What entrepreneurs wish they’d known when they were starting out

The 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® winners discuss the advice they would share with their younger selves

In the absence of concrete guidance and mentorship, the path to becoming a successful entrepreneur can be a very lonely one. As such, this path is too often forged solely by way of trial and error – frequently involving costly mistakes and countless sacrifices along the way.

In order to make this path less formidable for ‘up-and-coming’ entrepreneurs, we sat down with the winners of the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition to discuss the advice that they would share with their younger selves.

Vanessa Jacobs of Sow Delicious® and Emerging Business Entrepreneur of the Year® says that, above all, she would remind her younger self to never trade passion for money. “If you follow the money, it will seem to elude you and leave your life empty, but if you work for the love of it, then the money will follow you instead.

“It is also important to always remain teachable and view every set-back as a gift, because at its very core lies a solution of how to use it to excel to greater heights,” she adds.

This sentiment of remaining teachable is echoed in the advice offered by the owner and founder of Khonology, Michael Roberts, Job Creator of the Year ®. “Understand economics and how the world works, but be open to views, ideas and take advice. Look for inspiration in other people’s success stories and surround yourself with positive and focused people.”

Overall Entrepreneur of the Year®, Johan Eksteen of Agricon, urges young entrepreneurs to realise that they are loose cannons – something that he says is both a good and a bad thing. “Young entrepreneurs have untapped potential as they have not yet been corrupted by the harsh realities of the economy. They dream without limits and are therefore very creative and original. In this lies the caveat that it is both a good and a bad thing to be a loose cannon.

“Many ideas are potentially great ideas, but the key is to implement these ideas in real life. If they listen too much or too often to people with experience, they may be discouraged to even try, and therefore their great innovation may go undeveloped. However, if they do not take up some mentorship and advice, they may have no clue as to how they should turn the idea into a business.”

In this sense, Eksteen points out that strong mentorship encourages and guides a young entrepreneur is important, but also highlights the risk of getting the wrong mentor. “Choosing the right mentor is crucial, as the last thing you need as a young, driven entrepreneur is a passion killer.”

Carl Pretorius, managing director of Just Trees and Medium Business Entrepreneur of the Year®, says that he found having an older mentor whom he could bounce ideas off and get advice from to be very helpful. “When I was younger, I often thought that I knew more about certain matters than I really did. I would encourage young entrepreneurs to be honest with themselves about what they know and do not know, and then get help with or learn about the latter.”

Furthermore, Eksteen says that young entrepreneurs should realise that it can take up to five years to put a solid business concept together and to start making serious money. “In this time, the entrepreneur must remember that they are not managing a ready-made concept, so it requires constant change and sharp entrepreneurial tenacity to succeed.”

Eksteen finishes off with a final piece of advice that can and should be applied at any stage along the entrepreneurial journey: “Most entrepreneurs look down at the road they are on, and forget to check the direction in which they go. So keep your one eye on the potholes and the other on the road.”

Local entrepreneurs ‘wish-list’ for the 2017 Budget Speech

As South Africa gears up for the 2017 National Budget Speech in anticipation for Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to deliver Government’s expenditure and focus areas for the year ahead, we sat down with a few of the 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition winners to obtain their expectations for the upcoming speech.

Michael Roberts, MD of Khonology and 2016 Job Creator of the Year:

“The budget speech has a direct impact on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as the outcomes and policy decisions will dictate yearly strategies and the ability to manage a business’ risks and position it for further growth. The policy outcomes will also determine the tax impact on payrolls and company liabilities.

“I hope that policies introduced this year will reward companies for taking on additional capital to accommodate the growth of businesses within South Africa.”

Meisie Nkosi, Small Business Entrepreneur of the Year and MD of Bella Bonni:

“I hope to see revolving funds for SMEs with less red tape, an improvement on infrastructure development in energy, roads and water, as well as a tax break for SMEs.

“The Budget Speech can assist a business with future planning and help predict whether the business can expand or not. For instance, key outcomes around issues such as tax and processes to minimise red tape, can have a direct impact on the bottom line of a small business, and in turn, its growth and survival.”

Johan Eksteen, MD of Agricon and overall Entrepreneur of the Year winner:

“I hope to see tax relief for small businesses, incentives and support to increase exports and plans to promote production in order to create more jobs in South Africa. But ultimately, local entrepreneurs need to focus on the positive outcomes of the speech in order to pin point where the opportunities lie.”

Budgeting 101: How should entrepreneurs prepare their 2017 budgets?

Michael Roberts:

“Firstly, business owners should manage their cash flow effectively and address cost containment in line with cash flow ability. Secondly, business owners need to work with capital correctly as it is the growth enabler needed within a business.”

Meisie Nkosi:

“Business owners should be aware of the risks within their business, as well as budget slightly above anticipated costs to cover unforeseen spending. Budget planning should also be revisited regularly.”

Johan Eksteen:

“Know your business’ figures as this will ultimately allow you to effectively measure its performance and set goals for the year ahead.”