I have learned to play outside my comfort zone

Lebo Letsoalo | Morish Cuisine

I have always loved cooking; it was my passion from very early on, and I wanted to pursue it as a career. In Grade 10, I wanted to choose hotel management as a school subject but my grandmother wouldn’t let me; I went the accounting route instead.

Later, when I was far away at varsity, I found the residence’s food really horrible and could not get used to the catering style. As I got older, I realised that the catering industry was really saturated and the competition stiff. I began to wonder how I would approach a catering business and, from the start, decided to position the business towards corporate clients. I wasn’t interested in catering for weddings, funerals and other private functions.

My family helped to fund my business because I had a recognisable degree to fall back on if things didn’t work out. At the time, I held down a corporate job so I also used my own money and took out multiple loans. I also roped in my husband to manage things. For my first catering job, I had to pay staff using my corporate salary but, as the business started to grow, I could no longer afford to do this. The catering industry is very labour and equipment intensive. You need good staff, vehicles and much more, which all cost money. I was constantly reinvesting in the business, and any money I made got ploughed straight back in.

I continued with my corporate job for the first five years the business was in operation, but I was always wondering when I could leave my job and run the catering business full time. At the time, my husband was no longer doing the cooking on his own. We’d built up a customer base, and I knew all our work would be undone if I didn’t join him full time. I decided to spend two years on my gamble and, if necessary, I could always go back to a formal job.

It was around this time that I saw a Raizcorp advertisement on Facebook. I’d known about them for a while because I’d heard an interview with Allon Raiz on SAfm. I remember thinking how amazing it sounded and wishing I had a business coach like him. So, when I saw the Facebook ad and checked the application criteria, I knew I needed to join the programme.

The value the Raizcorp programme has had for me is that I am no longer a caterer. I am an entrepreneur. I know how to pitch my business to total strangers and have absolute fun doing it. I have learned to play outside my comfort zone. I am naturally a very introverted person but now I know how to confidently step outside my shell and do what needs to be done – be it a presentation or an interview! In this respect, my Personal Guide has been amazing.

We are in the process of employing an additional 13 new staff members as a result of landing a big contract. Our turnover will grow significantly once this project is fully implemented and up and running. We are executing such an amazing concept for this contract, which I believe will further differentiate us in the canteen space. In addition, we have a new range of products coming out of our Halaal kitchen, and are also launching a confectionary range.

If I had to offer my advice to an aspiring entrepreneur, I would say that entrepreneurship is not glamorous. You need to be prepared to do the hard work and do without a lot for a while. You also need to know the ins and outs of your business and the industry very intimately. Lastly, do not be afraid to say NO! It can be the most empowering word in the world.

I would like to say a million thank yous to Investec and Raizcorp. I feel truly blessed to have been chosen to take part in the programme. I believe the programme has helped to fast track a lot of the steps along my entrepreneurial journey.