By: Sandile Shabalala, Chief Executive of Sasfin’s Business & Commercial Banking
Global Entrepreneurship week shines a spotlight on the entrepreneurial journey and the impactful support that can enable business growth in South Africa.
South Africans have the second-highest entrepreneurial spirit in the world. That’s according to the 2020 Ipsos Entrepreneurial Spirit Index, which measures 18 key entrepreneurial characteristics. Here’s what’s even more incredible about our local entrepreneurs – their spirit grew during the pandemic. A full three in ten entrepreneurs who started a business in 2020 told Ipsos that they were motivated by the pandemic. South African entrepreneurs don’t walk away from a challenge. They embrace the opportunity to find and implement critical solutions that our country and economy need.
But they also need help. At Sasfin, we engage with business owners every day and while we are inspired by their resilience, we are also acutely aware that no successful business is built in isolation. It takes a village to raise a child – and at the end of the day, no business is the same.
Understanding the entrepreneurial journey
The reality is that business ownership might be the dream of many South Africans, but the entrepreneurial journey can be incredibly lonely. As a business owner, you feel responsible for your employees. You carry the weight of your decisions, good and bad. You’ll make mistakes, you’ll fail, and you’ll need to pick yourself up and keep going. You often have a vision that others don’t share, and you need to prove that your idea will work. You need to convince customers to take a chance on you, banks that they can invest in you, and other businesses to partner with you.
It’s a lot to carry alone. Over the years, I’ve wondered what makes entrepreneurs keep going, even when they are faced with seemingly impossible challenges.
My conclusion is that entrepreneurs inherently understand how to fill their fountain which enables them to do what they do. They have a purpose – a need to make a positive difference. This is the cornerstone of any successful business. As a business leader, I’m faced with challenges daily and have found that taking time to do things that fill my fountain – prayer, gym, and family time – enables me to face challenges head-on.
Every entrepreneur has their own ways of filling their fountains, but they still need [business] support. In our experience at Sasfin, it comes down to entrepreneurs needing to be ‘seen’. As a bank born with an entrepreneurial, partnering mindset, we SEE business owners. We understand their challenges and we have the privilege of watching them in action. The never-give-up spirit, can-do attitude, and problem-solving growth mindsets of South African business owners is inspiring. They always find a way. But it can’t be done in isolation. It’s easy to talk about the challenges that entrepreneurs face and to celebrate their tenacity, but it’s critical to remember that we are all in this together.
Delivering meaningful and impactful support
At Sasfin, we are very aware that high levels of unemployment and the widening poverty gap mean that we have to challenge ourselves even further to create cost-efficient, more affordable, and above all accessible banking services and products.
But we aren’t creating these solutions in isolation. We’re asking business owners what they need and there is a golden thread that runs through the challenges they are all facing: They need access to finance, networking, coaching, and upskilling. They need access to markets, and they want to know that they have partners who understand them and are in their corner.
Our experience shows us that a concerted effort needs to be put behind creating more impactful, creative, and beyond-banking funding solutions to support these small and medium businesses. This includes tools and platforms that help entrepreneurs gain greater visibility (and therefore control) over their cash flow and finances. Our team is continuously working with business owners to refine and add to this toolset based on their specific needs.
The journey of an entrepreneur is also about improvement and learning. We know there is an information gap for SMEs. General business information does not address specific business problems and many business owners have not studied business. They’re ‘learning through doing and they are hungry for information and support.
We’ve therefore partnered with a number of different businesses to create meaningful and curated content for business owners. This includes everything from giving entrepreneurs access to online training to partnering to create the Small Business Showcase, which gives business owners insights into how local companies have overcome the odds, while simultaneously promoting small businesses in South Africa.
Overall, our goal is to enable more entrepreneurs to build better businesses, grow the economy and create more employment opportunities in the process, but there is still a lot of work to do. We are far from tapping into South Africa’s rich entrepreneurial potential. But what we do know is that we have the spirit, partnerships, and solutions to get there.
Sasfin is proudly associated with the NSBC.