When you start a business, you soon learn that you have to spend money to make money, writes
Neither my partner nor I is a trust fund baby. We’ve both worked hard all of our professional lives. In fact, we started working together as cub reporters on exactly the same day at Cape Talk Radio in 1997 and have both been comfortably ensconced in various other jobs since. There is a great sense of security in being employed, as the pay cheque whistles through on payday without much thought given to it.
Other people pay for your flights and accommodation when the job requires you to travel. You copy, print and send documents without a second thought about whether there’s ink in the cartridge. It’s likely you don’t even know where the cartridge is.
When we decided to start our own business, we had been out of formal employment for quite some time and doing freelance work – which, as you know, isn’t steady and barely touches the deep vortex that was once filled by your salary. But that’s the sacrifice you make when you want to go it alone and build something to call your own.
One of the biggest deterrents to entrepreneurs not only starting their business but staying the course is that the meagre funds one had or managed to cobble together do eventually start drying up.
There is the cost of legally complying by registering your company. This could add up to a few thousand rand. The costs of scanning, copying and sending documents hither and thither also build up. I remember the 100-page legal document I had to print, scan, copy and email to a client from PostNet. I almost wept when I saw the bill.
You can’t open a business account without at least R250 to deposit into it. What happens, I wondered, if you don’t have R250 – does the bank turn you away? I despaired, thinking of those who often don’t have a cent, but need to provide proof of the existence of a bank account before anyone does business with them. It all seems counterintuitive and debilitating for a start-up.
Once we got started, it became clear that we would have to do a lot of travelling. We did this with enthusiasm and went all over the country, pitching like baseball players aiming for a home run. Word to the wise here, you always take a meeting, regardless of where it is, but all of this needs money.
And you soon learn that you’ve got to spend money to make money.
Take the following incident, for example.
We hustled and scrambled to get into the World Economic Forum (WEF) for Africa in Cape Town in May. I took a gamble by booking a flight to Cape Town, despite the fact that I didn’t have any accreditation for the event. It’s not as if I had loads of spare cash, but I had a strong gut feeling that being there and soaking up the same rarefied air as the likes of Patrice Motsepe and Ashish Thakkar would somehow pay off. And boy, did it ever. Here, the gods conspired with us because just a few days before the event, I was invited to moderate one of the panels, which meant access and accreditation to mingle with some of the continent’s top business leaders. We shrieked with delight and dug out some change from the emptying war chest so we could make an impression. We had business cards made just a few days before, and were lucky they were ready on time. With help from friends, our website looked functional and semiprofessional the evening before we hit the WEF.
Had we not spent money doing all this, who knows when we might have had an opportunity to spark the interest of Motsepe, who now famously said to us, “Let’s do business, my dear,” after I handed him my barely dry business card.