Belinda Mapongwana | Mapongwana Attorneys
I started my own law firm in June 2014. I was motivated by the gap I saw in the market for small, black, female-owned practices that specialised in corporate and commercial law. I wanted to provide legal services to SMMEs that couldn’t afford the rates charged by the big firms. I felt they were more vulnerable than more established businesses because they didn’t have access to the kind of legal advice they needed. I also realised that the kind of law firms that SMMEs could typically afford were not always able to offer professional and correct corporate commercial legal advice. Interestingly, as we’ve grown, we have acquired some corporates and state-owned enterprises as clients, because I’ve learned that I need a few bigger clients to diversify my books and provide more stability in terms of cash flow.
Previously I had always worked for large legal firms so, when I started my own firm, the biggest challenge was gaining people’s trust as a standalone brand. The second challenge was maintaining a steady cash flow – although I don’t know if that ever really stops being a challenge. Related to that was managing my debtors.
I first heard about Raizcorp through a friend who works in the B-BBEE space as a consultant. She told me that, if I was accepted on a business-growth programme, Raizcorp would pair me with a corporate sponsor. I called Raizcorp, went through the selection process, and started on the programme in 2016.
The personal value the programme has had for me is how much I’ve grown. I am more comfortable with my strengths and more aware of my areas for development. I’ve learned to maximise my strengths and have realised that I have everything I need to build the business. I’ve learned a lot about what I’m capable of (something I’ve tended to downplay in the past). I think the biggest personal highlight of the programme is the realisation that I have what it takes.
From a business-growth perspective, I have employed two people and my revenue has doubled. I’ve learned about the value of sales and how it impacts revenue. I now know that, if things are slow, the biggest weapon in your arsenal is the fact that you can go out there and sell. I’ve also learned the value of marketing and advertising. Having a website, business cards, a social media presence and so on provides a platform that works for you even when you aren’t working, and can attract clients who otherwise might never have heard of you. Also, there is my relationship with my sponsor, Kagiso Tiso Holdings (KTH). They have really come to the party in terms of making me part of their supply chain and giving me work.
I’ve gained a number of clients in my time at Raizcorp, mainly other entrepreneurs who were on the programme with me. Something I really value is partnerships and I’m really excited about those I’ve created over the past four years which are now solidifying. When it comes to deals, things can change in an instant, but relationships have a value that can be realised over time. While the firm is on a few panels with medium-sized and large corporates, the most important thing for me is the value of the relationships we’ve created – within Raizcorp, within KTH and with existing clients who continue to refer our services.
My advice to any aspiring entrepreneur is to believe in your why. When the chips are down, that is the thing that will carry you. I’d also emphasise the value of networking and leveraging your relationships.
Thank you to KTH for giving me a platform to express myself and my vision, and thank you to Raizcorp for embracing my vision, helping me to clarify it and continuously inspiring me to keep believing in it.