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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

How Xoliswa Kakana And ICT-Works Tackled A Male-Dominated Field

Xoliswa Kakana from ICT-Works proves that credibility and brand building are as important as skills when you’re starting out in an industry.

Monique Verduyn

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Xoliswa Kakana

Vital Stats

Xoliswa Kakana was a busy kid. While other children did chores to earn pocket money, she liked taking things apart to see how they work, fixing people’s watches, irons and other electronics.

When she came across an article in the early 80s about a Japanese woman engineer who was also an astronaut, her mind was set and she signed up for an electronics engineering degree.

In 1999, she launched ICT-Works to create what she calls “an environment that would allow women ICT professionals the space and freedom to express themselves.”

We asked her to describe how she built a business that has won many industry sector awards alongside some of the biggest corporates in the country.

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Did you face any hurdles at the outset?

It was challenging, but we persevered and ensured that every contract we signed was delivered on. Because it was critical to build a track record, we had to take on some projects that were not immediately profitable.

Starting up in such a male-dominated field, how did you go about convincing clients that you were right for the job and could be relied upon?

The overarching thing is that people buy from people, so they buy from people they already have a relationship with. Therefore, that’s where you feel most that you are a woman – because our male colleagues get to know each other on the golf course and other social spaces that women are not easily let into.

Once you get past that hurdle, for most people the fundamentals are the same – they want to be assured that the job will get done, and that you can be relied upon to deliver.

There are companies that recognise these impediments for women and for black people, and they have taken deliberate, bold action to do something about it. Coega, for example, issued a large tender near the beginning of ICT-Works’ journey.

It was stipulated in the terms of the contract that Deloitte would be the lead partner on the project for 18 months, with ICT-Works as the junior partner. Thereafter, ICT-Works would take over as the lead partner in the consortium on all project responsibilities for the remainder of the contract.

That was one of the key projects that gave us a track record, credibility and a relatively large income over an extended period. This positioned us for future opportunities.

How did you set the business on a growth path?

When I realised that my capabilities were stretched, I asked for help in the right places, inviting my business partners Sindile Ncala and Margaret Sibiya to leave their corporate jobs and join me.

When we were smaller, we relied a lot on fleet-footedness. We were opportunistic, chasing anything and everything that came our way. Our roles changed every day.

One moment I was a CEO who doubled as a sales person, the next I was a bid writer, and after that, the main delivery resource. I even swept the floor when necessary. You have to be willing to do anything in the early stages.

How did you establish these partnerships? How did the early phases of your operation provide a suitable platform for these partnerships?

You have to have something you’re offering to the larger partner that they don’t have. Like any relationship, you need to stick with each other through challenging projects. These partnerships need to be long-term and strategic in nature.

We offered larger, more established partners the agility of a small company. When the owners themselves are practitioners, as is the case with ICT-Works, they are not simply the face, but are in fact doing the work.

Our larger partners get three highly skilled and experienced black women and their team working with them on technically demanding jobs. An added bonus is that our overheads as a smaller entity are minimal.

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How and when did you secure a coveted Oracle Platinum Partner distinction?

xoliswaOracle has a set criteria for partners to achieve in order to qualify for recognition as an Oracle Platinum partner. We have achieved product specialisation in more than five product areas, which is evidence of breadth and depth of expertise.

This means that as a Platinum Partner, our clients can be assured of the highest level of knowledge in the development, implementation and support of their Oracle environment.

ICT-Works first achieved the Oracle Platinum status in 2010 when we displayed our depth of knowledge and innovation around the Oracle product, which led to being awarded the National Government’s IFMS contract.

Did you make any mistakes?

We made many mistakes, but we learnt from each of them. Firstly, we underestimated the amount of selling we would have to do, because we assumed that, in a BEE environment, being 100% black-women owned and managed would give us an advantage.

Instead, it demanded ten times more effort and continues to. We were always being called upon to prove ourselves.

We also misjudged the need for start-up and working capital. I launched the business armed with one month’s salary and a big chunk of my mother’s pension. The cash-flow lesson was a hard and rough one. We had never anticipated late payments and lack of customer readiness.

Lastly, we underestimated the long decision-making cycles typical in Government. As a result, there were times in the beginning when we had to borrow money from our home loans to be able to pay our staff, ourselves and some of our suppliers.

To build a track record, you took on jobs that weren’t immediately profitable. What were these jobs, and how did you balance them with those that were lucrative?

Typically, these projects would be in areas that require high levels of innovation. In such cases, ICT-Works took a strategic decision to invest in high-value opportunities by taking smaller margins if we saw that there was scope for us to innovate and develop further IP for ourselves that could be used more profitably on other opportunities down the line.

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Once you’ve packaged the IP and know-how on the non-profitable projects, this eventually balances out because you are able to replicate the offering more efficiently, and at a lower cost, thus improving your margins.

It was also at this early stage that we learnt one of our key success drivers – partnering. Our strategic partnerships have helped propel us to the next level.

We are an Oracle Platinum Partner, which is the second highest level of partnership, and few companies have that recognition in this country.

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+.

Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

Savvy Business Sale Spells New Life

With woman’s month nearly at the end- take some inspiration from business woman, Sue Kiley. Who discusses, how selling her business paved a way for bigger and better opportunities for her to re-invent herself and how Andrew Bahlmann’s professional guidance, was pivotal in making this business transaction – a “Savvy Business Sale”.

Andrew Bahlmann

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Breaking up is hard to do – even if you have made a rational decision that the time has come to sell the business you built up, the exit process is never easy, says businesswoman Sue Kiley. But she feels that since she and business partner Gordon Slater sold Johannesburg-based boiler company Dryden Combustion, she has been freed her to reinvent herself.

Kiley had joined Industrial Plant and Machinery, Dryden’s parent, in 1981, working her way up from receptionist/secretary to running Dryden by 1988. She and Slater, who had joined Dryden in 1989, were both given minority shareholdings by owner George Roberts in 1991. In 1997, Roberts sold his remaining interest to them.

“We poured our hearts and souls into growing the business for two decades, then it slowly dawned on us that it was our turn to consider whether we were ready to go through another round of expansion or whether we would sell on,” says Kiley. “It felt daunting and frightening but we are sure that both we – and ultimately our buyers – benefited extensively from the professional guidance we received from acquisitions expert Andrew Bahlmann.

“Selling up can be like a messy divorce or a death in the family with everyone squabbling over access to assets. Instead, it was a savvy and controlled negotiation leading to a well-managed handover.”

Related: 5 Truths Women Need To Grow A Successful Business

Kiley and Slater had built Dryden into a thriving business, increasing staff from nine to more than 70, for instance. Both recognised that their business had “hit some ceilings” and certain departments needed the benefits of substantial expansion.

“We realised that we had reached our limit and did not really want to change how we worked by bringing in new partners, doubling staff and substantially increasing factory capacity, even though this was what both the company and our staff needed,” says Kiley.

They opted for Bahlmann’s professional and hands-on sales offering because they wanted to avoid the more perfunctory way in which some business brokers simply post their portfolio of businesses for sale on the internet.

“We assumed that our business would go to our opposition but Andrew pointed out we were selling future business potential to a buyer that wanted to expand into our sector,” says Kiley. “We ended up with international offers on the table from India, Belgium and Pakistan, as well as South Africa.”

Kiley and Slater chose the offer from Cape Town’s Energy Partners, part of the PSG Group, not because it was the highest but because it made such a good fit with Dryden. Recognising and working with the intense emotional aspects of selling your business was an important aspect of Bahlmann’s guidance, says Kiley.

“Your company is your life and opening up our floor and our books to strangers made us feel very exposed,” she recalls. “Andrew ensured we were well prepared and fortunately I have always been a stickler for proper governance.

“This ensured that everything had been recorded and referenced, making the company far more saleable than if its history and processes are just in the owner’s memory. In fact, we accomplished due diligence in four days instead of at least six weeks.”

Preparing to part ways with the business and staff was inevitably emotional, especially as many employees had been with the company for at least 10 years. Kiley and Slater were as transparent as possible, sharing with staff the fact that the business would be sold as soon as they had engaged with Bahlmann.

Related: Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

“It was pivotal to us that Energy Partners wanted to retain our staff,” says Kiley. “Becoming part of a larger company and group also gave staff opportunities for career growth that would not have happened with us.”

Dryden’s staff were not the only ones to enjoy career growth. After a handover year as semi-employees at Energy Partners, Kiley semigrated to Knysna where she is currently launching a completely different new business – collaborating with a young designer on the Roze Collection, a fashion label for plus-size women with sales run online.

“Selling Dryden was the right decision for all of us,” says Kiley. “The new owners are taking the company to exciting new levels that we would never have undertaken and our former staff are really happy and thriving on this.

“Gordon felt ready to retire and is enjoying it. I didn’t want to look for a new business partner but still wanted to have an exciting reason to wake up in the morning, something to plan and strategise about.”

Kiley believes selling Dryden enabled them both to move on completely and she is delighted with her opportunity to reinvent herself.

“I have always loved fabrics and fashion so I have a fresh start working with a lifetime passion,” she says. “Those around me comment on how the change has completely re-energised me. I am having the time of my life and selling up made this possible.”

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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

How I Run An International Business From A Remote Beach Town In The Eastern Cape

Chanelle Segerius-Bruce of www.Segeriusbrucecoaching.com talks through how she does business with a world-wide audience of entrepreneurs from her home in a rural part of the Eastern Cape.

Chanelle Segerius-Bruce

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We’re so lucky to live in this era where the world has become a very small place.

With the right set of skills and IT infrastructure behind them, I believe anyone can set up to work from literally anywhere, including the South African beach town of Jeffrey’s Bay where I have been working with a varying international client base since the beginning of 2016.

Whether it’s a virtual assistant, coaching, consulting, web design, copywriting or translation work, I have seen a mass of companies starting up that don’t require regular face-to-face meetings. In fact, I believe face-to-face meetings are almost outdated with Skype and Zoom being so successful in bringing teams together.

After doing a year-long coaching programme with one of the top multi seven-figure earning coaches from the USA, I now have the confidence to charge in USD $ so that I can leverage the currency conversion which works out nicely for me in South Africa. I’ve been able to help people do the same thing too.

One of my clients is a branding and website designer based in Knysna and she’s able to work with clients globally too. When she lost her house last year in the big fires, she was able to save her laptop and backup drive and therefore save her livelihood even though her entire home burnt down! Imagine what would have happened if she lost her laptop too.

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

The first thing I did when I looked at our beachfront property to rent was check the Internet line speed. To run an online business, you need to have the best Internet connection available. We have a 10 Meg uncapped ADSL line and I believe they’ll be installing fibre optic soon. Don’t skimp on this technology.

The way I attract international clients is by giving value-led video training sessions using live streaming such as Facebook Live. This is the fastest way to show people you know what you’re talking about and they can decide if they want to connect with you.

Build a community

I have a thriving Facebook group, with over 2,000 members, where people feel safe to ask questions about their business and everyone’s able to get to know each other. By having your own Facebook group and being seen as a leader you automatically gain authority.

Become an influencer

Use Instagram and Facebook to show behind the scenes, share where you travel to, what you like and share your unique perspective. Create a personal brand online, be visible, show up and stand out. Although some people have an issue with becoming more visible online, my coaching skills do come into play when I’m helping people with confidence issues or impostor syndrome. They key is to give practical marketing, social media and personal branding advice.

Work on your money mindset

As South Africans, many of us grew up being told “money doesn’t grow on trees” and many of you may have a mentality that needs to be changed, especially when it comes to having the confidence to charge your worth and even charge in USD $.

Finally, outsource as much as you can as fast as you can

Ask yourself “Who else could be doing this task?” Keep in your “Zone of Genius” and get a virtual assistant, web developer, bookkeeper and a cleaner to help you with all the things that take up your time. Stick to the things that only you can do in your business, like creating content, showing up on video and planning out your bigger picture plan.

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Business Advice for Women Entrepreneurs

Rapelang Rabana’s Innovation Formula – 3 Key Ingredients To Innovate

To be a success in today’s fast paced world, you need innovation at the heart of everything you do.

Nadine Todd

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The innovation formula is simple: According to tech entrepreneur Rapelang Rabana, innovation is at its best and greatest when it’s sourced from your unique perspective and accumulated wisdom, combined with shared value and execution.

At this year’s BCX Disrupt Summit, Rapelang broke the process down into the three key ingredients that together shape innovation and success.

1. Prepare your mind

Your ability to innovate and be creative is based on the sum of all of your experiences. Great ideas do not take shape in our minds, they are the result of external stimulus hitting a prepared mind. We don’t think up ideas — we notice them. We connect the dots in new and creative ways. And our ability to do so is based on how prepared we are to notice what’s happening around us, and to tap into that information.

When asked what it takes to be great like Richard Branson, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, Musk’s ex-wife, Justine Musk had this advice to offer:

“Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. It helps to have an ego, but you must be in service to something bigger if you are to inspire the people you need to help you.”

Related: 10 Young Entrepreneurs Under 30 Share Their Start-Up Secrets

So, ask yourself this: What do you have that is so deeply compelling and needed that no one can outsource you or replace you? Until you can answer this question, keep building your mind, your abilities and your knowledge. Work on your repository, and your ability to connect the dots.

2. Create shared value

thato-kgatlhanye-bagsThato Kgatlhanye, founder of the Rethaka foundation, an organisation that creates school bags that are also solar panels, and can provide schoolgoers with energy in the evening so that they can do their homework, says that she is money-driven, business-driven, and empathetic towards her people. In other words, her business is created through shared value, and the desire to not only create money for her business, but within her communities as well.

Most successful organisations would never have been launched  if their primary focus was for the business to win. People are hungry for things that are inclusive and show positive change.

Consider Airbnb — the founders had the audacity to put a blow-up mattress in their livingroom, and believe that other people would find value in their offering. And they were right, mainly because the business model is all inclusive. The business wins, the hosts win and the customers win.

According to Nielsen, 40% more social entrepreneurs are growing compared to other SMEs, and they’re showing greater profit. In addition, people say they are more likely to purchase from ethical and sustainable businesses. The cynics might say this is what people say, not how they buy. This may be true, but it’s also a leading indicator of how we will behave in the future. We’re trying to get there, and our behaviour will catch up to the sentiment.

Always be cognisant of how responsive the market is. Learn to leverage public sentiment and get attention through the ideal of shared value. Winning with others is the fastest way to create value today.

Related: 20 South African Side-Hustles You Can Start This Weekend

3. Get stuff done

When we start a project or idea, we try to project into the future. We want to draw a linear picture between now and then. The problem is that creation is far more chaotic.

Instead, minute variations over time create profound changes. It’s a journey. There are no defining moments of success or failure; just a series of events strung together over time. To make the necessary minute variations though, you need data points and you need to take action. Often this starts with just beginning. If you start, you can move forward, slowly but surely. Progress is far more evolutionary than simply trying to imagine the end.

The problem is that the mind blocks us. We essentially block ourselves from success. How? Building anything and trying to be innovative requires a series of many, many decisions made over years and years. Many of those decisions are made — or not made — from a place of fear. Our instincts tell us to do something, and then our minds stop us. The most incredible things can happen if we learn to follow our instincts though.

the-five-second-rule-mel-robbinsIn her book, The Five Second Rule, Mel Robbins unpacks the skill of acting on your instincts. In essence, the space between your instinct and the moment of hesitation that stops you from acting is five seconds. This means you have five seconds to make things happen, and the way to utilise that time and to make things happen is to count down from five: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. At one, move. Get up, take action, call the client, speak to your boss — don’t let fear come in and crush the instinct.

Why a countdown? A countdown suspends — for a moment — the self-doubt that gives you space to move before the brain kills it. I started using the rule for small stuff at first. A countdown in the morning to get out of bed and go to gym. Then I started using it for the harder stuff, like not losing my temper. If you can be aware enough to make the countdown, you can change your behaviour.

The ability to execute and turn innovation into profit comes down to a series of five-second moments over years. Push yourself. Get past your mental blocks and act on your instinct.

Combine this with building on your knowledge, connecting the dots around you, and understanding that value is not given or taken, but is created through shared value, and you have the recipe for innovation and success.


IN YOUR TOOLKIT

Focus on learning new stuff

FACT: The super-successful focus heavily on learning new skills, reading practical books and listening or watching podcasts, interviews and informational courses.

Take best-selling author and leadership coach Simon Sinek, who said:

“My work is never complete, we wake up with a hunger to learn, and no one is ever truly an expert. Anyone who says, ‘I’m an expert at anything’ has closed their mind to the idea that they might not know everything. There’s always more to learn. I’ve never considered myself an expert. I’m always a student of leadership. All the work is imperfect and all the learning is continuous.”

Action Step: If you can read 20 full pages a day, or even listen to an hour-long audio/podcast, you will accumulate more than 36+ books a year of new knowledge.

Start here: If you’re not sure where to start, download the audible app (audible.com) and browse the business books available, or subscribe to podcasts. Three great places to begin are:

  • Trailblazers with Walter Isaacson, a show focused on disruption and hosted by the biographer of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin amongst others.
  • The Tim Ferriss Show, hosted by Tim Ferriss and one of the biggest podcasts on the planet.
  • Masters of Scale, hosted by LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, who chats to some of the worlds biggest and most successful entrepreneurs.

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