Name: Tebello Kutoane
Business: Collective Intelligence
Tel: 011 655 7270
Location: Midrand, Johannesburg
What work does your business do?
The Collective Intelligence is a black-owned legal consulting company that provides SMMEs with general legal advice, drafting of commercial agreements and intellectual property law advisory.
What is your personal life mission?
To be a great mother to my son, and a great role model to young Black women and girls. I want to instill a belief in the youth that if one dreams big enough and wakes up every morning to actively work on that dream it will soon materialize.
What inspired or motivated you to start your business?
Starting my own company was never a lifelong dream, in fact it wasn’t a dream until about 6 or so months before it was incorporated. I was frustrated in corporate and the traditional legal system of billable hours was weighing heavily on my well-being. I am passionate about law but the frustrations that came with being in a predominantly male and pale industry were also crippling. I started this company because I believe Black women in law are a force to be reckoned with and I want to create a platform where a Black female attorney can be judged on merit and not what she can do for a company’s BEE rating. The big plan is to start off with a workforce that comprises of Black female attorneys, to mentor them and equip them for the difficulties that come with the legal profession. I want to bridge the gap between university/textbook teachings and the real world of the SA legal profession, but most impoartntly I want to give Black people a platform to shine based purely on merit.
What makes your business beautiful and different?
There are so many legal consulting companies and apart from selling legal services, I am also selling a brand. I have positioned myself in such a way that when a client comes to me/my company for assistance they are not necessarily dealing with a traditional attorney but rather with an entity who puts emotion into any scenario. Sometimes people want to speak to people, not lawyers. I try to conduct most of my meetings outside the office and I believe the environment outside of the office allows for a more open and relaxed relationship between myself and my clients. I strongly believe in a relationship where I’m not just an attorney dishing legal advice but also someone who enables a client to ask questions and to hold a conversation rather than the traditional “attorney-client” relationship. My other special gem is that I really cheer my clients on when it comes to their businesses/achievements. There is nothing that gives me more joy than watching a clients business thrive, I enjoy being there to see the process through on the legal side and on the “fun” side.
What steps have been critical in growing your business?
Collaboration. Initially when I started this company I was amped up and excited that I would finally be on “my own” and prove to myself that I am a hard worker etc but I soon came to learn that there is nothing which can be achieved when you are alone. It is important to form meaningful relationships with people in business and it is just as important to form and maintain meaningful relationships with your support structure (family and friends).
Another aspect that has contributed to the growth of my business was setting practical goals and working on obtaining those goals. As my company is in its first year of trade I have tried to stay away from taking more than the company has capacity for and I’ve had a practical approach to the way I conduct business. For me client satisfaction is the biggest factor, I aim to underpromise and over deliver. Being upfront with clients about my strengths and weaknesses has also helped me gain their trust and in turn they have come back to me for legal assistance because they know where my strengths lie (that has in turn contributed to my growing client base).
What have been some of your most memorable moments in business?
When a client got the keys to a manufacturing factory which I had drafted the lease agreement for. She was extremely happy and I was extremely happy for her. The experience reminded me why I love doing what I do.
Every experience has been memorable for me, I think my joy lies in when people who I look up to in business come to me for legal advice and services (I never tell them that I am a huge fan because I try to maintain a level of professionalism but my heart does backflips in my rib cage).
What are some of the hardest lessons you have learnt?
When you work for yourself there is sometimes no level of accountability, as a result, certain things which can contribute towards the growth of the business end up taking the backseat. I have had to learn to be a jack of all trades and although that works to my advantage in some cases, in others it works to my/ the company’s detriment.
Another hard lesson is one I faced earlier this year which had huge financial consequences on my business (and I still have not recovered from that business oversight). The difficulty is that no one prepares you for the ten steps back in business, I was under the impression that there will be smooth sailing until the business is eventually successful- that was a rude awakening to the realities that exist in business.
Definitely to secure permanent office space in Johannesburg and to later expand to other metropolitans. Definitely to create jobs and mentorship programs. Definitely to introduce another consulting/advisory division other than law – something which will contribute to why the company is named “Collective Intelligence”.
What advice can you give to other entrepreneurs starting-out?
If you believe in yourself and what you have to offer then you have already done the bulk of what needs to be done to grow your business. Perseverance and consistency is key. Management and deliverance of client expectations should be your core focus. Always keep your clients abreast of the progress of your business relationship.
And lastly, the same way in which you draw up personal budgets you should do the same for your business.