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Women Entrepreneur Successes

How Jacqui van der Riet Went From Receptionist To Co-Owning A R230 Million Business

Jacqui van der Riet might own an equal share of UDM International, a R230 million business that she’s been instrumental in building from the ground up, with the Chairman, but she started out as just another salaried employee. Not satisfied with answering phones, Jacqui started cold-calling potential customers, writing scripts and reporting conversion rates to clients. Her passion and perseverance helped land UDM its biggest client, and the business just grown from there. Here’s how a young mother with no qualifications got her degree while working and helped build a world-class business, brick by brick.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Jacqui van der Riet
  • Company: UDM International
  • Employees: 350
  • Launched: 1994
  • Turnover: R230 million
  • Visit: www.udm.co.za

When the founders of a recently-launched direct marketing company walked into the offices of UDM in 2000, all that greeted them was the anticipation of success.

Jacqui van der Riet exuded confidence and energy. She knew that they were the company to help this dynamic group of people to launch and grow its sales. She’d done her research, written scripts and had her team prepped. They were selling educational policies for children and everyone was excited.

That first day, sitting with her new potential clients in the one small meeting room UDM had, Jacqui instructed her team to walk in and make a mark on the whiteboard each time they closed a deal. Within an hour they’d already come in seven times. The previous call centre that the life insurance company had approached had concluded that this sales campaign was not viable. The relationship kicked off the moment UDM proved otherwise.

Jacqui and her partner knew that this was their chance to build a brilliant business relationship and she put her head down, worked hard and figured it out as she went along. This was UDM’s chance. 20 years later, UDM’s turnover is R230 million.

Here’s how the woman who was hired as a receptionist and general admin person for a small call centre start-up went from earning an average monthly salary to owning 50% of the direct marketing machine she and her business partner have built from the ground up.

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

From PA to prodigy

Jacqui’s interview at Universal Database Marketing was far from usual. She met her boss-to-be at a lunch-time interview at his office in Randburg. Her goal was to negotiate a higher salary than she currently earned. She’d been told he’d already interviewed many women without finding the right person, so she felt she had negotiating power. She was 25, had two small children, was studying a BCom degree through Unisa, and hated her job at a legal firm, where she was constantly reminded of the pecking order, but didn’t see real room for growth.

She left the law firm for a job that paid almost double what she had been earning, but had no clue what UDM did, or what would be required of her. The company was a small start-up, direct marketing call centre. Its monthly turnover was low, like any new start up, and Jacqui was justifiably concerned that if that didn’t increase — and quickly — she wouldn’t have a job for long.

Her job description was personal assistant to the owner. Aside from the owner there was one other employee — a telemarketer who worked from 9am to 12 noon calling an insurer’s clients whose policies had lapsed and trying to reinstate them. Within days, Jacqui decided to start making sales calls as well.

“At first, I just wanted to see if I could do it,” she says. “I’d never even been exposed to a call centre before, and I saw it as a challenge, a way to learn new skills, and maybe even a way to make sales and boost the business.

“I soon realised that I didn’t only want to make calls, but I wanted to report back to our client on how we were doing, so I kept a record of how many dials we made, the number of contacts, and how many contacts were converted into sales. It was a very manual process — we kept records with paper and pen, and had little tape recorders that we needed to remember to take off pause to record each call. But the client loved the feedback. They were impressed with us.”

And then the founder of the company relocated to London, and sold the business to his brother, Jacqui’s partner and 50% co-owner of UDM today. “He asked me if I thought we could really make a go of it. I’d been learning a lot simply by doing the work — I was writing and tweaking scripts, tracking everything, and starting to learn the industry. I definitely wanted to give it a go.”

Like his brother, Jacqui’s new boss had connections in the financial world, and slowly they started signing clients, but always for small sections of each institution’s portfolio.

“We couldn’t take on permanent staff, but we needed people on the phones, so we turned to students,” says Jacqui. “We paid R20 per hour, and each student had to work 20 hours a week. I wrote the scripts and trained them, loaded the sales, created reports, and slowly figured out how to set targets and even discipline them. Remember, these were students, and we had nothing to do with their chosen careers. They were just there for the money. It was a big learning curve for me. I remember the first time I had to tell them that I was employing them to work, so could they please do what I was paying them to do. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

“I was learning everything on the fly. My financial management coursework helped me to develop targets, but there’s no degree for sales. If a script didn’t work I changed it. I made sure I still spent time on the phones so that I could see what worked, and what needed to be adjusted. I made sure that I was learning something new each and every day. I also tapped into my network — I called former employers and told them what I was doing and if they thought it would work. I was never afraid of asking ‘dumb’ questions. If I wanted to know something, I asked. It’s the only way to learn.”

With her hands firmly on UDM’s tiller, Jacqui believes the business got off to a slow, but sensible start. “Everything we did was with the mindset that it could be done,” says Jacqui. “I think that’s incredibly important. We never allowed ourselves to think that something couldn’t be done. We looked for solutions instead, and changed anything that wasn’t working, or wasn’t performing as well as we wanted it to.”

UDM’s big break came when a new life company called us in. Jacqui and her partner knew they had one shot to impress them, and she wasn’t going to let it slip through her fingers.

Be like Federer

udm-internationalOnce they signed with UDM, the life company requested exclusivity. They wanted Jacqui and her team to focus exclusively on their products. UDM agreed. They would work out their current contracts, but they wouldn’t renew them, or take on new clients.

Putting all of your eggs in one basket is always a risk, but Jacqui also saw the opportunity. “Nothing is ever iron-clad, and there are always risks, but we were getting in on the ground floor with each other. Our success would rise or fall together. I believed it was a worthwhile risk and I still do. We understand each other, we speak the same language, and our values align. At the time we are the life company’s sale’s arm — we just happen to be independently owned. We both think this keeps us focused”

While the partnership has been fruitful for both businesses, there have been exciting challenges, most notably with the structure of UDM’s sales force.

“When we launched we were selling the life company’s difficult campaigns. From there, we started relatively easier and more profitable sales campaigns. Because they were more profitable, we were paid a higher fee for them. The result was that I promoted my best sales people onto the easier campaigns — our client paid us more, we paid our top sales people more, and the client benefited as their profits increased. It was win-win-win — until we started noticing the flaw in the entire system.

“We were moving our most talented sales people away from the difficult sales campaigns. The easier sales campaigns were flying, however, the more difficult campaigns were the crux of the business. Our client realised that if we didn’t change our process soon, we would continue to see a dwindling business.

“The realisation was one thing — we couldn’t believe we hadn’t seen the problem earlier, but at least now it was a challenge that we and our client could discuss. That was just step one though. Because we’d moved many of our best people off the vital, yet difficult sales campaigns, we were continually recruiting and training new potential sales stars to replace them. We had set ourselves up for a difficult, sustainable business model.

Companies always get nervous when they change anything associated with top earners, and this was no exception. We knew that if we didn’t do something, we would face a much bigger problem down the line. There was a solution — we just needed to find it.”

Related: Watch List: 20 SA Tech Entrepreneurs Making It Big In The Industry

Jacqui knew she needed to solve three key issues. First, she had to find a way to convince her top sales people — all of whom were now accustomed to the ‘easier’ sales campaign to move back to the vital and difficult sales campaigns. Second, she had to ensure their high earnings remained the same or even improved, and finally, she needed to ensure that the ‘easier’ sales quantities didn’t decrease because her top sales people were not focused on them.

“I spent a lot of weekend hours figuring it all out,” she says. “I had to work out an incentive structure that ensured the company didn’t lose, our client didn’t pay more, but our staff were positively positioned. In discussions with our client, the first piece of the puzzle was put in place. The fee structure could be aligned with the new sales model. The incentives on the easier sales campaigns was where magic had been happening for 13 years — but there’d be no magic if the number of sales on the difficult sales campaigns diminished.

“Next, I turned my attention to our top sales people. I needed to make it amazing for them. What do people really care about? What would I want in their position? People love titles, recognition, and real perks. And so, we created an Elite floor. There are 28 positions open in Elite, and it’s never full. There are very specific criteria to qualify for Elite, and if you don’t cut it you’re out. You need to be like Roger Federer — you’re only as good as your last game, or in this case, your last months’ targets.

“If you’re in Elite however, you get the title, your own parking space, a weekly massage, food orders from a menu every day, snacks, and access to the Elite Shop when you’ve hit target three months in a row. The shop offers everything from tumble dryers and washing machines, to pool tables. Our Elite team also earn in excess of R100 000 per month if their targets are met.”

Once Jacqui had worked out the offer, she gathered her 20 top sales agents into a room and pitched the vision to them. “When they walked in, many of them had been crying. They’d heard rumours about what was happening, and they were not happy being forced back to the more difficult sales campaigns, so I approached the change from a different angle.

“I unpacked the whole picture: Why the change was necessary, what we would do, what the future would look like if we did nothing, what we could achieve if we made this change, and the structure, benefits and earning potential of the Elite floor. I then asked for four volunteers — the idea was to pilot it and prove it worked. All 20 put up their hands. We were in this together, as a team. We launched two years ago, and we haven’t looked back. Our difficult sales campaigns achieved a 30% growth in our first year, and more importantly, our client’s valuable ‘easier’ sales campaigns remained steady. In fact, the sales to conversion rates increased.

“We now move our most promising trainees onto easier campaigns in their latter weeks of training which has increased our permanent placements. Creating Elite was a risk for everyone, but one worth taking.”

Learning to fly

udm-international-jacqui

From taking up one floor in 2000, UDM now occupies two buildings, one with the insurance team, and the other focused on cosmetic sales.

“We’re always excited by new challenges, and our revenue from cosmetics has grown from nothing in 2010 to nearly R50 million, but we had a lot of lessons to learn to get to where we are today. I thought a customer service approach was the right move for a cosmetics brand, but we soon learnt you need sales people. We then moved some of our top insurance sales people over, but it’s a very different product, and that didn’t work either. I needed to move onto the floor, and get onto the phones myself to really understand what this side of the business needed, and from there we could start building the right sales team, structures and incentives.”

This wasn’t the first or last time Jacqui immersed herself in a section of the business. She is always moving between divisions, and regularly gets back onto the phones to test UDM’s scripts and experience the entire process from start to finish.

“When I come in from an outsider’s perspective, I can see if things flow smoothly. We often get used to processes, even if they’re a bit clumsy. The only way to make the right adjustments is if I experience everything myself, first hand.”

Integral to Jacqui’s approach is looking at each individual hub and evaluating how it can become a revenue generator. “We even look at our client services division and evaluate how we can get salaries paid more efficiently. Are we robust enough to pay bonuses immediately, and how do we simplify our systems to make them as flexible as possible? Nothing at UDM happens slowly. I want everything done today.”

Related: Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses

In fact, everyone who works at UDM knows that anything can be done in a short period of time if you have a motivated and flexible team.

“There’s no such thing as requisition forms that get sent to one floor, then signed and sent to another inbox for a few days. Things happen immediately — that’s the precedent I set.”

Jacqui knows that to achieve this, she needs to be accessible at all times. “When your staff can see that someone is listening, and that they have power to implement changes, they respond positively. The culture becomes one of action, but they also speak up, and that’s how an organisation keeps moving forward.”

Another key to UDM’s success is incentives; everyone, from cleaners to supervisors, managers and sales people, is incentivised. “We’re very transparent with our base salaries, and the available earnings if targets are met. For cleaners, this means that set bonuses are paid for grocery stock control, the bathrooms being spotless within an hour after tea break and so on. Supervisors and managers have similar incentive structures, but their targets are related to their job scopes.”

According to Jacqui, the process works because of complete transparency. “Each of us knows what we are on and what our targets are. We know exactly what we’re aiming for, and what we need to do to achieve it. The sales agents know what they need to do, every hour of every day.”

Everything in UDM is tracked — Jacqui is copied in on all daily sales tracking reports. “I know what every team has done, each and every day. They have to explain to me why that day’s target wasn’t met, and what they’re going to do to make it up. If we’re 2% behind where we have to be this month for example, we need a plan of action to get 5% ahead — everything is tight and well calculated.”

Jacqui is the first to admit that it’s a tough and fast-paced work environment — but employees who can handle the mental and physical demands of their jobs are well-compensated and experience growth and development in their professional lives.

“I like churn. I’d rather lose the people who won’t cut it early on. This is a tough environment, so we’ve put a lot of measures in place to weed out anyone who won’t make it. We don’t want to waste their time or ours.”

One of those measures is the training academy. Thirty new recruits start a 12-week programme each Monday, but only the best stay on as permanent staff. UDM’s biggest churn is in the first year, but that’s fine. “I don’t want anyone sitting here who doesn’t want to be here and can’t do the job,” says Jacqui.

“I know the job is achievable, but you have to have the right mindset, work ethic and love for the job. I pay attention to the smaller details, for example, how people walk — based on this one small detail, I know if they’re going to excel with us.”

Jacqui is a firm believer that if people are paid well and receive recognition for their achievements, they stay. “It’s a massive learning curve for anyone coming into this business, but once they get it, there’s no way you don’t know where you are, or what you need to do to achieve your goals.

“Some managers make the mistake of expecting and accepting the mediocre. We don’t. Anything is achievable, I know that, and people often just need a leader who can break it down and show how exciting it is to achieve excellence. We’ve learnt that high achievers thrive on structure, under fair discipline and with great recognition. I think we have all of that here. In the first year the reality of the job sets in, and it’s tough. If you’re not making target here it’s quite a difficult place to be. We have high standards, and I’m proud of them. Everyone here has a high standard of living. 63% of our staff have been with us for over two years, and we have 30 employees who have been with us for over a decade. If you fit our culture, you stay — and we help you fly. That’s our ethos, and it’s worked for us.”

Related: 5 Steps To A Multi-million Dollar Business Before 30


Psychology of success

1. Believe in your positive contribution

I wanted to become a partner in the business I was helping to build. When the opportunity arose for me to own equity in the business, I grabbed the opportunity and worked hard to ensure it paid off.

2. The first step of success is to show up and learn

Seize the moment. Be authentic. If you don’t understand something ask the dumb questions — you’re no dumber than anyone else. I’ve learnt that most people are just winging it. You need to learn, so don’t let the fear of looking like you don’t know something hold you back.

3. Figure out what your business needs

Most of what we’ve built started out with logic. I didn’t know anything about telemarketing, but because I got on the phones and started writing scripts, I figured it out. Put your head down and start — the more you do, the more you’ll learn.

4. Look for a way for everyone to win

I aim to please: Clients, the business and the people working for me should all benefit from what we do. This is a big thing for me. I look for win, win, win in every situation — and believe me, solutions that work for everyone can be found if you’re transparent, understand what everyone needs, and explain the business and personal logic of your decisions.

5. I have an innate drive

When I was born I came out checking the competition. This passion to do everything well has really pushed me in life. I always want to deliver better. You need that drive if you want to build something great.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Woman Of Stature Share 5 Lessons In Finding Your Purpose, Pursuing Passions And Leading A Full And Successful Life

Woman of Stature is an organisation that plans to give South Africa its next generation of high-impact entrepreneurs, ministers and even a president. Here’s how the ideals of success mindset and living your purpose are shaping a new breed of empowered women.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Charlotte du Plessis (founder of Woman of Stature and MD), Lynn Hill (WOS director and Inspirational Speaker, Trainer and Life Coach) and Sue Moodley (WOS director and founder of Pluminco Trade).
  • Business: Woman of Stature
  • Launched: 2013
  • Visit: www.womanofstature.co.za

When Charlotte du Plessis founded Woman of Stature (originally named Woman of Substance), it was because she wanted to create a network of women who could support each other and share skills as well as life and business lessons.

What started as a side-project soon consumed more and more time, until eventually she made the decision to sell her eventing business and focus on Woman of Stature full-time. Passion, purpose and business combined to not only give Charlotte a clear goal, but one that she could share with others, and that would hopefully live on as a brand well beyond her own name as the founder and current MD.

In 2018, she asked Lynn Hill and Sue Moodley to join her as directors. As an entrepreneur herself, Sue’s focus is the growth of the brand and platform, while Lynn’s background in training and her experience as a speaker will shape the training programmes that Woman of Stature offers its members and the public.

Charlotte, Sue and Lynn share their lessons in finding your purpose, pursuing passions and ultimately leading full and successful lives.

1. You are in control of your own destiny

Sue Moodley started her business 21 years ago with just R4 000. Her father had been retrenched, and they decided to launch a business of their own. He was a salesman, she a born entrepreneur, even at the age of 19. Today Pluminco Trade has supplied plumbing and building products to some of the biggest construction projects in the country, including OR Tambo International Airport and Emperor’s Palace Hotel.

“The key is to just do it,” says Sue. “I believe that there’s no excuse for remaining poverty-stricken, struggling as a single mom or relying on a man. There are so many ways to make money, so many things to sell. You just need to be willing to step out of your comfort zone and make the change.

“It won’t always be easy. Our business still hasn’t completely recovered from the 2008 recession. I’ve lost millions, but I’ve kept going. I’ve dropped my GPs on certain things so that my product turnover is better, I’ve slowed some projects down, committing to four years instead of two years, but through it all I haven’t given up. We are in control of our own destiny. It’s important to remember that.”

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

2. Start by showing up

It was Sue’s desire to share the lessons she’d learnt, build up her personal brand and learn from others in different situations that led her to Woman of Stature. “We’re a multi-racial organisation that accepts members from 17 years up,” she says. “It’s incredible what you can learn from people when you’re in an environment where you’ll find someone who shares your background and culture as well as people who come from completely different walks of life. You just need to be open to taking it all in.”

This was exactly what Charlotte had in mind when she first founded Woman of Stature. She wanted to be able to network with like-minded women who shared her values, but also to create an environment where women could learn from each other and share their stories and experiences.

“We believe in self-actualisation,” says Charlotte. “I attended an event a few years ago and the theme was ‘Africans come uninvited’, and it really struck a chord with me. That’s what we stand for. Anyone can join us. Come and take a seat at the table — but what you do with that seat is up to you. Over the years we’ve seen that the truly successful people in life seize opportunities and run with them. They don’t wait for things to happen — they make them happen.”

3. Everyone has a purpose — you just need to live it

sue-moodley

Much of what Woman of Stature stands for is upliftment. Sue talks about who you see when you look in the mirror each day, because if you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect anyone else to, but there is also a strong sense that no-one is locked into their current fate.

“We always tell our members to look beyond themselves,” says Charlotte. “Step one is networking. Once you start hearing stories that are similar to your own, you realise you’re not alone. From there, you can begin to share, learn and build yourself up, whether it’s a self-confidence issue, building a personal brand or finding your purpose. We all have a purpose, and once you start living that purpose you find success.”

Finding and living your purpose is one of Lynn Hill’s passions, not only for herself, but others, and has played a key role in the coaching, consulting and training she does for corporates and entrepreneurs.

“We often talk about finding our purpose, but that’s not correct,” she says. “You are your purpose; you can’t separate yourself from your talents and gifts. What we need to do is recognise our purpose, and to do that, you need to know who you are. What makes you tick? What are your gifts, talents and passions? What gives you joy?

“Usually, these are the questions that lead us to our inherent gifts and talents. When we learn to express these, we find our purpose. The real secret to purpose is that it’s innately unselfish. When we use our talents to uplift humanity — in whatever form that takes, from solving big problems to acts of kindness and compassion — purpose is achieved.”

For Lynn, people who fail to find their purpose haven’t come to terms with who they really are. “We get caught up in being competitive and comparative,” she says. “We compare ourselves to others’. We want what someone else has, and end up trying to copy a gift or talent, instead of being authentic to ourselves. Never underestimate your uniqueness. You are your most perfect at just being yourself. We don’t focus on that enough.”

At its core, this is what Woman of Stature offers its members. Charlotte believes that you can’t separate business from life, and if you want to run a successful company, you need to first lead a successful life. “It’s about you as an individual,” she says. “You need to develop everything inside you in the best possible way so that you can live a purpose-driven life.”

Interestingly, it’s clear from Charlotte, Sue and Lynn’s journeys that your purpose and passions evolve, and that it’s never too late to pursue your dreams.

Charlotte left the corporate world to launch her first business at the age of 50. Her experiences as an entrepreneur as well as losing her mother to breast cancer led her to forming a charity and then Woman of Stature. The realisation that this was where her true purpose lay meant she then sold her business to focus full-time on empowering women. Lynn’s current focus is to share her message with as many people as possible, which she’s doing through her writing and speaking and Sue wants to share her experiences with other women to give them hope and inspiration.

Related: 13 Female Entrepreneurs Rising To The Top In SA

4. Embrace a success mindset

Ultimately, organisations like Woman of Stature are designed to promote a success mindset, through networking, training and motivating or inspiring others.

“I believe a success mindset is a mindset of excellence,” says Lynn. “It’s a mindset where you don’t simply aspire towards excellent standards, but where you begin to normalise standards of excellence to a point where you embody them. It’s the belief that mediocrity is a sin.

“Once you embrace a success mindset, you move beyond a goal and acquisition focus and recognise that the means is as significant as the end. As a result, quality relationship-building happens as part of pursuing those goals.

“When we are able to move beyond the traditional idea of success, we also focus on significance: The fact that our success does not just impact our own lives, but the lives of others. That’s when we begin to make meaningful contributions to those around us and even whole communities.”

5. Success is a team effort

lynn-hill

The reason why Charlotte took the step to invite Lynn and Sue into her business is because they were already exceptional women in her life. “We became friends through networking first,” she says. “There’s a lot to be said for first forming a friendship. You need to do business with people you trust, like and have shared values with. It’s one of the reasons why networking and joining associations is so important. It allows you to build relationships and trust.”

Like Charlotte, Sue had lost her mother to breast cancer, and the two felt an instant kinship, particularly as Woman of Stature supports the same charity that Sue supports, Breast Health Foundation. Once the relationship was built, it was natural for Sue to take an interest in the organisation, and even become an angel investor based on her experience with the brand and its impact.

“It’s difficult to build something from the ground up,” says Charlotte. “No one can do it alone. You need to be able to rely on family, friends and associates to build something that lasts. You also need to be able to exchange knowledge. We all have dreams, but if you’re really going to build a sustainable brand and business, you need the business acumen to back it up. We tend to focus on the great idea, and what we love and are passionate about, but need the business side too. The associations and networks that I’ve built up aren’t only about emotional support — it’s about that knowledge exchange. It’s about mentoring each other and sharing advice and lessons.”

“You need to give to receive,” agrees Sue. “We all learn from each other. It’s a two-way street though. Networking isn’t about what you can take — it’s about mutual growth.”

Much of what Woman of Stature does is built on this concept, including its Impact Circle training programme. “Impact Circle is a self-development and entrepreneurial development training programme, and all the trainers are members,” says Lynn. “We’ve drawn from our own network, both to support our members who are in this field and to give everyone more access to each other.”

Through this vision, Charlotte, Sue and Lynn are planning to make a real difference in South Africa’s business, social and political landscape. “We’re fostering future ministers and presidents,” says Sue. “Shakira Chumara, whose goal is to be Minister of Health, says that her shift happened at Woman of Stature. We opened her eyes to a vision larger than herself. That’s the ethos of everything we stand for.”

“Our goal is to empower women to do the incredible things they were born to do,” says Charlotte. “And that takes a vision bigger than my own, and a brand that’s much more than just me. It takes like-minded people banding together to achieve great things.”

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

Be the change

Woman of Stature (WOS) is an organisation that was founded by Charlotte du Plessis in 2013. In 2017 she stepped away from her business to focus full-time on growing WOS’s membership and community impact. Lynn Hill and Sue Moodley joined WOS as directors in 2018.

Originally created as a platform for women from all walks of life that was committed to empowering women to live their purpose and reach their full potential, WOS has grown from a networking association and a member’s directory into an organisation that includes training and a speaker’s bureau.

Current training programmes include 5 Pillars of Empowerment, a corporate-sponsored, accredited Enterprise Development training programme, and Impact Circle, a self-development and entrepreneurial development training programme. There is also a Speakers Academy, designed to train women who want to become professional speakers and entrepreneurs and executives who want to build their confidence in front of an audience, and the Woman of Impact Speakers Bureau, a professional bureau representing woman speakers.

WOS also hosts an annual awards programme, celebrating women across various industries and sectors.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Third Prize Winner Of The Workspace/MiWay Competition Shares Top Lessons Learnt

Mpho Mpatane recently won third prize in The Workspace/MiWay Business Insurance Entrepreneur Competition. Her company supplies general and women-specific protective personal equipment and clothing in the mining and construction industries. This is her story.

Entrepreneur

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Two months ago, I won third prize in an entrepreneur competition. It was one of the most intense experiences I have ever undergone, as it ran over a seven-month period. Minatlou was the only start-up in the top 10 finalists and mentally, I had to motivate myself daily to keep going, and to keep growing.

I’ll be honest: It wasn’t easy. I relied on family and friends to keep me motivated. There were times I doubted myself but then I would get a phone call from my dad asking me how business was going… and then I would snap out of my doubting space, get refreshed energy and get back into my competitive mentality space.

Lessons Learned On The Start-up Journey

In retrospect, the lessons I learned on this journey are invaluable. I learned that in business there are certain steps you cannot skip or try to cut corners in order to try and move ahead. As an entrepreneur, you constantly have to work on the business itself and also for the business. You must have your house in order before you invite other people to come and visit. I know now that one must be willing to learn and once you have learned, put those lessons into action.

Before The Workspace/MiWay Business Insurance, I was focused on setting up the business; I was not big about marketing or social media. So now I know that in order to have the right people know about my business, I must reach out to them and not rely on word of mouth only to create a sustainable client base.

Right now I am busy changing my company name, from Minatlou 251 to Phepha Solutions Group, and after that first step, I will create a social media presence, a brochure and an online presence such as a website. I’m also creating a small clothing line for corporates to see the calibre of our out of the box designs of corporate uniform and our standard of manufacturing.

Assistance From Winning The Competition

What’s amazing is that The Workspace has come forward to assist me where possible and as much as they can. The CEO, Mari Schourie, actually reached out to me while away on maternity leave to ask me personally what they can do to assist me in addition to what I won in the competition.

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

This made me feel motivated and it also demonstrated that what I am offering is of good value and that I am going to succeed, this business is going to grow and thrive.

I won a beautiful office for a period of three months, which comes with administration support from The Workspace in Selby, with undercover parking, boardrooms to use for meetings and so much more. I have also gained a family in the process.

I won sessions with a business strategist who is helping me develop a formal strategy to move my business forward and help it grow. I have also won consultation sessions with a marketing company to help me grow my business and help me have a proper marketing plan in place plus help me improve on my sales. I won services of a cash flow specialist to help me in that area. My prizes are priceless and what I love the most is the fact that they are helping me build and strengthen my business from within.

My Next Steps

In the short-term, I’m working hard to add at least six retainer clients to our books, gain entry into the highly competitive mining industry and manufacture for them as well. I want to boost sales and get more clients. Proper brand awareness and getting industry related accreditation is on the cards, as is renovating our factory.

In the longer term, I now have a five-year plan, with goals and steps along the way. The next five years will be about growth and scale if possible. I want to be able to do cross border transactions and also export our merchandise to Africa, starting in the Southern parts and expanding slowly.

So yes, I have had to work incredibly hard, but the most comforting fact is that I am not on my own. I have support at my back and mentors challenging me to grow and develop. This period of time has been the most brilliant period of learning and growing in my entrepreneurial journey so far.

Top Tips For Entrepreneurs

To all those entrepreneurs in South Africa working their tails off to succeed, these are the lessons I have taken to heart:

  • Be bold. Take chances.
  • Do research and always try to stay ahead of your competitors.
  • Try to have fun, enjoy what you do.
  • Have passion and be willing to work hard for what you do, people will believe in your vision.
  • Be honest in your business dealings, if you can’t deliver on your promise for any reason inform the client and do your utmost to correct the challenge, don’t lie.
  • Be willing to learn, invest in your own knowledge base. Expand your thinking, explore, and ask questions.
  • Be willing to help other upcoming entrepreneurs. Share information with them, as they don’t have to struggle long and hard like you did. This will help with the development of sustainable businesses and a better quality of future entrepreneurs.

Note: To celebrate their first-of its-kind collaboration at Village Road, The Workspace and MiWay ran a competition for South Africa’s entrepreneurs that saw the winner/s given a major advantage to further grow their business. The Workspace and MiWay joined forces at The Workspace premises in Village Road, Selby where they have launched an entrepreneurial hub and business development programme.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

5 Crucial Start-up Lessons From Sibongile Manganyi-Rath Founder Of Indigo Kulani Group

Sibongile Manganyi-Rath quit her corporate job at 26 and established infrastructure and real estate development company Indigo Kulani Group. Today her business has expanded to include IKG Start-up Capital, which is dedicated to creating world class entrepreneurs throughout the African continent.

Diana Albertyn

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Sibongile Manganyi-Rath
  • Company: Indigo Kulani Group and IKG Start-Up Capital
  • Established: 2006
  • Turnover: Over R100 million
  • Visit: indigo-group.co.za

Being born into an entrepreneurial family didn’t immediately lead Sibongile Manganyi-Rath down the self-employment path. “My father unwittingly set me on the path very early,” recalls Sibongile. “He had a small business in Soweto where he sold used bottles back to larger corporations such as Makro and various other glass bottle recycling agents. I often joke with people that my father was in the recycling business before it became fashionable.”

It was the early exposure of working in her late father’s small businesses that taught Sibongile the crucial principles and values that have helped her build the successful business that Indigo Kulani Group is today.

Here are her start-up lessons:

Lesson 1: Starting small doesn’t mean staying small

I consider myself very fortunate that I grew up in a family that was considered financially and materially poor. The fundamental principles my father taught me of running a small operation — such as financial discipline, hard work, sacrifice and persistence — were extremely valuable.

Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs

I learnt the importance of customer service when I was 12 years old and ran one of my father’s fresh produce stalls at Dube village train station. I had to observe why our sales were declining or increasing and each evening I had to report the daily revenue to my father. It was often in the region of R150 per day. I also had to make recommendations on improvements to ensure that we could offer better fruits and veggies than the other older ladies that were next to our stalls.

At the time I didn’t realise the value of the lessons I was learning from this process. It is these lessons that gave me the courage to quit my job in 2006 and start my own company.

Lesson 2: Passion for what you do is vital for a start-up, but it also carries you through the hard times

It is my belief that even in the era of digitisation, there are still fundamental principles about business that will not change. It’s important for entrepreneurs to understand their market and the needs that they are addressing. You need to have a strategy that continues to evolve with the needs of your customers, particularly in our current digital era where needs of the customers change very rapidly through the options that they are presented with.

Passion gets you through the loss-making period, often referred as the ‘valley of death’. It’s during this time where your passion gives you courage to persist.

Financial literacy and discipline in working capital management is important because at this stage the business needs a lot of growth capital to generate more revenue before the start-up can reach a break-even stage and make profits.

Lesson 3: Collaboration and partnerships are vital

It’s my passion for what I do that gave me the courage to build a company that seeks to break the mould in a male-dominated industry. We make a positive contribution to our society through our various infrastructure projects, including delivery of more than 200 schools in South Africa’s rural areas.

We have also been involved in building and managing clinics, housing, and water and sanitation projects in many previously disadvantaged communities. The passion to extend this positive impact fuelled the growth of the company where my partners and teams come from very diverse backgrounds — ranging from investment banking, engineering, project management, healthcare and education — to ensure that our services to our clients offer a holistic approach.

However to succeed in this, entrepreneurs need to understand that collaboration and partnerships are important. Empires are not built by individuals but take a collective mindset with a single vision.

Lesson 4: Aim for profitable growth through bold inspirational leadership

  • Our holistic approach to the sector in which we operate has not only been beneficial in offering our clients an integrated service, but being a multi-disciplinary services company also gives us access to diverse clients and revenue streams.
  • Our company’s business model is ‘intrapreneurial’. A divisional organisational structure ensures quick decision-making and response to market.
  • We have highly skilled individuals, and our overheads are cross-subsidised by complementary skills sets across projects. We remain profitable by managing our resources cost-effectively.
  • Most importantly, we manage our resources weekly through EXCOM and reporting.
  • Incentives are critical and linked to project performance and achievement of targeted revenue and profitability, managed through quarterly performance reviews and targets reviews.
  • Inspirational leadership means leading by example. This inspires the collective that achieves its strategic objectives.

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

Lesson 5: There is always someone out there trying to beat you at your game and take away your customers

Knowledge about your customer is fundamental because without your customers you have no business. Integration of technology into your business enables you to understand how customers use your services and products, which offers key insight into your customers’ needs.

This building of digital customer relationships provides your business with an opportunity to develop a competitive advantage in the tough market we operate in today. I still embrace the physical human relationship where I stay close to my customers and ensure that I understand what is troubling them and how they can be better served.


Sibongile’s game-changing advice for budding entrepreneurs

Keep your vision, but let your strategy be flexible. Collaborate with other people, find advisors that don’t cost you money. Talk to venture capitalist and private equity guys, there is always someone willing to not only invest their money but their ideas, experience and networks. But, be open to give a little bit of equity; it has to be worth their while.

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