Entrepreneurial lessons from 2015

Christo Botes
As 2015 draws to an end and everyone starts to wind down, now is the ideal time for entrepreneurs to take a step back and reflect on how their business has fared this year, and the lessons they have learnt as a result. Analysing these can help entrepreneurs apply key insights into their business, and avoid certain mistakes and challenges.

This is according to Christo Botes of the Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® awards, who says that entrepreneurship unfortunately does not have a  ‘how to’ guide or roadmap, and entrepreneurs are therefore left to find their own ways in business, often facing  a maze of challenging circumstances. 

“2015 was a tough year in terms of the economic conditions, but despite the ups and downs, the hard work and dedication paid off for many entrepreneurs and businesses. Perseverance - a trait of any successful entrepreneur – assisted many entrepreneurs with the various challenges witnessed in 2015. This inherent determination allowed them to push themselves to find a solution, regardless of the circumstances.” 

He says that every challenge teaches an SME owner or entrepreneur a lesson. “These lessons need to be taken into consideration when planning for 2016.” 

He points to a discussion had during the 2015 Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® alumni gatherings, where one local entrepreneur, a furniture manufacturer, was faced with the challenge of his largest client ceasing its business operations, without notice. Having built up a successful business with a healthy profit and employing hundreds of staff, he was suddenly at a very real risk of being out of business, given that he had just lost a client that accounted for the majority of his business’ revenue. 

“Through innovation, the entrepreneur adapted his operation to diversify his product offering and has subsequently grown a strong and diversified client base. The lesson to learn here is not to put all your eggs into one basket, and to always ensure a back-up strategy is in place,” says Botes.

The nature of a small business is that entrepreneurs are faced with regular challenges, and are often preoccupied with problem solving most of the time, which does not allow them the necessary time to assess the situation holistically. Botes stresses that it is important to take a step back and analyse the situation to see how such a scenario could possibly be avoided in the future. 

“The upcoming December holiday period offers an ideal opportunity given many businesses wind down during this time. Entrepreneurs should take this time to reflect on the past year and analyse the various situations and lessons learnt before planning for 2016.”

Local entrepreneurs and 2015 Sanlam / Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® winners, share their key lessons learnt in 2015: 
  • Lewis Thomas, owner and founder of Partners Hair Design: “Entrepreneurs need to stay focused, constantly. Businesses, especially in the retail and service industry, need to stay ahead of local trends, and concentrate on the personal aspects of the customer experience, which includes being friendly and polite and listening carefully to customers’ needs.” 
  • Kim Whitaker, co-founder and co-owner of Once in Cape Town: “I learnt that it is okay to let go and delegate. As a self-starter entrepreneur, I have often had a desire to control every aspect of the business, from marketing, growth, operations and strategy. Entrepreneurs need to utilise the expertise and hard work of well trained and skilled partners and employees to grow the business.
“Entrepreneurs should focus on what they enjoy the most, and trust others to do what they are employed to do. This will enable them to grow their businesses.”

Botes concludes: “While no two businesses are alike and each has their own challenges to overcome, reviewing fellow entrepreneurs’ business lessons can assist you to assess and improve certain areas of the business that you may not have considered before.”