August is women’s month and female entrepreneurship has come under the spotlight. Businesses owned by women now account for a third of all entrepreneurs globally, according to the International Labour Organisation. In South Africa approximately 72% of micro-enterprises and 40% of small enterprises are owned by women according to SEDA (Small Enterprise Development Agency). Women are running their own successful businesses in increasing numbers, including in traditionally male-dominated industries. However, research shows that some women are held back from reaching the top of their game by some very outdated myths. Jannie Rossouw, head of Sanlam Business Market, believes these myths around female entrepreneurship can definitely be dispelled:
Myth 1: Women are unlikely to be as successful as men in business
According to the 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) survey, women are more reluctant to grow their businesses beyond a certain scale, and are more afraid of failure than men. “As a result of this misconception, ventures started by women sometimes do not reach their full potential. Women-owned businesses do tend to be smaller than those run by men – they have fewer employees and lower turnover. But, according to the research, this is often the result of a lack of confidence in their own abilities. There really is no reason whatsoever for any disparity in success,” says Rossouw.
Myth 2: Women entrepreneurs should do everything themselves
“Every new business reaches a stage where employees need to be appointed. Entrepreneurs should then decide what their strengths are and stick to those, while hiring the right skills to complement their own. For example, if the business owner is a clothing designer who is not a very good salesperson, she could outsource this function.
“In our dealings with entrepreneurs we have often found women business owners are less likely to delegate, feeling instead that they need to do everything themselves. This can unfortunately limit the growth and success of the business.”
Myth 3: The business is a good retirement plan
It is common for entrepreneurs, both men and women, to plough their profits back into their venture, believing that selling it one day will be enough to set them up for their golden years. This is an extremely risky retirement plan, says Rossouw. “For one, the business may not be nearly as valuable as anticipated 30 years from now. The price of a business is what someone else is prepared to pay for it. Or there may be an economic downturn. Or the business may be in an industry which will be phased out years from now due to technological advancements.”
Rossouw says it is of paramount importance for business owners to evaluate their unique financial planning needs. “They should obtain the services of a qualified financial adviser to help them in selecting the right investment vehicle to ensure optimal asset growth,” he concludes.
Insight from women in business
Theresa Cupido (44) started ATN Road Marking and Civils in 2006. Based in Bellville, the company offers civil works and road marking projects for regional and national authorities and contractors. ATN now has 50 permanent and over 300 contract employees. Theresa was a finalist in the 2014 Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year Competition.
“Women are natural entrepreneurs. They can multi-task and know how to organise. But there is a difference between running a business, and being a business person. Running a business means making ends meet, while being a business person involves passion, doing the research and being eager to succeed.
“One of the biggest obstacles women entrepreneurs face is that they don’t empower themselves enough. Being a business owner means having a certain mindset, and women often limit themselves – they need to have the drive and willingness to go all out to make their business grow,” she says.
Adéle Rossouw (32) was a kindergarten teacher when she decided to launch her business, Il Paradiso sheep shearing service, from the family farm near Middelburg, Mpumalanga, in 2011. She now employs 20 shearers and wool sorters. She runs her business alone, doing her own admin and finances, but recently employed a bookkeeper to help out. She was a finalist in the 2014 Sanlam/Landbouweekblad Agricultural Woman Entrepreneur of the Year competition.
“I’m a perfectionist, and until now I wanted to do everything myself (except the sheep shearing!). I found it hard to let go. But I’ve realised that one needs to give others a chance to assist, and employing someone else will give me more time to focus on other things.
“I was very scared when I started my business, especially since it really is a male-dominated industry. But I learnt to cope. I think I’ve shown that women can really do anything they want to and should not limit themselves. Women should see the bigger picture, think bigger, and grow their ventures with self-confidence,” says Adéle.
Martie Janse van Rensburg (38), a former bookkeeper, started Ekurhuleni Artisans and Skills Training Centre in Kempton Park in 2006. The centre presents training courses to artisans, including boilermaking, rigging, welding, plumbing, bricklaying and carpentry. Martie realised from the start she couldn’t do it alone, and now employs 40 people, mainly instructors. She was a finalist in the 2014 Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year Competition.
“Women entrepreneurs should know their own strengths and weaknesses, and what they want to achieve. They should not be afraid to employ others in the areas in which they are not so strong. They should believe in their own product or service, and then go all out to realise their dreams.
“Entrepreneurs are by nature risk takers, but one thing you should never gamble on is your retirement. I have separate investments for this. I would never see my business as my retirement – who knows what will happen in the future? Perhaps my services won’t be in demand, and I can’t forecast what the value of my business will be 30 years from now,” says Martie.