Jeanne Groenewald: As an entrepreneur trust your instinct and gut, this is what makes us.

Jeanne Groenewald is the founder and managing director of Elgin Free Range Chicken. Armed with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and a BSc Agriculture in animal physiology and genetics, Jeanne ultimately grew her small project into one of South Africa's poultry industry’s greatest success stories. Today EFRC supplies almost 75,000 free range chickens per week to leading South African retailers such as Spar and Checkers, select deli’s and some of the Cape’s top restaurants. In this interview, she shares lessons she's learned along the way in her entrepreneurial journey.

Tell us a bit about your business and what motivated you to start?

I produce free range chickens for the retail market, I started because of my passion to produce healthy ethical food for my family

How did you raise your start up money?

I started very small and grew from there.

Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?

I only wrote a business plan 5 years into the business when I wanted to apply for a bank loan to build my own processing plant.  No it wasn’t an effective tool as a huge amount of time and effort went into drawing it up and then the bank never even read it.

Who did you hire to help you with your business - bookkeeper, an accountant, lawyer …? Would you suggest others do the same?

As an entrepreneur starting small, I did everything myself.  Only when the company started growing did I need more hands on deck. I employed book keepers and auditors.

Have you outsourced any portion of your business? And has that worked for your business?

I have tried doing this twice, it doesn’t work for me and also you are giving away some of your profits.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

Always start small and grow little steps at a time, that way if you have a failure it will not have as big an impact as if you had just grown a huge volume business before knowing all the challenges.

How do you effectively manage the finances of your company?

Cash flow is king so this is managed weekly.

Do you have rainy-day savings for your business?

This fluctuates annually, sometimes expansion is needed and then we borrow ourselves to the hilt, other times there is a bit of a saving.

What's a financial mistake you made as a business owner in the beginning? And how did you bounce from it?

I trusted someone in a senior position and gave him powers of authority to override pricing, he ended up stealing from me in a very big way and I lost over R800 000.

With the current economy slump, what cost saving tips would you share with new entrepreneurs?

It is critical to instill a savings mind set in your business when times are tough.  The smallest saving helps, switching lights off at night, geysers on weekends, etc. This changes the mindset and you find your staff coming forward with further cost saving initiatives

What advice can you offer female business owners on making sure they're being compensated fairly for their work?

Do proper costings and don’t discount your time as a zero cost.

Do you have business mentors, and if so, how have they helped you develop as an entrepreneur?

For a long time I didn’t have any.  I then had two retired corporate senior gentlemen who put equity into my company and they guided me in a corporate governance way. I later joined the WPO (Women Presidents Organisation) and this was invaluable mentorship. I now have a board of non-exec directors who guide me.

What have you learned from starting your company that might be useful to would-be entrepreneurs?

As an entrepreneur trust your instinct and gut, this is what makes us.

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