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Inspiring Entrepreneur Siyanda Dlamini Believes You Need To Back Yourself To Build Your Dreams

Siyanda Dlamini knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life from the time he turned 15. Hotel management (and eventually ownership) wasn’t the obvious choice for a young black boy from KwaZulu Natal, but he knew he had enough passion and determination to see his dreams come true.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

The entrepreneurial journey

Siyanda Dlamini is the proud owner of the recently launched hotel management company that owns the Regency Apartment Hotel in Menlyn. Thanks to focus, hard work and commitment, he’s built a career from the ground up that has culminated in his first move into entrepreneurship.

I’ve always taken everything I do seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously. I think there’s an important distinction. You need to give everything your all, but if it doesn’t work, laugh at yourself, learn from your mistakes, and move on.

Ever since the catering club in Alexandra High School in Pietermaritzburg, I’ve taken things seriously. I treated it like a real job, and that degree of dedication shaped my life. By the time I was 15 I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. My mom was a teacher and didn’t love the idea that I was choosing hotel school over maths and science, but I knew if I followed my passion I’d achieve great things, so that’s what I did.

Related: Bed and Breakfast Inn Business Plan

I look at everything as a picture made up of a multitude of dots and colours

For me, that’s how life and business works. I’ve always been inquisitive — I need to understand everything. It’s why I’ve wanted to work in all the different positions within my chosen field, and why I’ll always ask questions. The more you know, the bigger the picture, and the more you can connect the dots. It’s the same with people and networks. Be open to as many possibilities and networking opportunities as possible, and then connect anyone who you believe will benefit from it. Give of yourself freely.

In this way I’ve helped others, but great opportunities have also come my way. A few years ago, when I was offered the opportunity to buy into a hotel franchise, I secured funding because I was introduced to the right people by a female butcher who I had introduced to my industry contacts. It wasn’t a quid pro quo, but the result of networking and relationship building, and then connecting each other with great people.

The deal didn’t go through, but I’d learnt two valuable things: First, with the right connections and business plan, the funding you need is obtainable, and second, when an opportunity doesn’t go as planned, it’s often because something bigger and better is around the corner.

If you believe in yourself, that’s all that really matters. I was teased a lot at school. I was a black boy who spent all his time building up the catering club, and following one of my teachers, Mrs Meyer around. She headed up the catering club and had taken me under her wing, teaching me about buying in bulk, spotting specials and the basics of accounting. She believed in me, and really gave me good insights. It made me different, but I didn’t care. I didn’t need anyone else’s validation. I had the most amazing support system in my mother, and the self-belief and confidence to carry me through.

No one can build your dreams for you — only you can do that. You have to back yourself. You can’t expect people to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

I look at where I am today — 1 000 builders on site, contractors, staff on board, a new hotel brand — and I know that all this was only possible because of my confidence, my plan, my passion.

Do what feels right; don’t conform to what everyone else is doing. Once I found out about Protea Hotel’s training programme, I wrote a letter to the training director — I wanted her to know who I was and what I wanted to do. I needed to get into that programme, and so I thought about what would get me noticed. It worked — but it also landed me in their toughest hotel; the biggest and busiest. That was okay — I’d told her I was tough. Now I had the chance to prove it. Through their programme Protea gets four years of service from its trainees, but we get the experience we need. You’re in control of where that takes you. The more you put in, the more you get out.

Always be aware of the risks involved, but don’t let them determine your way forward

siyanda-dlamini-regency

It’s important to recognise risks because that’s how you mitigate them — that’s how you plan your next moves and ensure you’re covering all your bases. I like risks — they make me cautious, which makes me think everything through. I don’t do anything without a carefully plotted-out plan of action. The great thing about planning everything is that you can then tackle whatever you’re doing head on, full of confidence.

It took me a long time to get here, and I’ve loved every step of the journey. I’ve had to get through the Protea Hotels training programme, various hotels, various management styles — this was a long road of hard work and long hours. It didn’t just happen or come easily. It’s taken real dedication. I’ve loved every second of it though — even the tougher positions and managers. I believe you need to go through everything and experience every position and step in your chosen industry to really understand it, and appreciate what you have. Everything is a learning opportunity, you just need to grab it with both hands.

Sometimes you have to go backwards to move forwards

After four years in a management position in a great hotel, I made the decision to move to a bigger hotel into a slightly more junior position. I knew I needed a new challenge; to keep learning — and I had the confidence in myself that I would be able to rise through the ranks quickly once I’d made the move.

Related: Seed Capital Funding For South African Start-Up Businesses

My goal was always to own something of my own, but not this big. I’ve always thought I’d eventually open a small boutique hotel with 100 rooms and themed floors. And while I plan to still do that one day, it’s also clear that if you’re open to opportunities, they come your way. You just need to lay the foundations — build your reputation, work hard and network. People need to know you and trust you, and great things will happen. This is one of them. The developer, Key Spirit Developments, was looking for a hotel management company owner and someone from my network introduced us. Our values and visions aligned — and the rest is history.

The road ahead is daunting, so make sure you’re passionate about what you’re doing. This is particularly true of my industry, but all entrepreneurs face a tough, uphill battle. If it’s only about the money, you won’t make it. You’ll need passion, grit and determination to get through all the challenges that will come your way, and the mistakes you’ll make and lessons you’ll need to learn. I started my career with R850 and a willingness to work day and night to make my dreams come true.

I want to change lives and mindsets

I grew up in a world of professionals — teachers, lawyers and doctors. Hotel management was almost a taboo for a young black boy. But I did it anyway, and I can look at everything I’ve achieved — and that’s ahead of me — with pride, because I know I’ve followed my path, and I’m working with a developer who really believes in me. Together, with my hotel management company and his property development business, we’re going to open at least five more luxury apartment hotels, and through each one we can change lives.

When you’re writing your own story, you can look at your purpose. For me, everyone who’s in my employment should have access to basic medical care. I also employ one raw recruit for every talented employee we’ve brought on board to continue paying it forward and to give people the opportunities I received.

Always live your brand to the fullest. I’ve spent years building my reputation and brand within this industry, and now that I’m branching out on my own it’s really shaping what we do. The most incredible and talented people have left their jobs to join us, even though we’re a start-up. They’ve worked with me, they know me, and they want to be a part of what we’re doing. They want to share my purpose.

No one can build your dreams for you — only you can do that. You have to back yourself. You can’t expect people to believe in you if you don’t believe in yourself.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Rich List: 2019 Richest People In The World

They’re worth billions, and their wealth continues to grow each year. Here’s the top 10 richest people globally in 2019.

Catherine Bristow

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jeff-bizos 10. Jeff Bezos

Net Worth: USD 139,5 billion

Jeff Bezos founded e-commerce giant Amazon in a garage in Seattle, USA in 1994. He also purchased The Washington Post for $250 million in 2013.

Bezos believes in always taking a long-term view and living in the present moment.

“I think this is something about which there’s a lot of controversy. A lot of people — and I’m just not one of them — believe that you should live for the now.

I think what you do is think about the great expanse of time ahead of you and try to make sure that you’re planning for that in a way that’s going to leave you ultimately satisfied. This is the way it works for me. There are a lot of paths to satisfaction and you need to find one that works for you.”

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Entrepreneur Profiles

7 Self-Made Teenager Millionaire Entrepreneurs

These teenager entrepreneurs have already made their first million and more. How did they do it and what’s their secret to success?

Catherine Bristow

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1. Evan of YouTube

evan-of-youtube

Evan and his father Jarod started a youtube channel ‘Evantube’ to review kids’ toys. The channel was a resounding success with other kids – so much so that today it boasts just over 6 million subscribers.

Evantube brings in more than USD1.4 million a year from ad revenue generated on the channel.

How did it start? With a father-son fun project making Angry Birds Stop Animation videos, and morphed into doing reviews on toys and video games. But Jarod’s dad is aware of the responsibility of Evan’s sudden fame and hopes to teach Evan about the importance of being a good role model for others.

“Most recently, we had the opportunity to work with the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and were able to fulfill the wish of a young boy whose dream was to meet Evan and make a video with him at Legoland,” explains Jared. “It was a really incredible experience. YouTube has definitely opened many doors, and the kids have gotten to do some pretty amazing things.”

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Entrepreneur Profiles

Expert Advice From Property Point On Taking Your Start-Up To The Next Level

Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty have worked with more than 170 businesses to help them scale. Here’s what your start-up should be focusing on, based on what they’ve learnt.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Shawn Theunissen and Desigan Chetty
  • Company: Property Point
  • What they do: Property Point is an enterprise development initiative created by Growthpoint Properties, and is dedicated to unlocking opportunities for SMEs operating in South Africa’s property sector.
  • Launched: 2008
  • Visit: propertypoint.org.za

Through Property Point, Shawn Theunissen and his team have spent ten years learning what makes entrepreneurs tick and what small business owners need to implement to become medium and large business owners. In that time, over 170 businesses have moved through the programme.

While Property Point is an enterprise development (ED) initiative, the lessons are universal. If you want to take your start-up to the next level, this is a good place to start.

Risk, reputation and relationships

“We believe that everything in business comes down to the 3Rs: Risk, Reputation and Relationships. If you understand these three factors and how they influence your business and its growth, your chances of success will increase exponentially,” says Shawn Theunissen, Executive Corporate Social Responsibility at Growthpoint Properties and founder of Property Point.

So, how do the 3Rs work, and what should business owners be doing based on them?

Risk: We can all agree that there will always be risks in business. It’s how you approach and mitigate those risks that counts, which means you first need to recognise and accept them.

“We always straddle the line between hardcore business fundamentals and the relational elements and people components of doing business,” says Shawn. “For example, one of the risks that everyone faces in South Africa is that we all make decisions based on unconscious biases. As a business owner, we need to recognise how this affects potential customers, employees, stakeholders and even ourselves as entrepreneurs.”

Reputation: Because Property Point is an ED initiative, its 170 alumni are black business owners, and so this is an area of bias that they focus on, but the rule holds true for all biases. “In the context of South Africa, small black businesses are seen as higher risk. To overcome this, black-owned businesses should focus on the reputational component of their companies. What’s the track record of the business?”

A business owner who approaches deals in this way can focus on building the value proposition of the business, outlining the capacity and capabilities of the business and its core team to deliver how the business is run, and specific service offerings.

“From a business development perspective, if you can provide a good track record, it diminishes the customer’s unconscious bias,” says Shawn. “Now the entrepreneur isn’t just being judged through one lens, but rather based on what they have done and delivered.”

Related: Property Point Creates R1bn In Procurement Opportunities For Small Businesses

Relationship: “We believe that fundamentally people do business with people,” says Shawn. “There needs to be culture match and fluency in terms of relations to make the job easier. As a general rule, the ease of doing business increases if there is a culture match.”

This relates to understanding what your client needs, how they want to do business, their user experience and customer experience. “We like to call it sharpening the pencil,” says Desigan Chetty, Property Point’s Head of Operations.

“In terms of value proposition, does your service offering focus on solving the client’s needs? Is there a culture match between you and your client? And if you realise there isn’t, can you walk away, or do you continue to focus time and energy on the wrong type of service offering to the wrong client? This isn’t learnt over- night. It takes time and small but constant adjustments to the direction you’re taking.”

In fact, Desigan advises walking away from the wrong business so that you can focus on your core competencies. “If you reach a space where you work well with a client and you’ve stuck to your core competencies, business is just going to be easier. It becomes easier for you to deliver. Sometimes entrepreneurs stretch themselves to try to provide a service to a client that’s not serving either of their needs. This strategy will never lead to growth — at least not sustainable growth.”

Instead, Desigan recommends choosing an entry point through a specific offering based on an explicit need. “Too often we see entrepreneurs whose offerings are so broad that they don’t focus,” he says. “Instead, understand what your client’s need is and address that need, even if it means that it’s only one out of your five offerings. Your likelihood of success if you go where the need is, is much higher.

“Once you get in, prove yourself through service delivery. It’s a lot easier to on-sell and cross sell once you have a foot in the door. You’re now building a relationship, learning the internal culture, how things work, what processes are followed and so on — the client’s landscape is easier to navigate. The challenge is to get in. Once you’re in, you can entrench yourself.”

Desigan and Shawn agree that this is one of the reasons why suppliers to large corporates become so entrenched. “Once you’re in, you can capitalise from other needs that may have emanated from your entry point and unlock opportunities,” says Shawn.

Building a sustainable start-up

While all start-ups are different, there are challenges most entrepreneurs share and key areas they should focus on.

Shawn and Desigan share the top five areas you should focus on.

1. Align and partner with the right people

This includes your staff, stakeholders, partners, suppliers and clients. Partnerships are the best thing to take you forward. The key is to collaborate and partner with the right people based on an alignment of objectives and culture. It’s when you don’t tick all the boxes that things don’t work out.

2. Make sure you get the basics right

Never neglect business fundamentals. Do you have the processes and systems in place to scale the business?

3. Understand your value proposition

Are you on a journey with your clients? Is your value proposition aligned to the need you’re trying to solve for your clients? Are you looking ahead of the curve — what’s the problem, what are your clients saying and are you being proactive in leveraging that relationship?

Related: Want To Start A Property Business That Buys Property And Rents It Out?

4. Unpack your value chain

If you want to diversify, understand your value chain. What is it, where are the opportunities both horizontally and vertically within your client base, and what other solutions can you offer based on your areas of expertise?

8. Don’t ignore technology

Be aware of what’s happening in the tech space and where you can use it to enable your business. Tech impacts everything, even more traditional industries. Businesses that embrace technology work smarter, faster and often at a lower cost base.

Ultimately, Desigan and Shawn believe that success often just comes down to attitude. “We have one entrepreneur in our programme who applied twice,” says Shawn. “When he was rejected, he listened to the feedback we gave him and instead of thinking we were wrong, went away, made changes and came back. He was willing to learn and open himself up to different ways of approaching things. That business has grown from R300 000 per annum to R20 million since joining us.

“Too many business owners aren’t willing to evaluate and adjust how they do things. It’s those who want to learn and embrace change and growth that excel.”

Networking, collaborating and mentoring

Property Point holds regular networking sessions called Entrepreneurship To The Point. They are open to the public and have two core aims. First, to provide entrepreneurs access to top speakers and entrepreneurs, and second, to give like-minded business owners an opportunity to network and possibly even collaborate.

“We believe in the power of collaboration and networking,” says Desigan.

“Most of our alumni become mentors themselves to new entrants to the programme. They want to share what they have learnt with other entrepreneurs, but they also know that they can learn from newer and younger entrepreneurs. The business landscape is always changing. Insights can come from anywhere and everywhere.”

The To The Point sessions are designed to help business owners widen their network, whether they are Property Point entrepreneurs or not.

To find out more, visit www.ettp.co.za

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