MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMEN 2015/16
CASE IN POINT | VisaRequest
by Samantha Barnes
Unlocking Small Business Minds
Seeking finance for a small-business proposal is enough to send the bravest soul into flights of self-doubt. Even the most well-formulated business plan has holes in it. It is the job of the financier to ask the sort of questions that transform a well-formulated business plan into the lining of the budgie cage. “You need to do more market research,” the financier says, the steely rims of their accountant glasses glinting in reinforcement of their point.
Nothemba Gqiba, Head of Marketing & Communications at Small Enterprise Finance Agency (sefa), is about as far from foreboding as the sun offering welcome warmth after a cloudburst. She is the picture of elegance and professionalism in a royal-blue blouse and black trouser suit, but it is her energy that holds your attention. Nothemba vibrates positivity. “I have been very privileged from the beginning,” she says, when asked what she perceives as being her greatest contribution to sefa thus far. “I was the first person to set up the communications role. The universe puts you in places where you can use these roles. All I wanted to achieve, I have
done; from branding to logo, to setting up formal systems – now I need to ensure that more South Africans know about the financial assistance that sefa offers.”
Make It Happen
The one word that Nothemba uses repeatedly when addressing small enterprises is ‘opportunities’. “We talk about 20 years of democracy: South Africa and the continent are full of possibilities. There are definitely opportunities for entrepreneurs to explore,” says Nothemba. “There is so much assistance available for entrepreneurs through government agencies, banks and the private sector. The question is how do I use this information to my advantage?
“The entrepreneur must know what they want through the worst times and believe in their vision. Focus, focus, focus! The assistance is there.”
Letting Them down Gently
In the words of Martin Luther King, ‘I have a dream’. In a similar fashion, an entrepreneur’s entire future may hinge on that one idea. Or at least they think so. Nothemba understands this when she is communicating with a small-business person about their business proposal. Ultimately, she is dealing with their vision. “I realise the emotions that they go through. The first purpose of social entrepreneurs is economic gain,” says Nothemba.
Conscious of the need to tread carefully and to respect each case, sefa is a funder with a soul hence that has to come out when interacting with clients. “We need to be very professional,” says Nothemba. “We give constructive criticism based on the reasons for declining them and state what they can improve on. Many people give us feedback afterwards on how this has helped them.
“We are often a lender of last resort. It is very important to remember that they have been disappointed, so we need to give them hope.”
When the Heat Is On
Sensibly, sefa recruits an audience through the auspices of business chambers and local economic structures when doing monthly outreaches to entrepreneurs across the country. Nothemba ensures that any issues raised by entrepreneurs at these events are resolved.
“The outreach gives an opportunity to dissatisfied clients to speak directly to sefa and others to seek clarity so as to grasp the sefa model better. Some might have had missed opportunities due to delays from sefa or may not be satisfied with the service they received. I need to investigate and gather as much information as possible. I make sure that they have some level of satisfaction and comfort in coming all the way to see me. We try to resolve all issues immediately, however, were it is not possible a detailed explanations and way forward is given to the client. ”
“I don’t manage like a man. I am my own person. I have to find me in order to manage people,” says Nothemba. She follows a formula to ensure that staff have the best interests of clients at heart while having due controls in place. “It is almost a creative space: being able to apply their mind,” says Nothemba.
“I love the entrepreneur’s quest for success. Sometimes they have new and exciting ideas and then there are others that take existing ideas to other markets,” says Nothemba. “I love their zest for life and creating something out of nothing: saying I can attitude! Many of them know they have to start somewhere and grow. They take risks, some calculated and others not so well calculated. But what is important; they took the first step. They must not see obstacles: they must see beyond that. Possibility is their sport.”
Each Person Has a Purpose in Life
“I want people who are passionate, who can constantly learn,” says Nothemba of her staff. She applies this principle as much to herself as to others. “I am full of energy,” agrees Nothemba. “Be dedicated in what you do and it will love you back. Being yourself is most important. Treat people with dignity. People should be treated equally as each person has a purpose in life.”
Nothemba walks me to the security turnstile, her actions reinforcing her words. Her dedication to what she does is inspiration in itself.