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Ntsikelelo Management and Accounting Services: Sibongile Mahlangu

An entrepreneur makes a difference by mentoring and training small businesses.

Juliet Pitman

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Sibongile Mahlangu of Ntsikelelo Management and Accounting Services

It was while doing her articles in accounting that Sibongile Mahlangu first realised just what small businesses in South Africa were up against. “The more I looked at it, the more I realised that SMMEs needed so much help in terms of training, accessing finance and setting up systems that would help their businesses become successful. There was such a huge gap,” says the Cape Town-based founder of Ntsikelelo Management and Accounting Services. Today, she fills that gap. Ntsikelelo is dedicated to the mentorship and training of start-ups. However, realising that most small businesses simply cannot afford the kind of training and mentorship they require, Mahlangu has adopted an innovative business model that sees Ntsikelelo contracting its services to organisations and programmes involved in the mentorship of SMMEs. Among them are the UCT Graduate School of Business’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), SABMiller’s Kick-Start initiative and Taverner Training Programme, Umsobomvu Youth Fund, the City of Cape Town, Swiss Contact and the Cape Agency for Sustainable Integrated Development in Rural Areas.

Through these and other institutions, Mahlangu and her team of consultants have been instrumental in helping hundreds of entrepreneurs to attain success. But while she might have helped others to grow, she’s the first to point out the importance of her own growth and development as a successful mentor. “I was under no illusions when I started that there were areas in my business and expertise that required improvement and that before I could claim to be an authority on business success, I would have to work on these areas first,” she says.She lists formal business writing and business communication and language skills among the areas where she focused her self-improvement. “They are just two small things and they might seem insignificant, but the fact is that if you want to be taken seriously in business and be seen as a professional, you need to communicate in the appropriate way,” says Mahlangu.

Over time, her exposure to the SMB sector has honed her ability to identify and address the most common problems in small business management. One of the key things that’s emerged in her extensive mentoring experience is that a lack of financial suss presents a serious challenge to the success of countless businesses. “While working with CIE I had the opportunity to work in the debt collection division and I can tell you it was a real learning curve. Small businesses not only find it difficult to access finance, but when they do get a loan, they frequently lack the financial skills and discipline to be able to ensure that their business can service that loan and eventually pay it back.”Realising that getting the money to run a business is only half the battle won, Ntsikelelo takes a whole-business approach to mentorship. “We identify those areas where interventions are required and then we help to set up the systems and provide training on how to run them. But where I believe we add the most value is through our hand-holding over a six-month period where we make sure that the business owner not only understands but has become fully proficient in implementing the systems on a daily basis,” Mahlangu explains.

It’s this one-on-one contact and assistance that she finds the most rewarding and she has many stories to tell about how small ideas have been turned into big business through dedication and commitment. She relates one of her favourite cases: “A business owner with whom I made contact through SABMiller’s Taverner Training Programme was working full-time and running a liquor sales business on the side. Although he wanted to follow his small business dream full-time, he was afraid of resigning from his job and then failing as an entrepreneur. It’s a common hurdle for many people. We sat down together and I helped him do costings and projections, taking into consideration what he was earning at his current job, how much the liquor business was generating and how much the business could make if he gave it his full attention. This kind of process is really helpful in making a dream concrete and tangible, and in the end he went for it. Today, his business turns over R120 000 a week.” As Mahlangu concludes, she needs no other measure for her own success.

Contact: +27 82 773 5749 and +27 21 949 5281; www.nmas.co.za

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

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