In 2005 Donna McCallum had a good life and a successful marketing business in Cape Town. She also had a nagging feeling that something was missing, so she gave it all up and took a year’s sabbatical in South America.
“I had worked hard to build the business and I was tired,” she says. “I also wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do next, so travelling seemed like a good idea.”
It was on a night bus from Cordoba to Mendoza that she had what she describes as a vision that revealed to her the purpose of her life. “I had to become a fairy godmother,” she says. “There was no rationale behind this. I just woke up and knew that I had to help other people achieve their dreams and goals.”
Coming home and telling her friends and family that she wanted to be what most people see as a cartoon character was not easy. “I had no idea how I was going to turn my vision into a workable proposition, so there was no business plan to work from.”
The breakthrough moment
What McCallum did have on her side, however, was that she had always been an entrepreneur. “I applied what I had learnt over the years and started off in a consulting role in which I helped people become clear about their own visions, dreams and goals, and supported them with time, advice, and skills.” She funded this early stage through a split equity model, but she did not really have enough of her own equity to do this in the long-term.
She then designed and held her first workshop in Cape Town. It was a huge success and she began setting them up around the country. The workshops help people to understand what they really want and how to incorporate this into their lives.
They get to create a dream map outlining goals, learn the next steps to turn those goals into successes, understand where and how to focus their energies, and how to overcome fears. These events, along with talks and online programmes have become the mainstay of the business.
Taking the business online
It was in 2009 that she launched her online courses and the business really took off. It grew by 75% that year and has since grown by an average of 35% each year. Three quarters of its revenue is generated through the online course material.
“Launching the online programmes has shown me just how amazing the Internet is for delivering content and training, and also for reaching an international audience,” she says.
McCallum also runs the Conscious Creators Community which gives members access to new personal development training resources each month. These learning modules, ebooks, videos, audio interviews, and webinars all contain tools and practical strategies that members can use to help them achieve greater success in their lives.
“The uniqueness of the business now lies in the comprehensiveness of our offering,” she says. “People who attend the workshops and want ongoing support to help them live their dreams are able to get it all from us.”
The majority of McCallum’s clients are women. “They are more comfortable than men with the wings and wands,” she says. “But mostly they are people who have reached a crisis point in their lives – mothers whose young children have started school, or whose children have finished studying and are moving out, and women who want to leave the corporate world and start their own business.”
Word of mouth advantage
A marketer through and through, McCallum has always publicised her business widely, and has been lucky to get a huge amount of media coverage thanks to the range of topics she is able to speak on. Word of mouth, however, is her biggest marketing tool with people who attend her workshops encouraging their friends and family to do so too.
Player: Donna McCallum
Company: Fairy Godmother
Contact:+27 (0)84 207 0202
A magical experience
Like Cinderella’s fairy godmother, McCallum waves her magic wand to make everything better – together with her wings and fairy dust, it’s part of the magic toolkit she uses to turn people into dreamers who have vision and goals and who dare to do things with their lives.
“A fairy godmother cares about people and loves to make them happy,” says McCallum. “It’s a gimmick that works simply because it’s fun and light. It makes people smile and suspend their disbelief. It also helps to break down barriers and encourages them to relax and let go of some of their inhibitions.”
Systematising the business
There are many things to do in a business that are repeated again and again, and the best way to streamline is to create and document systems and processes that are easily repeatable. This is particularly important for small business owners like McCallum, who says her strengths do not lie in managing people.
For her, systems and processes drive the business and release her from day-to-day operations to focus on the more strategic aspects of the business. Well-documented systems and processes have led to greater efficiency, consistency, reliability and service at Fairy Godmother.
“One of the ways we have achieved this is by homing in on what we love to do and outsourcing everything else. We have created a ‘not to do’ list which allows us to outsource all repetitive and menial tasks instead of employing additional staff and having to manage them. For example, anything to do with the logistics of arranging a workshop is managed by one of our partners in whichever city we are going to. It’s a way of operating that was triggered by my business partner who strives to live according to Tim Ferriss’s 4-hour work week philosophy. It’s made a huge difference to my life as I’m free now to do the things I want to do which makes me far more efficient.”
Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch
Don’t miss out on these 50 female trailblazers making an impact in the South African and international entrepreneurial space.
Here are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order
- Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling
- Charlotte Aubin
- Rapelang Rabana
- Lynn Baker
- Dylan Kohlstädt
- Noli Mini
- Stacey Brewer
- Nonkuthalo Thithi
- Daniella Shapiro
- Xoliswa Daku
- Lorren Barham
- Allegro Dinkwanyane
- Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
- Karen Carr and Hanneke Schutte
- Michelle Royston
- Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
- Magda Wierzycka
- Jennifer Da Mata
- Thuli Magubane
- Tracy Kruger
- Monalisa Zwambila
- Keri Stroebel
- Claire Reid
- Ramona Kasavan
- Carrie Leaver and Shona McDonald
- Donna Rachelson
- Mahadi Granier
- Liesl Esau
- Prudence Spratt
- Joyce Mnguni
- Janine Starkey
- Shamila Ramjawan
- Busi Skenjana
- Benji Coetzee
- Jerusha Govender
- Lauren Edwards
- Ouma Tema
- Annabel Biggar-David
- Jennifer Glodik
- Ntsoaki Phali
- Tara-Lee de Wit
- Kim Coppen-Watkins
- Mogau Seshoene
- Andy Golding
- Lien Potgieter
- Ezlyn Barends
- Rabia Ghoor
- Katy Valentine
- Leah Molatseli
- Lynette Ntuli
“Globally, women entrepreneurship rates are growing more than 10% each year. In fact, women are as likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets,” says Karen Quintos, EVP and chief customer officer at Dell.
The growing momentum of female entrepreneurship can clearly be seen in this comprehensive list of 50 of South Africa’s finest. Although this movement has far from reached its peak, for those looking for inspiration, lessons or businesses to invest in, look no further than this list of female pioneers.
How Portia Mngomezulu Is Conquering The Highly Competitive Beauty Industry
A great product range backed by an ambitious vision and a determination to get the basics right is helping Portia Mngomezulu to conquer the highly competitive beauty industry.
- Player: Portia Mngomezulu
- Company: Portia M
- Est: 2011
- Visit: www.portiamss.com
Estee Lauder. Elizabeth Arden. L’Oréal. What is so special about these brands? Why aren’t Africans competing in this market? That’s the question that got cosmetics entrepreneur Portia Mngomezulu thinking.
A qualified systems engineer, and a curious entrepreneur by nature, Portia was always selling something that she had concocted.
In 2010, after she had a child, her mother-in-law suggested using marula oil to help with stretch marks. Portia went to her hometown of Phalaborwa, where she had grown up playing under marula trees, and procured the oil from local women. She saw the difference within a few weeks, and that was the seed that germinated into Portia M, a black-owned skin care manufacturing company that caters, in her words, ‘for every skin under the African sun’.
Keeping the retail dream alive
Portia started small. With a two-plate stove and a couple of pots, she manufactured her first batches of product; her ‘secret oil’, which she sold for R100 per bottle at church, and to friends who were pregnant. People kept buying. But she was adamant that she did not want to grow a network marketing business.
“From the start I was determined to compete at retail level,” she says. “I saw my product on the shelf next to the big international brands. Great and successful entrepreneurs have achieved their purpose and goal by setting a strong and clear vision, and by pursuing it with passion.”
Convinced that she was onto a sure thing, she approached the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and asked for help to have her products and formulas tested. Getting the legal paperwork right was a key step in the growth of the business, and one that would pay off later.
Personal care products are subjected to many different tests before being placed on the market for sale. Testing usually includes evaluations for product stability, purity, safety and the effectiveness of preservatives, which protect the product from deterioration. It’s a costly exercise. In 2012, SEDA arranged for the tests to be conducted by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) at Medunsa (now Sefako Makgato Health Sciences University). The process took around six months, during which she continued to sell, without taking a cent from the business.
Persistence, and the willingness to overcome a wide range of obstacles, usually determines the fate of a company. In Portia’s case, believing that she had the power to achieve whatever she wanted meant that mental barriers such as fear were never an issue.
After getting Makro to agree to stock Portia M at six of its stores, it took another two years to convince the buyers for Shoprite and Checkers to do the same.
“They eventually agreed to just 20 stores, as they wanted a test run. But I resolved not to take it personally. Instead, I used this time to perfect the range. It’s far easier to rectify mistakes when you have a small footprint. Now, our products are in more than 530 Shoprite and Checkers stores.”
She also took the opportunity to show her products to Absa at a trade show. The bank’s representatives were impressed, but said that it was too risky to finance a cosmetics business. Instead, they suggested she take part in a 14-city women in business roadshow they were running. She did, selling more than 30 000 skincare products.
“The last session was in Cape Town, and that was where I met Suzanne Ackerman, daughter of Pick n Pay boss Raymond Ackerman and transformation director of the group. She was impressed by the fact that I had tested the products and had barcodes in place. She encouraged me to approach the company’s buyers. They gave me the opportunity to sell in 20 Pick n Pay stores. It was a life-changing moment and I remember crying when I saw the brand on the shelves.”
The value of social proof
Her next challenge was marketing. With no budget available, she had to get the products moving off the shelves. Already accustomed to promoting Portia M to her friends on Facebook, she took her social media presence to the next level, having photos taken of the product range and encouraging people to try it out.
“Miraculously, customers started taking before and after images and telling their stories,” she recalls. The value of ‘social proof’ provided by these testimonials has been immeasurable, and is one of our key selling points — real people, real results. Today we have more than 200 000 followers on Facebook, over 12 000 on Instagram, and over 3 000 on Twitter. At Pick n Pay alone, our sales are worth more than R1 million a month.”
Portia M products are now sold in more than 1 200 stores nationwide. To export the range into other African countries, she has leveraged the operations of Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Clicks to enter Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, and Swaziland.
“Because the paperwork required to export to African countries can be onerous, it made sense to partner with established retailers, convince them to distribute my products for me, and expand the business in this way.”
Words of advice
- When a brand is new and unknown: “To grow a brand from scratch, you need to build strong relationships with retailers and sustain excellence in delivery. When they place an order, make sure it gets there on time.”
- When you are competing against multinationals: “Respect the industry, but understand that your competitors also had to start somewhere. Vision and self-belief are key. We are just as capable as global companies of producing top quality products.”
- When you are trying to get shelf-space: “Shelf space is critical, and you earn it through sales. Our sales are based on testimonials, proving that effective marketing does not have to cost a fortune.”
- When you need to keep your cash flowing: “Negotiate payment terms with retailers. I have seven-day, 14-day, 30-day and 45-day payment agreements with different retailers, ensuring that my cash flow is always positive.”
In 2015, Portia was named the overall winner of the Tshwane Exporters Awards, thanks to the fact that she registered as an exporter with South African Revenue Services. Representatives from The Innovation Hub invited her to pitch the business, and she was given a small office as well as a 40m2 factory. Today that space has grown to 500m2.
“Moving from home to a factory space was another defining moment,” she says. “I had a team of biochemistry students coming to work for me, using my stove and my pots. It was very embarrassing. They laughed at me at first, but they also believed in me. Together, we formalised the business and one of those students is now the factory supervisor.”
In 2017, she was named a National Gazelle by the Department of Small Business Development and SEDA. She won a grant of R1 million, enabling her to buy additional manufacturing equipment and a truck.
Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs
What lies ahead?
Portia has an audacious five-year goal — to penetrate the African market and to compete comfortably with Africa’s favourite skincare brands. Part of that plan is to get retailers like Dis-Chem and Woolworths on board.
“When I visit other countries on the continent, they want to know how successful the brand is at home,” she says. “To win customers, we differentiated Portia M by providing a tried and tested product, and also by using a uniquely African ingredient that is well-known on this continent. More than anything, I believed in the product before I expected anyone else to, and that has made all the difference.”
Start with a vision
Portia was determined to see her products on retail shelves alongside international giants. She knew this vision was the most important starting point in achieving her goals.
Start small to achieve big
Get into the market so that you can tweak and perfect your product while it’s still small. This is much easier to do while you still only have a few customers on board, and it will give you the foundations for a much larger business.
Access Government Programmes
There are a number of programmes and funds supporting local manufacturers, from access to international markets, to assistance with compliance and even funding. Do your research and tap into them.
Erna Basson Of Erabella Hair Extensions On Acting The Part And Finding The Gap
Erna Basson says that building your own empire is one of the toughest things you can do, but also one of the most rewarding. She unpacks the lessons she has learnt that have helped her launch and grow three businesses into sustainable brands.
- Player: Erna Basson
- Company: Erabella Hair Extensions
- Est: 2017
- Visit: www.erabellahairextensions.com
- Career highlights:
- Named South Africa’s top entrepreneur under 30 for 2017
- Global female entrepreneur of the year 2017
- Top 100 most influential young South Africans 2017
- Interviewing Grant Cardone — 2018
- Opening speaker at the Mega Success event 2017 in Los Angeles.
Originally from Bloemfontein, Erna Basson has always been highly competitive. She completed a four-year bachelor’s degree in three years, while holding down several part-time jobs. She was first bitten by the entrepreneurial bug in her second year at UFS (University of the Free State). Her class was struggling with business law, so she read the text book and produced an annotated summary that she then sold to desperate students.
Today, she heads up Erna Basson Ltd, a business coaching and speaking venture; Woman Entrepreneur, a global platform empowering and educating female entrepreneurs from around the world on how they can start and scale their businesses; and Erabella Beauty Global, a premium hair extensions brand available in South Africa and globally.
On acting the part
“I was a cheerleader for the Cheetahs while I studied, and I also worked as a hostess at Cubaña,” she says. “I got the opportunity to do tons of promotions for liquor brands and that experience taught me how important it is to always be on point and professional, as the event sponsors could pitch up at any time to check on what was happening.”
After moving to Port Elizabeth with her now husband, Nellis Basson (who is also an entrepreneur), she started working for Gestetner and was out on a sales call at Distell when she heard the regional manager complaining about bad service from an events company. “I said to him, ‘if I can have a company up and running within 30 days, will you make use of my services?’ and he said ‘yes’. I walked into the company as an employee and walked out of the company with a new life and opportunity, and this has taught me a valuable lesson that I still follow every day. Take advantage of every opportunity, even if it scares you. You need to be out of your comfort zone to grow.”
That was one of the first principles she learnt, and which she speaks about to her global audiences.
“The bigger the problem you are solving for people, the more valuable you are to them, and the more money you will make.”
People are always searching for solutions. They will always look for better, faster and smarter ways to accomplish tasks. Erna knew that to grab her customer’s attention, she had to start by solving their problems. “If you can take a person from point A to point B, by identifying their crucial problem and then offering to solve it, you will be able to create a real business that matters.”
Another important thing happened that day. She went back to her boss and immediately told him what had transpired. “Honesty, loyalty and integrity have always been the three key pillars of my business, starting from then, and it paid off — Gestetner became a client soon after.”
She started the promotions business with no staff and she didn’t know anyone in Port Elizabeth. “I called up a friend of one of my husband’s friends and asked her to give me ten phone numbers, and then I asked each one of those women to give me another ten. I sold my Citi Golf so that I could have a small start-up fund, and then the business just took off. We got clients like SAB, MTN, Sony, Mango, Maybelline and L’Oréal. I was earning R450 000 for ten days’ work at the age of 23.”
She soon had seven permanent employees, and more than 500 promoters working on campaigns across the country. “Within a couple of years, I had created systems and processes, which enabled the company to reach its goals and function independently without having me in the business, making it a perfect opportunity to sell and move on to the next challenge.”
Finding the gap in the market
It was just before Erna got married that she came up with an idea for another venture — while she was looking for venues, dresses and décor ideas. “I kept on wishing there was one place where I could find everything related to weddings, and then I thought why don’t I create one?” That was how website and magazine Majestic Weddings was born, an online directory and monthly magazine. After growing it into a successful wedding planning tool, she sold that company in April 2017, through an international business broker, and used the profits to launch her hair extension company Erabella.
Transitioning from services to products
Erna had never run a product-based business before, but there’s a first time for everything, right? Problem is, product businesses are extremely hard to build and get traction for. They require upfront capital and investment, as well as a whole lot of excitement. Erna certainly had the latter, believing that every woman has the right to have gorgeous thick hair.
But there were some challenges:
- The output of a service-based company is intangible, but a product-based business sells goods that customers can see and touch.
- A services company does not have to keep goods in stock or maintain an inventory. The service is created or sold as and when the customer
- needs it.
- Service-based companies do not have to put up capital — they provide a service and the customer pays for it.
- In the service industry, you have maximum control — when it comes to a product based company, you sometimes don’t have control over certain things (like a late courier, or late imports, or increase of exchange rate) but it serves as a great opportunity to apply more systems and processes to lower the risk.
“I had to buy stock for the first time. Different lengths of hair extensions, and different colours. Suddenly, I had invested more than R1 million, just like that. What’s more, in South Africa, there is a 20% import duty, which immediately raises the price of your product, making it more difficult to compete globally.”
There was another problem too. Erna had decided that Erabella would be an online business, but it didn’t grow as fast as she wanted it to and she quickly had to change the business model. “That’s when I realised that you cannot take business personally. The minute you invest emotionally, you will make mistakes. When something is not working, you need to take immediate action and make the necessary changes. Nearly every successful company since the beginning of time has had to change strategy and direction to survive and grow.”
She also learnt about the importance of starting with the end in mind.
“If you want to make $1 million, write that figure down and reverse engineer. If my hair extensions are priced at $250, I will need to sell 4 000 sets per year, which means 11 sets a day. Instead of being dumbstruck by that big figure, I’ve now got something manageable to work with. It’s that old story about how to eat an elephant.”
Two can be better than one
Another key lesson Erna learnt was that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. “When I started Erabella, I had one staff member in Johannesburg, and lots of competition. I had to do everything, from accounts, social media, business development and so on, but now we have an entire team in each department. The business grew too slowly and I realised that doing it alone was not going to work. I found a business partner in Cape Town, Karel Vermeulen — a very successful businessman who owns a personal care brand — and I knew we would be a great fit. I knew I could trust him with Erabella SA because he was invested, and I moved on to growing Erabella New Zealand and Australia.”
As a result of the partnership, the business is soaring. Today, Erabella hair extensions are available in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Dubai, with Canada next on the list.
That personal investment principle is one that Erna has applied in her coaching business. People do not appreciate what comes free, she says. “If I coach you at no cost, chances are you will say the programme did not work. But if I charge $6 000 a day, I can guarantee that you will do the work required to make it a success, because you have skin in the game. You will value and appreciate the process.”
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Erna’s key principles
- In the words of Grant Cardone, author of The 10X Rule, follow up, follow up and follow up: ‘90% of business lies in the follow up’. “I always do, and believe that you should follow up so much that they tell you to go away, and then follow up again two weeks later. I chased a client in Cape Town for two years. When their promotions vendor let them down, I was top of mind and I got the deal.”
- Never focus on the 10% that’s negative; focus on the 90% that’s positive: “We all need to have bad days in order to appreciate the good ones. When a client says no, see it as a new opportunity (take the negative from the word no, and turn it into a positive new opportunity) to recreate your strategy.”
- When people say no, ask them why not: “If I don’t close a deal, I ask, ‘What is the reason we did not do business today? Objections are only complaints — find a solution, and you will win all the time.”
- Don’t ask how: “Focus on the what and the who. What do I need to do to achieve my objective and who do I need to speak to? The ‘how’ will take care of itself.”
- You are 100% responsible for your business: “Don’t blame the economy, the government or your staff. If you are not successful, it’s your fault.”
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