All business owners in general face certain challenges, but women — because of their gender — often face more challenges and obstacles that their male peers are less likely to encounter. Standardbusiness reporter Mthandazo Nyoni (MN), caught up with Eunice Dlamini (ED), the director of a Bulawayo-based company called M & M Joyous Events, which specialises in events management, to talk about the challenges entrepreneurs face. The company started operating in 2011 and has grown from strength to strength, earning Dlamini fame and fortune.
MN: How did you venture into this business?
ED: I am a nurse by profession and this [business] came by accident. I just found myself in that position. My mother was very industrious, so having grown up in the shoes of a woman who was very industrious, I learnt a lot about buying and selling and making profit. But when it came to events management, my neighbour, Thoko Ndlovu [also running an events company], did a function for my niece and so I approached and told her that I loved what she was doing and was interested in that business. But I had already started doing small little things at home but not for money. Then she gave me all the support. From her approach, I started the business as a hobby. So it was a hobby and even the charging was nothing up until 2011 when I was retrenched from my job. When I got a package in 2011, I secured this place and renovated it. I changed my mindset from a hobby to a professional business company.
MN: What challenges did you encounter when you started your business?
ED: Obviously, securing a place which needed renovation and the need for a lot of money became a challenge. Some of the things I was still reading about them. I was still trying to understand Zimra, VAT and NSSA issues.
MN: How about capital? Are banks willing to offer women lines of credit?
ED: In terms of capital, the advantage was that when I started I took my entire package and put it into the business. It gave me leverage. The banks, however, are very much willing to give us money. As I speak, we are operating on overdraft and the banks do approve. I don’t think they discriminate in terms of women and men now.
They treat us the same. All they look at is whether you are managing your finances and business properly or are you able to pay back the money. I don’t think they are discriminating at all. The banks are fair.
MN: How did you overcome these challenges?
ED: Like I said, the challenges were very minimal. As for challenges with Zimra, I was attending their training. I was calling them to come and audit me. So I am open to Zimra coming to us. I was also helping some of my fellow businesspeople who were starting businesses telling them that ‘guys make sure that they are aligned with proper laws of the country because they will definitely apply to you.’
MN: Are you married and if so, how then do you balance business and family?
ED: Yes, I am married with three children. Well, I am still to find out what could be hindering somebody from balancing up business and family when you are a businesswoman because it’s like when I am employed I still have to do the household chores. Firstly, I have got a supporting family. My husband is very supportive of my business. Secondly, I’m running my business with systems in place. As such, I am still in a position to think of my family, cook and do what I would want to do at home. Of course when I’m tired I also have a system at home that supports me to make sure that some of the things are done. I try to balance between the family and work and I try to involve my family as much as possible in the business.
MN: Have you joined any business association?
ED: I am a member of Proweb, which is for professional women in business; I am part of Hospitality Association of Zimbabwe and I am part of Marketers Association of Zimbabwe. I attend a lot of networking meetings and dinners. I don’t want to lose track because I want to empower and motivate others. I want to talk about leadership and business. So, organisations always take some information from me on leadership and business to bring to women the practical aspect of running a business. I recently finished mentoring a group of six women in business and they have graduated through Proweb. The three are already flying high with the mentoring I gave them. At times some women are scared to unleash their potential but I have discovered that through mentoring, they are able to run a business in a professional manner.
MN: What business training did you attain?
ED: I did my Masters in Business Administration with the National University of Science and Technology. This course changed my thinking. I apply each and every step of the executive in business administration. There are many things that are covered there.
MN: Any accolades you have won this year?
ED: I just won a business leadership award from MegaFest. Despite the economy, we have remained who we are trying to manage within our limit, and trying to run the business. We are trying not to shut down and remain afloat hoping one day things will be fine. That’s being a business leader because once you have taken a risk, you don’t want to go back. You are looking ahead because there is so much to be accomplished.
MN: A significant number of women operate businesses, but mostly in the informal sector. What do you think is the reason behind that?
ED: Most of them have gone into the informal economy because of the tough environment and it’s for survival. Here I am as a woman at home and my husband has been retrenched. It’s easier for a woman to get into the informal sector than a man. Women get into it for survival and to make sure there is food on the table. But if you notice, because of these organisations such as Proweb and USAid that are identifying and empowering women in the informal sector with training and grooming, they are getting out of the informal sector. If you notice now there are so many women who are not in the informal sector. It’s a matter of time for them to be discovered. Some people remain in the informal sector because there is so much fear of issues of taxes, which is fear of the unknown. Zimra is only asking for what belongs to them. By remaining in the informal sector, you cannot grow. For me, to have a tax clearance was the beginning of my growth in business because big companies will start to engage you because you are paying your dues.
MN: Is government doing enough to address issues affecting women in business?
ED: Yes, I think government is doing enough to address issues of women. Policies are there and clear because we are talking of issues of gender equality. The government is also a signatory to the UN’s millennium development goals and has been subscribing to the issues of gender and equality. That’s why we have ministers that are female. Even having a Ministry of Women Affairs is a sign that government is supportive. The only challenge is that despite the government having done all this, we are ignorant. Most women are ignorant of that.
MN: What advice would you give to women desiring to venture into business?
ED: Firstly, be academically empowered. Go to school. Have a passion for what you want to do. Don’t copy and paste because business thrives when you have a passion for it and you have an understanding of it. Not because Mrs Dlamini is doing events you think you will also excel. Is that what you like? From the outside perspective, you think it’s an easy job but when you get into it, it’s not that easy. Love what you do and make sure you work hard.
Invest your time, yourself and indulge yourself into the business for it to be successful. Be clean with Zimra and all statutory requirements. Have a good heart as a woman to learn from other women. When you learn, don’t pull other women down. Instead, support other women.