Where some see crisis, others see opportunity. And for Belinda Francis, South Africa’s economic difficulties aren’t a reason to be gloomy. Quite the opposite, in fact. ‘I remember when I started my business in 2009, people kept asking me, “Belinda, are you serious?”,’ she says. ‘But then – and now – while everybody was panicking about unemployment, I was thinking, “Let me take advantage”.’
It’s easy to see why Francis has her doubters. After all, just like during the global recession a decade ago, right now seems a strange time to be running a recruitment company. ‘Who goes into recruitment when nobody is recruiting, right?’ she laughs. ‘My response is always the same: It’s the only thing I know, I love what I do, and I need to take care of my family… So I’ve got to do something!’
This counter-intuitive thinking is what has guided Francis as owner of Tych Business Solutions, a recruitment agency and HR consulting company that employs a team of 17 people, and now has branches in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. It’s also a big part of why she was recently named the winner of the Tsogo Sun Entrepreneur of 2019 Award at a gala banquet at Holiday Inn Sandton. Francis was one of three finalists for the award, which honours excellence and high potential in emerging South African enterprises. All finalists are registered beneficiaries of Tsogo Sun Hotels’ and Tsogo Sun Gaming’s enterprise and supplier development programme, the Tsogo Sun Entrepreneurs. The nationwide programme was started in 2005 and currently supports 259 businesses across all industries.
For example, one of 2019’s top three finalists, Be-Dazzled Party & Décor Hiring, is a supplier to Tsogo Sun’s Mykonos Casino. ‘Many of the small businesses that become a part of the programme are referred by our properties,’ says Candy Tothill, Tsogo Sun’s general manager of corporate affairs. ‘The properties are procuring from them, and they see that they have potential for growth, so they refer them to the programme for development.’
Involvement in the Tsogo Sun Entrepreneurs Programme helps to cement the small businesses’ relationship with Tsogo Sun. ‘These relationships develop over time,’ says Tothill. ‘This is not just a three-month, take-it from-here-to-there kind of programme. We have people who’ve been in the programme since 2005. Many of the alumni return to help mentor people who are coming into the programme, so it creates a lovely, virtuous cycle.’
As Happy Ngidi, CMO of Proudly South African and one of the awards judges, comments: ‘In a country where only 37% of SMMEs make it to their fourth year in business and between 70 and 80% never even survive to celebrate one year in business, Tsogo Sun’s Entrepreneur Programme is critical in enabling these selected businesses to become more sustainable and have longevity in the marketplace. Entrepreneurs are the job creators of tomorrow, and with the nurturing, mentoring and exposure to new markets that these entrepreneurs are given by Tsogo Sun, they are turning their dreams into reality and into commercially viable enterprises.’
Into the den
This year’s finalist businesses were rigorously assessed by a panel of judges that included leadership from Proudly South African, 2020 Insight, the Township Entrepreneurs Alliance, Smart Procurement, HCI and Tsogo Sun, as well as past Tsogo Sun Entrepreneurs award winner NQ Jewellery.
‘We created a shortlist of entries, taking into account the various aspects that constitute a sustainable business,’ Tothill explains. ‘Each of those topics was scored out of 10 by a panel, and that gave us a final percentage. The three businesses with the highest percentages went forward to become finalists. Those finalists were then judged by a panel in much the same way, keeping the process as objective and fair as possible.’
Judges took an overall look at the entrants’ financial performance, assessing their past performance, forecasted performance and actual performance. This meant that it was not simply a competition to see who was generating the most revenue or the biggest profit. Instead, the focus was on sustainability. ‘We also didn’t weight financial performance higher than, for example, job creation,’ says Tothill. ‘Each area was scored out of 10, and each had equal importance, because that’s how a sustainable business is created and maintained.’
Through the above stringent shortlisting process, the judges arrived at their three finalists – all of which were businesses that happened to be owned by women. Belinda Francis’s Tych Business Solutions, and Anthea Paulse and Cecilia Cupido’s Be-Dazzled Party & Décor Hiring were joined in the final three by Yvonne Manyiki’s Dimzique Jewellery.
‘We brought them all to our offices at Montecasino for a week prior to the final judging so that they could go through a leadership workshop,’ Tothill says. ‘Then we set up the final judging session in a similar way to how they do it in the TV series Dragons’ Den, where each finalist had to make a presentation to our daunting panel of judges.’
That was deliberate – and the judges had more than just dramatic effect in mind. The final presentation allowed the panel to assess how each finalist behaved under pressure, and to see whether they could maintain their composure while having the spotlight on them.
‘Having sat at the table watching these three finalists being put on the spot like they were, each of them in my opinion could have been a winner,’ says Tothill. ‘Ultimately it came down to the business with the highest score. And that was Belinda Francis’s Tych.’
Looking for the opportunity
Francis received R100 000 capital from Tsogo Sun and an executive coaching package valued at R20 000 from the programme’s partner, Tsheto Leadership and Coaching Academy. Each of the two runners-up received R10 000 from Tsogo Sun.
Francis came into the Tsogo Sun Entrepreneur Programme in early 2018. ‘Over those two years she has made significant strides in progressing her business in the direction that she intended to take it,’ says Tothill.
As a national recruitment service provider, Tych Business Solutions provides temporary and permanent recruitment, payroll administration and verifications. The company also recently launched a People With Disabilities (PWD) Division.
‘Our work can be quite challenging because we’re not selling a service or a product that comes with a guarantee,’ Francis says. ‘We work with people, and people come with lots of surprises. But I’m passionate about it, because we assist people to find work. That makes it very rewarding for us.’
Despite the country’s employment crisis, Francis remains upbeat. ‘So many people spend so much energy focusing on the problem,’ she says. ‘We prefer to focus on the solution. You’ve got to look for the opportunity, and you’ve got to have purpose and passion when you’re an entrepreneur, because it can be a lonely journey. When it gets tough, you have to remember why you’re doing it.’
Having been in business for a decade now, Francis is ready to take Tych into its next phase. ‘I love the fact that we can now work with SMEs,’ she says. ‘As we’re growing, we’re able to buy from small businesses as well.’ And so that virtuous cycle continues.
To learn more about the Tsogo Sun Entrepreneurs programme, watch the ‘The Legacy Series’ on the Tsogo Sun Entrepreneurs YouTube channel.