Christine Searle –

by Claire Minnaar

Tell us a bit about YOU and your family (where you are based, single / married, number of kids, etc)

Hi Claire, my name is Christine, I’m based in Cape Town, divorced and Mom to a now grown up daughter.

What is the name of your company and when did you start your business?

I started my first business in 1994 when my daughter was still at school. Together with my then business partner we ran an Event Management business for 6 years and then made the decision to branch out into other avenues, independently. Today I am a director of Net-Focus Interactive – we are responsible for – the South African Travel Website which has been in operation since 1999.

What inspired you to start your own business?

Oh what a question! Many reasons. If I think back to 1994 it was because I had really had enough of working in a corporate environment. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job at the time and loved the company I worked for. The issue was not the particular company, but more the fact that there is a ceiling you can reach in a corporate environment that is based on your qualifications, sex (yes! Unfortunately that was certainly the case back then), and in the industry I operated in, your geographical location. (To advance /be promoted I would have had to move to Johannesburg, which, as a single parent I was not prepared to do). My other issue was earning potential. I earned a very good salary. No question about that – but, no matter how hard I worked (or whether I coasted along just doing my job), my earnings would not have jumped significantly enough for me to achieve and do the things I wanted to … so the only option I saw was going out on my own.

My Late Grandfather taught me that true wealth comes from being financially independent… so that inspired me too. How one measures wealth is of course a very personal thing. Some measure wealth by money in the bank – I measure wealth by achievement and personal satisfaction.

What are the challenges you face or have faced being a working Mom and how have you overcome them?

I really had to think about this as I am now an “old” Mom.

The hardest thing was undoubtedly Child Care! Having reliable, good people you can trust to take care of your precious children while you work is always a challenge! I learnt this the hard way as my daughter was in an accident at age 3, whilst in the care of a family member. So this is the hardest part of being a working Mom. How did I overcome this? You never do … it’s always a risk you to take when you leave your child in the care of someone else…

What is the hardest part or have been some of your struggles starting your own business?

  • Learning to delegate.
  • Managing finances.
  • Learning to prioritise.

How do you balance your business and your family?

With difficulty! That’s always been problematic for me. I am a bit of a workaholic (I can hear my family laughing as they read this – let me rephrase: I am a workaholic). So it’s not always easy for me to find balance.

What or whom has been the greatest support for you and your business?

There have been many. Obviously my family – without their support and help I would not have succeeded. And then many the clients we have been privileged to work for. When you work for yourself praise and motivation will come from your clients (i.e. not from a boss or in the form of bonuses and salary increases). Praise comes from clients and word of mouth referrals are the reward. This keeps us motivated…

If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

I think I really speak from experience on this as I’ve started two businesses in my life. I’ve made many mistakes along the way and the important thing is to recognize quickly what works and what does not. If something is not working, admit it, dust yourself off and start again.

Decide how big you want to get and remember that with big business comes big responsibility! It might serve you to “stay small and profitable” rather than grow big too quickly. I’ve done both – for me, Small& highly Profitable is the answer.

Oh … and when you achieve success … when you get to that point where you feel you have “arrived”, do try to stay humble! Arrogance is not an attractive quality for a lady.

What advice can you give other Moms out there who are starting a new business?

Be careful not to under capitalize or over extend yourself financially. Starting a new business is stressful, so have all your ducks in a row before you brave it alone. Having financial difficulties will add extra stress you don’t need.

Don’t under quote to get the business. You will end up losing money and you set a precedent with the client which they will always expect and can be extremely difficult to change later.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us that I may have missed?

Remember that you will probably get 80% of your business from 20% of your clients. Look after those 20% well – nurture the relationship and put them first.

Having said that, try not to rely too much on one client for the majority of your business. Spread your business evenly, so that if you lose that one “big” account, it does not cripple you financially.

Set your Terms of Payment from the get go with every new client! Waiting longer than 30 days to be paid can cause serious problems for you, especially when you are starting out. Get new clients to commit to your terms of payment and if you have not been paid by the day its due, don’t be afraid to ask for your money!

Be prepared to take a risk.

Don’t borrow money if you can possibly help it. Invest your profits in growing your business.

It’s your business so you can do things your way – try doing things differently! Offer your clients something different to distinguish your business from your opposition.

As you grow and expand, use freelancers as much as you can to keep your salary bill as low as possible. Letting people go is the hardest thing you will ever have to do, so unless you are sure you can support permanent staff for the long haul, use freelancers!

Choose your employees extra carefully! They can make or break your business.

Learn to delegate and prioritize!
Take time out to have fun!

And lastly – and please listen to this bit of advice as we have learnt this the hard way – if you have a unique name, logo or brand, get it registered as a Trademark early on! It will cost you a fair bit (currently about R4000.00 for a good law firm to arrange it for you but I believe it can be done for less), but it will cost you hundreds times more getting unscrupulous people to stop trading on the goodwill you will build up over the years in the future! So do it NOW! You have been warned!

If other Moms would like to keep in touch, how can they contact you?

E-mail: Christine (at)

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Ruan January 13, 2011 - 1:44 pm

Hi Christine,

Though I am no Mom (atleast I don’t think so!), I follow all the posts on Momtrepreneur. I find people’s journeys in the businessworld fascinating and try to learn and grow as much and as fast as possible.

You raised the issue of trademarking your brand – would any lawyer be able to assist with this? Or would one have to go to a law firm that specializes in Intellectual Property?

Thanks for your insights and enabling all of us to learn from your experiences.


Christine January 14, 2011 - 8:13 am

Hi Ruan

I’m not sure about any lawyer – some don’t do it, but most law firms should be able to guide you in the right direction. OR – Go to the CIPRO website ( – you can find lots of info there. (CIPRO is the SA Companies and intellectual property registration office). I believe there are tools for doing it yourself (although I prefer to pay someone – its a lot schleppy than trying to DIY!).

We are using Adams & Adams – they are a law firm who are specialised in this – but we chose them because we have “issues” with people using our name, so we went straight to the experts – they have done our registrations and are dealing with those people at the same time.

It’s a messy situation – and costly if you don’t protect yourself from the get-go! Wish I had known all this 11 years ago 🙂


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