Women starting their own businesses in South Africa

To celebrate Women’s Month, Moneybags is highlighting the wonderful achievements that some women have accomplished. Moneybags journalist Jessica Anne Wood spoke to several women who have established and run their own successful businesses to see what the entrepreneurship world is like for women and what advice they have to offer.


Taking the plunge

Denise Koortzen is the co-founder and co-developer of Kgalagadi Lodge in the Kalahari. Currently 28 years of age, Koortzen decided to open a guest lodge with her husband in 2012.

Koortzen admits that the lodge faced a few obstacles during the start-up phase, but she did not face sexism. “What I did realise, was the bigger, more professional companies I dealt with were very lenient and helpful towards me as a woman.”

Koortzen points out that fear of failure is what concerns stops most women from starting their own businesses. “We all realise that most of the time, the type of business we want to start already exits. Do not let that put you down, just make sure that you offer a better product and service. Take the challenge and put your own spin on the business to make it unique. Having competitors keeps you on your toes, which is always a good thing. You have to be confident in what you do.”


Juggling responsibilities

Jeneen Galbraith is a chartered accountant and co-founder of accounting and financial services firm Galbraith Rushby. She started the business together with business partner Michael Rushby out of her house seven to eight years ago with one staff member, and the company has grown to a compliment of 40 staff members.

Galbraith reveals that having a family and running a business is a juggling act. “I definitely think for women it is much harder and more of a challenge. [Just] because you’re not at home doesn’t mean you’re not a mother, and doesn’t mean that a lot of the responsibilities that go with motherhood are just gone, because they are still there. Your children still actually want you [around], they still want that time with you, and all the things that you do in terms of managing the household, buying the clothes, buying the groceries, [are still your responsibility.]”

This juggling act was made slightly more difficult for Galbraith when she fell pregnant with a special needs child during the first year of opening the business.

Galbraith highlights that having a good support system at home and a supportive husband has made it much easier for her to accomplish everything that she has. “You have to have a good support system, and obviously my husband is very much part of that.”

According to Galbraith, she never planned on starting her own business, and had wanted to be a stay-at-home mother. But she says: “I think you just have to take the opportunities that come before you.”


Being a women in business

Both Koortzen and Galbraith both believe that they did not face any added challenges to starting a business because they are women.

According to Koortzen, times have changed and people are more open minded and willing to do business with women. But she adds: “What still makes it difficult is the way we have been raised, in a culture where there is still a general feeling of ‘women are supposed to be the caretaker at home and raise the children’. I like to encourage women to grab the opportunities out there and make it work, no matter what obstacles are thrown your way.”

Galbraith believes that being a woman in business does have its advantages. One of these is that women see things from a different point of view to men. She believes she brings a softness to the company when it comes to dealing with staff and the personal issues they may be experiencing.

However, Galbraith emphasises that she has had to toughen up since she started the company. “You have to drive that value, and there are some people who are not going to be right with your business and you are going to have to make hard decisions at times, and that is quite tough. But you realise that in order to support all the staff and the business, you have to make decisions that are in the best interest of everybody, [and] not just one individual.”

Lorna Maseko-Lukhele, a presenter on Top Billing and founder of project management company Fabulous Productions says: “It’s hard for a woman to start a business but hopefully as the likes of Dr Anna Mokgokong (co-founder of Community Investment Holdings) Joanna Mokoki (founder and managing director of Travel With Flair) and Daphne Mashile Nkosi (chairperson of Kalagadi Manganese, CEO of Kalahari Resources, and founder and director of Temoso Technologies Limited) among others pave the way, we will no longer be singing that same song.

“Business is hard generally; it’s only the strong that survive. Just in the same way that there are those who are built to excel in the corporate space and they may not do so well in the entrepreneurial space, it’s vice versa for the ‘streets’, as I like to call them. Being in business is thrilling; I love the endless opportunities you just have to look a little deeper to find them.”


Registering your company

As an accountant and someone who works with tax on a regular basis, Galbraith points out that registering a new company, particularly if it is a small business, can be a bit of a nightmare.

“I sit in many meetings with people that are starting their businesses and I have to say to them, we have to get your company registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission. We have to register you for employment tax, for UIF, and with the Department of Workman’s Compensation (COIDA), so there are so many legal and admin things that have to be done. I can see the clients thinking and asking – do I really need to do all of this , ‘do I really want to get into all of this’,” says Galbraith.

According to Galbraith, some of the legal and administrative requirements for registering and establishing a company could be prohibitive to a small business.

For more information on registering your business, click here.


Finding the funding

Finding the necessary funds to back your business idea and get it off the ground can be hard. Maseko-Lukhele reveals that she started the company without any funding, while Galbraith and her business partner started the company out of her house. Koortzen and her husband got the funds to start their business from her husband’s parents.

However, for those not fortunate to have family or friends who can assist financially there are other ways to source money.

You can ask your bank when looking for funds to start a business. For example, Nedbank has a start-up offer, for entrepreneurs.. This is only available for businesses that are not yet in operation or have been in operation for less than two years. For more information on this, click here.

But there are other companies and organisations that can help small businesses with financing. Business Partners Limited recently launched a fund to help finance female entrepreneurs. To read more about this fund, click here.

In addition, there is also the Small Enterprise Development Agency (Seda). “Seda’s mission is to develop, support and promote small enterprises throughout the country, ensuring their growth and sustainability in co–ordination and partnership with various role players, including global partners, who make international best practices available to local entrepreneurs,” explains the Seda website.

Seda offers entrepreneurs advice and guidance, assisting them in starting their own businesses, from funding, to marketing and growing your business.


Getting guidance

While they do not offer funding to entrepreneurs, MEDO (Micro Enterprise Development Organisation) works to form partnerships between larger companies and the smaller entrepreneurs to help grow these businesses. MEDO assists both entrepreneurs who are already established and want to grow, as well as those who have a good business idea and wish to pursue it.

Nolu Tutani, UK International Trade Programme director at MEDO, notes that the organisation has been running programmes to help entrepreneurs for the past three years. These programmes are largely focused on supplier development.

MEDO assists entrepreneurs in developing their business skills.

“We have a mobile entrepreneurship incubator that goes out to rural communities and urban areas, those hard to reach places. We go to those places to look for aspiring entrepreneurs, people who are interested in starting [their own business], and along the way we pick up a lot of entrepreneurs who already have registered businesses, but are looking for assistance and help,” explains Tutani.

“The programmes that they join with MEDO are absolutely at no cost to the entrepreneur. But we don’t do funding (invest money into their business), when we do an investment it’s usually an enterprise and supplier development investment.

For more information on MEDO’s offerings for entrepreneurs, click here.


Tips for women starting their own businesses:

Below are some tips to help aspiring entrepreneurs from Koortzen, Galbraith and Maseko-Lukhele.

  1. “Make sure you do comprehensive research to determine what your goals are and what type of product and service you would like to offer,” advises Koortzen.
  2. The location of your company is also important. Koortzen says: “Make sure you find the perfect location where you would like to create your establishment, determine the type of guests you would like to attract, etc.”
  3. Have a solid business plan. “The more knowledge you have about what you want to do, the better you will be able to manage your business,” notes Koortzen.
  4. Start with a small base. Galbraith reveals that this can help to ascertain if what you are wanting to do will actually work.
  5. Galbraith adds that just because you are successful in one thing does not mean that you will be successful in everything that you do, and you need to carefully consider the type of business you want to start.
  6. Bigger is not always better. Sometimes a small business can make a larger profit through staying small and not growing beyond its means.
  7. Be committed. Be present in every aspect of what happens in your business.
  8. Don’t be afraid to take a risk. Maseko-Lukhele says: “Have mentors who will guide and help you not make the same mistakes they made. It’s always helpful. Know that it’s not easy but not impossible either.
  9. Keep employees informed. It is very important to make sure everyone knows the structure of the company and where they fit in. Each employee needs a job description – specific positions that you know are necessary.


Maseko-Lukhele adds that money isn’t everything: “Ensure that you’re passionate about what you do, don’t do anything for money. The money will always come. My Pastor once said, success is not a pie but a river, there’s always water flowing, sometimes there’s an overflow other times the river is not that full but there’s always something.”