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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Ntirho Business Consulting – Vanessa Cox

Enabling disabled people with employment.

Tracy Lee Nicol

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Vanessa-Cox

The player: Vanessa Cox

The business: Ntirho Business Consulting (1999)

The concept: Professional recruitment and disability management.

Contact: +27 (0)86 518 0140 or www.ntirho.co.za

From when Vanessa Cox was in Matric, she knew she wanted to go to Joburg and have her own business. Since 1999 through hard work and perseverance, she has grown her professional recruitment services from a fax machine, Internet connection and cold calls in her 2-bedroom house, to a reputable company with offices in Hatfield, six permanent staff and over 30 temporary staff.

Besides excellent service of matching candidates with job roles and company culture rather than just job titles, Cox sets her company apart from other recruitment agencies through her dual focus on generalist able-bodied recruitment and specialised disabled recruitment and disability management.

Room for improvement

“In 2005 I started diversifying into recruiting disabled people for employment because while there are many disabled people in South Africa who have few skills, there are also others who are highly educated and are sitting with qualifications and can’t do much with it because people and businesses have a lack of understanding about disability,” Cox says. “Businesses are also required to meet disability quotas for Employment Equity.”

Cox explains that South Africa is also under-developed in terms of disability management systems, preferring instead to pay out employees if they become disabled, making them the responsibility of the state. “What I am focusing on now, which is fairly new, is to develop ‘return to work co-ordination’ to retain disabled people and to encourage companies to put into place support structures, and if the person can’t perform their original tasks, to look at reasonably accommodating them.” Cox realistically points out, “anybody can become disabled tomorrow. So having a company assist them with returning to work and performing successfully is something that I’d like to get out there now.”

Getting off the ground

“The early days of business were very hard, the rejection is something that is difficult to deal with, and in my third year none of my companies paid and I had to pay my staff, so there were times that were very difficult and I cried.” With advice from a business banker and help from her brother’s provident fund, Cox was able to get back on her feet. “Never once during that time did I think about giving up. I knew I had to persevere.” After five years of operation, Cox began breaking even.

Cox’s business model is based on earning through placements. “Depending on the kind of placement we earn a percentage of cost to company, and it’s higher with executive candidates.” But Cox has recently had to overcome a set back with recent COSATU upheaval and labour brokering issues: “We used to have more than 40 temporary staff but we had to convert some to permanent and some contracts ended because of the threat of banning labour brokering which scared a lot of companies. In the recruitment industry, that’s the area that sustains companies because you have income on a regular basis. On a permanent basis your income is based on what you place. So that’s had a major impact on the industry itself,” Cox explains

Moving forward

Cox took part in Microsoft’s Women Entrepreneur Development Programme in order to learn how to better manage her business. “I decided I needed to attend because I’ve always run my business the way I thought it should be run,” she says. “When I get an idea in my head it’s impossible to get me to do otherwise, I even proposed to my husband,” she laughs. “But the truth is, I suck at certain aspects of running a business. I’m excellent at the operational aspects, but when it comes to management of staff, finance, HR and strategic planning I am weak and I get a lot of advice from my husband and my accountant.”

Through attending the course Cox was forced to sit down and apply herself to writing a strategic plan, and pleasantly surprised herself when she realised she could do it and do it well.

Sisterly advice

Cox warns entrepreneurs in the start-up phase against compromising themselves. While she has never found herself in that situation she has had to deal with consultants who had compromised themselves with businesses and candidates. “Compromise is a chain reaction and once you compromise yourself once you can never get yourself out of it,” she warns.

“I am proud of what I’ve achieved through hard work and perseverance, even in the hardest times when there have been tears and sleepless nights. The most important thing is to persevere. And while you’re at it, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. I did and it took me six months to get back from that mistake.”

Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.

Company Posts

Designing Her Destiny

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

QuickBooks SA

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quickbooks_emmerentia-van-den-hoven

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

quickbooks-business_emmerentia-van-den-hoven

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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luci-nouwens

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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