If they can, so can you! (Part 5)

Welcome to the part 5 of our inspiring series called If they can, so can you, in which we feature ordinary business owners that are thriving, through these anything-but-ordinary times.

Well, let’s re-phrase that: Ordinary in that they don’t enjoy any special advantages resource-wise or come with talents that none of us could hope to share.  These businesses come from some of the hardest hit sectors of industry: the music world, the hospitality industry, the professional “grudge” business services sector, and shipping/transport – and they ‘pulled through’ this most recent global crisis.

In part 4 we looked at Offshore Maritime Services (OMS), and now it’s the turn of online eco store, Sustainable.co.za.

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CASE STUDY #5: Sustainable.co.za

Owned by Zeke Murphy and Angela Lee-Wright

We meet Zeke Murphy and Angela Lee-Wright, business partners and co-owners of Sustainable.co.za, an online eco store that supplies eco-friendly and energy-saving products. Their goal is to help more South Africans – and Africans from further afield – to live more sustainable lives and reduce their carbon footprint.

Aiming to provide the right products and information to make environmentally-friendly living simpler and more affordable, Sustainable is not only been in the product and tech info supply game, but also in the education game. They have lobbied, enthused, informed and passionately endorsed enabling individuals to take control of and improve their environmental impact. And they’ve allowed this passion to be the driving force behind what started in 2002 as a ‘good idea’ and has now become South Africa’s longest operating online eco-store with an impressive range of products for the home or business.

While what they have built enjoys a well-deserved and established reputation that any business owner would be proud of, Zeke and Angela will be the first to tell you that it hasn’t all been plain sailing. They’ve had partnership woes, cashflow crises, team upsets, months where they didn’t break even, growth spurts that nearly broke them, IT challenges, supplier debacles, sleepless nights, as well as some of the most glorious wins and seasons of monumental joy. In short, owning their business has been very much akin to riding a lion – there’s the exhilaration of doing something elemental, wild and awesome, all the while knowing it just might kill you.

“We were ultimately selling ourselves too cheap and had been doing so for years. This is a common problem with startups, but when you are still having those same issues after a few years, it is an indication that something needs fixing.”

When Zeke and Angela first met business coach Kathi Clarke, they weren’t making enough money to warrant the effort they were putting into their business. They were on the wrong side of partnerships that had run their course; their long-term vision and planning was non-existent; their personal earnings were nowhere near “market related” or sufficient to support their respective families and the funds to scale their business were non-existent. However, as Kathi was quick to underline, they had ‘good bones’ – a wonderful, relevant business concept with every reason to take off exponentially: exclusively online, about all things ‘green’, based on good tech, with a great reputation and every personal reason to grow.

But most of all (as Kathi said at their first meeting) “our world needs businesses like you!” To be the owner of a business that fires our personal passions, a business that we can make money from and a business that the world so desperately needs? Well, that’s quite simply being in the sweet spot of perfect overlap and is a tremendously smart place to start.

That said, just because the world needs what Sustainable does, it didn’t follow that the world was queuing up to buy its products. Like any business, Sustainable needed to “be heard” and “seen” and sought out by their prospects, not just locally, but on the web – which is global and huge.

With there being 1.88 billion websites in 2021 according to Review42 (an online fact-checking team of tech and otherwise enthusiasts, determined to find the Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life, the Universe, and Everything), attracting customers, getting the message out there and closing enough sales was a competitive challenge at the best of times. Add a global pandemic into the mix and you just ratchet up the stakes exponentially.

Indentifying the problems

In the beginning Zeke will be the first to tell you: “We were ultimately selling ourselves too cheap and had been doing so for years”. And it’s a common problem when businesses start – because they start small. While student wages, a hand-to-mouth existence, zero reserves and everything and everyone else first are often hallmarks of startups, to still have those same issues after a few years is an indication that something needs fixing.

“A business often has to start small and be cash-starved, with the owners saving pennies and tightening their belts to birth their baby. Funding is hard to find and seldom there when you want or need it. But if the business doesn’t or isn’t able to grow past break even and into profitability within the first two years, owners of that business can find themselves locked in a horrible hand-to-mouth existence that they may call a business, but really is not,” Kathi maintains. “A business is by definition both commercially functioning and consistently profitable. And if it’s not, then it’s a charity, a hobby or vulnerable to becoming a failed statistic. None of these will be able to support you and the family, let alone the team, customers, supply chain or your dreams.”rici

For sure conservative and planned expenditure, careful deployment of resources, time and money and mitigating financial risk matters in business (especially in the founding stages or tough trading times), but owners have to value themselves and what they are doing sufficiently to confidently charge properly and be okay with both making and investing money. And for Zeke and Angela, this was a learning curve and a personal growth journey – one that many entrepreneurs need to make. “Being sufficiently mercenary in pricing our time and services properly and profitably, and then commending this to our prospects is part of any business foundation and a key mindset shift for any entrepreneur. So too is the courage to invest when there isn’t much to go around – invest not spend. Growth and scaling costs money, so you will need to part with it. But as long as you get a sufficient or great return, it’s has to be done.” says Kathi. But just because you own a business, it doesn’t necessarily follow that these mental shifts have taken place.

As Gary Player famously said: “the more I prepare and practice, the luckier I get.”

Fixing the business by fixing themselves

Through coaching insights and community with other owners that came with being Kathi’s client, reading and being accountable, Zeke and Angela started their business fix by growing themselves. This also included addressing their second big choke point, which according to Kathi was “having gotten used to thinking and playing too small”. Angela says that “disagreements and frustrations between Zeke and I in those early days were often about what we could afford, breaking even and just making it each month. For all our hard work we were living like students. I didn’t own a decent car, Zeke hadn’t taken a proper holiday. I wanted to be a homeowner and paying staff increases made me nervous. We employed people who were willing to work for the little we could afford to pay and did most of what was needed largely in-house and on the cheap. Dreaming big? No way!”

Kathi helped them formulate an ambitious vision worthy of their passions, dreams and their business offerings as the right place to start. And from there, they formulated a 1-page strategic plan to stretch their minds around what was possible, what was needed, what would enable them to finally enjoy the life they went into business for in the first place and how this was to be achieved.

From there Angela and Zeke worked hard at re-defining their organisational structure, job descriptions and importantly what roles they would both inhabit in the business to deliver this plan.

The next task to tackle was bad habits. “We all have them, but without new behaviors to replace the bad ones, business success or any success is elusive. It’s the action we take that makes the difference. Intentions, plans, berating ourselves, introspection, test and measure – all these can help, but if they don’t translate into new, sustained behavior – nada,” says Kathi.

Zeke put his hand up to fighting at work when things got stressful or frustrating. Angela also said “yip” to what Kim Scott calls “ruinous empathy” – where we go too far as business owners to help/collude with/take responsibility for the personal problems of our team members. While we need to care and must do what we can, we must remember that we are – in Kathi’s words – “business owners, not social workers”. And she had to remind both Zeke and Angela that: “Our primary role and best help for people is the dignity, security and proper payment for work we can create for them if we run our businesses well. This is our unique contribution to society – our quest that we need to take up each day. Growth creates jobs, and jobs help fix broken societies and families.”

Both were guilty too of going by their feelings or gut intuition, and both admitted to being “allergic to sales” instead of being the best order takers in the world! Zeke took the leadership in ensuring they and their team learned the power of sales, the tools and habits of setting targets, scripting, creating and following a process, regular meetings to check in on progress and re-calibrate action if need be, practice and getting out into the market place. Angela got their financials in order, hired an A-Team Manager to oversee logistics and refined their marketing tool kit to include 8-10 strategies to drive enough prospects to their site to make the monthly targets.

Together they employed team members and trained them to upgrade the software in-house, switch to Shopify, target bigger more commercial sales (at which Zeke excels) and manage the supplier stable. Their best month after all this hard work was equivalent to what they used to do in a year.

And when COVID hit, unlike most, they were ready. Their opportunities in the pandemic were many and manifold. Savvy home and business owners alike recognised the opportunity to use lockdown to fix, repair, amend, transition, improve, overhaul and redo their properties, homes, establishments and outlets. Lockdown was for some the welcome pause in trading to build, renovate and future-proof their places with the foresight that electricity would be in short supply.

“The myth,” Kathi explained, “is that people think that just because things seem universally bleak, business stops. But it doesn’t totally, ever. There are always those willing and able to buy and in every single seismic market dislocation since 1929, there have been those who’ve boomed, grown and thrived in hard times.”

And with everyone being forced to go online, Sustainable as an experienced and active player in this market for so long was at a distinct advantage. They were ready for the bigger audience, one that was open to rapidly embrace buying online. They didn’t have to play catch up unlike many – they were playing to their strengths and expertise. They had the systems and team who could pivot operations to home and keep going. Stuff was shipped from suppliers direct to customers and again they had the systems to do this.

From March 2021 to March 2022 they doubled their turnover, grew their profit exponentially, overhauled their online software and platform for a better customer experience, optimised their sales muscle with key new appointments and kept growing. Digital marketing and learning to optimise saw Angela bringing new tricks out the hat and their communiques enjoying growing reach, click rates and engagements.

Without any additional funding they have been able to expand, replace team members who had become stuck in negativity and “small-time thinking”, improve the systems, expand the range, audit their supplier chain and grow as business owners. they read, leaned into what Kathi as their business coach could offer them: stretch, tools, better and different ways of thinking, executing, testing, measuring, closing sales, driving traffic, communicating compellingly, hiring and firing well and performance managing both themselves and the team.

And the sales trajectory kept going up. Lucky? Yes, but not only luck. As Gary Player famously said: “the more I prepare and practice, the luckier I get.”

Their advice to fellow business owners?

Zeke: “Fail fast and learn to be the boss. Don’t go cheap, because it costs you as the business. Don’t kid yourself that there’s no time to do what’s needed – make the time. There was a time when I was sure it would always be hard. But then I reached the point when I realised that, yes, it isn’t easy, but it’s do-able. When I look at how far we’ve come and what we’ve achieved…” – and you can just see the tear in his eye!

And Angela? “If you don’t like the results, change your behavior and listen to the facts. It’s too easy to be emotional and fight. It’s easy to feel for the staff, put up with what you shouldn’t, avoid making hard decisions and not do what needs to be done. Don’t do that. I changed, and now have my own car, own home and a business we can all be proud of.”
Inspiring, or what?

Read part 6 here.


Kathi ClarkeBy Kathi Clarke, registered Industrial Psychologist, internationally-certified Business Coach and an award-winning business growth expert.

- Advertisement -

Welcome to the part 5 of our inspiring series called If they can, so can you, in which we feature ordinary business owners that are thriving, through these anything-but-ordinary times.

Well, let’s re-phrase that: Ordinary in that they don’t enjoy any special advantages resource-wise or come with talents that none of us could hope to share.  These businesses come from some of the hardest hit sectors of industry: the music world, the hospitality industry, the professional “grudge” business services sector, and shipping/transport – and they ‘pulled through’ this most recent global crisis.

In part 4 we looked at Offshore Maritime Services (OMS), and now it’s the turn of online eco store, Sustainable.co.za.

- Advertisement -

CASE STUDY #5: Sustainable.co.za

Owned by Zeke Murphy and Angela Lee-Wright

We meet Zeke Murphy and Angela Lee-Wright, business partners and co-owners of Sustainable.co.za, an online eco store that supplies eco-friendly and energy-saving products. Their goal is to help more South Africans – and Africans from further afield – to live more sustainable lives and reduce their carbon footprint.

Aiming to provide the right products and information to make environmentally-friendly living simpler and more affordable, Sustainable is not only been in the product and tech info supply game, but also in the education game. They have lobbied, enthused, informed and passionately endorsed enabling individuals to take control of and improve their environmental impact. And they’ve allowed this passion to be the driving force behind what started in 2002 as a ‘good idea’ and has now become South Africa’s longest operating online eco-store with an impressive range of products for the home or business.

While what they have built enjoys a well-deserved and established reputation that any business owner would be proud of, Zeke and Angela will be the first to tell you that it hasn’t all been plain sailing. They’ve had partnership woes, cashflow crises, team upsets, months where they didn’t break even, growth spurts that nearly broke them, IT challenges, supplier debacles, sleepless nights, as well as some of the most glorious wins and seasons of monumental joy. In short, owning their business has been very much akin to riding a lion – there’s the exhilaration of doing something elemental, wild and awesome, all the while knowing it just might kill you.

“We were ultimately selling ourselves too cheap and had been doing so for years. This is a common problem with startups, but when you are still having those same issues after a few years, it is an indication that something needs fixing.”

When Zeke and Angela first met business coach Kathi Clarke, they weren’t making enough money to warrant the effort they were putting into their business. They were on the wrong side of partnerships that had run their course; their long-term vision and planning was non-existent; their personal earnings were nowhere near “market related” or sufficient to support their respective families and the funds to scale their business were non-existent. However, as Kathi was quick to underline, they had ‘good bones’ – a wonderful, relevant business concept with every reason to take off exponentially: exclusively online, about all things ‘green’, based on good tech, with a great reputation and every personal reason to grow.

But most of all (as Kathi said at their first meeting) “our world needs businesses like you!” To be the owner of a business that fires our personal passions, a business that we can make money from and a business that the world so desperately needs? Well, that’s quite simply being in the sweet spot of perfect overlap and is a tremendously smart place to start.

That said, just because the world needs what Sustainable does, it didn’t follow that the world was queuing up to buy its products. Like any business, Sustainable needed to “be heard” and “seen” and sought out by their prospects, not just locally, but on the web – which is global and huge.

With there being 1.88 billion websites in 2021 according to Review42 (an online fact-checking team of tech and otherwise enthusiasts, determined to find the Answers to the Ultimate Questions of Life, the Universe, and Everything), attracting customers, getting the message out there and closing enough sales was a competitive challenge at the best of times. Add a global pandemic into the mix and you just ratchet up the stakes exponentially.

Indentifying the problems

In the beginning Zeke will be the first to tell you: “We were ultimately selling ourselves too cheap and had been doing so for years”. And it’s a common problem when businesses start – because they start small. While student wages, a hand-to-mouth existence, zero reserves and everything and everyone else first are often hallmarks of startups, to still have those same issues after a few years is an indication that something needs fixing.

“A business often has to start small and be cash-starved, with the owners saving pennies and tightening their belts to birth their baby. Funding is hard to find and seldom there when you want or need it. But if the business doesn’t or isn’t able to grow past break even and into profitability within the first two years, owners of that business can find themselves locked in a horrible hand-to-mouth existence that they may call a business, but really is not,” Kathi maintains. “A business is by definition both commercially functioning and consistently profitable. And if it’s not, then it’s a charity, a hobby or vulnerable to becoming a failed statistic. None of these will be able to support you and the family, let alone the team, customers, supply chain or your dreams.”rici

For sure conservative and planned expenditure, careful deployment of resources, time and money and mitigating financial risk matters in business (especially in the founding stages or tough trading times), but owners have to value themselves and what they are doing sufficiently to confidently charge properly and be okay with both making and investing money. And for Zeke and Angela, this was a learning curve and a personal growth journey – one that many entrepreneurs need to make. “Being sufficiently mercenary in pricing our time and services properly and profitably, and then commending this to our prospects is part of any business foundation and a key mindset shift for any entrepreneur. So too is the courage to invest when there isn’t much to go around – invest not spend. Growth and scaling costs money, so you will need to part with it. But as long as you get a sufficient or great return, it’s has to be done.” says Kathi. But just because you own a business, it doesn’t necessarily follow that these mental shifts have taken place.

As Gary Player famously said: “the more I prepare and practice, the luckier I get.”

Fixing the business by fixing themselves

Through coaching insights and community with other owners that came with being Kathi’s client, reading and being accountable, Zeke and Angela started their business fix by growing themselves. This also included addressing their second big choke point, which according to Kathi was “having gotten used to thinking and playing too small”. Angela says that “disagreements and frustrations between Zeke and I in those early days were often about what we could afford, breaking even and just making it each month. For all our hard work we were living like students. I didn’t own a decent car, Zeke hadn’t taken a proper holiday. I wanted to be a homeowner and paying staff increases made me nervous. We employed people who were willing to work for the little we could afford to pay and did most of what was needed largely in-house and on the cheap. Dreaming big? No way!”

Kathi helped them formulate an ambitious vision worthy of their passions, dreams and their business offerings as the right place to start. And from there, they formulated a 1-page strategic plan to stretch their minds around what was possible, what was needed, what would enable them to finally enjoy the life they went into business for in the first place and how this was to be achieved.

From there Angela and Zeke worked hard at re-defining their organisational structure, job descriptions and importantly what roles they would both inhabit in the business to deliver this plan.

The next task to tackle was bad habits. “We all have them, but without new behaviors to replace the bad ones, business success or any success is elusive. It’s the action we take that makes the difference. Intentions, plans, berating ourselves, introspection, test and measure – all these can help, but if they don’t translate into new, sustained behavior – nada,” says Kathi.

Zeke put his hand up to fighting at work when things got stressful or frustrating. Angela also said “yip” to what Kim Scott calls “ruinous empathy” – where we go too far as business owners to help/collude with/take responsibility for the personal problems of our team members. While we need to care and must do what we can, we must remember that we are – in Kathi’s words – “business owners, not social workers”. And she had to remind both Zeke and Angela that: “Our primary role and best help for people is the dignity, security and proper payment for work we can create for them if we run our businesses well. This is our unique contribution to society – our quest that we need to take up each day. Growth creates jobs, and jobs help fix broken societies and families.”

Both were guilty too of going by their feelings or gut intuition, and both admitted to being “allergic to sales” instead of being the best order takers in the world! Zeke took the leadership in ensuring they and their team learned the power of sales, the tools and habits of setting targets, scripting, creating and following a process, regular meetings to check in on progress and re-calibrate action if need be, practice and getting out into the market place. Angela got their financials in order, hired an A-Team Manager to oversee logistics and refined their marketing tool kit to include 8-10 strategies to drive enough prospects to their site to make the monthly targets.

Together they employed team members and trained them to upgrade the software in-house, switch to Shopify, target bigger more commercial sales (at which Zeke excels) and manage the supplier stable. Their best month after all this hard work was equivalent to what they used to do in a year.

And when COVID hit, unlike most, they were ready. Their opportunities in the pandemic were many and manifold. Savvy home and business owners alike recognised the opportunity to use lockdown to fix, repair, amend, transition, improve, overhaul and redo their properties, homes, establishments and outlets. Lockdown was for some the welcome pause in trading to build, renovate and future-proof their places with the foresight that electricity would be in short supply.

“The myth,” Kathi explained, “is that people think that just because things seem universally bleak, business stops. But it doesn’t totally, ever. There are always those willing and able to buy and in every single seismic market dislocation since 1929, there have been those who’ve boomed, grown and thrived in hard times.”

And with everyone being forced to go online, Sustainable as an experienced and active player in this market for so long was at a distinct advantage. They were ready for the bigger audience, one that was open to rapidly embrace buying online. They didn’t have to play catch up unlike many – they were playing to their strengths and expertise. They had the systems and team who could pivot operations to home and keep going. Stuff was shipped from suppliers direct to customers and again they had the systems to do this.

From March 2021 to March 2022 they doubled their turnover, grew their profit exponentially, overhauled their online software and platform for a better customer experience, optimised their sales muscle with key new appointments and kept growing. Digital marketing and learning to optimise saw Angela bringing new tricks out the hat and their communiques enjoying growing reach, click rates and engagements.

Without any additional funding they have been able to expand, replace team members who had become stuck in negativity and “small-time thinking”, improve the systems, expand the range, audit their supplier chain and grow as business owners. they read, leaned into what Kathi as their business coach could offer them: stretch, tools, better and different ways of thinking, executing, testing, measuring, closing sales, driving traffic, communicating compellingly, hiring and firing well and performance managing both themselves and the team.

And the sales trajectory kept going up. Lucky? Yes, but not only luck. As Gary Player famously said: “the more I prepare and practice, the luckier I get.”

Their advice to fellow business owners?

Zeke: “Fail fast and learn to be the boss. Don’t go cheap, because it costs you as the business. Don’t kid yourself that there’s no time to do what’s needed – make the time. There was a time when I was sure it would always be hard. But then I reached the point when I realised that, yes, it isn’t easy, but it’s do-able. When I look at how far we’ve come and what we’ve achieved…” – and you can just see the tear in his eye!

And Angela? “If you don’t like the results, change your behavior and listen to the facts. It’s too easy to be emotional and fight. It’s easy to feel for the staff, put up with what you shouldn’t, avoid making hard decisions and not do what needs to be done. Don’t do that. I changed, and now have my own car, own home and a business we can all be proud of.”
Inspiring, or what?

Read part 6 here.


Kathi ClarkeBy Kathi Clarke, registered Industrial Psychologist, internationally-certified Business Coach and an award-winning business growth expert.

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