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Lessons Learnt

3 Local Entrepreneurs Share Their Business Challenges And How They Overcame Them

Three local entrepreneurs, Tara-Lee de Wit, SJ Koortzen and Carmen Peters unpack the lessons that have helped them get their businesses through the start-up hurdles new companies face, and build sustainable brands.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

Tara-Lee de Wit started working when she was 16. She was home schooled, and balanced studying with employment. At 14, she knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur one day, a goal she wasn’t shy to share with her father, a 40-year Telkom veteran. At 19 she took the plunge. She’d been working in recruitment and saw the placement fees her employers charged. Instead of continuing to make money for other people, she decided to shape her own destiny. She moved to the Western Cape and launched a boutique recruitment agency, Principal Class Placements.

The challenge:

Start-up entrepreneurs often believe they have to bend over backwards to secure a client. In some cases, this is because companies will take advantage of start-ups, assuming they’re desperate for the business, and in others it’s simply because the entrepreneur doesn’t know their own value and won’t stand up for themselves. In both cases, the result is a skewed balance of power, to the detriment of the entrepreneur.

“I was extremely flexible with my first client,” says Tara-Lee. “They wanted flexible terms that were not at all to my advantage, and I agreed to their terms to secure them. We agreed that they would pay the first 25% of the placement fee upfront, and the remaining 75% three months later. When it was time to pay, they refused. The placement had gone through, and there was nothing I could do. I found a lawyer willing to work on a pro rata basis, and she managed to get them to pay within five days, but that was a year after the placement.”

Related: 4 Success Lessons From The Entrepreneur Who Quietly Grew Pinterest Into A $12 Billion Company

Carmen and Bradley had a similar experience. “We had an arrangement with a small business that needed tech support and web development. We billed them at the end of every month, instead of in advance, which is our usual practice. Clients buy a pre-agreed amount of hours each month and pay upfront before the work commences. We thought it was worth it because it would be an ongoing relationship. It went well for a few months until they defaulted on paying our last invoice. We later found out that they had lost a really big client, and that had a knock-on effect to our cash flow. Now we always stick to our terms — the risks of not doing so are just too high.”

For most entrepreneurs, access to market isn’t quite as clear cut. You need to know who your market is, what they need, and most importantly, how they will find you. Even though many entrepreneurs hate it, cold calling is often the only answer to securing clients. “I picked up the phone and started calling companies,” says Tara-Lee de Wit. “The only way businesses were going to know who I was and what I offered was if I told them.”

The solution

Launch discounts and flexible terms might secure early customers, but then what? It’s difficult to change terms or increase prices once you’ve already created an expectation in your customers’ minds. Don’t be unreasonable, but don’t undervalue yourself either. If you respect yourself, your business and your offering, your customers will as well.


Do this: Practice being brave. Bravery is a habit. It’s a muscle that can be developed. The more you stand up for yourself, the easier it will become, so start sticking to your guns. You might lose a few clients, but those aren’t the customers you wanted anyway.


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

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Lessons Learnt

Here’s What Jeff Bezos Prefers To Work-Life Balance And Why You Should Live By It

Work-life balance naively suggests working and non-working hours should be evenly apportioned.

John Boitnott

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Amazon is known for building a culture that values hard work. So much so that the organisation has received criticism from current and former employees for having to work on Thanksgiving, or even when ill.

When asked about Amazon’s work-life balance, Jeff Bezos remarked that he ascribed to the phrase “work-life harmony” instead.

Here’s how hard-charging businesspeople can maintain energy at home and at work without burning out by finding work-life harmony in place of work-life balance.

Measure work and home focus as a matter of energy instead of time

It isn’t about how many hours you spend at home or at work; it’s about the energy you bring to both parts of your life. If you enjoy working long hours, and that helps you to feel present while at home, then by all means continue.

This is a fundamental principle in Bezos’s theory of dividing one’s time between work and life. Because Bezos loves what he does, he finds energy from accomplishing his work in a manner that works well with his notoriously high standards.

As many can attest, our emotions bleed into all areas of our life. When you can gain energy from doing good work, it can help to propel you to be more successful in your life outside of work. Conversely, when things aren’t right at home, it can be difficult to find the energy to do your best work in the office. A central precept of work-life harmony is living such that both the professional and personal aspects of our life energise us to be our best at home and in the office.

This does not necessarily mean that we should spend our time in a balanced way, as the phrase “work-life balance” implies. Rather, we should spend our time in such a way that we are our best selves. In so doing, we will be better people on the whole.

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Build a flexible work-life schedule

Just as different people will amass different levels of energy from work and life outside of work, different people will find they are most productive at different times of the day. The 9-5 work culture that has existed for decades is really shifting now. Most modern offices allow some form of flexible work, which means you have the ability to set your own hours to some degree.

Experiment with working at different times of the day to find the schedule the helps you to be most productive. In so doing, you’ll have more time to do your best work, and more energy to spend with loved ones as a result of increased productivity.

Know when to say “no”

We tend to think that taking on as many projects as possible is a sign of a good professional. But being busy is not the same as making an impact. To do your best work, you’ll need to prioritise projects that you know you can add value to.

Spinning your wheels is demoralising. Look for projects in which you can easily enter a “flow state” where hours melt away. This is the environment in which you are doing your best work, and are happy to be doing the work itself. It is in moments of flow that we often feel most productive, and even fulfilled. Therefore, it is after moments of flow that we tend to feel guilt-free about enjoying quality time with loved ones while unplugging from work.

Related: Jeff Bezos Reveals 3 Strategies for Amazon’s Success

Communicate commitments

If you’re approaching a time-consuming work project, communicate that to the important people in your life. Otherwise, they may think you are avoiding them due to a more insidious reason.

Providing those you love with a glimpse into your professional commitments can also help them to help you. If a good friend knows it will be difficult for you to communicate for a few weeks, they will know to pause conversations so as not to burden you with having to reply to texts or emails.

Similarly, a partner who knows that you are responsible for delivering an important project may be able to rearrange their schedule in order to better support you in the short term.

Conversely, if family commitments will prevent you from working at full capacity for a certain period of time, set the right expectations with colleagues. A good workplace is one that is flexible to the realities of employees’ personal lives. Managers who care about the well-being of their people are usually willing to help employees take care of personal commitments.

Adapting to a changing work life

Work no longer happens between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM, Monday to Friday. Work happens Saturday mornings, and late Friday nights. It happens on vacation, and during graduations. The idea of work-life balance suggests that there should be an even split between working and non-working hours.

Related: Why It Pays To Be A Jerk Like Jeff Bezos

In reality, those who have undertaken ambitious careers should aim for work-life harmony, a lifestyle in which both aspects of life give you the energy to be your best self as frequently as possible.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

Give Your Business The Best Chance Of Success

For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

Gil Sperling

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In my capacity as a business owner and venture capitalist, one of the questions I get asked most often by entrepreneurs is, “how do I ensure my business succeeds?” While there’s no straightforward answer, there are important elements that I believe every entrepreneur must consider to ensure the greatest probability of success.

Firstly, no business will succeed if it doesn’t solve a unique pain point or problem for modern consumers or businesses. However, even if a business is able to carve out that niche, there’s no guarantee that growth will follow. For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

North Star metric

This principle of having a clear business vision guides all my decisions. Whenever I need to validate a choice or a change in strategic direction, or if I’m trying to determine what to focus on, I always refer back to my vision. If the two are incongruent, then I know I need to change tack.

Elon Musk is a great example of a successful entrepreneur who is guided by his grand vision. Everything he does, from Tesla to SpaceX, pertains to sustainability, both for the planet and the human race. It might be hard to make the connection when you consider his various businesses out of context, but everything he creates fits into a broader ecosystem that in some way moves the needle towards his ultimate objective. Developing Tesla cars that run on renewable energy is but a small, short-term plan that feeds into his grand vision, yet it’s also been the catalyst for the evolution of the motoring industry.

Related: The Popimedia (Mega) Success Story

Be clear, concise

In the same way, every decision an entrepreneur makes should in some way take them a step closer to realising their vision. In this regard, it is also vital that your vision is crystal clear – a murky or undefined vision will divert you off your path to success.

That’s because you’ll tend to focus on the wrong things, especially when scaling rapidly, or when running bigger organisations, because there are many tasks to complete every day. A lack of clarity also leads to poor decision-making, or, worse, decision paralysis, and that’s business suicide – I’d rather make a bad decision than no decision at all, because it prompts action. However, with a clear vision, more often than not, those decisions will be correct.

Defining your vision

So, how do you know if your vision is clear and, more importantly, relevant and consequential? The way I stress test my vision is to evaluate it every day against the decisions I take, and the direction of the business. This daily process helps to sharpen my decisions over time.

The other step is to remain open-minded enough to accept and acknowledge criticism, and take on board advice from trusted confidants and impartial experts. This is important, because you need to craft your vision based on as much information as possible, including valid criticism.

Ultimately, though, your vision for the business should align with your purpose. Forget about money and turnover as points of departure when defining your vision. These are merely metrics that can determine the strength and effectiveness of your business strategy.

For each of my several business interests, be it VC funding or ad-tech innovation, I have different visions. Each are meaningful to me, but in every instance, I don’t wake up every day with the sole ambition of making money.

While I need to make money to grow these businesses, or build something new, having purpose and vision are the ways I pull through those inevitable challenging situations. Having your vision front of mind in everything you do helps you make better decisions, and makes the hardships easier to endure. It helps you see through the turmoil, because you know where the process will lead, and you always know where the ultimate objective lies.

Read next: A Comprehensive List Of Angel Investors That Fund South African Start-Ups

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Lessons Learnt

Jimmy Choo’s Co-Founder Explains Why There Are No Small Jobs

Tamara Mellon shares the strategy that has helped her find new opportunities throughout her career.

Nina Zipkin

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The co-founder of Jimmy Choo, Tamara Mellon, believes that you can find inspiration and opportunity anywhere. All it takes is determination to keep going and a keen eye for observation.

Mellon began her career in the early 1990s working as an accessories editor for British Vogue. Always on the hunt for up-and-coming designers, she came across Jimmy Choo, a cobbler working in London’s East End.

She would commission him to create shoes for fashion shoots. They were so well received by readers that the pair realised they could expand beyond one-of-kind pieces for the pages of the magazine.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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