Nombuso Tshabalala is the entreprising creator and host of Sispreneurs, a business and networking event for women that seeks to foster collaboration. “It is a meeting of minds of highly spirited women who have the same goal of growing their businesses and brands,” she shares.
The successful entrepreneur describes herself as a social activist, entrepreneur and marketing guru passionate about finding simple solutions to the everyday problems presented by the ever changing world of business. She’s currently the managing director of KIINI Cosmetics, a company that develops and manufactures beauty products for African hair and skin in eMalahleni. She’s also the managing director of Creative Brand Concepts, a marketing and advertising company and Bropreneurs, an event similar to Sispreneurs for men.
In this article, she details her successful entrepreneurial journey and why she feels it’s her duty to pay it forward with networking mixers like Sispreneurs.
I founded my first business at 17 but I didn’t know what to do with the money
Nombuso was barely out of highschool when she dipped her finger into her first entrepreneurial pie. “After my matric I took a gap year. During that year I opened my first business, I was just 17 at the time. In my matric year, we had to organise our own matric dance. So I decided to approach the school and propose that I handle the event on their behalf and save them the admin of planning an event… I delivered, but I was just a teen, I didn’t know what to do with the money! I spent it all on clothes and movies,” she laughs.
From there she expanded, started doing events management and got into creating customised invitations. “I was really young but I had a lot of clients. Although I come from a family of businesswomen and men, nobody ever sat me down and told me this is how you do this and that’s how you do that or handle finances. I handled things myself and I believed I could do whatever I dreamed of doing, I was limitless,” she recalls.
Vital business lessons learnt
The then 21 year-old dropped events after completing her IT Programming studies. “My first job was at SAB. I got married young at 22. After that I had a baby and I didn’t want to go back to work. After about 6 months I knew I needed to go back into business. It was still in events management, but this time drawing on my experience at SAB and exposure, I focused on doing promotions. I had relocated to Vaal at that time and I mostly did activations. Eventually we relocated again to Witbank in 2011. And again I opened another business, this time it was a magazine of sorts, a shopping guide. But I quickly realised Vaal and Witbank were very different. What I could do in Vaal I couldn’t do so easily in Witbank. So I took my time and went back to the drawing board. After a year or two I was dabbling in property. I was with a real estate agency for a couple of months and I met a lady who’d been working there for years. I got to thinking we could run our own thing, so I approached her and we started our own agency.”
Although her heart was in the right place, she and her partner had a falling out and had to cut ties. Nombuso admits, “I used to have a bad habit of walking away from partnerships at the first sight of trouble.”
Opportunities favour the opportunistic: How Nombuso ended up as a Group Marketing Manager for a major motor group
“A cousin of mine who is close to DJ Sbu told me about a business opportunity with MoFaya, it was a few months before the energy drink was set to be launched and I remember they were giving away provincial rights to distribute. I was game and I ended up securing the rights for Mpumalanga Highveld. I got my first batch of stock and started distributing. I did my own activations, we didn’t have much support so you had to do it yourself. I was essentially running a business within a business,” she tells us.
As part of marketing her business, Nombuso came up with the idea to sponsor a soccer meeting for NFD team Witbank Spurs. “Their slogan was siya vutha and I thought it goes along perfectly with MoFaya. I approached the owner, told him my idea and he was like cool. Soon he wanted me to run their marketing; I wound up as a PR and Marketing Manager for Witbank Spurs during their prominent rise in the 2015/2016 NFD season. I mean I studied IT Programming, but I love Marketing, I never thought I’d get to do it though. I did that for a year and I killed it! We secured Eastvaal Motor Group as one of our sponsors and that’s how I met the owner of Eastvaal Motor Group, the biggest motor group in Mpumalanga. He felt I’d be a great fit for his company. Not too long afterwards I became the Group Marketing Manager.”
Moving on from losing a successful business and founding one fresh off the loss
After having another child in mid-2017, she felt she didn’t want to go back to work again. “Two months later I decided to go back into business again so I started a 3D signage and large format printing company. Within 2 weeks the local Woolies became my first of many big clients. The business grew quickly. I wasn’t familiar with the space but I’m a creative and I also hired the right people so it worked. In early 2018 my previous employer, who’d also been one of our regular clients contacted me and shared that they were struggling to replace me, long story short, they offered me my job back. I figured my business has great employees, could likely run itself and that job would be extra income so why not? Big mistake! Those same employees basically ran the business to the ground and stole from me. I ended up closing the business in December.”
Instead of returning to Eastvaal as an employee, Nombuso was hired as a contractor working inhouse, she invoiced every month and wasn’t receiving a sslary. So when the pandemic hit, her contract was one of those that were terminated. “Fortunately for me I had ample savings and I could afford to go back into business. I started doing marketing for other businesses and later Eastvaal came back on board and I had a few other businesses who became clients,” she tells us.
The IT graduate also put her skills to innovative use and got into tech development. “My partner and I developed a booking system for the motor industry – the first of it’s kind AI tool in SA that is also black owned. It took us about 2 years to work on and we finally got it tested and fully functional this year.”
I founded Sispreneurs because other women don’t have to make the same mistakes I made
As she reflects on her journey, Nombuso made the decision to dip her finger back into events as well. “I realised I have so much knowledge to share. That’s where Sispreneurs (Sisters in Entrepreneurship) comes from. Business is hard, you need a support system. I wanted to draw from and share my lessons and discoveries having been in business for so many years and facing endless, hard challenges. I don’t want other women to make the mistakes I made. Sometimes I wonder if some of the businesses I walked away from or closed down could’ve survived if I had a solid support system of like-minded women. I also love collaboration and Sispreneurs fosters that. There is no value in being greedy in business, we grow faster when we work together. We need each other to grow our businesses and people to bounce ideas off. It’s so easy to give up when you have no one to advise or support you. We are slowly working towards creating an ecosystem of woman owned and black owned businesses. If I have a client that I know needs something beyond my services, I point them in the direction of a fellow woman or black entrepreneur. It is possible for us to eat together, it doesn’t have to always be about being a solo founder or winning alone. I really encourage people and especially black women to partner with each other, collaborate, ask for help, help others, be teachable and learn from those who may know better.”