David White - CEO, BusinessFit and Akhona Mahlati - Director, BusinessFit : The Heart Of Your Business
Ever met anyone with true terror in their eyes? It's likely they run their own business. Sleepless nights about cash flow, getting that one contract that will make all the difference, big companies muscling in on their niche... entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. Which is why people like David White and Akhona Mahlati, CEO and Director of BusinessFit respectively, are so important. We chat to them about entrepreneurship, and how BusinessFit seeks to mentor entrepreneurs and help them to take their businesses to the next level. South Africa's chief challenges are unemployment and poverty. Why are entrepreneurs important in combatting these?
David: It's simple. Entrepreneurs create employment, and employment is the catalyst our economy needs to get people working to help alleviate poverty. Entrepreneurs are overwhelmingly good at identifying niche opportunities in the market from which they set up small businesses that create employment. Government cannot do this, as by nature they are service facilitators and not employers. Big businesses have stakeholder hurdle rates, and are often forced to introduce technology and cut jobs to maintain their competitive edge in the marketplace.
The South African economy is negotiating some heavy waters, and small businesses are struggling. What advice do you have for the small business owner?
Akhona: Stay in the game. Find ways to keep your company open for business. The message is, remember your roots, remain in 'struggle mode', watch your costs and guard against nonessential spending too early in the game. Persevere with the old, rusty bakkie... the SUV can come later. Get better at what you do day-by-day - and ensure that your services are world-class.
What attributes should a successful entrepreneur have?
David: Being an entrepreneur is like belonging to a unique culture - you can only really say you are an entrepreneur if you can justify why you think you are. If we had to single out just two attributes, we would probably say purpose and passion. What opportunities do you believe are afforded to South African entrepreneurs that perhaps aren't accessible elsewhere in the world?
Akhona: We believe in the inherent capabilities of South Africans rising to the challenges of setting up and running a business. South African's through our history have learned tenacity, patience and endurance, and these are outstanding entrepreneurial traits. Uniquely in South Africa we have the B-BBEE Act that encourages large and corporate clients to purchase at least 30% of their goods from small and medium size companies, 40% from black-owned businesses and 12% from black women-owned companies.
Most entrepreneurs are familiar with risk. Do you have any advice regarding risk mitigation?
David: There is a measurement of risk in everything we all do each day. But when good entrepreneurs make decisions, they consider possible outcomes and stakeholder expectations, and as far as possible they work toward eliminating unnecessary risk.
How important is mentoring when it comes to growing the next generation of entrepreneurs?
Akhona: It's absolutely critical. We all need mentors to help and guide our growth and development. Very few entrepreneurs are gifted to such a degree that they can do everything on their own. Mentors help us with our initial steps, and then further down the line with support, encouragement and wisdom.
One often hears about successful business persons failing multiple times. How important is failure, and how can business owners fail 'successfully'?
Akhona: Failure is a step in the greater journey. Success in business is not the opposite of failure. Success in business is a way of life; it's about the ability to keep going. The astute entrepreneur sees failure as a learning opportunity - one not found in any text book. Such failure grows the resolve to not repeat mistakes, to see potential adversity coming and then to either avoid it or take advantage of it. With this mindset, the losses you refer to become investments in the future.
Can you share a bit about BusinessFit, and how you seek to mentor entrepreneurs?
David: As an entrepreneur development beneficiary, BusinessFit helps companies plan and develop their transformational plans. BusinessFit's success is in helping entrepreneurs to become leaders, and to be more confident in ensuring their business ideas will grow to maturity.
We work with both the company's transformational team and the entrepreneurs to ensure a synergistic enterprise or supplier development relationship. Graduates that have been through our Training Academy, Round Table Meeting process, and who have had one-on-one mentoring are noticeably more confident, assured, and able to manage and grow their business. It is our belief that there is place for many more small and medium companies to enter the economy. We constantly encourage entrepreneurs to take up the challenge of running a business, or growing their business to the next level. The for entrepreneurs is being able to contribute to the economy, to create employment, and to enjoy the feeling that comes from helping others and making the world a better place for all.
For more information about BusinessFit, contact Lindiwe Bhadi on Lindiwe@businessfit.co.za or +27 31 767 0625