“So many of us sit with ideas and a desire to do something different, to move from where we are. But there is nothing to propel us, nothing to support us, there’s nothing that believes in what we see,” she says, describing her thinking before she started her business.
The spark that eventually lit the fire that was in Senyolo was the annual SME Toolkit/ BUSINESS/PARTNERS Business Plan Competition for Aspiring Young Entrepreneurs, a nation-wide contest in which hundreds of young South Africans formulate their business ideas into a business plan and submit it for evaluation.
Senyolo entered the 2014 competition and was awarded the prize for the best business plan in one of four regions in South Africa.
“For me, it was not about winning,” says Senyolo, the owner of Piloane Consulting Services, a year-old quantity surveying, project and property management company in Johannesburg. “This competition was my source of support.”
Many entrepreneurs take the encouragement they receive from strong networks of family and friends for granted. Senyolo, on the other hand, had to fight for every scrap of support that she could find from a very young age. She was the second oldest of ten children born in Alexandra township to parents who had traditional ideas of the place of women in society.
Since she can remember, Senyolo fought against the resistance from her parents, first for her right to follow in her father’s footsteps to study quantity surveying at Wits, and later for her idea of leaving her father’s business to set up a consultancy of her own.
It took a while for her father to come to terms with her determination to pave a way for herself as a quantity surveyor. He felt that the construction industry was too harsh for a woman, but later came to accept the idea after she completed her studies and she joined his business.
Senyolo says she has always had a rebel streak in her, and once she had proven to everyone that she was successful in the construction industry, her thoughts started turning to running her own business.
Her vision extended beyond an ordinary quantity surveying consultancy or construction firm. She wanted to build a holistic business that included property management services. Again, she met resistance from her family who saw her dream as a short-sighted attempt to make things difficult for herself.
In this context, the Business Plan Competition for Aspiring Young Entrepreneurs was heaven-sent. The process, which included a one-day workshop on the basics of compiling a business plan and starting a business, was affirming, encouraging and practical. The workshop was followed by a few weeks in which the participants had to write their business plans. For Senyolo it was a formative experience. It allowed her to crystallise her idea, to check that it was indeed feasible and to communicate it with a wide network of people whom she could recruit into her support base.
By the time she was announced as the winner of her region, there was no longer any doubt in her mind. Even though it was a difficult process, she stepped out of her father’s business and started Piloane Consultancy Services.
Apart from the network of support that it allowed her to build, the business-plan competition gave her good exposure, with a few contracts flowing from it. Perhaps more importantly, part of her prize was ten sessions with a business mentor which focused on developing her own effectiveness as an implementer. Senyolo says without strong personal development, the thinking contained in her business plan would simply have remained information.
Instead, today her plan has turned into a tangible year-old business. Like any start-up, things are still difficult, certainly much more difficult than the comfort of professional employment. But Senyolo remains fixed on her vision of building a thriving, holistic property firm. To this end, she has enrolled in part-time property studies at Wits and is working on her next step in her five-year plan, which is to employ young graduates in her business.
Even though her business has advanced much since the days of the competition, she returns often to that first business plan that had got her started. For Senyolo it is more than just a start-up guide. When things become difficult and support feels thin, “it reminds me of my vision and the reason why I chose the path that I’m on right now”, she says.