How She Did It

Updated on 18 August 2016

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How she did it


In a startup obsessed world, there is a lot to be said for those entrepreneurs who have stood the test of time and who have plenty of wisdom to share.

SME South Africa talks to 4 women who, through the course of their entrepreneurship journeys, have overcome challenges, shattered glass ceilings and are blazing a trial for other female entrepreneurs.

They share 15 entrepreneurial truths that they have learnt – from building and maintaining relationships and taking emotions out of your finances to the importance of being of service to others.

NOMAPHELO MTWECU is the founder of Sinako Cleaning, a Cape Town-based professional cleaning services company. 

Inspired by a greater cause – It started during 1994 when the late President Nelson Mandela encouraged people to start doing things for themselves. The Vukuzenzele era. We also had reached the ceiling in our places of employment.

Yes we always wanted to start our own business, especially during that time of encouragement from Tata Madiba. That really gave us strength to start our own.

We had the passion and zeal to start. We thought that this was enough, but we were rudely awakened by the realization that one needs to be financially sound.

There were tough lessons along the way – A contract to start the project was not enough, as it was then popularly believed. Firstly, we did not have financial backgrounds. The criteria used by the banks were not necessarily the same as what we had.

The banks were looking at collateral and not character, [they looked] at the experience in the field and not openness to learn and commitment to learn.

The banks were looking at financial stability which we did not have at the time. It meant we had to take the long road as we were committed to get the business started and create a legacy for our children.

How we keep our customers coming back – We tend to keep the contracts that we have had for a long time, because we give a total personalised service. We are hands on. Clients like to see the owners being part of supervision.

Knowledge of your industry is important – The biggest surprise was learning that our industry is highly competitive and we had to always check as to what is new on the market regarding machinery and systems, because this industry is also very technical. So we had to invest in new machinery and update our systems and this has been very costly for us. At the same time it gave us the competitive edge.
MICHELLE GASNOLA is the founder of GMN Panelbeaters, auto body repair business based in Cape Town. 

I’ve encountered glass ceilings – I work in a male dominated industry. I am competing against men, as most panel beating workshop owners are men.

The secret was starting small and patience – I funded my own business in the beginning without needing to take a loan out at the bank. I started off very small with two employees.

As cash flow increased I bought more resources for the shop and employed one more worker. Any business has to crawl before it can walk.

Determination is key – I started the business and I had to make it work and succeed. I could not give up on my goal as it would have haunted me for the rest of my life.

There have been tough times, but I motivated myself and was supported with courage by The Almighty God.

We’ve received support from unlikely places – I did not get the proper support initially. My main supporters were car dealers, but they did not pay much. So we had to push production in order to reach our targets. Later on we were approached by private clients who buy salvage vehicles to repair either for themselves or to sell.

GWYNNETH MATTHEWS is the founder of Southern Cross Conferences which provides conference management services to corporate, government, NGO and international association clients. 

Relationships are key – No matter what your BBBEE rating is, people will only work with individuals they know and trust.

We identified what makes us unique – The three things that make us special, unique and different are: the WOW factor is standard; attention to detail from the get go; in budget, on time and as promised is a non-negotiable. Other than that, what sets me apart from others is my carefully selected staff. They share my vision and strive towards it with me.

Get the support you need – My husband who is also my business partner is my main source of support. I have to rely heavily on industry associations for best practice and knowledge.

BETSY INGS is the founder of Tradelane and Siyaloba Training Academy, an Eastern Cape-based organisation which provides enterprise and socio-economic development solutions for public and private ventures through training, mentoring and coaching throughout the African continent.

I found a way to be of service to others – I wanted to provide a product through our services that will make a quantifiable difference in the lives of the women and youth we aspire to serve. I chose to be part of the solution and it drives me to partner with great partners seeking to make a difference.

It’s important to watch the Rands and cents – Starting off as a non profit taught me a lot about respecting cash flow. I learnt to sweat every cent. Receiving a kind donation gave me the startup capital needed to take the first step.

You won’t have the support you need, do it anyway – My patient husband, who did not approve of my dream but regardless of his personal view supported me financially, emotionally and spiritually. He never said I told you so, he always dried the tears and threatened to break a few knee caps. Not receiving support from industry, government, companies and communities during lobbying for change, was the biggest lesson I learnt. I had to learn that even when you want to do good, you still have to sell change and a better concept to everyone especially the beneficiaries and demonstrate your commitment.

I learnt that emotions don’t belong in finances – Take emotions out of your finances – You cannot fill your fuel tank with good intentions, you have to operate within strict business and financial principles. Most of all, enjoy the ride –  it is exciting (very scary in the middle of the night at times) and it will allow you to grow and meet the most amazing people you would never have met if you followed the “setting realistic goals perception” to shape your decision making.

Take it all – The world is our oyster. We have so many wonderful opportunities to rise to the occasion. I love the fact that we celebrate each other’s achievements. I am a proud African woman who will leave a legacy of love and care behind because I am a product of the South African entrepreneurial landscape.

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