As someone born and bred in Soweto, Pumla Ntsele hasexperienced first hand how difficult it is to access business services in thetownship. “Whether you’re looking for a plumber or a shoe-maker, it’s verydifficult to know where to go and how to find people who offer services,” shesays, adding that most entrepreneurs advertise their businesses informally byword of mouth or on murals in public spaces. Recognising a good businessopportunity when she saw it, Ntsele launched Soweto Business Guide in 2007.“It’s a directory of businesses in Sowetothat we hope to grow and develop over time. Initially my idea was just to haveit as a web-based directory, but we’ve decided to bring it out in print formatin a magazine as well, so that people who don’t have access to the internet canuse it,” she explains.
Hitting the pavements. Gathering all theinformation for the guide has been an enormous logistical challenge, whichNtsele has tackled on a number of fronts. “I had someone go out and take downall the information they could find that businesses had posted on walls andmurals. Then I contacted the Soweto Chamber of Commerce and the Soweto BusinessInitiative to find out where the businesses were,” she explains. She’s keptcosts to a minimum by outsourcing wherever she can, although she has employedtwo salespeople. “Getting businesses to list involves cold-calling and I’m nota salesperson, so I’ve left this role up to people who really know what they’redoing!” she says.Challenges and Growth. One of the biggestchallenges has been getting businesses to understand the value of listing. “Theresponse has been mixed. You get different levels of entrepreneurs in Soweto – some have beenoperating for years without marketing and are sceptical about listing in theguide, while others – usually the younger entrepreneurs – are on the look-outfor any opportunity to grow their businesses and they are the ones who are keento get into the guide,” says Ntsele. In order to build credibility and showbusinesses the value of being listed, she has offered listings for free in thefirst issue of the magazine, but these will be charged for going forward.
Her plans for the future? “I want theSoweto Business Guide brand to gain recognition so that when big business wantsto venture into Sowetoand when they are looking for services or partners, this is their first port ofcall,” she says. She plans to meet this goal by acting as a media sponsor atvarious local Sowetoevents. “Once things are off the ground, we want to roll out the same conceptin other townships,” she concludes. For more information, contact Pumla on +27 11432 4181 or +27 83 212 1897