The road to entrepreneurial success is riddled with potholes and trying to get any business idea off the ground is hard work. No one boasts about borrowing money from family to pay the electricity bill, using your credit card to pay suppliers or what a struggle it is to get the right customers to walk through the door.
Here are the stories of ordinary South Africans who worked hard to overcome great challenges to achieve the growth they are proud of today. They all have one thing in common. You will be surprised to know that it is not systems and processes, or business acumen; it is grit – and the ability to see failures as a necessary component of success. How do they do that? They focus on finding solutions to every problem and they are never anchored to their failures. This resilient attitude will help entrepreneurs overcome any challenge.
Sikhulile Nhassengo is the proud owner of Maninga Engineering. It’s been a 20-year journey of sacrifice and perseverance: “The first few years were probably the most difficult. If you are a one-man band you are probably wondering why you left the stability of a full-time job with paid sick leave. I had to dig deep to find an internal reservoir of courage and determination and remember why I started my business. It gave me the motivation to persevere.
“I underestimated my need for a good support system when I started my business. You will need a personal network of family and friends to support you when you are building a business and a peer network of like-minded businessmen and women you can reach out to and share ideas with.”
“It is extremely rewarding to run my own business,” says Sikhulile. “Most people don’t start because they are not sure of the outcome. But if you work hard, learn as much as you can and never give up, you, too, can create something that will be felt by generations to come.”
Thulani and his wife Khanyi Sithole are determined entrepreneurs. Thulani promotes their detergent manufacturing company, Fresh Lemon Chemicals, by cold calling – going door to door with his box of samples. It is this resilient approach that helped grow the company since it started three years ago. Today Fresh Lemon Chemicals supplies bed and breakfasts, car wash businesses, shisanyamas, the uThukela Municipality and factories.
It has not always been easy for the couple. Starting a business from scratch has been challenging. But Thulani is positive. “I always give myself credit, even when I fail at something. I give myself credit for trying something new. I often find my second attempt is better than the first and that keeps me going,” says Thulani. “Running a business is not a destination, it is a long journey, and it is important to find like-minded friends,” says Thulani.
Their advice for other aspiring entrepreneurs? “It’s ok to say no and to take time to make the right decisions.” Valuable advice for new businesses that feel obliged to take every order that comes through the door.
Lindiwe Mukhuba knows how to succeed in a man’s world. She has been doing it for more than seven years running her own business, Alpha and Omega Financial Services, and even longer when she worked in the banking industry.
Lindiwe believes you can do anything you put your mind to; her mantra is “It can be done”. This is what she told herself every day when she was unemployed for two years. She told herself “It can be done” after she got a top job and then had the offer withdrawn because she was “too powerful”.
So, she took the knowledge she had gleaned in the financial industry to start her own business but had to battle sexism and covert racism as well. This is her advice: “As a black business, it’s paramount to maintain a high standard of service. Because I am competing with major players like Hollard, Old Mutual and others, it is important to maintain a good reputation.
“It might take time, but success will come. Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. I started my business in my spare bedroom. I had days where I questioned my sanity. Today I have branches in Johannesburg and Polokwane, and I operate in the Free State as well.”
If you are an entrepreneur and you are facing your own dark days, know that this time might provoke deep questions, but it also provides opportunities for the most growth, in yourself and your business. These entrepreneurial stories prove that the greatest learning happens outside our comfort zones. So, trust the process and learn as much as you can when times are tough.