Student farmer, vendor talks business
Pleads for support in a quest to live entrepreneurship dream
MASERU – Little or no access to funding is one of the main reasons behind most start-ups’ failure, especially in the beginning, according to Seeiso ‘Sos’ Bolofo, a student, street vendor and farmer from Qalakheng in Mohale’s Hoek. Research by the University of the Western Cape, South Africa, shows that approximately 70 to 80 percent of small businesses fail within five years.
Successfully establishing small to medium businesses in Africa, especially agricultural businesses, can be difficult due to challenges like governmental and environmental factors well as entrepreneurs’ individual issues. Sharing his experiences with Public Eye in a recent interview, the 24-year-old farmer and street vendor identified numerous shortfalls that he said can quickly put a small business out of operation.
“One thing I have learnt so far is that my business remains unstable because I have been unable to effectively support it with adequate capital that could generate sound profit and sustain it. I often run out of stock and inconsistency is bad for any business,” states Bolofo.
However, the Lerotholi Polytechnic student who has just passed his first year of studies in Construction Management reveals he made a decision to quit school and completely venture into the business world where he says he has finally discovered his calling. Asked how he ended up in construction studies after intensively being engaged in farming, Bolofo was quick to explain that he is following in his father’s footsteps, who was a builder.
He had hoped that one day they would both be able to set up a construction company but that challenges brought out by poverty are proving otherwise. He said he dropped farming following the challenges of climate change. Bolofo also spoke at length about his family background.
“I come from a poor family of four children and unemployed parents. We also live with a grandchild and life has not been easy for us.” This situation, Bolofo said, has forced him to shift his attention to street vending – selling small items like peanuts, potato chips and sweets in the streets of Maseru, before returning to his Mohale’s Hoek hometown where he said his vending business is performing better than in the capital, although lack of funding remains his biggest challenge.
“From numerous business forums I have learnt that inability to get funding will inhibit your business’s ability to purchase assets and resources needed for expansion. Lack of capital may also jeopardise your day-to-day operations because there are things that cost money on an ongoing basis.
“I need to focus my energy on my business for it to grow to a level that it would create employment for other people, but I cannot achieve that on my own. I come from a disadvantaged family and need extra support to boost capital stock. “I plead with any Good Samaritan to assist me; be it a business tycoon, a successful politician or individual, or a development organisation such as BEDCO (Basotho Enterprises Development Corporation),” he says.
In a recent demonstration BEDCO official, Lebohang Mafela, warned emerging entrepreneurs that problems hindering small businesses from developing include, but are not limited to, a proper administration and lack of entrepreneurship skills. “Business problems do not basically emerge from the capital money but its administration. Where you have fallen is where you have to look at. As BEDCO we assist with business plans on your business idea for free from our offices in Leribe, Maseru and Mafeteng.”
He further explained that the corporation offers business counseling and coaching to individuals and groups of people through various types of workshops. He said there is also financial help via competitions and entrepreneurship programmes for youth aged between 18 to 35. “The other problem is that most people get into businesses because of hunger without skills in financial control and savings. It is equally important to visualise the highest level you are determined to reach with your business and separate it from family. Thus, it should be an independent entity with its own bank account and no business can survive without a proper plan,” Mafela said.
He pointed out that many entrepreneurs are often too impatient to put a solid plan in place before starting their business, and that planning in business can often make or break the start-up. Time also plays an important role in planning, especially for new businesses.
Mafela highlighted that small business owners must strive to start small with little money. Ideally, before starting a business, entrepreneurs should ensure they have enough money to sustain that venture for at least two years, then slowly and patiently build it up. Unfortunately, most small business owners in Africa have no idea where to get start-up capital. One suggestion is for entrepreneurs to explore ways of funding their businesses themselves, or to investigate different organisations that offer capital services to small businesses. Other options are forming partnerships, looking for investors and applying for business grants and loans.