Q&A with Successful Business Owners

business owner advice

It is the first month of a brand new year.  For existing entrepreneurs, January finds us re-thinking strategies, revisiting mistakes made and putting measures in place to avoid pitfalls and putting together a plan of action for the year to reach business goals.  It is also when many start playing with the idea of starting their own business.  This is the perfect time to take some advice from people that has ‘been there and done that’.

Last year saw me mailing businesses asking for valuable advice to give any new entrepreneur or start up business. The idea behind it was to motivate and inspire all new business owners and entrepreneurs in their journey.  I anticipated quite a big response, but ended up posting only the replies of 3 amazing companies.

Nautical Images – the works and services of well-known local photographer Trevor Steenekamp. CLICK HERE to visit Nautical Images.

Chess Africa – an online retail store providing you with the finest quality chess sets, chess boards and chess accessories.  CLICK HERE to visit Chess Africa.

First Up Services – experts in the Facilities, Health & Safety and Project Management arena.  CLICK HERE to visit First Up Services.

As a small business owner myself, I can relate to the answers given and find the advice inspiring.  In my opinion, we need to remember that all business started out somewhere.  Hard work, dedication, positivity and level mindedness are all keys to ‘making it’.  Whether your goals are to provide for the family or eventually be the CEO of an empire, it is you and you alone that will make it happen!

Below I have put together the answers given by these phenomenal individuals with each question posed to them.  I hope you will enjoy it and take away a little something to motivate you to KEEP GOING!

Questions and Answers:

  1. When did you start your own business and what led up to you deciding to ‘be your own boss’? What/Who motivated you?

Nautical Images – The need to eat! 

Chess Africa – I started the business in September 2014. I have always had an entrepreneurial streak and enjoy business. I started it whilst being employed full time and ran it after hours and over weekends. I like to manage or be involved in all aspects of a new business to ensure that I properly understand everything about it.

First UP Services – First UP Services has been a work in progress for many years. Early in my career I knew that someday I would have my own business. Over the years I gained invaluable training, development, mentorship, guidance and more importantly applied the mind set “if this was my business what would I do”.  Early in 2015 the contract I was assigned to started to restructure. As head of my department I knew we would be affected, but not sure to what extent. Without a second thought, as a family we immediately started putting plans in place that if I was affected we would be ready. It was at this stage that we knew we wanted to run our own business. I was confident I had the skills and discipline to pursue what I really wanted, and eventually in October 2015 I was retrenched and ready to run our own business.

  1. What were your fears when starting out and how did you overcome them?

Nautical Images – Paying the bond, providing for the family, education etc.

Chess Africa – The business is an online store and I was concerned that no one would buy from us because they did not find us, did not trust the website or didn’t like the products.

First UP Services – My biggest fear was not having a regular income at the end of each month and still is, but this is what drives us to get out there and make a difference.

  1. Name a big success while in business that motivated you to keep going.

Nautical Images – None

Chess Africa – Our first online sale was very exciting, it was a small purchase for only about R250 but it proved that it worked and that we were on track.

First UP Services – Referrals are huge and speaks volumes about your work and you as a person. I have done very little marketing but word of mouth has been amazing. Self-belief is also very critical.

  1. Name the worst that has happened to date and how you got ‘back on track’.

Nautical Images – Thinking about what people thought about me as a person. Wanting to be liked more than wanting to be paid for the work completed. Started putting my/family needs first.

Chess Africa – We bought a large consignment of stock from a new supplier in India and found that the quality was very poor. We had to quickly find a new supplier and learnt to buy samples first before trusting a supplier with a large order.

First UP Services – That is a difficult one to answer because I don’t view anything as a setback. Everything happens for a reason and I apply the mind set “what have I learned” or “it didn’t happen for a reason” so move on swiftly. I have the ability to move on very quickly and look for new opportunities so perhaps that is the way I address “getting back on track”.

  1. What are the biggest issues you find currently running your own business?

Nautical Images – Payments over due, and the continual requests for “Free Work” or when one is told “Do this for publicity so that other people can see your work”. This means that the person requesting this wants to use you/your skills to pay for advertising of their company!

Chess Africa – Our business by its nature requires significant cash to be tied up in stock. Our main products being chess sets are manufactured to order and this can take four to six months. This requires that we invest large amounts of cash in stock which we hold until someone buys it. This kind of business can take a long time to be profitable. Stock management is probably still our biggest issue but we are getting better at it.

First UP Services – Having to do everything yourself at this stage. Resources cost money and you have to be sure it is necessary, long term and you’ll be able to meet monthly salary bill.

  1. Did you have a proper business plan when just starting out or only an idea with huge amounts of motivation?  Or a combination of both?

Nautical Images – Just started to work then “Cut my cloth” in accordance to what I earned. Then started making plans.

Chess Africa – Yes, a business plan is important, you need to be able to clearly articulate (even if it is only to yourself) what your plan is and how you are going to make money. If you are unable to do that you are probably on the wrong track.

First UP Services – A combination of both, but I have always had a business mind. Most of what I apply in my business today I’ve tried and tested it out during my career. However, from where I started in 2015 the business has evolved immensely and I follow opportunities as they present themselves. My reading pleasure by far are business books, and this is how it has been from early in my career.

  1. How did you launch your business when just starting out and how do you market your business currently?

Nautical Images – Word of mouth and still doing it that way, but now including social media.

Chess Africa – As an online business our marketing is primarily through Google advertising and social media. Good marketing is vital and is something that you have to budget for.

First UP Services – By word of mouth and through great friends, colleagues and even ex clients.

Develop and hone a 60 second pitch of what you do and the difference you can make and keep on updating it – I do this weekly.

  1. If you could give 5 tips to someone contemplating starting their own business of what they should do and look out for, what would they be?

Nautical Images – A) Set a goal and work towards it. B) Work out monthly costs, everything you want to set out a daily rate C) Chose you own charity.. and refuse all others. D) Never do work for free and advertise it E) Repeat Never advertise work done for free

Chess Africa –  (1) Do your market research, know who your customer is. (2) Make sure you get your pricing right, this can be tricky especially if you are in a very competitive space. (3) Work hard, effort pays off.  If you are lazy you should not run your own business. (4) If at all possible don’t let your new business be your only source of income, it will be incredibly stressful if your life depends on your business succeeding. (5) If your business fails, identify your mistakes learn from them and try something else (I have done this three times already).

First UP Services – Know your product/service and believe in what you are selling. / Love what you do, and it will shine through every conversation. / Be yourself! / Keep your word and deliver on time, every time. / March to the beat of your own drum. / Have fun, even when it gets difficult.

  1. Name 5 things to the next entrepreneur that they should NOT do, ever.

Nautical Images – Just 2- A) Always choose jobs you offer to do free that will assist someone less fortunate than yourself and in turn they  MUST do something for you! B)  Never work for free for a company bigger that yours.  You will be forgotten before you leave the building!

Chess Africa – (1) Don’t just run on passion and emotion, just because you love and are passionate about something does not mean you have a great business idea, make sure  it makes sense from a business perspective also. (2) Don’t try to figure everything out on your own. Get advice from others that are more experienced in business but ultimately you need to make your own decisions it’s your business. (3) Don’t “flog a dead horse” you need to know when your business is not working, cut your losses and get out before it destroys you. (4) Don’t trust in business, get things in writing and get your money before handing over the goods. (5) Don’t take it personally, if your business has failed, it does not mean that you have failed.

First UP Services – Question 8 in reverse!

  1. If you had the opportunity to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

Nautical Images – Nothing, Life has been far too interesting/exciting. Include your wife/husband whenever you can. Your Spouse should be your “GOTO” person to bounce ideas off. Keep future plans/ideas secret.

Chess Africa – I would have spent more time on researching and testing my supply chain. Your suppliers can really have a massive impact on your business. In fact they can make or break you.

First UP Services – Thankfully nothing at this stage, I’m comfortable in the way the business has developed and is evolving.

  1. Lastly, send out an encouraging message to the next entrepreneur.

Nautical Images A lion does not worry about the feelings of the buck he is about to eat… Set you goal, watch you competitors, but never follow them. Create your own identity.

Chess Africa – If you have done your research and done your business plan and based on the facts believe in your business idea, be brave and go for it, there is no reward without risk.

First UP Services – March to the beat of your OWN drum.


And a little advice from me.


Start every day with positivity and passion.  It honestly does shine through in all that you do.

Be consistent.  Every day, do a little to promote your business.  Get exposure.  Let people know about you and what you have to offer.

Chase your dreams.  Don’t get discouraged.  It is hard sometimes, I know, especially when money is low and accounts are due.  Allow yourself a moment to reflect, but then get back on that horse so to speak.

Ask for help.  This is often times the hardest thing to do.  We let pride stand in the way.  Ask for help.  You will be surprised to find how many people out there are willing to work with you or help you.

Get out there!  It is no use to stay in your comfort zone.  Do that post!  Make that video!  If you offer a service, walk into that business with confidence and introduce yourself!

Believe!  You have done the hard work.  You have your business plan and a product or service you know can be of benefit to someone.  You believe in your company.  Now believe in yourself!  You can have the greatest business concept in the world, but if you don’t believe in yourself you might as well just leave that concept on paper and not waste your time.

Have faith!




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