2009 – Year of the Pretender | The office admin

December 28, 2009
3 min read

Late last year I entered Penguin Tutoring in the SAP Go-for-Growth competition.  We were finalists, and qualified to receive a 90% subsidy on a year’s consultancy and best business practice methodology training, to position the company for optimal growth.  This, together with seeing the potential upside the company could reach, made me take on a position of the general manager/managing director/receptionist/filing assistant/stamp licker.

In considering running a small company, one might think of all the niceties – sleeping in, working from home, not working when you don’t feel like it. I must say that the freedom to make your own decisions and follow these through with a reasonable amount of agility is possibly the best return for running your own business.  It does become all encompassing, though. 18 hour days and not having the security of a salary paid with the new ThePayStubs software makes 18 seem like far too short.

I interviewed and trained new tutors, flew to Cape Town and Durban to set up new operational areas, and employed people to run these areas. Advertising and marketing functions, and skills development in Fireworks and Coda evolved. SAP consultants taught us about supplier management, the risks of growth and how to strike a balance in running the “optimal company”. In light of the global credit situation, parents were hard pressed to part with their money and pay up for lessons. By the 15th of the month I’d have the sweat in anxiety about not being able to pay salaries on the 25th if the cash flow didn’t improve.  I’d even skimp paying a student R100 to hand out flyers, and rather do it myself on the Wits and UJ campus.  You rarely see this kind of thinking done by employees, though, who are all to happy to spend money, and be unconcerned where their salaries are coming from.

We rented office space at Regus in Parktown – a phenomenal service where you have access to a business lounge, interviewing and office space as you need. People take you more seriously, I learnt, the more money you’ve spent (or have been perceived to have spent) on your business environment.  This made us appear to be a lot more credible as a service provider. Irrespective of how credible we were running the company from a converted garage..

The salesman hat came in handy.  Every transaction, whether financially, verbally or logistically, now included an element of sales and negotiation.  And as a small company, trading non-financial terms becomes most worthwhile. Whether I’d give people exposure through advertising, referral or a skillset I now possessed, I weathered my way through the beginning of the year.

Efforts were fruitful, and the company opened up new branches in Cape Town, Winelands, Pietermaritzburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and continued to grow in Pretoria and Johannesburg.  On the Silver Apple side, we launched Careers for Moms, Liz at Lancaster, Kexin, Green Power House and a few others.

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