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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Busi Skenjana’s Two Core Rules Of Entrepreneurship

Busi Skenjana has tapped into a lucrative niche market by focusing on what she knows — and linking that to brands who need her knowledge and understanding.

Nadine Todd

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  • Player: Busi Skenjana
  • Company: Brand Support Keys (BSK) Marketing
  • Launched: 2002
  • Visit: bskmarketing.co.za

One of the first rules of entrepreneurship is to do what you know. It’s when you understand market’s unique challenges that you’re able to offer solutions to pain points that people are willing to pay for.

Busi Skenjana has been a stokvel member her entire adult life. It’s an industry she understands intimately, which is why it made sense for her to focus on this sector when she launched her own marketing business in 2002.

“I knew I needed to find a niche for myself, and this was a market I understood,” Skenjana explains. “I could also see where brands were getting it wrong. Big companies were doing these brand activations in black communities, but they were missing the mark. They tended to focus on taxi ranks and shopping malls, because they had the perception that this is where everyone is. They were missing a social path to their target market. Every Saturday there are thousands of stokvel meetings happening around the country. People are engaging with each other on a social level. It’s an engaged audience, and far more focused than people at taxi ranks or in malls.”

Related: Female-Power Getting On With The Business Of Building The Nation

Skenjana inherently understood two core rules of entrepreneurship and marketing: Understand your customers, their needs and their challenges, and determine the best way to relate your message in such a way that your audience cares about what you’re telling them, and can relate your product or service to their own lives.

Armed with this insight, she launched SBK Marketing.

Spotting an opportunity

Great businesses are often formed when an entrepreneur recognises two different groups of people who can benefit from each other, but do not necessarily have access to each other. Traditionally, magazines and newspapers use this model by providing advertisers access to a readership base, while making readers aware of products and services that relate to their lives and interests.

Another more recent example is the sharing economy. Uber and Airbnb are both based on this model, linking people with a product or service (in this case cars and accommodation), with people who need access to those products.

Skenjana recognised that the stokvel industry has over 800 000 clubs, 11 million members and spends R44 billion a year. It’s also a captive community audience. However, this didn’t mean that marketers automatically understand stokvels, or how the community works, particularly because stokvels exceed traditional socio-economic lines. Skenjana spotted an opportunity. She was uniquely positioned to bridge the gap between stokvel members and the brands who wanted access to them.

Focus on the customer

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Skenjana might have understood stokvels, but she needed a compelling pitch for marketers, and so she set about mastering stokvel touchpoints. It was another astute observation around business success. Simply being a member of a community is not enough. You need to critically analyse the motivations behind why consumers choose the brands that they do, which will give you insights into their needs and choices.

“My business is built around giving big brands access to stokvels in an environment conducive to hearing their message. This meant I needed to show the benefits of face-to-face interactions that are smaller and more personal than large activations at malls, where thousands of shoppers will walk past you. I needed to prove quality over quantity, and that required research and an in-depth understanding of stokvel members, as well as the business objectives of the brands who are my clients.”

Related: Out-The-Box Thinkers Shareen Parker and Silvana Dantu Share Their Partnership Secrets

Skenjana soon learnt that timing is everything. If you want to access Stokvels you need permission from all members and this can be a lengthy process. These insights gave her an edge over competitors, because she took the time to understand her market.

“Too many business owners focus on their own needs to the detriment of their businesses,” she says.

“If you put your market first and really focus on their needs, success will naturally follow, because you’ll be offering a service that adds real value to businesses and lives.”

Lessons learnt

  • Focus and passion are not just clichés — they’re the backbone of a successful business and career.
  • Continuously seek knowledge. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and I still don’t know it all. Far from it. I learn about my market and customer needs every day. Markets are dynamic, so you can never know enough.
  • Markets evolve. Stokvels have been around since 1932, but people change. Never assume you know everything about your customers or their needs. Always push to go deeper into their psyches.
  • Don’t make assumptions. Assumptions are the death of businesses.
  • Analyse your competitors. Not to copy them, but to stay ahead of them, and to keep pushing yourself to remain relevant.

Related: Kay Vittee’s 3 Steps To Winning The Talent War

Do This

Look at the world through your customers’ eyes. What are their needs, challenges and worries? How can you alleviate these issues? The path to success lies in the ability to put your customers’ needs first.

Company Posts

Designing Her Destiny

Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.

QuickBooks SA

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In 2011, Emmerentia van den Hoven took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her graphic design job at an agency and pursue her real passion – and it has paid off tenfold. Here’s her story.

“When I started planning my own wedding eight years ago, I fell in love with wedding design and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Designing for brands had become a set of rules rather than being creative, and I’d always wanted to work for myself. So, in September 2011, I turned my seven-month-old side gig into a fully-fledged business and launched Oh Yay!

I have to hustle every month to get new clients because every client will use my services maximum twice – first for the wedding invitations and then for the stationery on the day – so I don’t normally have returning clients.

Because my main business is seasonal and usually once-off per customer, I have branched out into branding for small businesses in the beauty and lifestyle industry. I also earn a passive income through the Oh Yay! online shop where I sell wedding décor items.  Oh Yay Kids – my other online store – is my passion project. I launched it just before my second child was born, adding items to the store that I made for my two boys when I saw a need for it. I then expanded into prints for nurseries and kids’ party stationery.

I work for myself and have no employees, so the fact that QuickBooks lets me load all my services, products and prices in one place makes running my business so much easier. Being an entrepreneur is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll be successful or not. But if you believe in and love what you’re doing, it reflects in your work and the service you give.”

Less admin, more of what you love

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When Oh Yay! was launched, along with her dream of being an entrepreneur, came the nightmare of other administrative tasks. But that changed in 2018 when Emmerentia started using QuickBooks.

“When I was using spreadsheets to balance my books, I was spending 80% of my time on admin, which left very little time to tend to customers’ orders. I now spend no more than 25% of my time on admin, which is important, especially when it comes to the speed at which I send quotes. You don’t get any work if you don’t send out quotes and it’s tough to juggle the admin with your actual job of running the business.

Numbers were never really my strong point, so having a professional quote done in record time not only projects professionalism, but the format also changes the way new clients see me. In my industry, the quicker you can send a quote out, the likelier you’ll get the clients’ business. It gives legitimacy to my business. The QuickBooks system operates so seamlessly that clients communicate with me differently, like I have my own accounting department, when in fact, I’m a one-woman-show.

I used to dread doing admin, but now it’s so easy and quick. I’m not just saying this – QuickBooks changed my life.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.

Diana Albertyn

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business

Embrace technology every chance you get.

Nadine Todd

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A company that’s been active for more than five decades in an industry that’s hundreds of years old doesn’t sound like a recipe for innovation — and yet that’s exactly what Luci Nouwens, owner of Nouwens Carpets, is focused on.

The modern carpet has a history that goes back thousands of years. And despite the hipster trend of reclaimed and hard wood flooring, the carpet still remains a popular choice for consumers.

In South Africa, a name that’s synonymous with quality carpeting is Nouwens. When Cornelis Nouwens arrived in the country in the 1950s, bringing the skills of a trade which he had mastered alongside his father in Tilburg, the hub of the Netherlands’ wool textile industry, he passed on the skills and the love of the craft to his family and to workers in the Harrismith region in KwaZulu Natal.

More than 50 years after her father started it in 1962, the company remains family owned, and is headed by Luci Nouwens, who has been with the business for 48 years.

“We have maintained our reputation for premium quality all this time by paying meticulous attention to crafting standards and selecting only the finest raw materials,” says Luci. “Equally important is that we have innovated at every opportunity, embracing technology without ever compromising the traditional craftsman’s spirit.”

Innovation drives growth

Businesses that innovate are able to grow and hire more employees. As a result, they grab a bigger share of the market. That’s true regardless of the size of your business: If you innovate, you can scale up.

In 1968 Nouwens launched a pure karakul wool carpet that was extremely hard wearing and took the company into the commercial carpet market. Luci recalls the manufacturing of the carpet as “a major feat of unique textile engineering.” Another innovation in 2005 was the introduction of a totally new style of flat weave wool carpet, a very clean, minimalist and natural look requiring much less wool without compromising on wearability.

“These innovations are just two of many that have allowed the business to boost its market share over the years,” says Luci. “But beyond that, innovation has enabled Nouwens Carpets to form the backbone of economic activity and upliftment in the local community around Harrismith. This has allowed us to make substantial investment in providing education and skills development for the local population, to ensure that the craft is preserved for generations to come.”

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

Innovation enables sustainability

Innovation in technologies and how they are applied is key to enabling a manufacturer like Nouwens to create new business value, while also protecting the planet.

“We have used technology to enable sustainable manufacturing, for the benefit of the business, the community, and our customers.”

Nouwens selects equipment, materials and manufacturing methods based on their degree of sustainability and protection of the environment. The company is also a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and submits its products for VOC testing to ensure that harmful emissions are significantly reduced.

“Ultimately, we are driven by a passion for textiles and the ability to constantly find better ways to produce beautiful products. After the downturn in the economy, we started to produce more cost-effective commercial nylon yarns, and in 2017, we became the new kid on the block for synthetic grass. The bottom line is that a true entrepreneur does what has to be done when the time comes.” — Monique Verduyn

The role of disruption in creating value

A disruptive business is a business that challenges and potentially changes the status quo. From a mindset point of view, a culture that questions ‘why’ can help foster organisational and market disruption. But disruption for the sake of disruption is self-defeating, it needs to be on the back of making things better and based on commercial principles, i.e. people or market players actually wanting to be disrupted.

The starting point is this: Does someone, or a market, value what you’re producing? If the answer is yes, you have a commercially viable disruption. Disruption that is valued by its target market has the best chance of resulting in success.

Get that right and you’ll have a customer base, you’ll gain traction and you’ll attract investors, provided you’re also making a meaningful and sustainable difference to your target market or community. — Ian Lessem, CEO, HAVAIC Investment and Advisory Firm

Collaboration

Team up with customers and competitors.

There’s more power in collaboration than competition. We’re stronger together than when we’re apart. When it comes to working with competitors, consider this: They may have something that you don’t, or vice versa, and 50% of something is always more than 100% of nothing. You’re then positioned to add value before you add an invoice, so your clients benefit from your relationships, and the market wins. From there, you become your client’s go-to-person, because you’re putting them first.

Customers are also a great source of knowledge: They might just have the answers you’re looking for, but are you asking them the right questions? They often know more about an entrepreneur’s business than they know themselves, because they’re on the receiving end of your offering. One way to collaborate with customers is to ask them more questions about yourselves, themselves and their clients. Harness their perspective and develop yourself to give them what they want, not what you think they want. — Wes Boshoff, founder, Imagine Thinking

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

PR

Know what your audiences are interested in

As a brand, there are many ways to ensure your audience is paying attention to you, but you can’t expect them to find you unless you’re sharing content that captures their interest. If you send out press releases, don’t be too rigid or plain. Audiences want to be engaged, and not to have to deal with long, cumbersome information. An infographic, along with a video or pictures will make your release easier to ingest and more memorable. People don’t want boring figures, they want relatable stories.

One way to be relatable is by tapping into influencer marketing. This doesn’t mean you need celebrities with the highest followings to endorse you. Micro-influencers are proving to have just as much clout as those with larger followings. Evidence shows that micro-influencers have a more established and deeper connection with their audience, which translates to loyalty and a readiness to follow their advice. The trick is to find the micro-influencers who are speaking to the audience you want to reach.

Big data plays a key role in painting a picture of who is ‘out there’. With the right information, you can tailor your content to a specific audience. Big data can show you what topics and problems are trending in your industry, so that you can get the jump on them. Use big data to deliver your own insights on current topics, shaping and leading the conversation, converting your audience’s attention into action. — Madelain Roscher, founder and managing director, PR Worx and Status Reputation Management

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