As an established entrepreneur passing on the skills and lessons I’ve learnt on my journey I, too, have emerged from this process a wiser man.
With just days to go before the winner of The Workspace/MiWay Entrepreneur Competition is announced, I’ve reflected on the time spent conducting workshops and skills development programmes with firstly the top 10, and more recently, the top five entrepreneurs.
Their maturity and love for what they do is the something that was brought home to me constantly, and which reminded me as an entrepreneur of how much I love what I do.
Secondly their level of dedication into growing their businesses was evident through the effort of participating in this competition (which started in February, and culminates on 13 September). This was no cut ‘n’ paste process. It was rigorous, time-consuming and yes, tough. Their openness to learning to be criticised, to be vulnerable about their personal and business lives, to say ‘I want to grow, teach me’; this is something that I know is tough to do, but because of their hunger and determination, they took it all on board (and on the chin).
I’m a sucker for entrepreneurs because I know what it means and takes to be one. Some of these guys are first generation entrepreneurs in their families and most of their immediate families do not understand what it takes to run an enterprise so there are various pressures that these guys experience, let alone their businesses. So to see them still follow their dream with that understanding is inspiring.
Traits in common
That said, I believe entrepreneurs do have certain traits in common. They are confident about themselves and their business. They are eager to succeed.
They are able to overcome challenges and see the bigger picture, so they display self-determination, consistency and agility. In the case of our finalists, they have a deep sense of self and feel a responsibility to contribute to this country’s people and its economic growth.
Cloud based loyalty management platform and app for SMEs, Loyal 1; finance solution company, Matla Risk Management; events and catering business Sindi’s Best for All; mining tech integration partner, Dwyka Mining Services; and Minatlou Trading 251, supplier of general and women-specific protective personal equipment/clothing are the top 5 finalists.
Very different businesses, with different challenges yet what struck me was that they really understood their businesses and knew how to sell it. What they really needed to take it further was a business development programme that would structure their business and harness the skills they already possessed.
And that’s where the important part of this competition really kicked in. We incorporated a series of workshops and skills development initiatives to help them reach the next level. [As an aside, an important part of this was learning to pitch their businesses properly. One has even told me how his pitch training helped him acquire new business as he was going through the competition!)
So how they absorbed and took on these lessons played an enormous role in whether they made it to the next level of the competition. Working closely with them through this process highlighted several issues.
Firstly, I realised many entrepreneurs had difficulty in differentiating a partner from client simply because of how some of their businesses needed corporate financing to activate the market which they had access to. As a result it was difficult for some the entrepreneurs to clearly understand who their client and partner was. This meant most of them said their services wereB2B and B2C at the same time.
Secondly the entrepreneurs ran their businesses without proper financial strategies and planning. They had not set measurable targets for their businesses. Some operated hand to mouth due to the lack of structure, and weren’t able to take home a salary.
Lastly, the entrepreneurs needed to understand the key operations of their businesses and focus on ensuring that those aspects were kept going all the time. This spoke to developing systems and processes that when implemented, would allow them to remove themselves from the day to day operations and bring in key people to run those functions for them while they focus on bringing in business and the bigger picture.
This is of course a difficult thing to do for a lot of the entrepreneurs. One of the entrants ended up crying because she realised that she was the biggest obstacle in her growth. In one week she had turned down two deals due to her lack of capacity simply because she wanted to be the one to do everything and did not trust other people to deliver and uphold her brand’s standards.
Back to the top five finalists. What differentiated them from other competitors was their product knowledge, the potential for growth, their determination and enthusiasm, having good existing clients, that they were already generating some money, and that their needs met the prize offering (valued at over R500 000).
My advice to them – and to all the entrepreneurs out there who are helping us build an economically vibrant South Africa – continue being agile, especially in these challenging economic time. Don’t be afraid to try new things. And don’t forget to invest in yourself.
And my plea to government? Please cut the red tape. Please allow entrepreneurs to flourish. Please take the words of Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba, to heart. When he visited South Africa recently, he said, “The best way to create jobs is to encourage small business,” adding that he’d advised President Cyril Ramaphosa to give favourable tax rates to start ups as they needed it, rather than big businesses. He compared taxing small businesses to “taking the meat off mosquitoes’ legs”. Hear hear!
Phakiso Tsotetsi is the co-founder of the Hookupdinner, one of the fastest growing entrepreneurial networking platforms in the Sub-Saharan Africa along with co founding The Peoples Fund, a crowd funding and asset financing company that is driven by the people and for the People. Tsotetsi is an entrepreneur at heart and is all about entrepreneurs.