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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Prof Justus Apffelstaedt and Associates: Annemie Apffelstaedt

The founder of a specialist breast health centre for women shares her start-up success secrets.

Monique Verduyn

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It’s estimated that one in about 30 women in South Africa is diagnosed with breast cancer, the second most common form of the disease in South Africa. If detected early enough, however, the survival rate is more than 95%.

That’s where people like entrepreneur Annemie Apffelstaedt come in. In 2002, she and her husband, breast surgeon Justus Apffelstaedt, opened Prof Justus Apffelstaedt and Associates, a breast health centre that offers women imaging and clinical care under one roof, in a female friendly and caring environment.

It was the first of its kind in the country and on the continent. More than 5 000 patients visit the centre every year. In 2007, Annemie was nominated as a Positive Newsmaker of the Year by the Top Women Awards, which recognise South Africa’s most influential and inspiring women.

Changing healthcare environment

“We felt that breast health care in South Africa could be improved,” she says. “It has been shown that women obtain the best care in dedicated breast health centres where imaging and clinical services are combined and the management of both benign breast conditions and breast cancer are offered.

At the same time, the past decade has seen a shift in female healthcare generally, with women taking a more proactive role in prevention rather than treatment, by going for regular check-ups. These factors have contributed to the success of the business.”

The centre offers mammography and other breast imaging procedures, as well as the services of breast surgeons, oncologists and reconstructive surgeons. That means a patient diagnosed with cancer has immediate access to a team of experts and can consult with all of them at once. It’s a far more informative process and one which improves the outcome by ensuring the patient gets the best treatment.

Apffelstaedt took up the position of practice manager from the start, a role she was more than ready for, thanks to her degrees in business and languages, and her extensive work experience in finance and accounting.

Pre start-up preparation

The Apffelstaedts were so determined to make a success of the venture that they both completed an MBA through Bond University before launching the business. “We decided to prepare by doing an MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship and new ventures. We did it together in 19 months to minimise the pain, and we graduated in 2000.

During this time we developed our business plan. The course was invaluable as we learnt about how to launch a start-up. It gave us the basics of what we needed to know, taught us to evaluate situations without panicking, and also how to deal with change in a world that is constantly shifting.”

That original business plan was then implemented. They sourced the right property in the right location for their service offering, based on extensive research. To finance the centre, they sold their house, withdrew their pension funds and obtained loan funding from the bank for the property and the equipment required. To secure that initial finance, they had to prepare a compelling presentation, another area in which the MBA served them well.

At this early stage, they kept on revisiting the contents of the business plan to ensure that their start-up remained on track. They were also very selective about hiring the right women for the job. Today they have a team of 14.

Setting world-class standards

Apffelstaedt emphasises the importance of standards in this type of business. “We have worked non-stop to ensure a world-class service by focusing on breast health matters and education in mammography interpretation, as well as ongoing training in the management of all breast health matters.

“The results of our work have been published in peer-reviewed national and international journals and are proof of our adherence to international best practice in breast health. An important factor in such a venture is that you have to eat, sleep and drink the work you do. This is not just a job. A passion for excellence and dedication to making a difference are important.”

Building a reputation

When the centre was first launched, advertising in women’s and health magazines was key. “You have to make yourself well known when you start a company and a medical practice is no different from any other type of business. We worked out a dedicated marketing campaign and used the services of a design company.

We also have an excellent media liaison consultant. It’s crucial to work with a person who understands the delicate nature of the field of practice. It’s also important to communicate advances in breast health matters and breast cancer treatment to the public to ensure that they know that treatment at this level is available in South Africa, even though the country is a resource-restricted environment.”

In addition to advertising and marketing, the centre developed relationships with referring doctors. Apffelstaedt soon proved to them that she and her team had set the benchmark for breast health excellence.

The centre has also thrived because it offers a service that takes away medical risk for GPs and gynaecologists. “Because our focus is so specific, we are always up to speed with the latest research in our field. That means general doctors are comfortable referring their patients to us because they know they will receive the best and latest care.”

Looking back on the centre’s achievements, Apffelstaedt says that preparing well to start up was essential, as is ongoing research. “We understand the market in which we operate, we move with the times and embrace changes in healthcare, and we respond to what women want. It’s important to listen to your customers – they provide the best marketing feedback.”

Do the research

In starting up the breast care centre, Annemie Apffelstaedt understood that accurate and thorough information is the foundation of all successful business ventures. “Extensive market research provides a wealth of information about prospective and existing customers, the competition, and the industry in general.

It allows business owners to determine the feasibility of a business before committing substantial resources to the venture.” In setting up a highly specialised business like a breast health centre, it was imperative to conduct research into the characteristics, spending habits, location and needs of the target market – healthy women aged 40-plus who understand the importance of maintaining breast health, are willing to use the service regularly, and are able to pay the cost.

Vital stats

Player: Annemie Apffelstaedt

Company: Prof Justus Apffelstaedt and Associates

Launched: 2002

Contact: +27 (0)21 930 2662; apffelstaedt.com

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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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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