- Player: Prudence Spratt
- Company: Spratt Consulting
- Associations: Member of the GIBS Entrepreneurship Club
- Launched: 2013
- Visit: spratt.co.za
Prudence Spratt left a successful corporate career after completing her MBA at the Gordon Institute of Business Science to launch her own business because she spotted a need and realised that despite moving up the corporate ladder, corporate life wasn’t for her.
These are the top five start-up lessons she’s learnt while building her ecommerce project management firm.
1. Find and meet a need
If, like Spratt, you know that you’re not cut out for the corporate world (or at least, as someone with a boss in the corporate world), then the first step is figuring out what you have to offer your potential customers. What do they need?
Spratt’s background was project and programme management, and she had worked for some of the biggest networking companies in the business, including Internet Solutions, Dimension Data and Cisco, and was the ecommerce product manager at Vodacom.
“Working within large organisations, I realised there was a need for smaller firms that are ecommerce project management experts who understand corporate needs and systems, and yet are not subject to the same red tape and bureaucracy. Big digital consultancy firms can take up to a year to complete a project. There’s a lot of red tape on both sides. If you take that away you can execute faster.
“Consultants that are experts in managing these projects are highly specialised and very expensive. The result is that agencies often end up doing that component of the project as well, even though it’s not their area of expertise.
“By analysing the situation I could see that there was a big gap for a consultancy that can do what big firms can do, but at a more affordable rate. Plus, we could execute projects faster, and that entrepreneurial agility is a real differentiator.
“Looking at the ecommerce landscape and critically analysing it gave me the confidence that there was a need that my particular skill set could fill.”
2. Get your foot in the door
No matter how much experience you have, or how good your reputation is within your industry circles, you still need to find and secure your first clients. Spratt had a very specific strategy in this regard.
“I targeted projects in distress,” she explains. “Projects that are in need of rescue tend to be toxic, stressful environments. Everyone hates each other, things are going wrong, it’s costing money and the client needs help. No one wants to step into a mess, and so it’s an easy sell, first because something needs to be done to salvage the project, and second, because you’re offering your services in an area that everyone else is trying to avoid.
“It was an extremely stressful space to launch the business, because I was stepping into such a negative space, but doing a few of them gave me the experience and more importantly the confidence to approach other clients.
“Execution is where people often fall down, and that’s our sweet spot. Successful project management encompasses everything, from start to finish, keeping the online and offline user experience top of mind.”
3. Don’t lose focus
Like many entrepreneurs, Spratt has bootstrapped her business, the only investment a cash pay-out from her corporate pension, and her access bond and credit cards. The result was that in the early days cash was a scarce commodity.
“You end up taking anything that pays money, and for me, that was anything related to digital,” says Spratt.
The problem was that Spratt Consulting was meant to be a company that specialised in big ecommerce projects. “Instead, I found that we were quickly becoming another digital agency,” she says.
“I don’t believe South Africa needs another agency. That was red waters, full of competitors. It’s also not where my skill set actually lies. I can do it, but we were never going to be leaders if all we did was social media and ad buying. There are other agencies far better than us. In project management though, we could be the industry leaders.
“I had to put the brakes on any agency work and focus on what I wanted the business to be: A consulting firm with a digital development arm.
“The development side of the business functions independently but can also complement the consulting side, mainly because I often can’t find good developers, or the existing team has let the client down.
“Focusing on these two core areas meant saying no to agency work at first, which was essentially saying no to revenue, and that was difficult. It’s something you really need to wrap your head around, especially when there are bills to be paid.
“But it also opened up the time to find and say yes to the work I wanted to take on, and that was how we were going to build the business in the direction we wanted to go.”
4. Never stop selling
Keep your pipeline full. That’s one of the toughest lessons Spratt had to learn the hard way. “In consulting I’m the project manager, but it can’t consume me on the execution side. I also need to be the person out there selling, keeping the pipeline full. In the early days we’d finish a project and I’d realise that I’d been so busy executing the job that I hadn’t been out selling, making sure we had the next job. The result was big gaps between projects — gaps where no revenue was coming in.
“Selling was something I’d never done before. I’d had lots of roles, and sales support was one of them, but I’d never had to hustle. Initially it was a bit scary, but the thought of losing the business and not having an income was scarier, and so you push on.
“It helped that I believed in what I was doing. I felt like I was helping my clients. If you believe enough, it almost doesn’t feel like selling. But either way, you have to be out there doing it. It’s only later, once you’re more established, that business starts coming your way. You can’t expect that as a start-up.”
5. Create your culture
This is important from the very beginning of your start-up journey. Get your foundations right and the rest will follow. For Spratt, her methodology, control and the tools she uses are what set her apart from other project managers.
“There’s a very specific way I want Spratt Consulting to operate, and this needs to be taught,” she says. “I can’t rely on consultants and freelancers to do things my way without being trained in my methodology.”
Spratt works with new members of the team. “They shadow me, learning my processes before running their own projects. It takes longer, but the right foundations are being laid. Ultimately, I need the Spratt Consulting name to have a strong reputation without the need for me to personally execute a project, and that means taking the time to upskill my team.”
Critically evaluate each decision you make according to your original vision: Is it working towards that vision, or is it a short-term win that actually moves you away from your business goals?
Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch
Don’t miss out on these 50 female trailblazers making an impact in the South African and international entrepreneurial space.
Here are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order
- Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling
- Charlotte Aubin
- Rapelang Rabana
- Lynn Baker
- Dylan Kohlstädt
- Noli Mini
- Stacey Brewer
- Nonkuthalo Thithi
- Daniella Shapiro
- Xoliswa Daku
- Lorren Barham
- Allegro Dinkwanyane
- Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
- Karen Carr and Hanneke Schutte
- Michelle Royston
- Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
- Magda Wierzycka
- Jennifer Da Mata
- Thuli Magubane
- Tracy Kruger
- Monalisa Zwambila
- Keri Stroebel
- Claire Reid
- Ramona Kasavan
- Carrie Leaver and Shona McDonald
- Donna Rachelson
- Mahadi Granier
- Liesl Esau
- Prudence Spratt
- Joyce Mnguni
- Janine Starkey
- Shamila Ramjawan
- Busi Skenjana
- Benji Coetzee
- Jerusha Govender
- Lauren Edwards
- Ouma Tema
- Annabel Biggar-David
- Jennifer Glodik
- Ntsoaki Phali
- Tara-Lee de Wit
- Kim Coppen-Watkins
- Mogau Seshoene
- Andy Golding
- Lien Potgieter
- Ezlyn Barends
- Rabia Ghoor
- Katy Valentine
- Leah Molatseli
- Lynette Ntuli
“Globally, women entrepreneurship rates are growing more than 10% each year. In fact, women are as likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets,” says Karen Quintos, EVP and chief customer officer at Dell.
The growing momentum of female entrepreneurship can clearly be seen in this comprehensive list of 50 of South Africa’s finest. Although this movement has far from reached its peak, for those looking for inspiration, lessons or businesses to invest in, look no further than this list of female pioneers.
How Portia Mngomezulu Is Conquering The Highly Competitive Beauty Industry
A great product range backed by an ambitious vision and a determination to get the basics right is helping Portia Mngomezulu to conquer the highly competitive beauty industry.
- Player: Portia Mngomezulu
- Company: Portia M
- Est: 2011
- Visit: www.portiamss.com
Estee Lauder. Elizabeth Arden. L’Oréal. What is so special about these brands? Why aren’t Africans competing in this market? That’s the question that got cosmetics entrepreneur Portia Mngomezulu thinking.
A qualified systems engineer, and a curious entrepreneur by nature, Portia was always selling something that she had concocted.
In 2010, after she had a child, her mother-in-law suggested using marula oil to help with stretch marks. Portia went to her hometown of Phalaborwa, where she had grown up playing under marula trees, and procured the oil from local women. She saw the difference within a few weeks, and that was the seed that germinated into Portia M, a black-owned skin care manufacturing company that caters, in her words, ‘for every skin under the African sun’.
Keeping the retail dream alive
Portia started small. With a two-plate stove and a couple of pots, she manufactured her first batches of product; her ‘secret oil’, which she sold for R100 per bottle at church, and to friends who were pregnant. People kept buying. But she was adamant that she did not want to grow a network marketing business.
“From the start I was determined to compete at retail level,” she says. “I saw my product on the shelf next to the big international brands. Great and successful entrepreneurs have achieved their purpose and goal by setting a strong and clear vision, and by pursuing it with passion.”
Convinced that she was onto a sure thing, she approached the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and asked for help to have her products and formulas tested. Getting the legal paperwork right was a key step in the growth of the business, and one that would pay off later.
Personal care products are subjected to many different tests before being placed on the market for sale. Testing usually includes evaluations for product stability, purity, safety and the effectiveness of preservatives, which protect the product from deterioration. It’s a costly exercise. In 2012, SEDA arranged for the tests to be conducted by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) at Medunsa (now Sefako Makgato Health Sciences University). The process took around six months, during which she continued to sell, without taking a cent from the business.
Persistence, and the willingness to overcome a wide range of obstacles, usually determines the fate of a company. In Portia’s case, believing that she had the power to achieve whatever she wanted meant that mental barriers such as fear were never an issue.
After getting Makro to agree to stock Portia M at six of its stores, it took another two years to convince the buyers for Shoprite and Checkers to do the same.
“They eventually agreed to just 20 stores, as they wanted a test run. But I resolved not to take it personally. Instead, I used this time to perfect the range. It’s far easier to rectify mistakes when you have a small footprint. Now, our products are in more than 530 Shoprite and Checkers stores.”
She also took the opportunity to show her products to Absa at a trade show. The bank’s representatives were impressed, but said that it was too risky to finance a cosmetics business. Instead, they suggested she take part in a 14-city women in business roadshow they were running. She did, selling more than 30 000 skincare products.
“The last session was in Cape Town, and that was where I met Suzanne Ackerman, daughter of Pick n Pay boss Raymond Ackerman and transformation director of the group. She was impressed by the fact that I had tested the products and had barcodes in place. She encouraged me to approach the company’s buyers. They gave me the opportunity to sell in 20 Pick n Pay stores. It was a life-changing moment and I remember crying when I saw the brand on the shelves.”
The value of social proof
Her next challenge was marketing. With no budget available, she had to get the products moving off the shelves. Already accustomed to promoting Portia M to her friends on Facebook, she took her social media presence to the next level, having photos taken of the product range and encouraging people to try it out.
“Miraculously, customers started taking before and after images and telling their stories,” she recalls. The value of ‘social proof’ provided by these testimonials has been immeasurable, and is one of our key selling points — real people, real results. Today we have more than 200 000 followers on Facebook, over 12 000 on Instagram, and over 3 000 on Twitter. At Pick n Pay alone, our sales are worth more than R1 million a month.”
Portia M products are now sold in more than 1 200 stores nationwide. To export the range into other African countries, she has leveraged the operations of Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Clicks to enter Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, and Swaziland.
“Because the paperwork required to export to African countries can be onerous, it made sense to partner with established retailers, convince them to distribute my products for me, and expand the business in this way.”
Words of advice
- When a brand is new and unknown: “To grow a brand from scratch, you need to build strong relationships with retailers and sustain excellence in delivery. When they place an order, make sure it gets there on time.”
- When you are competing against multinationals: “Respect the industry, but understand that your competitors also had to start somewhere. Vision and self-belief are key. We are just as capable as global companies of producing top quality products.”
- When you are trying to get shelf-space: “Shelf space is critical, and you earn it through sales. Our sales are based on testimonials, proving that effective marketing does not have to cost a fortune.”
- When you need to keep your cash flowing: “Negotiate payment terms with retailers. I have seven-day, 14-day, 30-day and 45-day payment agreements with different retailers, ensuring that my cash flow is always positive.”
In 2015, Portia was named the overall winner of the Tshwane Exporters Awards, thanks to the fact that she registered as an exporter with South African Revenue Services. Representatives from The Innovation Hub invited her to pitch the business, and she was given a small office as well as a 40m2 factory. Today that space has grown to 500m2.
“Moving from home to a factory space was another defining moment,” she says. “I had a team of biochemistry students coming to work for me, using my stove and my pots. It was very embarrassing. They laughed at me at first, but they also believed in me. Together, we formalised the business and one of those students is now the factory supervisor.”
In 2017, she was named a National Gazelle by the Department of Small Business Development and SEDA. She won a grant of R1 million, enabling her to buy additional manufacturing equipment and a truck.
Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs
What lies ahead?
Portia has an audacious five-year goal — to penetrate the African market and to compete comfortably with Africa’s favourite skincare brands. Part of that plan is to get retailers like Dis-Chem and Woolworths on board.
“When I visit other countries on the continent, they want to know how successful the brand is at home,” she says. “To win customers, we differentiated Portia M by providing a tried and tested product, and also by using a uniquely African ingredient that is well-known on this continent. More than anything, I believed in the product before I expected anyone else to, and that has made all the difference.”
Start with a vision
Portia was determined to see her products on retail shelves alongside international giants. She knew this vision was the most important starting point in achieving her goals.
Start small to achieve big
Get into the market so that you can tweak and perfect your product while it’s still small. This is much easier to do while you still only have a few customers on board, and it will give you the foundations for a much larger business.
Access Government Programmes
There are a number of programmes and funds supporting local manufacturers, from access to international markets, to assistance with compliance and even funding. Do your research and tap into them.
Erna Basson Of Erabella Hair Extensions On Acting The Part And Finding The Gap
Erna Basson says that building your own empire is one of the toughest things you can do, but also one of the most rewarding. She unpacks the lessons she has learnt that have helped her launch and grow three businesses into sustainable brands.
- Player: Erna Basson
- Company: Erabella Hair Extensions
- Est: 2017
- Visit: www.erabellahairextensions.com
- Career highlights:
- Named South Africa’s top entrepreneur under 30 for 2017
- Global female entrepreneur of the year 2017
- Top 100 most influential young South Africans 2017
- Interviewing Grant Cardone — 2018
- Opening speaker at the Mega Success event 2017 in Los Angeles.
Originally from Bloemfontein, Erna Basson has always been highly competitive. She completed a four-year bachelor’s degree in three years, while holding down several part-time jobs. She was first bitten by the entrepreneurial bug in her second year at UFS (University of the Free State). Her class was struggling with business law, so she read the text book and produced an annotated summary that she then sold to desperate students.
Today, she heads up Erna Basson Ltd, a business coaching and speaking venture; Woman Entrepreneur, a global platform empowering and educating female entrepreneurs from around the world on how they can start and scale their businesses; and Erabella Beauty Global, a premium hair extensions brand available in South Africa and globally.
On acting the part
“I was a cheerleader for the Cheetahs while I studied, and I also worked as a hostess at Cubaña,” she says. “I got the opportunity to do tons of promotions for liquor brands and that experience taught me how important it is to always be on point and professional, as the event sponsors could pitch up at any time to check on what was happening.”
After moving to Port Elizabeth with her now husband, Nellis Basson (who is also an entrepreneur), she started working for Gestetner and was out on a sales call at Distell when she heard the regional manager complaining about bad service from an events company. “I said to him, ‘if I can have a company up and running within 30 days, will you make use of my services?’ and he said ‘yes’. I walked into the company as an employee and walked out of the company with a new life and opportunity, and this has taught me a valuable lesson that I still follow every day. Take advantage of every opportunity, even if it scares you. You need to be out of your comfort zone to grow.”
That was one of the first principles she learnt, and which she speaks about to her global audiences.
“The bigger the problem you are solving for people, the more valuable you are to them, and the more money you will make.”
People are always searching for solutions. They will always look for better, faster and smarter ways to accomplish tasks. Erna knew that to grab her customer’s attention, she had to start by solving their problems. “If you can take a person from point A to point B, by identifying their crucial problem and then offering to solve it, you will be able to create a real business that matters.”
Another important thing happened that day. She went back to her boss and immediately told him what had transpired. “Honesty, loyalty and integrity have always been the three key pillars of my business, starting from then, and it paid off — Gestetner became a client soon after.”
She started the promotions business with no staff and she didn’t know anyone in Port Elizabeth. “I called up a friend of one of my husband’s friends and asked her to give me ten phone numbers, and then I asked each one of those women to give me another ten. I sold my Citi Golf so that I could have a small start-up fund, and then the business just took off. We got clients like SAB, MTN, Sony, Mango, Maybelline and L’Oréal. I was earning R450 000 for ten days’ work at the age of 23.”
She soon had seven permanent employees, and more than 500 promoters working on campaigns across the country. “Within a couple of years, I had created systems and processes, which enabled the company to reach its goals and function independently without having me in the business, making it a perfect opportunity to sell and move on to the next challenge.”
Finding the gap in the market
It was just before Erna got married that she came up with an idea for another venture — while she was looking for venues, dresses and décor ideas. “I kept on wishing there was one place where I could find everything related to weddings, and then I thought why don’t I create one?” That was how website and magazine Majestic Weddings was born, an online directory and monthly magazine. After growing it into a successful wedding planning tool, she sold that company in April 2017, through an international business broker, and used the profits to launch her hair extension company Erabella.
Transitioning from services to products
Erna had never run a product-based business before, but there’s a first time for everything, right? Problem is, product businesses are extremely hard to build and get traction for. They require upfront capital and investment, as well as a whole lot of excitement. Erna certainly had the latter, believing that every woman has the right to have gorgeous thick hair.
But there were some challenges:
- The output of a service-based company is intangible, but a product-based business sells goods that customers can see and touch.
- A services company does not have to keep goods in stock or maintain an inventory. The service is created or sold as and when the customer
- needs it.
- Service-based companies do not have to put up capital — they provide a service and the customer pays for it.
- In the service industry, you have maximum control — when it comes to a product based company, you sometimes don’t have control over certain things (like a late courier, or late imports, or increase of exchange rate) but it serves as a great opportunity to apply more systems and processes to lower the risk.
“I had to buy stock for the first time. Different lengths of hair extensions, and different colours. Suddenly, I had invested more than R1 million, just like that. What’s more, in South Africa, there is a 20% import duty, which immediately raises the price of your product, making it more difficult to compete globally.”
There was another problem too. Erna had decided that Erabella would be an online business, but it didn’t grow as fast as she wanted it to and she quickly had to change the business model. “That’s when I realised that you cannot take business personally. The minute you invest emotionally, you will make mistakes. When something is not working, you need to take immediate action and make the necessary changes. Nearly every successful company since the beginning of time has had to change strategy and direction to survive and grow.”
She also learnt about the importance of starting with the end in mind.
“If you want to make $1 million, write that figure down and reverse engineer. If my hair extensions are priced at $250, I will need to sell 4 000 sets per year, which means 11 sets a day. Instead of being dumbstruck by that big figure, I’ve now got something manageable to work with. It’s that old story about how to eat an elephant.”
Two can be better than one
Another key lesson Erna learnt was that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. “When I started Erabella, I had one staff member in Johannesburg, and lots of competition. I had to do everything, from accounts, social media, business development and so on, but now we have an entire team in each department. The business grew too slowly and I realised that doing it alone was not going to work. I found a business partner in Cape Town, Karel Vermeulen — a very successful businessman who owns a personal care brand — and I knew we would be a great fit. I knew I could trust him with Erabella SA because he was invested, and I moved on to growing Erabella New Zealand and Australia.”
As a result of the partnership, the business is soaring. Today, Erabella hair extensions are available in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Dubai, with Canada next on the list.
That personal investment principle is one that Erna has applied in her coaching business. People do not appreciate what comes free, she says. “If I coach you at no cost, chances are you will say the programme did not work. But if I charge $6 000 a day, I can guarantee that you will do the work required to make it a success, because you have skin in the game. You will value and appreciate the process.”
Related: The Glamorous and Sleek GHD Offices
Erna’s key principles
- In the words of Grant Cardone, author of The 10X Rule, follow up, follow up and follow up: ‘90% of business lies in the follow up’. “I always do, and believe that you should follow up so much that they tell you to go away, and then follow up again two weeks later. I chased a client in Cape Town for two years. When their promotions vendor let them down, I was top of mind and I got the deal.”
- Never focus on the 10% that’s negative; focus on the 90% that’s positive: “We all need to have bad days in order to appreciate the good ones. When a client says no, see it as a new opportunity (take the negative from the word no, and turn it into a positive new opportunity) to recreate your strategy.”
- When people say no, ask them why not: “If I don’t close a deal, I ask, ‘What is the reason we did not do business today? Objections are only complaints — find a solution, and you will win all the time.”
- Don’t ask how: “Focus on the what and the who. What do I need to do to achieve my objective and who do I need to speak to? The ‘how’ will take care of itself.”
- You are 100% responsible for your business: “Don’t blame the economy, the government or your staff. If you are not successful, it’s your fault.”
Women Entrepreneur Successes3 days ago
Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch
Snapshots3 days ago
25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa
Support for Women Entrepreneurs1 week ago
11 Quotes On Hard Work, Risk-Taking And Getting Started From Beauty Billionaire Estee Lauder
Entrepreneur Profiles7 days ago
The House That Moladi Built – How Challenging Traditional Building Empowers Local Entrepreneurs
Company Posts2 weeks ago
Why Spartan Is Focusing On SME Funding And How They Can Support Your Business
Self Development2 weeks ago
Research: The Power Of Meditation That Will Blow Your Mind
Leading2 days ago
How To, In Practice, Distinguish Between Executive, Non-Executive And Independent Directors And Their Functions
Company Posts2 days ago
Smoothie Franchise Opportunity: Puré Frooty Is A One-Of-A-Kind Smoothie Franchise Business