Money is not the most important need when starting a business: a good idea and persistence are. This was just one of the snippets of wisdom shared by studentpreneurs from South Africa’s three universities at the opening of the fifth Students Entrepreneurship Week at Sol Plaatje University (SPU) in Kimberley last week. #SEW2021. #Rebuild. #Againstallodds.
The conversation took place in a three-way panel discussion between Mphatso Nkosi, an SPU student who took part in person; Zubaidah Amod, who participated via Zoom from the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and Longelo Motopi, another studentpreneur who was also linked digitally from Bloemfontein’s Central University of Technology (CUT).
Introducing the panellists
Ms Mphatso Nkosi is an Advanced Diploma in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) student at SPU. She started her small business, Anna Solutions and Enterprise, during lockdown. It is a family-owned business that provides sound engineering for events as well as photo and videography services. Mphatso also owns two other businesses: Chebe Organic Hair and Skin Products and Nkosi’s Treats, that sells care packages (self-care, study snacks, period packages). Nkosi subscribes to the motto: Soaring to Greater Heights.
Ms Zubaidah Amod, a final year student in BCom (Information Systems & Management) from the University of the Western Cape, introduced herself as a professional henna artist based in Cape Town. “Henna art has always been a passion of mine, she said. “As a child I would often get henna applied for weddings and special occasions and developed a love for, not only henna, but the culture that comes with it. From mehndi nights and making new friends in long queues at the henna artist’s house, to sleeping with packets on my hands just to keep the henna intact, I have enjoyed growing my brand so much and I am excited for the opportunity to share what I have learnt with my fellow studentpreneurs.”
Mr Longelo Motopi is an Advanced Diploma in IT student from the Central University of Technology. He is also a member of CUT’s Entrepreneurship Development in Higher Education (EDHE) Studentpreneurs Community of Practice. He has founded four businesses, established an ICT academy called Power Circle 4iR Academy (Pty) Ltd and assisted 15 students with further curating their businesses. He has hosted the world Intellectual Property (IP) Day twice; is an alumni of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) summer school; and is a stakeholder of the National Intellectual Property Management Office (NIPMO) tertiary services centre. He describes himself as highly motivated, ambitious and excellent at giving accurate advice, guidance, support and tips in risk management. At the SEW, he said he was looking forward to making a significant contribution as a Web Development Specialist and, in doing so, revolutionising the ICT space for young black creators.
How they operate their businesses online
Zubaidah Amod on her henna art business journey: “Initially, I only operated from Instagram. But recently I moved to having my own website “(hennabyzubaidah.co.za) — a good move which got me many new clients. I’ve also entered new markets. Having my own website has increased my brand awareness and brand visibility a lot. I would say that Online is the way to go right now, especially since people’s shopping habits have changed in this time of the pandemic.
Amod (left) told her peers of the many benefits of having an online business:
- Ability to provide customer service to clients 24 hours a day. They can always go onto your website or your social media to learn about your business and product offerings.
- It improves client services.
- It is cost saving.
- It increases revenue.
- It increases sales.
- You get many more opportunities.
- Online is the way to go.
She also cited affordable Web service providers around:
Wix; Weebly; Squarespace; WooCommerce; Shopify – which are either free or provide service on subscription for a premium account. “It does not cost a lot, maybe R500 per month, or you can just use a free account and they take off 2-5% of sales. There are always alternative options if you are not interested in doing a website, or if you don’t have a budget for it yet. For example, Yoco payment links; building a free website with Wix without the shopping cart; using Google Forms for bookings or making sales. Just posting your product on Instagram with prices… things like that can really create online visibility for your brand without having to pay a lot of fees. It is worth it.”
Her advice on how to incorporate online commerce into one’s business was simple:
- Understand what you do; what your service offering is.
- Communicate that properly to your customers.
- Be easily accessible. As a consumer I don’t want to have to go through a lot of different channels or stalk your entire profile or your website to get an idea of what your prices and products are. I want immediate, easy access.
- Consider access when doing your marketing.
- Also, make use of central market: in general, using influencers, sending people free products for them to review, asking them to post about it. Word of mouth really helps. That is one of the best available marketing tools for your brand.
Longelo Motopi: “Every single company has steadily become more reliant on ICT solutions. There’s this story about a large motorbike retailer who dusted off a pre-pandemic initiative to launch a kerb-side delivery business. The rollout plan had been given a timeframe of 18 months, but when lockdown hit, it went operational in two days. A financial services company transitioned more than 1000 of its global operations staff to work from home, equipping them with new technology within 72 hours ensuring business continuity.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is here. It is completely transforming the way we live and work. This new world is fuelled by data and internet connective devices that can collect and process ever growing amounts of information. Looking at your smart phones, digital cameras, and your social media – they create more information than ever before. In fact, over the past 18 months we have created more data than in all prior human history combined. I hope that says something to you (budding entrepreneurs). The 4IR is the most revolutionary economic, technological and social transformation the world has ever seen. It is causing an even bigger stir. The Great Wiki describes 4IR as something that creates a world in which virtual and physical systems of manufacturing cooperate with each other in a flexible way at a global level.
“When I was a full-time student [he is now studying part-time] I asked myself, how am I going to survive this Big 4IR? Here are my tips to help you stay ahead of the pack and survive.
- If you get a job in Data, consider the future of your job; use data to find your perfect job.
- Make friends with your Artificial Intelligence colleagues – I cannot emphasise this enough.
- In so doing, give more attention to what you already have as a skill or qualification – what you are very good at, in other words. Then look at the opportunities you can use within the ICT space.
- You will end up as a hybrid, living the best of both worlds. You will have your marketing qualification intertwined with an IT skill and that will be the beginning of a great revolution.
“What skills do you need to operate in this 4IR space? It’s simple. You think you need coding skills, IT background… but in a nutshell what you really need is:
- Active listening
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking.
- Decision making skill.
- Most importantly, negotiation intertwined with people management.
“Here is where you will stand out and become a unique entrepreneur who really generates profit – which, of course, is the desired outcome and primary objective.”
Fattinald Rangongo – to studentpreneurs at #SEW2021
Longelo has taken us through the journey of how, suddenly, everyone migrated to online space. But he also tells us that those who entered that space did so not just for survival, but also for expansion. As students, you need to think about that in a way that is more opportunity based, rather than for mere survival. Many of us are threatened by 4IR because we think jobs will be lost. But Longelo tells us that there is more opportunity in 4IR so technology can be leveraged in many ways, and you can still make a business out of it.
Mphatso Nkosi (right): “Before CoViD, I advertised my business (at that time, we just did sound, photography and videography) through word-of-mouth. When CoViD hit, and I started my other businesses (Skin and Hair, and Treats) and realised that word-of-mouth would no longer work because of lockdown. I went online and started using Facebook Market, Instagram Market and WhatsApp business – which I think is the best marketing tool. It helps business owners to use their business number to create a WhatsApp number attached to a catalogue explaining products and prices. You can describe a product and even add pictures. There is also an automatic function where the WhatsApp account sends out your catalogue based on the customer’s questions.
“With my ICT background I’m looking into creating a website and a mobile app for easier marketing. Right now, we use a hybrid marketing method – word of mouth and some working online.”
Students attending the #SEW2021 event asked the questions below, and these are the responses they received.
QUESTION: Starting a business can be scary. People often judge you on your prices. How do you respond to people when they tell you your prices are too high? People will go to a supermarket, and not question the prices. But when it comes to us, it’s a completely different story.
Mphatso: I’ve never experienced that. I researched the pricing of my competitors and priced accordingly.
Fattinald: My experience has been different. This week I saw a studentpreneur showing his product to two women customers, who were asking why his product was so expensive. I questioned the woman customer who said: “I can’t buy a hat for R100, not from him.” That suggests that when you are up and coming, buyers prefer an already established brand. You must work very hard to establish yourself as a brand. Bear in mind that there will be questions around your pricing, but do not let this discourage you. Don’t let that make you operate at a loss simply because you want to accommodate people who probably have the money but are second-guessing your offering. If you have good quality and if you’ve packaged your offering well, your customer will get value for money.
QUESTION: How do you communicate your value proposition to your consumer?
Zubaidah: In the service industry a question you’re often asked is why are you so expensive? Why are you different from people who are more established? My tip is to emphasise quality if you’re not going for a cheaper option. Make sure that your customers know that your products are durable, that your services are really good and beneficial too. Of course, you could focus on cost effectiveness at the price of quality. Make that decision first.
Communicating your value proposition is very important. It is fine to say ‘I know my product is high quality’, but do inform customers about why your product is better than that of your competitors. Communicating your competitive advantage is always a good first step in getting your value proposition out there and informing customers about it.
Longelo: It’s about what makes you unique. If you look at the word Value Proposition, it questions the value you bring as a company to the customer. So, with online services and working in the ICT space you will see that it is narrowed down to your actual target market because it speaks to hyperactivity first. The data that is mined gets narrowed down to a specific target market. People ask: Is paid advertising on social media worth it? I say yes, it is. It speaks to the landscape you operate within – and further than that. It’s not just your traditional advertising. It is tailor made advertising. For example, if you go on YouTube right now, an ad will pop up. That ad is based on your search bar. Your digital footprint is tracked – your likes and dislikes are factored in, and advertising is exposed to you according to that. So online businesses and the ICT space and speaking to 4IR is about increasing automation, therefore making lives so much easier. We need to jump on and use what we have, instead of complaining about it – saying it’s being used against us. Maybe it’s time we turned things around and used that existing data.
Fattinald’s addition: Longelo is saying, be part and parcel of your customers’ lives; make them feel that you know them. This can be achieved through personalised advertising. So, a lot of what we must do as studentpreneurs is to look at the data that we have of our customers and reach out to them in a more personalised way. That is what encourages them to part with their most valued asset – money.
QUESTION: Do you think paid advertising on social media platforms such as FaceBook and Instagram is effective and worth it?
Mphatso: It is effective because it personalises marketing for you. It looks for people who want something close to what you are offering and puts you on their timeline. It does the job for you.
Longelo: It is beneficial to pay for ads because you have an organic reach that speaks to the originality of your target market. Your ad is going to show up for people with site interest. Remember this is fuelled by Artificial Intelligence that is mining data. Take FaceBook and Instagram: these are based on your actual likes and dislikes. It’s also generic and geo location based. People around you are going to have first preference to the availability of your ad. One thing that is important: with paid ads you can measure the amount of usage or the amount of money you’d like to invest. For example, you can pay R500 but you can set the billing tag to R5 a day. Basically, you’ll be guaranteed exposure to 5 000 users, and hopefully from that you’ll get 1 000 interactions, with 500 of them engaging you with intention to buy – if you are selling a product. In a way, it is very smart, but you also must be smart in the way you are using it.
Fattinald: Longelo says paid advertising is worth it mainly because it gives you organic reach. I understand this as all those who are in the same space as yourself with similar interests and tastes, through this artificial intelligence are then channelled to your space. You then get organic reach.
Zubaidah: Instagram and FaceBook ads can be very beneficial as they increase your brand visibility and brand awareness, improve sales and get a lot of customers knowing about you. But it’s not a sustainable way to market your business. I’ve heard that once you start promoting on Instagram, and then you stop, it decreases your reach by a lot. If, for example, you have 10 000 followers, you wouldn’t be getting as much likes on your post, engagement on your feed after you stop promoting because Instagram wants you to start paying again. I’m not sure how sustainable it is. Another good way to get organic reach is to work on collaborations and give out free products to influencers who are in your market. For example, if you’re a nail business, you could target beauty influencers and give them free products or services. That can also be a nice way to reach your target market in a way that is more sustainable.
QUESTION: As a student, it can be difficult to secure funding or locate investors for a start-up. In what ways can a student build capital?
Zubaidah: I don’t know much about getting funding. My own business didn’t need much start-up capital. I think it’s a big misconception that you need to have a lot of money, or you need to save or get a loan to start a business. Maybe start small and don’t focus too much on getting funding or loans that you must pay back. Rather see what you can do in the meantime. The important thing is to just start. Things like that can come later when you need to expand but try starting small. It’s less risky and could be better for you.
Fattinald: There are many platforms you can get funding from, once you have an idea. There are government initiatives and agencies that are in the space to assist studentpreneurs with businesses. National Youth Development Agency is just one of them.
Rod Grewan, Senior Manager: Knowledge Economy and Innovation at the Department of Economic Development and Tourism was another in-person participant. He said: “Yesterday, the Department of Science and Innovation hosted the Technology Innovation Agency’s Grassroots Innovative Programme here on SPU campus. It may be something the speakers missed, but in today’s world, networking and connectivity is not just about digital connectivity. It’s about actual connections; it’s about listening to people, hearing them, and seeing the opportunities. This Grassroots Programme as an innovator… there is your access to resources.
Longelo: Mr Grewan is right. You should start with your own university by going to your Technology Transfer Office (TTO) where the element of innovation and entrepreneurship is harnessed within that university. All universities have a TTO office. It should be the stopping station for all entrepreneurs within universities. Not only do they help you with sourcing funds, but also with mentorship. My advice is do not overlook your own university as a funding source for your business.
Fattinald: EDHE at universities provides exactly that kind of help and is an important information resource.
QUESTION: What are the requirements when one wants to start a business?
Longelo: You need to have the following traits and characteristics or criteria for entrepreneurship:
- Trust in a power greater than you; prayer.
- A clear vision of what you want / where you are going.
- Find the balance between your student and entrepreneurship life.
Mphatso: Here is what I think you need:
- Start by having a good, workable idea.
- Believe in yourself.
- Surround yourself with people who are in your area of interest, who would also like to do something within the business field.
- Look around you, do market research.
- Consider things carefully before you start.
Zubaidah: Have confidence in yourself and just start.
- A good format or process to follow is to look at the design thinking steps. Basically, come up with a business idea that has a lot of participation from your target market, your end users.
- Empathise with who you want to attract. Speak to potential customers. Ask them what they need; ask what problems they have that you can find a solution to. Find out how you can cater for their needs.
- We entrepreneurs are here as problem solvers. We have identified a need in our environment, and we have asked: how I can help? Find a problem to solve, then come up with a way to solve it.
Charmain Naidoo is a contract writer for Universities South Africa