Open letter to the Small Business Forum
It’s been a while! LinkedIn very politely reminded me that my business is 10 years old this month, which means so is the Small Business Forum (SBF).
I recently attended a seminar that spoke about the importance of telling your story, and it suddenly dawned on me that I have never told mine. I created a platform to help small businesses gain access to guidance information, networking events and opportunities, and asked you to join me on my journey without ever actually introducing myself. So here goes – and I hope after reading this you will continue this journey with me because it is about to get a lot more exciting!
I created a platform to help small businesses gain access to guidance information, networking events and opportunities, and asked you to join me on my journey without ever actually introducing myself.
My name is Jain Mc Guigan and like many of you I started my business without any real plan. It was never a life goal or drive to own my own business; it just happened one day because I got so frustrated with my job. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised – I have always worked in start-up companies and my parents were both self-employed. You could say it was in my blood.
So, with my last salary and one client, I set off into the world to start my own marketing agency. In no time at all I discovered that I’d never really known the real value of all those other people I used to work with. They bounced ideas around with me, shared stories at the watercooler, fixed things like my email, helped me set up a printer, added to my strategies and quotes, etc. etc. And don’t even get me started on invoicing. Who knew that if you don’t get around to sending out the invoices your clients don’t pay you?!
It was during this scary, lonely time, when I had no-one but the cat to brainstorm with, that I started looking to uncle Google for information and help. Only to discover there was nothing out there that was the least bit helpful. Not unless your business was two or more years old, had a minimum of 100k in the bank, or you had developed some sort of amazing tech that people wanted desperately. With the belief that I could not be the only special star who had busted out of the confines of gainful employment to paddle her own canoe, I decided to start a club to network with like-minded folks like yourself that could support each other and maybe even do business together.
So why has it taken me 10 years to introduce myself? Like you, I have been a little busy (this is no excuse, I know, but I hope you will forgive me anyway). In 2007 I started Chocolate Shoebox (outsourced marketing solutions) and the Small Business Forum. Fortunately, shortly after launching, my big sister joined me in the business to sort out that invoicing problem. In 2008 we bought and launched Campbell House, a boutique conference venue in Waverley Johannesburg. We spent the next five years building Chocolate Shoebox into a very nice little 10-person agency with some great clients. In 2012 we realised that Campbell House needed more attention and that my sister’s true passion is running charitable organisations and not the finances of a marketing agency. So, took over Campbell House and I merged with my current business partner to form Refract Marketing in 2014.
They say life begins and 40 and they weren’t kidding. I’m not sure where the past two years went but we have done some stuff. Firstly, I reconnected with one on my best friends from fashion school (yes I am actually a Fashion designer) when she moved back to Johannesburg to focus-on and build her business – The Perfume Company. The universe, however, had other ideas and in 2016 we opened PearZoo Clothing. This very quickly led to us also opening an online clothing store called 8th Avenue (www.8th-Ave.com).
And here we are today, a team of three business partners with four businesses in the kitty. Realising that we now need to grow them all into something that will make us some money, I turned again to Uncle Google and his plethora of SME development agencies, funders, advisors, etc. and quickly realised that 10 years on nothing has changed. There is STILL no-one speaking to me, the SME. Yes, there is a lot more information out there which is great, and a lot of it is extremely valuable – but business growth programmes still seem to be something of a lost unicorn. There are great programmes if you are an actual entrepreneur, but I don’t fit into that category.
They say life begins and 40 and they weren’t kidding. I’m not sure where the past two years went but we have done some stuff.
I am very proudly a small business owner – I have no desire to have a 100-staff business. I desire to give myself and a team of like-minded people gainful employment for as long as it still makes us happy. I want to create meaningful businesses that leave a mark on the world by doing impactful work. I want to help and build the people around me through projects and services they find useful.
I don’t have a degree in entrepreneurship or an MBA. I got my business degree through life-smacks, grit and an overdraft facility. Of course, there is that part of me that wants to be a millionaire, retire to Bora Bora at 50, take over the world, and make the cover of Entrepreneur Magazine – but this part is new. Who knows, maybe I am graduating into an entrepreneur after all.
As a small business owner, I have realised we are very special – everyone wants to ‘engage with us’ and ‘empower us’. They sign declarations, claim they are there to help us on their social pages, and build networks and tools to support us… Well I cry foul because none of them are actually helping me.
Yes, BIG BUSINESS, I am talking to you. You hire my services, then make me give you everything but a DNA sample to work with me. Then you demand a 30-day payment term. WHAT? You are a multi-million rand business and you are asking me, a ten-people business with a cash-flow system that is called “my overdraft”, for 30 days. Then when I give in you take anywhere up to 90 days to pay me.
The services and policies that you sell me are ridiculously overpriced because my baby ten-people business does not offer you enough economy of scale. So, actually offering my staff a single benefit other than my love and appreciation is out of the question.
I don’t have a degree in entrepreneurship or an MBA. I got my business degree through life-smacks, grit and an overdraft facility.
Finance and funding options. Another personal favourite. You create events and workshops to talk at me, not to me, using speakers who work in corporates and have never started, let alone run, a small business in their lives. WOW!
Bridging finance? Of course you can have some, but at 16.5% to 18% interest and with 6 months to pay it back. A business loan? Certainly, but the banking system rates me, a single white female with no dependents, at risk level 7-gazillion, so my interest rate is going to be even higher (apparently no dependents adds to my risk as it makes me irresponsible… who on earth came up with that one?)
Incubators, funders, VC’s, crowd funders – you are all doing an OK-to-good job, and there are a lot of businesses you are helping. But let’s face it – you are looking for entrepreneurs and not small business owners. You have all set the bar so high that most of us are simply ‘un-fundable’.
My apologies – I am ranting! The long and short of it is this – we are just going to have to do it ourselves. And I assure you that the irony of creating a platform to give SME’s a real voice, and then keeping quiet and doing nothing the past 10 years is not lost on me.
But today I am reaffirming my commitment to our club. Over the 10 years I have met some amazing people who are just as passionate as I am about giving us, the SMALL BUSINESS OWNER, a real voice in the world, and hopefully some real help too. If we all stand together and support each other we can tell the world we are here to stay. We actually create jobs, unlike most big corporates out there, and we treat our clients and suppliers alike with respect – we understand their choices are endless and we actually want their business.
So, my goal for the next phase of my journey, is building the SBF into what it was always meant to be. A platform for small business owner by small business owners. To do this, is am asking for your help. The SBF has always been shaped around the challenges I have experienced in my own business journey, as well as by your comments and views on Facebook. But I would like to know from you what your challenges and requirements are. I would love to hear your stories, and I promise to treat them with the same respect as I hope you will treat mine.
I know time is your most precious commodity. If you don’t have the time to write your story yet, but want to have your say in guiding our group, I have put together a survey that I hope will be a quick and easy way for you to tell us what you think. Take the feedback survey now
Thank you for your time and for reading my story. I look forward to continuing our journey together.
Founder, Small Business Forum
As the owner of a small business herself, Jain is passionate about small business and helping other SME’s succeed. She started the Small Business Forum to network and join forces with other SME’s and entrepreneurs in order to share knowledge, support and grow businesses together.