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Carving a niche in business



MAFETENG – WHEN Nthabiseng Mphana quit her job as an administration manager at a local parastatal in 2014, all she knew was that she was going to move into business.
“I wasn’t fulfilled and wanted to do something that fulfills me,” Mphana says.

She says she always knew that she would always find that fulfilment in her own business.
To help and prepare those who were to be retrenched deal with their changed circumstances, the organisation held (the parastatal) counselling sessions.

The idea was to prepare these workers for what was to come and equip them with skills to start their own businesses.

“I felt the training sessions were really meant for me,” she says.

After attending the first session, she requested days off and flew to China to buy clothes for resale home.

It was a trip that opened her eyes on the vast business opportunities that lay before her. By the third month, Mphana was now so confident that she tendered her resignation letter to her boss.

That was a few weeks before the retrenchment exercise kicked in.

“I already knew I was leaving as I had been thinking about it for over a year. However, I was afraid to go. The sessions prepared me and I was brave enough to leave,” she says.

Mphana, 45, is the founder of Bountiful Image Consultancy that sells top-notch clothing in Maseru. She is also a marketer for Havillah, a South Africa beauty products brand.

She says when she quit her job, she went on a one week training programme in image coaching.

She partnered with someone she considered was mentor to start a beauty spa while she focused on hair and make-up. he was in for a rude awakening.

Mphana says while she always thought she had what it takes to succeed in business, she soon realised that this was never going to be easy.

“I thought I was equipped enough only to realise later that business needs a totally different mindset,” she says.

“Knowledge alone is not enough . . . it’s a totally different ball game altogether.”

Her business relationship with her partner soon ran into problems. They had exchanged money without any documentation and their relationship soured.

“I lost all the money I had invested in the business,” she says.

The amount ranged well over M300 000.

With the business on the verge of collapse, Mphana says she was left with only two options: go back into formal employment or keep pushing the business alone.
She chose the latter.

She had invested all her savings into the business and had lost everything. That included two pieces of land in Maseru and a vehicle that she had to sell to keep the spa business afloat.
Thanks to a loyal client base that continued to support her during the difficult times.

They still continued to come for facials and massages even when she was now working from home due to high rental costs.

“I needed to re-adjust my mind to settle and accept the loss,” she says, adding that this was “one of the hardest things I had to do as I felt I had lost unjustly”.

“It took me time to accept the new reality and get out of this situation.”

Mphana says she went through a gamut of emotions during the period. At one point she would be angry with herself, thinking she was very stupid “for coming to Maseru to be taken advantage of”.

At other times she would want to fight back, determined to make it work despite the challenges. That emotional battle took its toll on her health.

But she never confided in her close family members or friends about the challenges she was dealing with in an effort to save face.

She admits though that she would, from time to time, borrow some money from friends in a bid to maintain her fake lifestyle.

“That only made things worse for me,” she says.

Mphana says all this time she was afraid to start her own business. When she started yet another business relationship, it too failed after she was accused of “stealing” clients.
At that point she never thought she could go solo.

She still wanted to rely on other people. However, Mphana says she eventually decided to go it alone. And when she did, the business boomed within just two months.

Her only regret is that she should have dealt with her fears much earlier. By now she would have consolidated her business.

After operating for just four months, she had to employ four full-time people and temporary staff from time to time.

She says at the same time, Havillah approached her asking her to sell their skin care and make-up products. She declined the offer.

“I had my own dream but they pursued me until I agreed,” she says.

She sold Havillah beauty products to her clients and used them in her spa and the results were good.

Mphana says she sold a lot of products during the Covid-19 lockdowns because many clients complained about skin problems as they were frustrated and stressed. Most had pimples and black spots.

“I decided to post about it (on social media) and I had so many orders that I didn’t understand,” she says.

“I started recruiting and asking other women to join and now I have over 100 women who are making a living by selling the products.”

Mphana says she has always been passionate about beauty and personal image. She says a lot of people consulted her to help them dress well even before she could train.

“It made me feel much happier than I was at my formal job hence I decided to pursue it. I always loved beauty and the beauty spa met my needs as I don’t like doing hair and nails,” she says.

“I enjoy touching the skin, massaging people and walking with them on a journey to deal with their skin problems until they heal.”

Mphana holds a degree in Public Administration and Sociology from the National University of Lesotho (NUL).
Although she grew up as a business-minded woman, none of her family members were.

“I have always loved selling things and I value doing anything I want whenever I want,” she says.

Mphana says she is grateful for the hard lessons she picked along the way, especially when things were difficult.

“I value that experience as it molded and humbled me to know what humanity is. That has had a huge impact on my attitude towards business.”

Even when she travels in a taxi, she remains alert to the many lessons she can pick during discussions.

“I would have very fruitful conversations there even on the queue waiting for transport. I had to change my style from wearing suits and heels every day as it intimidated my clients to wearing clothes that made them comfortable around me for them to trust me,” she says.

“I had to change my approach, my communication style and learnt to keep eye contact.”

Mphana says she is still far from realising her full potential.

“My business now is just an inch of the dream I had when I resigned,” she says.

“I need a lot of money to get to that level. But I am happy with where I am.”
She says people who wish to be in business must “start where they are, with what they have and have a plan”.

“If it fails like mine, keep pushing. Get knowledge about the industry you are joining and love what you do.”

’Mapule Motsopa

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