Centurion, South Africa
Today we’re excited to introduce you to Ronel Jooste – the co-owner of the PhysEQFiT Guesthouse, a 100% female-owned business.
From her career line, Ronel is a chartered accountant, but her entrepreneurial spirit led her to open a guesthouse in South Africa together with her sister Marli.
Founded in 2016, PhysEQFiT Guesthouse provides accommodation services to both business and leisure travelers in South Africa.
Starting out was not easy as none of the sisters had any prior knowledge of managing a business in the hospitality industry, but that did not stop them and in just 3 years they managed to grow their revenue by 178%. This would not have been possible without the support of their staff members. Joyce and Evah, who started as cleaners, upgraded their skills and are now managing the guesthouse themselves.
Read on for more of Ronel’s inspiring entrepreneurial journey!
PLEASE TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF AND THE BUSINESS YOU STARTED?
Hi, my name is Ronel and I started PhysEQFiT Guesthouse together with my sister Marli. Our guesthouse is 100% female owned and managed. Both my sister and I run our own businesses.
I am a Chartered Accountant and spent more than a decade in the corporate financial services industry before pursuing my entrepreneurial aspirations in 2015. I am the owner of FinanciallyFit Group, a company specializing in financial consulting and training for businesses and individuals. We also offer employee financial wellness programmes.
I am also, a speaker and the author of the award-winning book, Financially Fit and Wealthy.
My sister Marli is a Psychometrist and she started her own private practice in 2011 after pursuing a corporate career for a number of years. She ever since built upon her practice to the extent of having a local and international footprint. She works across industries and sectors alike.
PhysEQFit Guesthouse offers accommodation in Centurion, South Africa to both business and leisure travelers. We are centrally situated in an up-market suburb of Centurion close to all the major highways, CBD, office parks, Gautrain station and SuperSport Park.
A boomed-off suburb with 24-hour patrolling security guards made our guests feel safe and secure. A tranquil and peaceful setting with a beautiful garden, fish pond and waterfall creates the illusion of being out-of-town, yet the beautiful view at night facing Centurion’s many lights make you realize you are in the city.
Our wholehearted hospitality makes our guests feel welcome and at home. We offer 7 guest rooms for single or double occupancy, all with private bathrooms and private entrances. Each room is equipped with a small fridge, microwave, coffee station, DSTV and free Wi-Fi.
Receiving an award – Global Woman of Purpose ‘Business Woman of the Year 2019’ Runner-up
THE JOURNEY SO FAR
PLEASE DESCRIBE THE PROCESS OF LAUNCHING YOUR BUSINESS.
Both my sister and I had this dream of owning a game lodge with a wellness retreat, but buying the guesthouse happened accidentally. We were looking for a bigger premise to live and to run our respective businesses from.
The premises that we bought used to be a guesthouse and we thought we might as well use the remaining rooms to start our own guesthouse. We view this as one small step towards our bigger goal of owning a game lodge and wellness retreat. In April 2016 myself and Marli opened the doors of PhysEQFiT Guesthouse together with our two staff members, Joyce and Evah.
We have a unique wellness theme that corresponds with our name PhysEQFiT Guesthouse – physical (Phys), emotional (EQ) and financial (Fi) wellness with the ultimate aim to have all three these aspects in balance (Fit) to achieve overall wellbeing. The guestrooms are named accordingly – Dream, Joy, Faith, Happiness, Laugh, Hope and Enchanted. There is a gym on the premises and we focus on providing healthier breakfast options.
We started the guesthouse from scratch with no guests or a database of potential clients. We had no experience within the hospitality industry whatsoever apart from staying in multiple guesthouses during our extensive local and overseas traveling.
Owning a guesthouse sounds idyllic and like a fairy tale to many people, but the initial journey was all but a fairytale. It was tough, stressful and quite often overwhelming.
Marli’s private practice was already doing well and she had limited time to spend on managing the guesthouse. For me to juggle between managing and building the guesthouse, and also trying to build my financial company was a huge challenge in itself.
We started off by hosting an open-day and thereafter the journey figuring out how to attract guests, build-up a database, what guests want and need and how to deal with guests started.
It was a journey of trial and error, but we continuously made improvements over the years to ensure our guests are happy and become regular guests.
WHAT DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE AND HOW DO YOU STAY PRODUCTIVE?
Every day starts with Evah and Joyce preparing yummy breakfast for the guests. Evah loves cooking and she has grown into our own master chef. The guests usually leave for work after breakfast or check out. Thereafter the rooms are cleaned. New guests can check-in from 3 pm. In between, we have staff meetings, buy new stock, do the laundry, do administration and occasionally we prepare dinner for some guests.
How do we stay productive? We love what we do and our passion keeps us going. We have created a happy and effective work environment for everybody. We want to know our guests are happy, enjoy their stay with us and will return again. All of us bought into our bigger vision and to see how the guesthouse is growing makes it easy to stay productive.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT AND YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE ALONG THE WAY?
Biggest Achievement: Our biggest achievements are definitely two-fold:
Firstly, building a guesthouse from scratch to experiencing a 178% growth rate in revenue in less than three years. Secondly, the way in which our staff developed and grown over the years.
Our two staff members, Joyce and Evah had extensive experience in the hospitality industry but as cleaners. We sat down with them to understand their dreams, passions and skills. Evah wanted to learn to cook and Joyce wanted to get involved in office administration and computers. The journey to upskill and develop them from being cleaners to be able to manage the guesthouse themselves, cook delicious meals and handle conferences is a beautiful story of inspiration, success, personal growth and women empowerment in itself.
Joyce and Evah are busy doing a computer course. With me currently residing in Cape Town doing a financial consulting project, Joyce and Evah had to step-up to managing the guesthouse together with Marli and they are doing a great job.
The business is continuing to demonstrate rapid growth and we receive positive feedback from happy guests. Joyce and Evah bought into our bigger vision of building a successful business. Once you have a team of people working together to achieve a mutual goal, the sky becomes the limit.
Evah finished 3rd overall in the Margaret Hirsch Domestic worker of the year competition in 2017. Both I and my sister were nominated for several businesswoman awards during 2018/19 and we both have received an award for ‘Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government’ in the financial and small-medium enterprises sectors respectively.
Biggest Challenge: There were numerous challenges. The biggest challenge was probably that we had a guesthouse but no guests – where and how do we find guests?
Having to furnish premises with 9 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms in total requires a huge capital outlay. Maintaining such a big premise is equally difficult considering we are an all-female team. We had 4 geysers that burst during the first year, plenty of electrical problems, water leakages, DSTV not working, Wi-Fi with poor signal and the list continues.
The fixed costs are high starting out – we had to pay salaries, water and electricity, DSTV, Wi-Fi etc. irrespective whether we had no guests for long periods in the first year. Apart from trying to build the guesthouse business, we still had our own businesses to run as well.
WHAT STRATEGY DID YOU USE TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS?
We honestly do very little marketing. We are privileged to be situated in a great location surrounded by plenty of office parks and within walking distance from SuperSport Park and the Centurion CBD. That certainly helps a lot because the majority of our guests find us through our website or booking sites. After 3,5 years we have also built up a solid database of clients who are sending us recurring business. We are listed on all the major booking sites and we experienced an increase in bookings since we became more visible on the internet. Apart from that, we have a Facebook page and towards the end of 2019, we started to also use Google Adwords. Attending networking functions at the office parks also helps.
It is, however, a very competitive market with more than 120 guesthouses in Centurion. We are trying to do things a bit differently and our unique name and story do help to attract more guests. In 2017/18 the guesthouse offered an internship program for students from the Down Syndrome Association of South Africa where we taught them basic practical skills. We also offer an internship program equipping students with marketing and administration skills in the hospitality industry. I believe within the hospitality industry, the most effective form of marketing remains referrals and word-of-mouth. Happy guests will always return and refer more guests.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE FUTURE OF BUSINESS?
We would love for PhysEQFiT Guesthouse to become a well-known and successful brand in Centurion. To grow our database of happy and recurring guests. Ideally, we would like to preserve an 80-90% occupancy rate consistently throughout the year.
Our vision definitely includes to add more guesthouses to our portfolio and to eventually own a game lodge with a wellness retreat. It is also important to continuously develop and grow our staff and to create a better future for all of us.
RECOMMENDATIONS & FINAL THOUGHTS
PLEASE RECOMMEND ANY RESOURCES AND TOOLS THAT YOU USE TO RUN YOUR BUSINESS.
I use an excel financial model that I have developed myself for our bookkeeping and financial statements. It is easy to use, requires limited time and I don’t have to spend thousands on expensive accounting software. A credit card machine is a valuable tool in our business, but shop around for the most cost-effective options as this can become expensive.
For businesses in the hospitality industry, I would definitely recommend to list on the various booking sites and have an effective website that will convert people looking for accommodation into guests. Plenty of new guests contact us on our landline, while existing guests call us directly or e-mail us. We use NightsBridge as our booking system and Paybridge for our online payments.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE BUSINESS BOOKS, PODCASTS OR BLOGS?
I am required to do a lot of research about business and finances as I am consulting for businesses, often get invited to speak about entrepreneurship at events and write financial blogs for my financial company. That certainly helps me a lot because I can also apply the knowledge in my own businesses.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN WHO WANT TO START THEIR OWN BUSINESS?
Get out of your comfort zone and take that first step to start. If you don’t take action your dream will always remain a dream. If you are in a position to save up capital to carry you during the initial phase or start a business on the side until it is doing well enough financially for you to leave your job, it will certainly diminish the pressure.
Your business should make sense financially though. Keep a close eye on your business finances even if you outsource the accounting function or employ somebody else to do it. As a business owner, you should understand your financial results and know how to analyze your financial results to make more effective business decisions.
Ensure that there is a market for your business idea/product/service and that people are willing to pay for it. Also, understand how to reach your target market and which marketing channel works best for you. Not all marketing channels work for all businesses. Social media marketing might be great for one type of business but another business might have no success on social media.
Equip yourself with business knowledge. Read, attend seminars, enroll for online courses, get yourself a mentor. Spend equal focus on all the aspects of your business – strategy, branding, marketing and sales, financial management, human resources etc.
If you have a dream and are determined to succeed, you will be successful. Just go out and do it!
WHAT BUSINESS IDEA DO YOU HAVE THAT YOU ARE WILLING TO SHARE WITH OTHERS?
To offer a relief management service to guesthouses so that the owners, management and staff can go on holiday or take the week off and business continues as usual.
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Welcome to the Biz Ladies interview series!
If you’re new to these series, I interview women entrepreneurs on how they started their business, what was the idea behind it, how they got where they are, the struggles, the reality and more.
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