How to engineer your own success

By Terrena Rathanlall, Fetola

Sikhulile Nhassengo
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Sikhulile Nhassengo wanted to be a dentist but when he realized that he couldn’t handle the sight of blood, he chose to study engineering instead. Fast forward 20 years and he is the proud owner of Maninga Engineering.  

It would be easy to assume that the journey has been smooth, but success is seldom without sacrifice and perseverance. For Sikhulile it’s been like chipping away at a block of marble: you put in a lot of effort, but if you are persistent and consistent, over time you will create something beautiful, something that will outlast you.

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted. However, if starting your own business is your goal, you will definitely want to read his tips to prepare for the journey ahead:

Determination and perseverance


Entrepreneurship tests your mettle, says Sikhulile. “The first few years will probably be the most difficult, especially when you are a one-man band and you are wondering why you left the stability of a full-time job with paid sick leave. Dig deep to find an internal reservoir of courage and determination and remember why you began your business in the first place. It will give you the motivation to persevere.”

Set goals

Writing down your goals is good. Knowing how to achieve them is better. But the real prize is executing them. Goals are like a compass; they tell you where you are and in which direction you need to go to get to where you need to be. Smart goals make you realise that what you want can be achieved. One of Sikhulile’s goals is to create a legacy for his children. Another is to bring about change in the petroleum industry which needs transformation. He also wants to build a reputable, black-owned business that is celebrated for the quality of work they produce.

Deliver the best service you possibly can

“Maninga Engineering wants to be known as a market leader in the engineering industry by providing innovative engineering solutions. Shoddy workmanship can kill a business and people. That is why the standard of work my company produces must be extremely high. I want to be able to sleep at night, knowing that Maninga has delivered the best service to its customers. This perfectionist approach means that it takes you longer to grow, but it does make you stand out.”

It’s okay to say ‘no’

Most new entrepreneurs usually fall over their feet trying to be all things to all people. So, it may sound counter-intuitive to learn to say no. Sikhulile remembers a time when he was grateful for any customer that walked through his door. “But not every customer is a good customer. Knowing when to say no to a client is a lesson that is often learnt the hard way. Now, I am not afraid to say no to customers whose company culture does not match ours.”

Build a good support system

Don’t underestimate the need for a good support system. “You will need a personal and professional network as a business leader. Your personal network of family and friends to support you when you are building the business and a peer network of like-minded businessmen and women you can reach out to and share ideas with. Both will be your lifelines as you get your business off the ground or look to scale for growth.”

Watch your time and money spend

Sikhulile’s last two tips are to keep costs low because the early years are lean, and constantly assess whether you are spending your time and money on the right things. It’s very easy to overextend your resources so knowing how to plug all the holes in your leaky bucket is vital.

Guidance and mentoring

Sikhulile knew he needed guidance to run his business more efficiently, so he applied to participate in the SAB Foundation Tholoana business development programme. This initiative supports over 150 high-potential entrepreneurs at any given time across SA. He received access to skills training, peer networks, brand development as well as an experienced business mentor.

The results speak volumes: his business has grown and he employs eight people. Given that by 2030, SMEs in South Africa will be employing 90% of the workforce, programmes like this are necessary to help small businesses become sustainable and drivers of job creation.

“It is extremely rewarding to run my own business,” says Sikhulile. Most people don’t start because they are not sure of the outcome. But if you work hard, learn as much as you can and never give up, you too can create something beautiful, something that will be felt by generations to come.

Read more: Do you have the right mindset for business success?

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