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Alicen Naicker Tried-and-Tested Tips To Bootstrapping Your Start-Up

When Alicen Naicker quit her job she had no idea what she was going to do next. But she had R2 000 left after paying her bills, and so she sat down and thought about something that everyone needed. The answer? Chairs.

Nadine Todd

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  • Player: Alicen Naicker
  • Companies: Quality Solutions and Rent-A-Tainment
  • Launched: 2015 and 2017
  • Visit: qualitysolution.co.za

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You can bootstrap a business with limited funds. You just need to get started. Start small, and trade — money in, money out. That’s the secret to launching a bootstrapped business.

Why entrepreneurship: Working in the chemical engineering industry, Alicen travelled extensively in her position. When her daughter fell ill and she was unable to get back to Joburg in time, she realised a change was needed. Her employer was unwilling to change her travel schedule, and so Alicen resigned. Family had to come first. Starting a business wasn’t planned though. After paying her bills she had R2 000 left — and had to make it work.

It doesn’t sound sexy. It’s certainly not a high-tech business. But Alicen Naicker has tapped into an underserviced niche with a huge clientele. Her clients include churches, funeral parlours, schools, crèches, corporate clients and SMEs. She has 1 200 repeat customers on her books, including the Free State Department of Education. She services clients in Swaziland, Namibia and Zimbabwe. And it all started with 50 chairs and a steel table — which was all she could afford with her R2 000.

Related: How Circumstances Forced Jerusha Govender To Become An Entrepreneur And Why She Succeeded

These are the eight lessons Alicen has learnt from bootstrapping her business.

1Start with a need

“I had limited funds, and I needed to put what I had to work in such a way that it could generate continuous income. That meant I didn’t want to sell something — I wanted to rent it out. What does everyone need, and yet never have enough of? The answer seemed obvious: Chairs. Functions are happening all the time, and people have to hire what they need for them.”

Alicen had a colleague who had a friend in the chair manufacturing business. She reached out to him, and purchased 50 chairs and a steel table.

“While the stock was en route I posted an advert on gumtree and OLX. Before the chairs had even arrived I had my first customer — a man whose wife was having a baby shower, and they needed chairs.”

Alicen rented the equipment out for R800, and by Sunday, as it was returned it was hired out again, this time for a Sunday evening function. Just like that, her investment was working for her, making money.

2Reinvest your profits

When you’re bootstrapping you’re starting off a small base that you need to grow. The only way to do this is to consistently reinvest your profits into the business. Alicen worked from home, ensuring she had no overheads. All she needed was a laptop and a cell phone.

“I purchased additional stock as soon as I made enough to do so, and put it to work,” she explains.

Related: Women Who Lead: Bonnie Cooper And Esna Colyn On Wearing The Mantle Of Leadership

3Pay attention to opportunities and pivot where necessary

Rentals were the best way for Alicen to get into business, but she soon realised that’s not where the market was. “A church from Springs contacted me. They wanted to know if they could purchase 50 chairs for R2 600.

“They couldn’t afford to rent each weekend. I had good contacts, and could supply them quality chairs at a very small mark-up. I realised this was a business opportunity, and I’d built up enough cash flow to get started — I could purchase stock and sell it to specific sectors that needed a constant supply of chairs.”

And just like that, Alicen became a stockist and seller of chairs, tables, chair covers, table covers and other related items — for adults and children.

“My stock turnover time is two days. I pay careful attention to the market so that I purchase the right stock — I don’t want to be left sitting with stock that doesn’t sell, as this kills cash flow.” 

4Keep your overheads low

Alicen works from home and doesn’t have a warehouse. She ensures a quick turnaround of stock to make this work, which means she needs to pay careful attention to what sells and what doesn’t. She has a laptop and a cellphone, and she invites clients into her home.

“It builds trust. I’m happy to do business from home; it’s personal. My clients travel from all over South Africa, and the nature of their businesses is also personal, whether it’s a church or an entrepreneur starting their own business. I’m a start-up — fancy offices and warehouses are completely unnecessary — my focus needs to be on building the business.”

Related: Why Donna Rachelson Believes The Secret To Your Business Success Lies With Women

5Find alternate streams of revenue

The market for chairs and tables is large, but Alicen had been in the rentals game, and she knew there was a need there as well — and that she could assist business owners with a ‘business in a box’ concept.

“I offer combos: Chairs, tables, jumping castles and so on. You can purchase the entire kit from me, and all you need to do is market and start renting out. I’ve created an additional client base in this way — and as their businesses grow, my business grows. It’s also a great way to supplement income. For example, I work with corporate employees who rent out chairs and tables on the side.”

6Understand your market

“I’m not a manufacturer, I’m essentially a middle man competing with well-known retail brands, and so I’ve needed to create a competitive niche for myself. First, my mark-ups are extremely low. This only works if I have high volumes though, so I’ve needed to concentrate on building those volumes up.

“You create loyal and repeat customers by building trust, and that’s done by really understanding your products, your market and what your competitors are offering. I know exactly what’s available, and what I’m offering in comparison.

“I can give good advice, because I understand my products, the different chair weightings and qualities, and what they can carry. Schools, churches and funerals — these are all places where you do not want chairs to break. Quality is important. I also always deliver what I say I will. My business is primarily built on repeat business and referrals, so this is important.”

7Ask your customers what else they need

Your biggest opportunities lie with your existing customers. Alicen recognised that the party rental industry is a big customer base for her, but they don’t always want to invest in high-end products — or they aren’t able to.

“I’ve launched a second business, Rent-A-Tainment, based on this concept. I’ve invested in four Zoballs, which I rent out to my customers who supply party equipment. Zoballs cost R25 000 each to purchase, and they’re expensive to maintain.

“This is an additional revenue stream for me, and I have a pre-existing client base who want them. Before I even launched, my calendar was full. I’m also not one rental company with its clients — I service an industry of rental companies, so the costs will be recouped quickly. The challenge was purchasing them in the first place.

“I was head hunted a number of times in 2016. In November I decided to take an offer that was local, with no travelling. I’m using that salary to grow my start-up and invest in high-end equipment, instead of using my profits and hurting my cash flow.”

8Don’t quit

“My family laughed at me when I said I was selling chairs, but I knew that it was something everyone needed, and I was right. This doesn’t mean it’s always been easy. There have been times when I haven’t had a cent in my hand, and others when I have more money than I know what to do with.

“Start-ups are all about highs and lows. The important thing is to not give up, keep pushing on, and reinvest your cash into the business during flush times. It will pay off.”

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Support for Women Entrepreneurs

A Great Time To Be A Woman In Business

South Africa’s growing band of female entrepreneurs have many lessons to teach us all.

Morné Stoltz

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South Africa’s growing band of female entrepreneurs have many lessons to teach us all. In our first article in this feature, Marine Louw showed us the power of passion.

In this article, Cresi Heslop offers living proof that opportunities are everywhere – if we can see them and are prepared to seize them. She is building a business by identifying opportunities as they open up and then working hard to exploit them.

“It’s all about using what you have and thinking a bit laterally,” Heslop says.

Heslop and her husband started a youth sports blog in order to provide a motivational platform for a new generation of South African sportsmen and – women. They saw the blog, Heslop Sports, as a labour of love, with no commercial intent. However, spending so much time among athletes did reveal a potential commercial idea: a towel specially designed with sports in mind and that South African athletes could use with pride, especially at international events.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

The result was a new business, Wonder Towel. Its flagship product is a microfibre towel designed to look like the South African flag, supplemented with a range of other microfibre products.

“Microfibre is environment-friendly because it’s so absorbent – it dries easily and stays fresh longer, and it takes less water to wash,” she says. “It’s also super light, thus great for travelling.”

Since then, the business has grown, selling primarily to the travel, beauty, baby and household markets, as well as the sports industry. Much of the selling is done via her online store and agents in Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria – as well as the e-commerce platforms. She singles out Takealot.com which, she says, does a great job in helping small businesses put themselves on the map.

She’s also just signed up a new distributor who is targeting independent schools, and schools with big water-sports teams.

Mentorship provided Heslop with welcomed inspiration and stability. She has built a solid relationship with a businesswoman who she respects enormously, Hendrien Kruger, the head of Inoar SA, which distributes a range of imported Brazilian hair products.

“We met seven years ago and I can turn to her at any point for sensible advice or just a good chat over a cuppa,” she says. “You should find some worthy people who inspire you in your field. They could even be people that you admire from a distance or whose books and lectures have become part of your way of seeing things.”

Because mentorship can play such a positive role, it’s vital that women offer themselves as mentors. Many successful women don’t realise how great an influence they could have on the next generation, starting what she calls a “cycle of future goodness”.

We’ve always heard about the power of the old boys’ club, and how it gives men a head start in business, but says Heslop, networks seem to be opening up.

“Female small-business owners are still in a bit of minority in South Africa, I believe however we are in a wonderful season of change at present,” she says.

Related: How Women Entrepreneurs Can Change the SA Business Landscape

“I recently had dealings with one of South Africa’s oldest and most established suppliers in a particular market sector, and I found them both welcoming and nurturing to an industry newcomer – something for which I am very grateful.”

Of course, entrepreneurs must also learn how to cope with challenges all the time. Heslop says that she keeps strong by sticking to a set of habits and actions. Her religious faith is an important mainstay and she daily affirms her commitment to making a difference, to being alert for hidden opportunities, and to spreading love and respect always.

“At the end of the day it will all boil down to confidence, belief in ourselves, joyous passion and delivering extremely high quality of products and services that will command respect and ensure us our rightful place in our beautiful nation’s economy,” she concludes.

MiWay is an Authorised Financial Services Provider (Licence no: 33970).

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Celebrating Women In The Signage And Printing Industry

The event will take place from 13-15 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.

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Women are increasingly making their mark on the traditionally male-dominated signage and printing industry. For those who want to enter this industry, or want to grow their businesses, the Sign Africa and FESPA Africa expo, co-located with Africa Print and Africa LED, offers many opportunities for entrepreneurs. The event will take place from 13-15 September at Gallagher Convention Centre.

Diane Jacobson, Managing Director at Ellis Lehman Signs, has been in the industry for 25 years, and enjoys being in a career that is dynamic, creative and interesting. ‘No two jobs are identical, and because it is an industry that serves a variety of businesses, it offers exposure to many types of people and companies,’ she said.

Related: Ideas To Start Your Own Business In Signage And Printing

‘I’ve worked with fantastic people and managed very interesting projects, from manufacturing plants to religious institutions, to petrochemical companies to retailers and sports events. I have met wonderful people over the years and have had the opportunity to travel to interesting places. It is an industry that has allowed me to grow my business skills in a creative space.’

Sign Africa candidates

Lehman’s key to success is understanding and servicing the needs of customers. ‘They are the lifeblood of all business. There is so much poor service out there, so doing things better and paying attention to detail and the final finished item sets anyone apart,’ she said.

Printing SA, the official trade federation representing printing, packaging and associated businesses in the industry, has a number of projects to empower women. The organisation runs a screen printing programme, which most recently trained 10 unemployed women from Cottonlands. The programme includes three elements: the theory of screen printing, practical application, and basic business skills that would assist in growing a small business.

A success story from the programme is Eunice Ngwenya, Managing Director of Eunique Printing, who completed Printing SA’s very first screen printing pilot course during 2014. Printing SA recommended Ngwenya to Konica Minolta South Africa.

Eunique Printing, which operates from Konica Minolta South Africa’s Johannesburg campus, has been in business for almost a year, employs three people and prints books, magazines, business cards, calendars, receipt books, brochures, invitations, photographs, as well as offering ring binding and glue binding services.

Ngwenya has always been interested in printing, and had done silk screening on plastic for 25 years. She is glad that she applied for the Printing SA training as it has led her to where she is today. ‘I’ve learnt so much from Printing SA, I wouldn’t be where I am without them, and with the help of Konica Minolta South Africa, I see myself going very far,’ she said.

Related: Celebrating The Multi-Faceted Woman

Sonja Groenewald is CEO of Colourtech Design & Print CEO, which has operated for 26 years. Its main focus is the publishing and education markets. The business has a unique set up as in addition to printing, there is also an in-house dispatch and deliveries division, which helps service 350,000 students.

Being in the printing industry, you’d think technology would be Colourtech’s most important asset, but it’s not. ‘Our staff are our most valuable resource – we consider each and every one of our employees as part of our family,’ said Groenewald.

They are integral to the business’ success. ‘I’ve always told my employees to treat each customer like royalty – whether a client is just popping in for a small pack of business cards, or taking on a major order. Good service is crucial.’


For more information about the Sign Africa, FESPA Africa, Africa Print and Africa LED expo’s, and to pre-register online, please visit: www.signafricaexpo.com/entrepreneur

 

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Celebrating The Multi-Faceted Woman

Fedhealth celebrates #WonderWomen this August for the multiple roles they take on and excel in.

Fedhealth

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Fedhealth celebrates #WonderWomen this August for the multiple roles they take on and excel in. Whether you’re the CEO of a multinational company, the CEO of your home, or managing both, we’ve got plans to cover you every step of the journey — so you can focus on what you do best.

In celebration of Women’s Month, Fedhealth celebrates the strong women in our lives, and the various roles they fulfil with commitment and enthusiasm.

From mothers to caretakers to business owners and mentors, “Sisters are doing it for themselves.” And, since women are the backbone of so many families and communities, women’s health deserves to be cherished, during pregnancy, the childbearing years, and beyond.

Related: Why Donna Rachelson Believes The Secret To Your Business Success Lies With Women

Fedhealth’s family focus recognises the maternal role and how important women are in the family decision-making process. Fedhealth will take care of your family and your children through family-focused plans like Maxima Basis.

Fedhealth’s role in each stage of a Woman’s health

When you are young and single, Fedhealth looks after you by providing the contraceptive benefit

Oral contraception, contraceptive patches and certain contraceptive injections, as well as IUDs, are covered from Risk on Maxima Plus, Maxima Exec, Maxima Standard, Maxima StandardElect and Maxima Basis.

When obtained at a pharmacy, GP or a gynaecologist, the cost will automatically be covered by the Scheme and funded from the Major Medical Benefit.

When you are ready to start a family, Fedhealth has amazing maternity benefits

The experience of becoming a parent is priceless, but sooner or later you’re going to run into the expenses involved with a pregnancy.

The actual cost of pregnancy and childbirth can be steep, especially if you don’t have medical aid. The price tag of a healthy pregnancy can really add up, starting with prenatal care to ensure a healthy baby and a healthy delivery.

You’ll need to visit your gynaecologist throughout your pregnancy. If you have medical aid, prenatal visits and diagnostic tests such as ultrasounds, will be covered. They are generally considered as ‘preventative’ care.

An ultrasound could cost anything between R600 to R800 upwards, while delivery could cost up to R13 000 at a private facility. Every day, scores of women in South Africa scramble to find a medical aid that will cover their pregnancy and childbirth.

Maxima Basis is an excellent medical aid option to consider if you’re thinking of starting a family in the future.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

At the later stages of your health, Fedhealth provides screening benefits

Yes, fifty being the new thirty would be particularly true for those who can afford good health care or have access to good health care.

Because of this, people are staying healthier for longer, and lives are starting later due to longer education times and difficulty finding jobs. People are settling down into careers in their mid to late twenties instead of earlier, making traditionally older ages, like 50, feel younger.

Women should have a general check-up every year, especially as you get older (even if you don’t feel like it yet). Have you scheduled yours?

Protect yourself against some of life’s nastier surprises by learning more about the most commonly misdiagnosed women’s illnesses:

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: When tasks such as getting ready for work, which usually require an hour take several hours, you may want to look into why. CFS affects women in their 40s and 50s. Women are four times more likely to suffer from this disease than men.

Multiple Sclerosis: Women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with MS, and it generally appears between ages 20 and 40. Having a mother with MS can be the strongest risk factor. Blurred or double vision, fatigue, tingling, dizziness, lack of coordination and tremors are symptoms to look out for.

wonder-women

Fedhealth has a strong social presence and, through the use of its blog, Fedhealth’s team will produce great articles along the #WonderWomen theme, such as women in the workplace, breastfeeding in your lunch hour and celebrating being single. To follow the blog, go to www.fedhealth.co.za/healthy-living-tips/

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