MBOMBELA - Years in business and politics have taught attorney and politician Dr Mathews Phosa a few things. From his own personal experience he has discovered, a variety of fields, how to make a success of being an entrepreneur.

Ms Phephsile Maseko recently had the opportunity to meet with Phosa as part of the Bring Change Lowveld mentorship programme recently.

The poet, ANC elder, former premier of Mpumalanga and prolific businessman holds positions as chairman, vice-chairman and board member at more than 10 prominent South African institutions and companies.

These include Special Olympics South Africa, du Toit Smuts & Mathews Phosa Attorneys, Innibos Arts Festival, MASDT, Vuka Timbers, Value Logistics, and Hans Merensky Holdings, to name a few.

As a results, he has a wealth of advice to share with mentee, Maseko from how to handle finances, to governance and to the minute planning of setting up a farm - as she is doing to supply her skin-care product range start-up, Phepisa Natural Resources Institute.

Phosa had 10 general tips to share with Lowvelder readers too:

1. Establish whether there is a market
First, do a feasibility study to understand the market. If you have no market, what will you do with the product? Your business must the based on the needs of the market. Otherwise you can produce a product, but you won't know where to sell it, Phosa advised.
The feasibility will tell you many things from your budget to your governance structures.

2. Instil discipline in your team
"If you don't think governance is important, you will realise it once things start falling apart," Phosa said.
You need discipline to implement a project, you need board members with different skills and members to help guide the CEO in the vision of a project.   "Leadership is seen by way of results. Therefore you must show commitment. you must show discipline, you must show ethics. Your team will imitate you. If you develop a culture of ethics and good behaviour from the beginning, then you will have a disciplined team culture in your governance and management team. At the end of the day they are one whole outfit."

3. Build a united team
You have to build a team - the team must be your other brain, your financial brain, your political brain, anything you are not good at.
"You are the head, they are the neck. You need a strong team and always make sure they are united. There can be no factions, that will tear the company apart. Everyone must work together for the interests of the company. Otherwise it will give you headaches as you will be dealing with personalities instead of projects."

4. Implement your vision

"Everyone must agree on the destinations and want to implement the vision and mission. Then it is run professionally. For the team to work together, they must buy into your vision and agree with that mission. Then the team is whole.
Phosa recommends doing simple things like putting a laminated card on the wall, "We value customer service" or "We stand for the community" - it works to inspire people and remind them of the company's core values.

5. Plan ahead
Plan ahead for the unforeseen, and keep planning as things develop and new unforeseen events become possible.
"You need to plan head for emerging things - the positive and negative, and provide for them. You have to do that, those are important elements."
For instance, do you have insurance in case of fire or theft? Also, as the company grows and changes, how will your role change with it?

6. Explore finance options
Explore different options to secure funding for your business. Perhaps you are afraid of taking out a loan, and obtaining a grant would be more suitable. Don't be afraid to find out, Phosa said.
"There is nothing wrong with listening to people - talk to different institutions and don' be afraid. Listening to someone is far from making a commitment. Find out more before making a decision, find the best possible option for your business and don't be afraid to ask."

7. Networking is very important
Make the best use of those willing to provide you with assistance. If someone introduces you to a business associate, use them well. People can help you, as Phosa can attest after starting a small business development enterprise from scratch.
"It used to be the LTK, and when all the other guys left, we turned our focus to training black commercial farmers. We started it from nothing, like Innibos, and today we've grown to also operate in other provinces, with help from the dTi, Eskom and BTA. Now AgriSA wants to use us as their national footprint for implementation of farmer training."
"Whether you agree with someone or not, always respond to communication. Talk to everyone who calls you, don't be afraid - you never know who will turn out to be of great help to you."

8. Protect your intellectual property
Make sure you register any and all patents with a company that is fully your own.
"You never know, one day if your partner leaves he can ask for a part of the intellectual property to which they have not contributed," Phosa said. "Make sure it belongs to a company of which you are the only shareholder. Then nobody else can touch them except you."

9. Step aside when need be
When you get older, you have wisdom and experience, but sometimes a change of the guard is necessary. When this happens, support the young leaders, Phosa advised.
"Sometimes you have to step aside or take a back seat to allow young people to lead. For the success of the organisation, know when to accept succession. You can't always want to be king. For the success of the organisation you must support the young guys."

10. Rise above obstacles
"Life is rising above obstacles. Don't be preoccupied with them. There will always be challenges, rise above them," Phosa concluded.

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