Raised in Ravensmead in the Western Cape, Laetitia Piers started her hair and skincare business around the same time she started her natural hair journey. Now, three years later, she is developing some of her products into a full haircare range.
“I started this business while I was doing my master’s degree in science at the University of the Western Cape. I started it with a little bit of leftover bursary money. My mom was a single parent, and during that time, I just thought that I needed to start something to help her out. Since I had leftover money from my bursary, I thought ‘let me use this money and just try and make it grow’.”
After graduating, Piers went on to do an internship at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI). She is currently working full-time as a scientist and has delegated the manufacturing process to a third party.
“When I started the business, I was living with my mom and my brother. In my grandmother’s backyard we had a three-by-six-meter Wendy [house] at the time, and we had just two compartments, basically. It was our room and our kitchen. I used to manufacture my products on a gas stove in the kitchen, on top of the deep freezer that I invested in.”
The deep freezer was something Piers had purchased specifically to manufacture her products. For the products to work, they actually need to be frozen, she explains.
“Now I’m fortunate enough to be able to invest and afford a manufacturer. [However], the main models and standards of my business still hold. Everything is organic and natural.”
Nothing has changed with the actual manufacturing of the products and I’m continuously communicating with my manufacturer to ensure that the quality remains the same.”
Shea by Design, which is the name of Piers’ business, is a line of products that generally is based on shea butter. Piers explains that she started expanding the line to include a lot more natural products, like essential oils, mango, cocoa and avocado butter.
She is excited to launch an official haircare range that includes leave-in conditioner, hair conditioner and black soap shampoo.
The challenges and the rewards
For Piers, managing her business and working full-time come with a lot of pressure. One of the more challenging aspects is maintaining her business’ social media. “I’m trying my best to keep up with it and be consistent because I see that customers want to engage with me directly. But, because I have a full-time job and I have other business ventures that I’ve started with other people, it’s a bit difficult for me to keep up.”
Piers admits that she did not expect the business to require so much administration. She explains that, when running a small business, there are many facets that you are required to know to run the business successfully.
“I didn’t really realise how admin-intensive it is. [I have] to know about finances, about taxes and costing and all those type of stuff. So, it’s been really intense, but I’m still learning about the process and what it really entails to own a business. It’s been a learning curve for me.”
Piers lists the positive feedback she gets from her customers as the most rewarding part of the business. She invested in bettering the lives of others, so good reviews help keep her steady along her business journey.
“When a customer sends me a review, for example, that the eczema has cleared up or their hair is now more manageable – or when one of my customers who purchased the shea butter and black soap combo for their kids, [told me] that their kids are not scratching their skin or not having sleepless nights anymore because the skin has cleared up and the itchiness has reduced significantly – it’s really rewarding to me because I feel like I’ve contributed to a better livelihood for that child or for that person. That definitely is what helps me in my journey.”
Piers has also recently opened a nonprofit organisation called Gift Pads, where she donates boxes containing personal care products to underprivileged girls in Ravensmead and Kalkfontein. “A portion of my profits go towards that initiative. I’m just leaving a legacy for my [future] children.”
She has the following advice for agripreneurs who want to start their own business:
Separate your finances
Get a separate business account from your personal one. There’s definitely one thing I didn’t do when I started. I registered my business in August 2018 and I started the business in April 2018. And for those months in between, I used my personal bank account to do my business with. It was a bad idea.
In order for you to get a business account, you need to be registered. There are all these different accounts that provide support to small businesses, so I would definitely recommend that you use those as an option. Do your research on the various types and then definitely get the business account where you can keep your personal and business finances separately.
Find your own suppliers
Procurement is a very important part of a small business as well, especially for agripreneurs; finding suppliers who have good quality products but at an affordable price. It took me three or four months before I started the business to find suppliers that I can trust, and that I could build a cool relationship with over time. [At this] point, I’m able to negotiate with them because we have a good relationship with each other. So, just be sure to get a good supplier and that they send their products to you to test it first before you actually buy a bigger order.
Find a mentor
I have had a business mentor for the past year, and it’s been really eye-opening and life-changing. You can get any type of business person. They don’t have to be an agripreneur, per se. My business mentor is a real estate agent. He mentors other small business owners as well. We’ve been having a meeting every month where I just update him on what I’ve been doing, and update him on what we spoke about previously. It has been really helpful for me because he is an accountability partner in a way, someone who can keep me accountable for my actions.
Use the right tools
There are a few tools that I’ve been using to help with my business. One is ecwid.com, where I designed my own website. It’s a free platform for certain products but for paid products, it costs about R2 500 per year, which is much less than most platforms that I’ve come across.
Canva is another free platform, but you can pay for it to get more features available to you. You can [use it] to create your posters, plan your content, become creative with your banners, your logo and with your business cards teacher.
Finally, you can use Business Suite provided by Facebook. I use it to manage my content where I can actually schedule posts on Facebook and Instagram.
Be open-minded, flexible, and willing to learn.
Everything won’t always work out. Maybe, for example, you try some formula for your body butter, but it won’t work out. I’ve had lots of flops when I started. My stuff would curdle or melt in the sun. Or when it’s cold outside, it started getting waxy on the outside. [I have learned] that it wasn’t that it’s off, it’s just that it’s a natural process with shea butter, to get waxy.
So, be willing to learn. Be flexible, try different things.
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