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Elle June 2005

We want to live life to the full, and invest our hard-earned money. But if we can’t afford it now, how are we going to afford it when we retire; too old to enjoy it and probably too poor, thanks to inflation? Zodwa Kumalo gets the inside track from women who shelved the nine-to-five, and are making it on their own in business.

Today’s 20-something woman is thinking ahead – further than the weekend or how she’s going to afford next season’s clearance sale. With the pressures of juggling work, home and family she’s not thinking retirement in her 50s or 60s, but closer to the foreseeable future. However, the reality is that most salary-earners will be in the position to call it a day and live off there savings at will. With harsh realities like the unchanged sizeable 18 % tax rate on retirement funds in the current financial year, it’s clear that it takes much more than a pay pocket. Going into business is the enterprising solution. Undoubtedly it’s a big, risky step but it’s becoming an increasingly more attractive option for woman who want to take charge of there financial future.

Kim Keel, 33, owner of Belle Regalo (a corporate gift company based in Johannesburg) and Vixen Jewellery, left her job to start her business five years ago and she hasn’t looked back. Undeterred by being pregnant, overcome with constant morning sickness and jilted by her baby’s father, she buckled down to make small promotional gifts for prospective corporate clients to get her name out there. “I fell into it by accident”, says the bubbly, petite Kim. ‘While I was working at an office furniture company, I ended up having to put together promotional hampers for work. Then word spread and colleagues and friends started asking me too,’ She ran with the idea and started building a pool of clients as well as designing and outsourcing lingerie for spirit cooler launches. “Working for your self has its pros and cons. It’s fun and there’s definitely more flexibility and freedom. If my daughter needs me, I can take the afternoon off, or fetch her from school immediately if there’s an emergency. But at the same time, especially if you work from home, your work can take over. You can’t leave it behind at the office,” she says. To keep very focused, every two weeks, Kim meets with an inner coach who helps her address personal and business challenges. “Of course having goals and knowing how to balance your work and your home life is pretty much common sense but just like exercise, you know it’s good for you but you just don’t do it. My inner coach helps me to implement my goals and tackle problems by looking at them from different angles,’ says Kim. Inter coaching is fast becoming the new management buzz word. In the work place it’s about managers helping employees find the best way to do their job instead of showing then how to do it. And for people who are starting out on their own, coaches are there to maximise an individual’s existing skills to reach their goals. Telana Simpson, executive, personal and communication coach says: ‘If a client wants to start their own business but isn’t too sure what they want to do, I try to find out what their passions are; what their purpose is in life. I ask as many questions as possible so they come to their own conclusions.’ Her advice is not to rush into starting a business: ’Speak to someone who’s been through it and find out as much possible about the financial side. Do research on the business you want to start. Think about the risks and how long it will take to set up and get an income so you can put enough to tide you over till then’. But in Kim’s case she jumped straight into it. The downside was that having no savings from her previous job, she worried constantly because she had no money to fall back on. The promotional gifts she produced were financed out of her own pocket and she did everything herself. When she went to see clients, she would take her baby with her. There was no other option. ‘Even when the orders started rolling in, the money wasn’t coming in at the end of the month and I would panic. Thankfully, my friends and God got me through it. I still worry about making ends meet at the end of the month, but at least working for yourself you have control. There are other things I can make or do to generate funds.’

Meggan Quixley, 26 and Lara Magnus, 29, are co-owners of Orange ink, a budding communications consultancy which they started two years ago. They didn’t wonder far from their previous jobs where they both worked at a global public relations organization for five years. Says Meggan: ’We both envisaged more time, money and freedom but soon learnt that running a business takes an immense amount of time, commitment and dedication and more often than not – never the financial return one hopes for.’ Meggan and Lara cashed in all their polices and were lucky enough to take one their existing clients with them.

Former freelance scriptwriter and publicist, Marang Setshwaelo, 32, started dreamcatcher , an event and artist management company with colleagues and friends, Phindile Mkhabela and Nothando Mogadime three years ago. “Having worked with Phindile and Nothando on previous jobs, it was obvious that we could set up our own entity and make it work. We were brimming with ideas of productions and projects and the only way we could realize then was to set up our own company. ‘With current projects such as Coca-Cola Collaborations, Kora all Africa Music Awards and now SAMA 11 Awards, Dreamcatcher is taking off. ’We saved money, scaled down our social lives hectically and vigorously set about looking for business, We talked to people we knew, made a lot of cold calls and marketed ourselves, ‘ says Marang.

Like Kim, Meggan and Lara, Marang has found that as empowering as ownership is, it’s also a major responsibility. “Financially speaking, it’s liberating (and sometimes scary) to know that you’re literally the mistress of your own fate. It’s also an awesome responsibility being accountable to your partners and employees, ‘she says. Meggan agrees: ‘Having to balance ones’ personal and work life is challenging as work automatically becomes your life. But the rewards you reap make it all worthwhile in the end.

You are in charge of your own destiny and are creating your own future. But it’s a double-edged sword of pure elation and pure fear because the buck stops with you.’ As entrepreneurs they know a good support network of family friends and mentors is essential for advice, guidance, ideas and just helping then to keep their sanity. ‘We soon realized that if you just take the time to ask people around you and most often closest to you, you find a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, creativity and companionship, ‘ Says Meggan. ’There are lessons that you have to learn for yourself, but there’s something to be said for enlisting the help of people who are knowledgeable and have your best interests at heart, ‘ says Marang.

Many women who are interested in going into business are still put off by it being a traditionally male-dominated arena. According to the South African Woman in Corporate Leadership Census 2004, commissioned by the Businesswoman’ Association, woman make up 52% of the adult population in South Africa. But they only make up 41% of the working South African population, constitute only 14.7% of all executive managers and occupy only 7.1% seats on director’s boards. Percentages of woman business owners are even smaller.

Talana recommends joining the Businesswoman’s Association (BWA) to network the gain from the experience of woman in business. In 2003 Kim won the organization’s Start–up Business category award. Says Telana: “You don’t have to lose your femininity to make it in business. In other words you don’t have to become a man. Be yourself and don’t try to become what you think business is.”

She advises: “Once you’ve set up your own business, especially if you’re running it from home as in Kim’s case, discipline yourself. Have business hours and time for yourself and your family. There’s no reason why you should be working on weekends or overtime just because you’re working for yourself – unless of course you’re on deadline. You should be spending about 80% of your time working on your business and 20% in your business. “In other words, spend more time and energy strategising, advertising, financial planning, improving your business and so on.

One lesson to take from the strong young women who are braving the world of business is that it will never be smooth-sailing. But you get out what you put in and often the rewards make it worth the struggle.


  • Believe in yourself, your product or your service.
  • Find mentors - people who have done something similar of whom you can bounce ideas. Set up a support system.
  • Believe in yourself, your product or your service.
  • Find mentors - people who have done something similar of whom you can bounce ideas. Set up a support system.
  • Manage your social life, especially if you’re working from home.
  • Develop your ability to manage yourself and your finances.
  • Develop the right attitude to take risks.
  • Don’t become paralysed by striving for perfection.
    (Information provided by Inner coach - Telana Simpson)


  • Loan capital – will you need to borrow money for your start up. If so, make sure you have collateral / or someone to sign for surety otherwise you will not be able to get a bank loan.
  • The three year plan – how will your business survive the blanket period of a start-up? Make sure have financial resources for at least 36 months. Cash flow is the most important factor of any start-up.
  • Don’t put all your funds / loans into your venture. Your venture is a risk, keep enough capital aside that will tide you over at least three – six months.
    Keep overheads and expenses low, e.g. if you can work from home rather then renting space do so for the first few months.
  • Open up a savings account. Business Accounts can become expensive especially if your business is small. Speak to your bank about options.
  • Do not be afraid to call it quits, regroup and start again. If your venture is not working, cut your losses.
  • Beware of partnerships. They are potentially dangerous and any of your partner’s reckless decisions will become your responsibility.
    Get the best possible advice, find a mentor.
  • A passion for hard work and excellence is essential as your will work harder in your own business than you ever have.
    (Information provided by Business Advisory Services)


  • Telana Simpson Inner Coach, call (011) 706 6873
  • Business Advisory Services – Advisors entrepreneurs on how to startup, call 021 418 0245/6
  • For more information on the Businesswoman’s Association (BWA) visit www.bwasa.co.za
    The South African Council of Mentors & Coaches (SACCM) advises new business owners through its annual programme Seed. It is also a good source for viable and practical business ideas. Call (011) 487 3435