The helping hand
Entrepreneur follows passion to business success
Samantha Sharkey and the Long Mountain Caterers & Bakery team whom she mentors.When you make your passion your business, money no longer becomes the prime motivator.
Rather, you endeavour to be the best possible entrepreneur while making some money in the process.
"I have been in Robertson (in the Western Cape) for 22 years now and have worked with the local communities. I felt I have a lot to offer the people in the area who have a huge educational deficit and make a difference," Samantha Sharkey says.
The owner of Singayenza, a grassroots Economic Development and training initiative, explains while the business still needs to turn a profit, having a profound influence on people brings it own rewards.
GrassrootsSharkey assists small local businesses through various economic development initiatives established firms in the area operate.
She also provides skills training through the Micro-MBA initiative which assists subsistence entrepreneurs to become fully-fledged economic participants.
Now in its second year, Singayenza is not Sharkey's first foray into the entrepreneurial world as her previous business failed a few years ago.
This importer of Australian organic skincare products could simply not compete with local manufacturers during the recession.
At the same time, Sharkey explains that she had an ethical dilemma importing these products: "It didn't seem right for me to import organic products and create a large carbon footprint when there are local products available".
Previously, she had been involved in community development initiatives while employed. This job soon became a passion and so Sharkey decided to get involved full-time: "It is a wonderful way of empowering people to run their business".
Fall and learnWhile the new business is going from strength to strength, Sharkey had a difficult time in closing her first venture.
"I should probably have closed it down a year earlier but I tried every avenue to keep it open. It is important to make sure that you have covered every functional aspect (to keep the doors open)…
"If you have tried everything and it has not made a difference then you need to make the decision."
She says one of the biggest challenges is to look at the situation objectively and to make a business decision without emotion clouding one's judgement.
"There are a lot of successful people who have previously failed in business. If something does not work, it does not mean that you have failed because you have learnt a lot of lessons you can implement in the next business…
"We need to change the perception that when a business fails you are a failure."
Helping handSharkey says that through Singayenza she has been able to make a meaningful impact in the lives of others.
She explains that survivalist businesses such as spaza shops or tyre puncture repair shacks can become successful businesses if the proprietors have the necessary skills.
Unfortunately, these business owners often have an extremely low level of education and this is where the Micro-MBA programme comes in as it is aimed at someone with a grade 4 education.
"Once people have gone through a course such as this, they have the skills to manage their cash flow or stock control. They know how to plan and can do everything that anyone else would do in a more sophisticated businesses.
"This allows them to make a success of their businesses – it gives people with a low level of education all the tools to run a business.
"You have people who were previously unemployed running businesses and hiring other people," she explains.
Mind's eyeSharkey explains that math literacy is one of the major obstacles she encounters on a daily basis. As a result, the people she assists do not know how to calculate a mark-up, how to manage stock levels or how to manage cash flow.
"Practically speaking, it is adding up a list of numbers – they do not know where to put the comma; which is rands or which is cents; which is grams or kilograms."
She adds that while education is the key, it needs to be taught in a hands on manner to inform the practical daily running of the business in question.
"The theory and practice needs to work together and the theory needs to be appropriate to what is happening in that business right now.
"First you need the technical skills such as growing tomatoes or baking bread. Thereafter you need the business skills."
She says the individuals dedicated to their businesses quickly pick up the tools and knowledge she imparts and this is where her true job satisfaction comes from: "It is the most amazing experience to see how the basic tools that I impart make a difference in people's lives and that of their families.
"When they walk out of the course they feel uplifted and empowered – it's an amazing experience."
Measuring staffBecause Singayenza is a for profit island in a sea of non-governmental and public sector initiatives Sharkey initially found it quite difficult to measure her success.
She explains that there are no clear industry benchmarks she could keep an eye on and this meant following her own instincts.
"Being an entrepreneur in your own business, you wonder at times if you are doing the right thing. But there are situations that come along and show you that you are on the right path. You have to put your head down and just work hard at it."
Sharkey adds that there is more than enough space in South Africa for businesses such as hers to flourish but warns that the right type of entrepreneur is the key.
"Your heart has to be in the right place – there have been a lot of fly by nights in the mentorship space but they have not empowered the people they train because they are trying to make a quick buck," she says.
"Economic Development is a long term initiative and there is no quick fix. You cannot set up hundreds of businesses year in and year out – there needs to be a five year relationship at least with emerging entrepreneurs because of the education deficit…
"When you start a business as a qualified person, there is a 80% chance of failure. Now what is the situation if you are unqualified and unschooled?"