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 A testimony to the power of planning


 Work with a business plan, is a constant refrain young entrepreneurs hear before and after they start their businesses, but the advice is seldom taken seriously. The majority of business owners only ever get a business plan together for finance applications. As soon as the finance is won, the plan is stuffed into the bottom drawer and the business owner carries on as usual, staggering from crisis to crisis.

Not Rikesh Parthab, the award-winning owner of two of South Africa’s top Shell service stations, whose steady climb from a 16-year-old petrol pump attendant to the owner of a multi-million rand garage owner is testimony to the power of planning.

For Rikesh, a business plan is only the final part of a much bigger planning process that forms the bedrock of his success as an entrepreneur. His main advice to young start-ups is to start with a “life plan”, in which you contemplate the outline of at least the next twenty to thirty years of your life, not only your financial and business life, but also your family life and even your spiritual development.

This is not some formula that Rikesh has taken out of a self-help book and retrofitted onto his life. By the age of 19, he was already working with his first life plan in which he outlined his next thirty years. Part of the plan was that he would one day own his own garage. He has been working with a life plan ever since, constantly adapting and improving it with a series of five-year plans.

Rikesh trained as an electrical engineer and worked for Telkom, first as a technician and later as a trainer. He says he could easily have become trapped in the corporate world. It was his life plan that kept him focused on his goal of becoming an entrepreneur and he lived frugally as an employee while starting up part-time businesses to learn and gain confidence. By the time he stepped out of the corporate world, he had enough savings – as well as a clear plan – to convince Business Partners to finance the purchase of his first garage.

The second layer of planning that Rikesh advises young entrepreneurs to do is an “entrepreneurial plan”, which will outline your development as an entrepreneur. An entrepreneurial plan is essentially the business side of your life plan, and allows you to plan for not only one business, but how you can grow from one business to the next.

The conventional wisdom in the business world holds that it is better to focus on one business only, but Rikesh believes that there is merit in the idea of diversifying into more than one opportunity. For example, a training school for petrol-pump attendants that he started recently has become an important additional revenue stream to supplement those from his two garages.

It is only once you have an entrepreneurial plan in place, says Rikesh, that a business plan which focuses on a specific business makes any sense. It is no use for a business plan to outline the exponential growth of a specific business if the entrepreneur behind it has no plan to grow his own abilities to keep up with the business.

“Your business can only grow as fast as you grow,” is a leading principle of Rikesh, who strongly advises young entrepreneurs to do at least some form of business training, and to constantly read business books. Rikesh has a particular liking for inspirational books, which help to keep him “intrinsically motivated”. An entrepreneur will face many forms of rejection which are impossible to overcome if you are not self-motivated, he says.

Central to Rikesh’s development as an entrepreneur is his use of role models and mentors. From very early on, Rikesh would watch successful business people in his family and community and ask them for advice.

It was difficult at first to let these successful entrepreneurs open up to the youngster that he was, until he found a way. Rikesh says whenever he introduced himself to prominent business people at social gatherings, the conversation would die soon after he mentioned that he worked for Telkom. But then he started a series of part-time businesses – a hair salon and gate automation businesses, among others. This allowed him to introduce himself as a businessman, and it changed the nature of his interaction with other business people. He found that they took an interest in his ventures, and they did not hold back on advice and networking referrals.

Rikesh believes that one of the key aspects of business success is having a clear set of moral principles. One very practical result is that it makes difficult business decisions much quicker and simpler. It also engenders trust, which Rikesh believes is the real currency of business. “Relationship capital,” he says, is what really makes entrepreneurs rich.




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