Always have a plan B, advises South African entrepreneur

Michélle Booysen is the founder and managing director of Pétanque Consultancy, a South African-based management consultancy that offers strategy formulation and delivery, as well as project management services to other business. Booysen is one of the eight women finalists in this year’s Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year award. How we made it in Africa asked her about the business behind assisting other businesses.

Michélle Booysen

How did the idea for Pétanque Consultancy come about?

The inspiration was to (a) deliver high-value, high-impact work in a way that is distinctly different from competitors and other businesses that offer the services we bring, and (b) since “work” is the majority part of people’s lives for a long time, we wanted to create a business that people loved working in and with. Enjoying what one does, aka having fun, is key to quality of life, service and sustainability. So part of being different was to create a team culture that is home to those who like what we do and also provides opportunities that are different than most.

The Pétanque idea comes from the French game boules, known in the south of France as pétanque. We chose the name because it was different, and at the same represented the “fun” element we wanted to build into who we are and what we do and how we do it.

Where did Pétanque’s initial funding come from?

Prior to Pétanque I was sole owner of a close corporation that had, in the 10 years prior to Pétanque, built a small savings account. In addition, we had a lucrative project which was instrumental in cash flow the day that Pétanque started. As we grew the business, we, being my business partner MJ and I – from time to time, on short term, never more than 60 days – used funds from our bond.

Key to running a business is to grow it from its own revenue and at the same time establish an impeccable record of paying creditors, not over-extending, creating a solid accountability profile with the bank and watching cash flow like a hawk. We built the business organically, with a spot of help from the bond in other words.

Tell us a bit about the business behind assisting other businesses?

It is quite simple and based on the principles of supplier development. To start a business and build its systems and processes and generate a brand and market and deliver the service, is a big ask, especially in today’s competitive world. So why not apply an existing brand, processes and systems, and focus on what the new entrepreneur has to offer the market as quickly as possible. So through cooperation we share what we have in place, including our knowledge and know-how of how to manage a business – from networking to invoicing, from appointing people to performance managing the business. Our entrepreneurial partner generates the revenue, we provide the ‘home’ to work from and we agree on the costs to the cooperation. We refer to this as ‘the desk’ and then when, for example, R1,000 is earned, our partner draws a personal salary from this income (e.g. 70%) and the rest remains in the business to cover overheads.

After six months we take the profit and if so agreed, pay a ‘dividend’ of 50% each out of the profit. Once the desk is well established the aim is to, if we so choose, establish a separate entity that builds on what was established. So it is a hub to establish the new entrepreneur, and of course the entrepreneur and Pétanque agrees on the code of honour, the branding and how we work in combining her or his offer to ours to go to market. Eventually these ‘desks’ are either to be a subsidiary of, a supplier for, or a partner to Pétanque.

If you could offer a first-time entrepreneur one piece of advice, what would it be?

Always, always have a Plan B.

What risks does your business face today?

Risk can be negative and positive. Global economics impact. This causes projects and clients to disappear from our horizon. It also creates opportunity. A risk is not to be at the right place at the right time to use those opportunities, the positive is being innovative in these challenging times and harvesting new work because of that. Secondly, as in all businesses, losing key staff for whichever reason, and the fact that all of the Pétanque team is regarded as key staff, is a sure risk. Business, and ours in particular, is built and maintained on relationships. Any element that impacts on clients, team and supplier relationships, pose a risk and again, at the same time an opportunity. The challenge is continuous awareness and the best possible response when the risks pose themselves.