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Coaching for the future

Aug 05 2011 17:04
Nelisiwe Tshabalala

ZAMBIAN-born Sandras Phiri is a man who epitomises perseverance and hard work.

The 33-year-old father of two moved to South Africa in 2007 to flex his business muscles and pursue his dream of opening a training and coaching company.

Today he is the CEO and co-founder of the Sandras and Lelemba Institute (SLI) - a personal and professional training and coaching firm he started with his wife Lelemba two years ago. Their vision, says Piri, "is to help people love what they do and do what they love".

Most importantly, they emphasise their role in helping individuals get to wherever they want to be. In Zambia he ran two firmly established businesses, Webcentric - a web development company he started in 2002 - and a T-shirt company which he later sold. In fact, Webcentric is still in business in Zambia and acts as a secondary source of income for SLI.

Phiri says he has always had a knack for entrepreneurship, and his upbringing in Zambia played a crucial role in his development. Surrounded by poverty, he often wondered why some people were well off while others had absolutely nothing.

The secret, he soon learnt, was absorbing as much knowledge as possible and creating your own wealth. And so his journey began.

After years of working in the corporate environment in Zambia for companies such as Investrust Bank, Celpay and Africa-Insites, it was time for him to branch out which he did in Cape Town.

He admits it has been a rocky ride.

Venturing into the coaching businesses was tricky as the market is saturated with coaching companies made up of large corporates as well as smaller businesses, all hoping to get their lion's share of the pie. This did not deter the couple, however, and they still went ahead.

Not a get-rich-quick venture

But it hasn't been an easy two years. "Being a very populated industry is perhaps why growth has been slow. But it's been slow and organic. The more established companies definitely get more business but it's picking up - it's snowballing," says Phiri.

Growth of the business was also stifled by the Phiris' inability to focus solely on SLI. They've been running the business on the side while Phiri works four days a week as head of new product development at FinSwitch. Wife Lelemba - a qualified chartered accountant - until recently also held down a full-time job.

However, they are investigating different strategies that will help steer the company in a new direction. "We are looking at installing a board of directors. We want to treat it like a business; we want to get accreditation as a training and coaching company.

"The key is to have a proper structure with shareholders, separated from the board and the managers so they can hold each other accountable," says Sandras of his hopes for the firm.

And he's patient about growing the company, adding that the institute was not an idea the Phiris came up with to get rich quick, but rather a venture that took a lot of preparation and courage. While juggling a full-time job, studies and family life he gathered research on personal development, the creation of wealth and empowerment.

He thought starting a business in South Africa would be much easier than it was in Zambia, but the venture came with a unique set of challenges for the couple. On the one hand, the SA business environment is good because there are a lot of support structures for entrepreneurs such as business networks where they can make themselves known and get exposure.

On the other hand, it has been harder for the couple because they aren't SA citizens. There has been some government assistance, says Phiri, but it would help their cause if the company had over 50% local ownership.

"Foreigners depend more on people they know, but even people you know won't lend you money," he says. So they've had to rely on private funding and use savings and salaries from their jobs to keep the business afloat.

Fortunately, the Phiris have managed to keep their expenses low using funds from other income sources to pay the bills. Their team is made up of two other staff members, while they outsource other talent or work with partners on particular projects.

On average, they manage to get one project or workshop in a month and charge R400 per hour's session with four sessions recommended for a coaching package.

He says they have considered roping in some SA partners, but stresses the importance of finding someone whose vision is closely aligned to theirs and not just for the sake of funding.

Looking ahead, Sandras says: "Our short-term goals are to get the corporate governance (in place), get accreditation and grow our customer base, and in the long term we want to get our own building."

He concedes that the fear of failure still lingers in the back of his mind and will never completely cease to exist. And it's this fear that keeps this hard-working entrepreneur on his feet and ensures he continues to strive for success - even during trying times.

 - Fin24

businesses  |  entrepreneurship
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