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Successful women are making their mark

“If you don’t speak to the heart you don’t get anywhere.” – Caren Venter, creative strategist and owner, IdeeBüro

When Caren left her high-profile job in advertising in London to move to Mbombela to get married, running her own business was the last thing on her mind. But ironically her MBA and ample experience in branding and design left her overqualified for all the positions she applied for.

“So I thought I’d become a lady of leisure,” Caren jests. “But I couldn’t sit still for long and volunteered to help with the Chicken Challenge.

I designed an infographic explaining what the project was all about and through that was asked by one of the sponsoring companies to do work for them, and my business grew out of that.”

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With Caren’s broad range of skills garnered over the years in London, she was able to create a company that specialises in creative strategy and optimal communication. “The target market is the most important aspect to consider – you can’t just advertise something if you don’t understand the product and who it is actually aimed at. Then I create a message that is effectively communicated and easily absorbed by the target audience.”

In the three years that IdeeBüro has been in business, Caren has won the coveted International Association of Business Communicators Gold Excellence Quill and a Best of the Best award, in conjunction with Elsabe Coetzee (Sappi’s regional communications manager) for their Stop and Think campaign aimed at reducing forestry staff injuries.

Through her work with Sappi Forests and its contractors, Caren discovered a hidden passion in the safety training. “When workers start buying into their own safety it’s very
satisfying. One has to find a way to understand what is important to them and package the information so that it resonates with them.

“We think because we have degrees that we can communicate with anyone; but one needs to look at your target market, put yourself in their shoes. Otherwise the information has no use. Because literacy levels are low and we deal with audiences who speak a diverse range of languages, we started a picture language that everyone could understand.”

Although Caren misses the buzz of working in an office, she says having her own business has allowed her to build her own brand and provide her with more freedom. “The Lowveld really gives one the opportunity to ‘have a heart’, and there are many charity projects to get involved in. Although I do a lot of corporate work I also want to make a difference in small businesses. Having IdeeBüro allows me to choose the direction I want to move in.”

Caren Venter on 072-460-8868

“Working with people is the most important lesson you can learn in life.” – Tanya Knight, Sunshine Events

A love of the outdoors and 20 years of retail experience brought about Tanya’s sports event company in Mbombela.

Having reached management level at a retail store, she realised the only way to progress was to open her own, which was not feasible. “Then I was diagnosed with breast cancer and started thinking about that which was important and that which wasn’t. “I started thinking about going in a new direction. I always wanted my own business, but I needed a push, and surviving cancer was it.”

While working for the retail company, Tanya organised her first road cycling race in aid of CANSA. “I didn’t have a clue how to do it! Even though I have been a cyclist for most of my life, one never thinks about what actually goes into putting a race together.
“But I got a lot of help from so many people in the Lowveld. I think people took pity on me with the cancer kopdoekie I was wearing,” she laughs.

The success of the race gave Tanya the confidence to pursue another race and then take over the Das Auto mountain bike series which needed a new organiser. She then resigned from her retail job and set up Sunshine Events.

“I always say I am solar powered – I can’t function without the sun. And sunshine represents happiness and positivity so it was a no-brainer!”

The Das Auto series became the Mopani series, which ran for three years, and today, with its new title sponsors, is known as the Demacon Max Wax MTB. Tanya is also the
coordinator for MTO Lowveld Trails and arranges corporate golf days.

Her partner, Driekie Gouws, runs the financial side of the business and is involved with organisation from the week before each event. “She is the level-headed one and keeps me grounded,” smiles Tanya.

The business not only presents Tanya with a way to capitalise on the Lowveld’s prime position to offer sporting events, but it also speaks to her passion for bringing people together. “Events like this involve the whole family. It’s also a prime platform to build on teamwork, communities and brings people together. Then there’s the immense sense of satisfaction and achievement people get after completing a race that is rewarding to see.”

Driving her success is a belief that if you want good service, you have to give people a reason to give you good service.

“Getting people to work as a team and work towards a common goal is immensely important. I believe if you encourage, motivate and inspire your team then those people will do more, than if you don’t get along.”

Although Tanya is a cycling enthusiast, she notes that while people often say you should follow your passion, after a few years doing anything becomes just another job.

“The secret is to be a passionate person that gets excited by life. It’s how you tackle something that is more important than what you are actually doing at the end of the day.”

Tanya Knight on 073-460-8208

“There’s no shortcut to success.” – Winnie Ndlovu, Winnie Logging Services

Timber has always been in Winnie’s blood. This self-confessed tomboy spent her school holidays with her father, where he worked in harvesting for a forestry company. There she learnt to drive trucks and handle big machines that most boys could only dream of.

After school she spent seven years doing the admin for a harvesting company, until she got the opportunity in 2015 to be a part of Sappi’s incubator programme and start her own timber harvesting business. “It’s a male-focused industry which makes it difficult as a woman,
because you have to convince everyone that you can do the job. You have to work twice as hard. It is a difficult industry to work in, but I like the challenge. I’m not one for sitting behind a desk all day!” smiles Winnie.

Her days in Barberton start as early as 5am, when she is infield where the trees are being harvested. “My dad taught me to work hard for want I want. He said one can’t wait for someone else to do the work for you or just give you handouts. By being with my workers, I earn their respect because they can see I am in it with them.”

Winnie says being a woman gives her a softer touch, which means she is often more sympathetic with her workers. “We have good relationships and my staff turnover is low. My father also instilled in me the value of communication and how to work with people.

“You learn a lot from the people you work with. You can’t say anyone is below you and can’t teach you anything, because they help you get from the one day to the next.”

She exited the incubator programme last year and has been operating on her own since then. Her focus is on building her business to ensure there is always cashflow to pay her 46 employees and her suppliers while also working towards owning her own machinery.

“Having to rent machines is one of my greatest challenges. The cost to buy them runs into the millions, and banks want security to lend you the money. The rental fees are extremely high and we can’t increase the price we get for the wood, so it is a balancing act.”

Winnie’s advice to others wanting
to start their own business is to do their homework. “Don’t jump into something because you see someone else has succeeded in it. It’s also important to do something you love, because then you will fight harder for it to succeed.”

She notes that being permanently employed makes one comfortable and blind to your own potential. “Women are more capable than we think!”

Winnie Ndlovu on 076-465-8254


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