Pieter Potgieter is in the real estate game and he’s good at it. Not an impossible thing to be good at in today’s market, you might point out, and you’d be right. But Potgieter was making a success of his property agency, News Property Brokers, long before the current property market boom. His business survived the mid-1990s, when interest rates soared to 24%. And when he started in 1992 after losing his job, it took him four months before he made his first sale.
The point is that Potgieter is no stranger to adversity, and while he now enjoys the tremendous success of News Property Brokers, he remembers a time when things weren’t as easy – and his advice for people looking to break into the property market is well worth heeding. Potgieter founded News Property Brokers with ex-partner Nico Louw and started off by selling flats in Florida out of a one-bedroomed flat. He remembers the early days, when it was a challenge to have a telephone conversation if both partners were busy on a call. Now, the company has five show centres, employs 46 agents and sells an average of 840 properties a year. When asked what he did right, Potgieter’s answer is simple: “I worked hard.” That’s his first piece of advice to aspirant real estate agents. “People think you have to be an excellent salesperson, but in a lot of ways, a house sells itself. People won’t buy a house they don’t like. What you do have to be is hardworking and get the right client to the right house. You have to be willing to put in the time, after hours and on weekends. If you’re unwilling to do that, you won’t succeed in this game.”
His second piece of advice is about customer service. Property agents have a bad reputation for being pushy and dishonest, and in a lot of instances, it’s a cap that fits. When Potgieter started News Property Brokers, he wanted to do things differently. “You have to give people professional service,” he says, “and part of that is being honest. If you are dishonest with people, it will always come back to you. You can’t hide the fact that a wall has a crack in it, for example, by putting a cupboard in front of it. When the buyer moves into the house, they will see it. If you are dishonest with people, you will never build a good reputation.” Potgieter has a way of looking at problems in a positive light. When asked the best way to sell a house that is less than spectacular, without covering up its flaws, he is quick to answer: “Sell the potential in the house.” Building a reputation is something that News Property Brokers has done exceptionally well. It has carved out a niche for itself on the West Rand in Gauteng, as an independent agent, without the backing of a franchise. Its reach covers Bromhof, Fairlands, Witpoortjie and Randfontein, and it is one of the biggest single-owned real estate agents in the area.
In establishing its presence, the agency has been innovative. When municipalities started restricting the number of On Show boards that agents could erect to advertise a show house, Potgieter and his team opened show centres. Here, clients can view photographs of houses and then make an appointment to be shown the house by the agent. It’s a concept that has really taken off and is now used extensively in the industry. Not only is it convenient, it also protects the seller from potential threats like theft, something that is regrettably on the increase in the show house market, Potgieter points out. Selling property is one thing, but running a property business is another, and Potgieter is cognisant of the difference between the two. “You need to accept that you can’t do everything yourself. Use people who are better than you to do certain things.” Constantly looking to improve and grow, Potgieter enlisted the services of a management consultant during 2000 and 2001. They changed the image of the company. “Our colours at the time were pink and blue and we felt that didn’t reflect the image we wanted, so we used a graphic designer to create a more enriched corporate look in black and gold.”
As the company has grown, Potgieter has faced challenges common to many entrepreneurs. One of the biggest was deciding to buy out his long-time partner. “It meant that all of a sudden I was on my own, which was very different. I no longer had a partner I could use as a sounding board. But it was a good decision in the end.” Recruitment presented its own challenges. “We wanted to employ people who had integrity and would be honest and professional,” Potgieter says. To make sure his agents give the best possible service, he personally trains each one of them. “I no longer sell property,” he says, “because I’m busy running the business and I don’t want to be competing with my agents. I want them to run their own small and successful businesses within News Properties.”
He believes part of the company’s success can be traced to happy staff. “A lot of our new recruits are introduced to us by our current agents, and I take that as a sign that people are happy working in the company and believe other people will be happy here too,” he says. He’s nothing if not open to new ways of seeing things. “You can’t be blinkered,” Potgieter says. “You constantly have to be looking at new options.” This approach is what saved the company when it was nearly crippled by the 1996-97 interest rate hike. News Property Brokers looked outside its comfort zone and did a holiday development in Hibberdene on the South Coast. “That’s what got us through that difficult time,” Potgieter remembers. Potgieter points out the benefits of being an independent agent versus those of being a franchisee. “As an independent, you can spend your money on starting your own business rather than on paying a franchise fee, and you are in control of your own destiny.” But, he adds, it’s a good idea to work for an established company first, before going it alone. “For someone with little or no experience in the property industry, it’s beneficial to join an already established business since it has brand recognition and the necessary infrastructure and training in place. This gives you the experience you need to learn about the industry,” he says. “In an overtraded market like this one, you need to be aware of the dangers of going it alone, so do the necessary research.“Above all, you’ve got to love this industry! If you don’t love it, you can’t sell it,” is his parting shot.
Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch
Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.
Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.
To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:
- Livestock Wealth
- The Lazy Makoti
- Mimi Women
- AfriTorch Digital
- Akili Labs
- Native Décor
- Quality Solutions
- EM Guidance
- Kahvé Road
- HSE Matters
- VA Virtual Assistant
- Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
- BioTech Africa
- Brand LAIKI
- Plus Fab
- Lenoma Legal
- Benji + Moon
- Brett Naicker Wines
- Legal Legends
- The Power Woman Project
- Aviro Health
- AnaStellar Brands
- Data Innovator
- Oolala Collection Club
- Empty Trips
- Vula Mobile
- The Katy Valentine Collection
- Pimp my Book
- ART Technologies and ART Call Management
- The Sun Exchange
How 28-Year Old Entrepreneur Adam Fine Is Leveraging The Global Phenomenon Of Five-A-Side Football
Adam Fine of Fives Futbol discusses how he leverage a global phenomenon and the value of strategic partnerships in business.
- Player: Adam Fine
- Company: Fives Futbol
- Est: 2011
- Visit: www.fivesfutbol.co.za
Nothing about Adam Fine is by-the-book. The 28-year-old entrepreneur describes himself as a slightly big child. He’s the CEO of one of the most exciting start-ups in South Africa, having leveraged the global phenomenon of five-a-side football to start a business that has grown almost as fast as the game itself. Not bad for a venture that was launched with the princely sum of R85 000 — Fine’s life savings at the time.
He started it in 2011, with a strong focus on corporate social investment and making a positive social impact. It was by forming strategic partnerships that Adam really managed to grow Fives Futbol. He’s opened pitches in prime locations that serve both the school and corporate markets, while still being accessible for social impact interventions in local communities.
Pivoting at the right time is key to growth
In the last 18 months, Fives Futbol has trebled in size, and achieved some amazing milestones — it now employs 50 full-time staff, and 80 part-timers. It’s one of the factors that drives Adam, as many of his employees support up to eight family members. It’s now also represented in four provinces and 15 locations around the country. By September, there will be 18.
Quick growth means you have to be able to pivot quickly when things do not go according to plan, and mostly they don’t, Adam says. “If things are not working you should be able to ‘pivot’, to shift your focus. And do it fast. It’s not a sign that things have gone wrong by any means, on the contrary, it means you have the insight to recognise that there is a problem with the assumptions on which you have built your business model. The decision to pivot is a big one, and not something to be taken lightly. It requires you to take a hard look at your reallocation of resources, and to do it with an open mind.”
In Adam’s case, construction delays, councils taking their time to approve, or having to put money into rolling out sites as opposed to marketing, means the promotion of a new site will slow down, for example, because the business does not yet have a large marketing budget.
“When we run behind on the construction of a new site, R40 000 can suddenly become R100 000 — but here’s the thing: If a deal comes along that will probably harm your business in the short-term but enable significant long-term growth, sometimes you have to juggle what you have so you can make it work.”
The Lesson: Choose your investors carefully
Fine says he’s lucky to have a solid group of investors that he has cultivated over six years. “Their input is invaluable. They’ll say, ‘slow down’ or ‘have you thought of this?’, ‘have you factored in that?’ The ability to develop a good relationship with our investors has had a significant impact on the success of the company. Over and above money, they provide wisdom, guidance and connections.”
His relationship with his investors is key. While many entrepreneurs make it just about the money, Adam understood something else — he has a pretty cool brand with a great cause behind it. So, while investors are asked for money all the time, he was able to offer something more than just a business idea — alignment. He generated enthusiasm for the ‘why,’ behind the business. Like most of us, it makes investors happy to know that they are helping to make a positive difference.
And while it’s easy to bandy about the word ‘partnership’, Adam has worked hard to make that a reality. He set out to find like-minded people who are passionate about the business and the cause, which is why they are able to serve as great resources for advice and insight.
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“The best way to ensure that you and your investors have a valuable and lengthy partnership is to make sure that everyone is aligned on the vision.”
This includes Adam’s team. The internal culture of an organisation is vital to its strength and growth. “Without our team we don’t have a business for investors to support — our people are critical to our success. They’re the executors of the vision at the end of the day.”
The Lesson: The value of strategic partnerships
Much of the growth of Fives Futbol has been fuelled by finding the right sponsorship partners in key industries. To overcome the challenge of a limited marketing budget, Adam has secured sponsorships with big brands like Adidas, Total Sports, Debonairs, and Klipdrift, allowing Fives Futbol to use their access to communities as a marketing platform to derive income as well as scale. And it works both ways.
“Because we have a national footprint and a team of people, we run activations for our partners, which also provides us with an ancillary revenue stream,” he says. “Knowing how to join forces with other businesses has been a key factor in making the business successful. Our strategic partners have enabled the business to leverage their brand to give us more exposure. When it works well, a strategic partnership can be just what you need to speed up the growth of your business.”
Watch List: 15 SA eCommerce Entrepreneurs Who Have Built Successful Online Businesses
The advent and advancement of the online marketplace has led these entrepreneurs to successfully build and grow their ecommerce empires.
South Africa’s ecommerce market is worth R10 billion per year. By 2021, the number of online shoppers is expected to have reached 24.79 million.
“Our recent research on SA shows people are browsing three hours or more on their mobile phones and 25% shop online. They trust local brands,” says Geraldine Mitchley, Visa senior director for digital solutions in sub-Sahara Africa.
These entrepreneurs have cashed in on ecommerce and launched successful online stores that have either established their dominance in the market, or are taking the e-tailing world by storm.
Here’s how these 15 ecommerce capitalists are making money using the Internet:
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