Submitted by:  JJ de Nier

I am currently living in Europe, running my own successful catering business.  I started my business in 2012 and have slowly built it up over the years to where I am now.  As part of the #ImStaying Movement, I would like to contribute by giving my own advice on growing a successful business.

First find something you enjoy doing, then find someone to pay you for doing it.

The motto I have always lived by when it comes to business comes from a Post-It note I once saw on my dad’s desk as a child. It simply said – ‘First find something you enjoy doing, then find someone to pay you for doing it’.  This to me is key to the success of any business.  Unless you have a tremendous amount of passion for the ‘product’ you are selling, you will not succeed. 

Being an entrepreneur means you are ‘working’ 24 hours per day, seven days a week.  You will always be on the lookout for opportunities for your business and checking out the competition and figuring out ways to stay ahead.  When you are not doing that, there is always paperwork that needs to be done and a taxman to keep happy. On top of that, of course, is putting together the ‘product’ you are selling, finding customers, keeping existing customers happy, dealing with problems, recruitment, marketing, development …  Unless you have a passion for your ‘product’, this is not sustainable. Ninety percent of entrepreneurs fail in the first year because they think they have a great idea for a business, but do not have the passion to push through.

My dream was always to run my own business.

I have always had a passion for food and have been involved in the catering industry all over South Africa since 1994.  I have held entry-level positions and been in management, but my dream was always to run my own business. Initially, I did start out with my own business, but I realised that I did not have the experience and know-how to make a success of it.  I thus ended up working for a number of employers for the next ten years.  

I always put in the maximum amount of effort with each employer and inevitably moved up the ranks to a decision-making position.  With every job I had I always put in 100% effort, not only to please my employer but in order to learn as much as possible. I have always found that the more you put in, the more you will get out.  With each job I had, when I felt I was no longer learning anything, I moved onto the next opportunity. When the time finally came to start up for myself, I had built up a wealth of experience and truly knew in which direction my passion lay. 

My main reason for starting up my own catering business was that I was living in a foreign land, did not know anyone, did not speak the language and could not find any employment.  I was both over-qualified because of my experience, and under-qualified because I have no proof of education past matric.

Because I had no funds and I was not willing to take out a loan for an untested business, I started out very small, doing small dinner parties for family and friends of the family.  I did this for two years, barely making a living, but sticking to it and never compromising on the product that I believed to be great. After two years business was picking up and I was starting to find enough customers who wanted what I was offering.  Only at that stage did I take out a small loan to build my own catering facility. 

All this has only been possible because all my clients can see the passion that I have for what I do.

As I have always done, I built the bare minimum to operate within the confines of the law and Health and Safety.  As my business grew from there, I purchased more equipment as the need arose. I can now say, after seven years of growing the business one piece at a time, that I am now at a stage where I need to decide to either employ people or stop taking on more work.  The business is 100% debt free and I have over 800 clients who believe in the product I have on offer.  

All this has only been possible because all my clients can see the passion that I have for what I do.  Today I am still a stranger in a foreign land where I do not speak the language at all, but my passion for what I do overcomes all of this.