If there’s one thing Jojo Tsheola knows how to do it’s to make the most of every small opportunity that comes his way. Founder of Tsheola Dinare Tours, he’s singled out gaps in the market, identified openings for growth, sought partnerships, fostered relationships, and swum as a small fish in a really big pond to build an award-winning business. In the early days there was no single big break, cash injection or lucrative deal — his story is a lesson in working hard to make the most of the little things that come your way.
A business is born
Formerly employed as a cleaner and having worked his way up to become a certified tourist guide at the Shongololo Express, Tsheola was dealt a tremendous blow when he lost his job in 2005. “I dearly loved Shongololo Express and it was a heart-breaking experience for me. But there and then I decided that I would never be dismissed again,” he recalls.
Instead of returning to the job market, he partnered with various people in a number of tour operating projects. And while none of them worked out the way he planned, he used the experience to gather the information and skills he needed to start his own operation. Tsheola Dinare Tours was born in 2007 with a view to servicing the corporate market.
“My idea was to do airport and hotel transfers and take both international and local executives to and from meetings,” Tsheola explains. But while chatting to clients he quickly realised that many of them had free time on their hands in-between their work commitments. Could Tsheola show them around to a couple of local tourism hotspots? “It was a captive market and something that could differentiate me, so I went for it.”
Getting a foot in the door
The tourism sector is extremely competitive and single-man tour operators are a dime a dozen. Tsheola’s biggest challenge was to break into his target market — big name companies with national and international footprints, the kind of organisations that would fly directors to meetings on a regular basis. “I was new and unknown with no previous references and no reputation to speak of,” he says. But he also knew that while large contracts were the end-goal, all he needed was a small opportunity to get him going.
“I put together a really professional-looking profile and sent it out to the five companies I had done transfers for after losing my job. They came back telling me I’d have to become a registered vendor,” he recalls. As is usually the case, the process was onerous for a new business and didn’t guarantee any immediate work. “But I knew it was the only way to get my foot in the door, so I got together all the documentation required and it paid off. I was on the list,” he says.
Building skills and relationships
But Tsheola didn’t only concentrate on building relationships with clients. “I looked at the various stakeholders in the tourism industry too,” he says. He sought out the assistance and partnership of the Gauteng Tourism Authority and Johannesburg Tourism Company, attending their forums and workshops.
“I learned a great deal from those workshops, skills that enabled me to position myself professionally. And of course you make contacts when you interact with others in your industry. It helped me to become more widely known,” he says.
While handling VIP transport for a major event, Tsheola so impressed Joburg Tourism that they worked to facilitate business linkages and supplier opportunities for him. In 2009, he was named winner of the Gauteng Emerging Tourism Entrepreneur of the Year Award and runner-up in the national competition. More recently the company was listed as a finalist at the Africa Growth Institute 2010 SMME awards. “These sorts of connections with the industry have been important for me,” Tsheola says.
Taking the gap
So too has been his ability to grab business when it comes his way. One night in 2009 he received a phone call asking if he could handle the transport for the Miss World contest the following day, after their supplier had let them down. Tsheola jumped at the opportunity and was awarded a major month-long contract.
After meeting and taking the business card of a European contact at Indaba in 2009, he kept in contact and slowly built a relationship that ended in a contract to do the ground handling for 21 large companies, representing 700 people.
It’s this kind of willingness to pursue every relationship and opportunity that has built Tsheola Dinare from a single-man business that hired vehicles as and when it needed them to an award-winning company with 14 vehicles employing 21 people. A great lesson for others to follow.
Secrets to success
- Build relationships – not only with clients but with stakeholders, industry bodies and forums in your sector. It’ll bring you into contact with the right people
- Talk to clients continually – not just when you want business from them. It will help you understand their additional needs and highlight new opportunities to meet these.
- Pursue all opportunities – not just those that promise immediate business. Putting out feelers in every direction will help to spread your net wide. Some of them are bound to pay off in the end.
- Follow up with new contacts – ensure the connections you make are worthwhile, not just a once-off exchange of business cards. Follow up and stay in touch.
Company: Tsheola Dinare Tours
Founder: Jojo Tsheola
Started in: 2007
Contact: +27 (0)11 943 3632