South African-based Accountability Group was founded by Howard and Wendy Kemp who, due to their own frustrating experiences, decided to start a web-based service which allows users to vet prospective clients and accurately determine their creditworthiness before extending them the required trade credit.
Wendy Kemp, who is no stranger to business awards, is one of the finalists for the 2013 Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year award and told How we made it in Africa about some of the lessons she has learnt in business, and why she thinks entrepreneurs should avoid becoming “mother dears” to their employees.
What was the inspiration behind starting the Accountability Group?
In 2003 we were struck with a massive hit by a default payment which almost crippled us. Then, on the stairs in front of the Supreme Court, my husband commented with huge anger: “These default debtors must become accountable for the actions; we need to allow others to become aware of their habitual default habits.” And as they say in the classics, the rest is history.
What was the most important decision you made to grow your business?
A year after the loss of my partner/husband I could see (well, thought) that I clearly lacked the confidence to push our company to the next level – all I was doing was maintaining. One cannot grow on maintaining without vision. The most important decision was to recruit a business consultant to come and view my business format and give me a clear strategy on how to move in the forward motion and create a platform for future growth.
Who is your competition and what are some of the barriers to entry in this industry?
There are a few companies that sell credit bureau information, yet they don’t supply the added beneficial products nor do they have the back-up infrastructure for after sales support.
Describe some of your business failures, and what you have learnt from them.
Don’t become the MD (mother dear) in the business. It’s easier said than done. Get HR or appoint somebody to listen to the staff’s issues and handle their non-performance or non-compliance. This mother dear approach does not suit the job profile of an entrepreneur. It bogs you down causing you to lose some of your vision. Once an entrepreneur loses track of her original vision, erratic diversion and incorrect decisions are made which becomes rather costly to fix or remedy.
Drawing from your experience, what are the key elements for starting and running a successful business?
– Look for the opportunity in a different light;
– Be a good listener;
– Always remain positive, no matter how much your staff lets you down;
– Look after your own finances.
Tell us more about your management and leadership style.
Management is completely hands on, lead by example and continuously look for growth potential within all my staff. It’s like igniting a flame which actually represents their burning desire.
How do you attract new clients?
Firstly, you need to join effective business network circles and get them to understand your business fully by doing a one-to-one with the members. By doing this, you have effective business people who can refer new business to you, without even being on your payroll system. Once you have developed a reasonable platform (and you’re tired of doing the cold-calling yourself), you start employing sales staff to get out there and plough the fields on your behalf.
What is your greatest fear as an entrepreneur?
An entrepreneur should be fearless. An entrepreneur looks at opportunity and the bigger picture, considers the next five years and not the next five minutes, takes the idea, employs qualified people to implement the idea, and then grows the vision to where she wants or can afford to position it in the market. I have no fear.
What popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
“You need loads of money to start up a business.”
Rubbish. If you can consult or engage with other business partners to assist you with your vision, and they too see where you are heading with your idea and they buy in, they will stand by you, knowing that you will always use them in the near future once your cash flow improves. It worked for me.
Do you have any plans for expansion?
Accountability Group is now completely national within South Africa. Yes, I’ve been working on Namibia for the last year and currently scratching the surface for the last eight months to expand into Mauritius. My major meeting with the relevant parties in Mauritius takes place later this month.