The 2017 Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of South Africa: A Strategy for Global Leadership Report revealed that South Africa ranks 55th out of 137 countries in terms of encouraging entrepreneurship. The report, commissioned by the SAB Foundation and the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, shows that South Africa scores better on entrepreneurial aspirations pillars than many of its peers, and well above the rest of the region.

“We’ve found that South Africa ranks in the top 25% globally in terms of competitor positioning, new technology being embraced, new products offered and the depth of our Capital Market,” shares Bridgit Evans, SAB Foundation Director.Furthering the development of entrepreneurship in South Africa, the SAB Foundation runs several entrepreneurship programmes a year, one of which is the Tholoana Enterprise Programme (TEP), a wrap-around solution supporting business growth over a two-year period through skills development, mentorship and access to tools and templates.

The road to entrepreneurship is often long and frequently lonely and assistance from a programme like TEP can make all the difference.

Current participants in the programme, Maxwell Sabelo from 2Cee Holdings, a paralegal and business consultant service company based in Pietermaritzburg; Patience Mamabolo from @Couch Designs a speciality manufacturer of household and office furniture in Mokopane; and Kennedy Mabule from Moeps Trading Enterprise which grows and supplies vegetable to several retailers in Limpopo, share their hard-earned wisdom:

1) Get to grips with finances 

Get to grips with finances Running a successful business encompasses a number of skills. Feedback shows that most entrepreneurs struggle with determining what service / product generates the bulk of their income, and how to price products and services correctly: Sabelo says one of his biggest lessons is to; “Understand your business clearly, especially in terms of finances. Know where your money is coming from – which products and services are generating the bulk of your income – as this will help you know where to focus and to grow”.

Mamabolo concurs, sharing that; “Starting out, I had no idea what I was getting in to. Small things like understanding how to calculate my costings properly and doing marketing threw me. Keep your eye on the ball when it comes to your finances. Know what’s going on in your finances as it will help you remain focused”.

“Get to grips with costs and pricing. I had to learn to base my costing not just on a final, ideal sales price, but based on all the costs that went into producing it; from planting and watering my crops, to packaging and transport,” reveals Mabule.

While financing is critical to the growth of any business, Sabelo is quick to caution entrepreneurs not to be solely driven by profit. “I believe in the two P’s: passion and profit, and learning how to balance these two. Remember that passion will carry you when your business is starting and you’re not earning. But you need profit to grow, so your business has to be sustainable in order to keep building on your passion.”

2) Get to know your market

Get to know your market“Entrepreneurs often don’t ask enough questions when setting out – we get lost in the details of our product/service and neglect the bigger picture. There’s a lot to learn about the industry/market you’re entering, and you need to know what’s going on,” believes Sabelo. Mabule meanwhile shares that he was able to spot a gap in the market because he’d been studying the local produce market for quite some time, which enabled him to jump when opportunity presented itself.

3) Work with a mentor

Mamabolo shares that she initially struggled as an entrepreneur as she felt she had no one to talk to about her ideas and challenges. Since joining TEP she believes that the factor that made the biggest difference to her business was getting a mentor. Her advice to other entrepreneurs? “Realise that you’re not alone, there are people with answers. Mentorship isn’t just important, it’s essential to the success of your business. Getting into the TEP and meeting my mentor boosted my confidence levels and has done wonders for my skills development and turnover.”

Sabelo echoes this message, emphasising that mentorship is key as it’s not possible to walk this journey alone.

Regardless of the industry, every entrepreneur needs to learn the same basic skills and walking the road alongside experienced mentors can do much to help entrepreneurs grow their business and to avoid costly mistakes along the way.