The Founder's Feature: Maureen Amakabane
Today we discuss fashion, employment and all things SMEs with this daring entrepreneur, Maureen Amakabane, Co-Founder of Beyond Colours Ltd. Join us as she takes us through her journey, the ups and downs of being a woman in business, having a family and being in business, having partners in business and of course the joys and secrets of success in business.
Briefly describe what solution(s) you offer to SMEs?
My business offers a range of services to start ups. These include:
- Business Development
- Sales and marketing strategies
- Sales and marketing trainings
- Social media marketing
- Outsourced sales
- Targeted talent placement
I currently have a team that does this, but my vision is to eventually have a digital platform that will complement the services that I offer.
What challenges have you faced in growing your business?
My biggest challenge has been accessing capital to scale. Most traditional lending institutions require collateral to lend since SMEs are perceived as risky borrowers. And we all know you need money to make money!
Another major challenge is that of payments: Some clients pay late and others eventually disappear without paying. It can be quite frustrating. It became too expensive to chase payments and deliver services at the same time, so, I curbed this with strict payment terms that insist on up to 60% - 70% payment upfront. I lost some customers as a result, but I have eventually built a quality client base, that gives me peace of mind.
Most businesses emerge from a person trying to fill a need in the market, kindly tell us how did this happen for you?
One of my first clients was a gentleman who was heading an organization and had a side hustle that had enormous potential but he was not able to attend to it because of his demanding job. He asked me to help him out with a sales strategy, then train the young girl who was working for him at that time. I actually started working with him while I was still employed and therefore could only meet him on Saturdays. Once I left employment, I had time to work with his staff effectively and his side hustle began to flourish and thrive and he faithfully paid me at the end of the month. This led to two referrals, which opened my eyes to the professional skills gap in startups.
I had a meeting with myself, strategized, packaged and rolled out my consultancy services officially. Over time I have found my niche in youth and women-led businesses because I believe they hold the key in transforming the African Agenda and solving youth unemployment with their innovative ideas and high potential but need help to structure and transform into highly profitable businesses.
How does running your own business compare with being employed?
My corporate experience set a foundation for my business ownership path. The strict corporate policies and adherence to guidelines and procedures come into play a lot when running your own business. On a more spiritual level, self-employment has given me a sense of true purpose and an opportunity to serve people using my professional skills. Did you know you can serve God this way too? When my clients grow their businesses, I get excited. Recently I was touching base with one of my first clients and she was telling me how she sold her business for several millions and she was quite proud and happy with the foundation we set.
How has your fashion evolved from corporate employment to being self-employed, if at all?
I keep a lean wardrobe, with functional clothes and comfortable shoes. I cannot remember the last time I wore a suit and heels, which is what I mostly wore previously. I do not have the luxury of buying clothes for each event like I used to, but that doesn’t mean I have abandoned my style. I always like to look smart; in good fitting clothes that are classy and practical.
What would be a practical outfit for you?
A piece that is functional and multipurpose; something I can wear during the day and go into an evening cocktail with.
Considering your passion in hygiene and sanitation, is this something you have considered exploring further?
I am very passionate about this and I have already ventured into it, albeit not at a very large scale. I am the founder of a sanitation start up, www.usafisanitation.com It has been quite a journey for this business. First time I set it up, my partner and I fell out. Second time, I shared the business vision and its blueprint with a family member and he invested in the business, only to kick me out later. He now runs a similar business and I think it must be profitable because he has grown.
The vision is still alive, I am only growing the business slowly now and I’m more careful with partnerships. This is a capital-intensive business and I am applying the things I teach other startups in this business, like boot strapping.
Even in its current size and scale we have managed to make some good impact and for that I have won several awards, the most prestigious one being a finalist and beneficiary of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program which saw me recently get appointed to sit on the Change Management Task Force for the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance- a global sanitation association (https://www.susana.org/en/). It was an extremely competitive position but I believe out of the many applications from different parts of the world, mine stood out as a result of the passion I have and vision to improve sanitation for school-going children in Kenya and eventually Africa.
What advice would you give other female entrepreneurs?
Just do it. It is okay to fail and ask for help. Speak up.