Sweetness Mbaza | Itha Plumbing
I worked as an administrator in the construction industry for a number of years before it dawned on me that, if I could do the job for an employer, I could certainly do it for myself. I did some research on the opportunities and challenges in the industry and realised that most black-owned companies focused mainly on building works. I identified a gap – plumbing – and decided to start up my own business with my husband, who is now my full-time partner.
We started out with small jobs (our first was a public works job for just R1 000). When you’re in business for yourself, there is a lot of competition and that’s when most entrepreneurs lose their focus. You see Company X has this equipment or that vehicle, and ask yourself: Why don’t I have those things? It’s also challenging to convince prospective clients to sign you up. They want to know if you have the necessary experience and resources. In addition, construction is a traditionally male-dominated industry. When potential clients see a black woman, they tend to wonder if she knows what she’s talking about.
Finances were also a challenge initially. It’s no good landing a much-needed job and not having the money to start. You can’t tell a client that you can’t start a job because of a lack of funds to buy the necessary tools or supplies. In addition, I needed a vehicle and plumbing specialists.
It was around this time that I saw a Raizcorp advertisement in a local newspaper looking for entrepreneurs to join their programme. I gave them a call and asked a lot of questions. They told me about their guiding process and that’s when I knew this was what I was looking for.
When I started on the Volkswagen-Raizcorp programme, there were things that I thought I was doing right which turned out to be wrong. For example, when I had the money I thought I could buy anything I wanted. Raizcorp taught me that I need to pay myself a salary and that the business’s money is for the business. I was also experiencing a lack of discipline with my staff, which was frustrating and impacted negatively on the business. An additional challenge was having my husband as my business partner because all marriages experience their ups and downs. The Raizcorp guides have really helped to steer me in the right direction with all of these challenges. They never give you the solution themselves; they guide you towards your own solutions and it’s up to you to decide if you will implement them.
Raizcorp has also taught me not to focus on what I have today because you never know what will happen tomorrow. I’m always asking myself what I’m going to do after this. They have challenged me to keep up with what is happening in the industry and to consider opportunities that I wasn’t even aware of before. Knowing that my Guides are always available for me is very motivating.
My company is growing every day and I am so proud of where I am. I had a few large debts which I have mostly managed to settle, and we’ve grown from two employees to 25! We also have some very promising contracts in the pipeline.
If another entrepreneur asked me for advice, I would tell them that perseverance is the most important thing. You can’t get everything you want in one go; you need to work hard for it. You need to commit. I also believe that you must have passion so you can grow and nurture your business. It’s like giving birth … You can’t just abandon that child. When things get hard, you have to remember that tomorrow may be better than yesterday.
Raizcorp has become like my family; I really appreciate them. I wish more people know about what they’re doing. I’m also very grateful to Volkswagen South Africa which has challenged me to meet their high standards so I can become part of their supply chain. I’m so looking forward to working with them.