs due to a lack of capital and start-up funding, as well as irregular payments and long periods of being cashless due to procurement holdups and fluctuation in the market for your product or service. Not everyone will stick with you in these times – and that’s OK. You may end up finding out who your real friends are, and these are the people who will give you emotional and social support to keep you focused and motivated.

“I know a guy….”

Another issue is friends and family looking for discounted prices as they know the owner. This means that they don’t see the value of the product or service, nor do they respect the owner. By asking for products and services for free, or at a reduced price, they end up taking advantage of their relationship with the entrepreneur and do not financially support his/her the business.

Related: How To Immigrate With Your Family By Starting A Business In The UK

So, if you have friends or family who are business owners, set an example by supporting them in the following ways:

  • Be willing to pay the full price of the product or service offered.
  • Be kind when giving negative feedback – make sure it is constructive.
  • Compliment them on good products or service. Share positive reviews on your social media pages.
  • Share and promote their business among other people.
  • Be patient and willing to help them establish their businesses.

Be prepared to listen to their dreams, hopes and frustrations. Sometimes, they just need an ear to vent about a bad day. Support them with a word of encouragement to keep going.

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Start-up Advice

Why Embrace The Struggle?

Entrepreneurial success hinges on your ability to approach challenges with the right mindset.

Gil Sperling




Self-help and business coaching advice is littered with platitudes, which makes it difficult for entrepreneurs to know what they should take to heart. However, one universal truism that most successful entrepreneurs attribute to their success is their willingness and ability to endure the struggle.

It’s a lesson I learnt first-hand when building our ad-tech and Facebook Marketing Partner business, Popimedia. One of our sternest tests came when we moved into new premises and took on more staff to accommodate our exponential growth. Then, amid new and significant financial commitments, some of our pipeline never materialised.

It was at this time that my son was born, and our family had just moved into a new house. To preserve the business, we were forced into retrenchments and directors didn’t take a salary for a while. And, with a lower head count it became difficult to deliver on client deadlines. Needless to say, my personal and professional level of discomfort was at an all-time high.

We reviewed our operations and streamlined where we could. More importantly, though, the experience taught us a number of invaluable lessons.

Lesson #1: Reframe your context

Our leadership approach, our business mindset and our attitude needed to be drastically reframed.

There is a quote that has always stuck with me, which is: “The antithesis of comfort is struggle.”

Related: 6 Of The Most Profitable Small Businesses In South Africa

I believe a person is moulded by the way they deal with struggle. That’s why I’ve always been inclined to welcome a proverbial punch to the face, and use as a mantra the phrase, “comfortable being uncomfortable”.

Being “uncomfortable” forced Popimedia into rapid innovation – and it was this innovation that led to a sea-change in the business. We learned how to scale, how to improve service levels, how to do what we do better, faster, more efficiently.

As a result, and without increasing our staff complement, our year-on-year growth has topped 100%. What was, at the time, the business’s greatest challenge became its greatest ally, and our biggest lesson.

Lesson #2: Fail fast, and learn from it

Obviously, this approach is not about making life difficult for the sake of personal and professional growth. It’s about understanding what is: expecting it to be difficult and taking a constructive approach towards failure and struggle.

There is one guarantee in business: you will experience failures, and you will struggle.

Central to this is your ability to recognise your failures for what they are, and quickly. This allows for a rejigging of processes, attitudes, operations, and sometimes even objectives.

My personal attitude to failure was reframed by simple sales stats. I came to understand that rejection was inevitable – but when it does happen, it brings with it opportunities. I always ask: “Why don’t you want my product? How is it not meeting your needs?” This way, “failure” is transformed into an opportunity to better understand the market and my clients.

This feedback loop has proved crucial, and allowed us to become what we are.

As an entrepreneur, the pressure never ends and you’ll never ‘arrive’. At Popimedia, we’ve come to embrace every opportunity that takes us out of our comfort zone. Working through failure is the foundation on which the entrepreneurial spirit is forged. It is the willingness to try again following a rejection, or to keep grafting knowing that there’s no guarantee of a pay cheque at the end of the month.

And doing so with the ‘chutzpah’ – the sheer audacity – to endure the hardship through mental toughness and a passion for what you do, becomes your greatest asset, because when you get comfortable, you become complacent… and complacency will work you into irrelevance.

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