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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Walking the Tightrope: Women Entrepreneurs Lize Sadie and Gillian Loos

Before a business can take flight it has to break even – and that can take longer than you think.

Nadine Todd

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For many entrepreneurs, starting their own business is a dream come true. Lize Sadie and Gillian Loos are no exception. Contentum Content Marketing is the culmination of years of building up a network, contacts, skills and business acumen.

When the two formed Contentum in April 2012, Sadie was already running her own PR and strategic marketing business, Ideas Inc, and Loos had been retrenched when her employer closed her division. She knew content publishing and the digital market, Sadie knew PR. Together they had a package that clients wanted, at a price point the market could afford. Years of experience had taught them that.

And then the reality of starting a business set in. Expectations and the best laid plans do not always match reality. “The biggest challenge has been cash flow,” says Loos. “We have a lot of different things in the pipeline, but big deals take a while to come to fruition; longer than we initially projected.”

Which is something that unhinges many start-ups, who fail to plan ahead for the fact that deals do not get signed — and paid for — overnight. For example, Contentum has signed a deal for a student magazine and website. Perfect. Except that despite landing the client in 2012, the magazine was only scheduled to launch in March 2013, and this too was pushed to June because media sales were slow.

“You have to be prepared for every eventuality,” says Loos. “Cash flow is everything, and unless you can stay afloat while you wait for deals to come through, your start-up won’t make it through the first two years.” It’s a lesson the partners knew and planned for, and the reality has still taken longer than expected.

“I lecture at Vega in brand and digital strategy and have used my retrenchment package to fund the business, Lize has her Ideas Inc clients and we work from home to keep our overheads low, but it takes careful planning and a strict budget to get through the start-up phase.

“We’re a registered supplier for the City of Cape Town and the government of the Western Cape, and have a number of tenders in the pipeline, but it’s not a quick process. Big brands in particular have a long procurement process, involving meetings, quotes, additional meetings, pitches — no deal happens overnight.

“If we can give any advice to other start-ups, it’s that you need enough unencumbered funds to keep you going for at least a year. Once the deals start coming in and you break even, it will all have been worth it — but you need to get there. And that takes careful planning, and accepting that these things take time.”

Vital Stats

  • Players: Lize Sadie and Gillian Loos
  • Company: Contentum Content Marketing
  • Est: 2012
  • X-Factor: Planning for any eventuality during start-up phase.
  • Contact: www.contentum.co.za; +27 (0)83 461 4621 • +27 (0)83 463 7094

 

Women Entrepreneur Successes

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.

Nicole Crampton

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Here are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order

  1. Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling
  2. Charlotte Aubin
  3. Rapelang Rabana
  4. Lynn Baker
  5. Dylan Kohlstädt
  6. Noli Mini
  7. Stacey Brewer
  8. Nonkuthalo Thithi
  9. Daniella Shapiro
  10. Xoliswa Daku
  11. Lorren Barham
  12. Allegro Dinkwanyane
  13. Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
  14. Karen Carr and Hanneke Schutte
  15. Michelle Royston
  16. Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
  17. Magda Wierzycka
  18. Jennifer Da Mata
  19. Thuli Magubane
  20. Tracy Kruger
  21. Monalisa Zwambila
  22. Keri Stroebel
  23. Claire Reid
  24. Ramona Kasavan
  25. Carrie Leaver and Shona McDonald
  26. Donna Rachelson
  27. Mahadi Granier
  28. Liesl Esau
  29. Prudence Spratt
  30. Joyce Mnguni
  31. Janine Starkey
  32. Shamila Ramjawan
  33. Busi Skenjana
  34. Benji Coetzee
  35. Jerusha Govender
  36. Lauren Edwards
  37. Ouma Tema
  38. Annabel Biggar-David
  39. Jennifer Glodik
  40. Ntsoaki Phali
  41. Tara-Lee de Wit
  42. Kim Coppen-Watkins
  43. Mogau Seshoene
  44. Andy Golding
  45. Lien Potgieter
  46. Ezlyn Barends
  47. Rabia Ghoor
  48. Katy Valentine
  49. Leah Molatseli
  50. 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.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

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.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

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.

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

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

portia-m-cosmetics

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.”


KEY INSIGHTS

portia-products

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.

Related: Alphabet Soup Founder Nikki Lewin Discusses How They Compete With The Big Boys

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

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.

Monique Verduyn

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Vital Stats

  • 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.”

Related: How To Start A Salon And Spa Business

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

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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.”

Related: Want To Start An Import Business – Here Are The Importing Terms And Documents Involved

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.”

Reverse engineering

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.”

Related: The Glamorous and Sleek GHD Offices


Erna’s key principles

  1. 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.”
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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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