Ask yourself: Where’s the gap in the market, what are you really good at, and how do the two align?
Lack of access to finance for start-ups is widely acknowledged as a big inhibitor to the growth of the SME sector. One entrepreneur who knows all about that is Zimkhitha Mqutheni, founder of Ukhanyiso Communications, a Cape Town based communications agency launched in 2010.
As a young graduate, Mqutheni was employed in the corporate world. One of her clients was a government medical aid scheme whose members were mostly black state employees.
She began to notice how few PR and communications agencies really understood the black market in Cape Town.
“I have lived in rural areas, townships and the suburbs, and I believed there was a gap in communication targeted at the black market,” she says.
“My desire was to create an agency that would speak to these people in a language they understand.”
Mqutheni had a small budget but was still able to get the business off the ground. Initially, she used her monthly salary to subsidise the agency, but after a year that was not enough to sustain it.
“Like many young, educated black people, I was still paying off a big student loan, and owing even more money to the bank was going to kill me. Besides that, I come from a rural area and my mother is a domestic worker – there was no way for me to provide surety for the loan, which is a bank prerequisite.”
Who do you know?
Mqutheni looked to her network to raise money. An active church member, she was close friends with a fellow business woman who was older and more experienced, and who was employed as a director by a big retailer.
“I asked her to fund Ukhanyiso Communications and to become my mentor. She looked at my business plan and we drew up a repayment agreement once she was satisfied with the content of the plan.
“Provided you cover all the legal requirements, getting money from a friend comes with much less pressure than a bank loan.”
Keeping costs down
After two years of building a client base and breaking even, Ukhanyiso Communications is profitable. Mqutheni works from her home and has a team of freelancers, who she hires when needed, to keep her operating costs as low as possible.
However, following the success of the business, she plans to hire an account executive and an admin assistant so that she can focus on signing up new clients.
“Starting a business is exhausting,” she says. “It’s critical that you are emotionally and spiritually ready to do the work before you go for it. However, if you do what you are passionate about, the rewards are enormous.”
Starting a business with no money
Here’s how Zimkhitha Mqutheni did it:
- Work from home to keep overheads low.
- Build a business around the skills you already possess.
- Get start-up capital from people you know.
- Do all the work yourself and plough the income back into the business.
- If you have a job, hold onto it. Start your business in your spare time and only give up your day job once your venture is able to pay you.