LEARNING CURVE | Bridging quality gap in public health and food safety industry

Mthokozisi Nkosi of ASC Consultants
Mthokozisi Nkosi of ASC Consultants
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

A commitment to innovation and quality has formed the foundation of ASC Consultants, according to owner Mthokozisi Nkosi.

Nkosi, 30, said he had seen a gap in the public health and food safety and management industry, with the focus being more on the number of clients companies had, rather than the quality of work offered.

Nkosi said ASC had been established to bridge the gap, offering quality work to all who required its services.

Please share some background on yourself and how the business was started.

I was born in KwaZulu-Natal and moved to Port Elizabeth several years ago. I studied at the University of Pretoria, first doing a BSc (Agriculture) honours specialising in food science and technology, then did my commercial and business studies up to MBA level.

I also hold an honours degree in public health, focusing on disease control, and I am studying towards my master’s in public health at a UK university with a particular focus on epidemiology.  

In short, I am a food scientist, agriculturist, and a public health practitioner.

ASC Consultants was established in 2018. It came about after we established that most consultancy companies compromised a lot on the quality of services they offered to maximise profits. As a result, not enough attention was paid to ensuring that the service provided added value to the businesses.

As such, there was a clear disconnect between the customer and the client. To bridge that gap, ASC Consultants was born.

Our Port Elizabeth-based team is continuously developing an ever-growing number of publicly available courses. We are committed to innovation and quality. We have recently started offering online consulting and training as part of our services.

What is your core service?

ASC Consultants works across the food, beverage, health and associated industries providing its clients with health systems, food quality and safety management systems; training; auditing; vendor and international standards; as well as assistance with food technology guidance on complex issues such as product development, export arrangements, testing verification and labelling.

What makes your business unique?

Superior customer service, dependable, versatile consultants and we go the extra mile for our customers. They know they can send WhatsApps, messages, call and they will never be told they are an inconvenience.

We do not take ourselves too seriously. We love what we do, love people, and certainly are proud of our work.

If someone wanted to copy your business model, how would they start?

They would need to acquire the necessary skills which should include formal and informal education, doing market research, gain relevant experience, and start small.

It is important to scale your business and never think any client is too small. Treat all the clients the same.

What are some of the biggest inhibitors your business faced before getting off the ground? 

Lack of funding has been a hindrance. We want to grow bigger but unfortunately, we do not have sufficient funds to expand our services quicker.

For example, offering some internationally accredited courses and other services.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs or new business owners?

Stick to what you know. If you want to expand your business, gain the necessary skills before attempting to offer a new service. Focus less on money and more on customer service, then money will follow.

What are some of your biggest challenges in day-to-day business operations and your industry?

  1. Balancing operational costs with budgeted amount. When you are a consulting firm, cash only comes once a project has been completed and some clients pay beyond the due date which makes it difficult to continue offering services to other clients. So you always must have cash in the bank to prevent a situation where you cannot offer services because of financial constraints.
  2. As a small company we have multiple roles and responsibilities, and time is never enough.

What is the best advice anyone gave you on success?

Most people give up at the first sign of adversity. Don’t be most people — be resilient, be patient, and soldier on.

How do you measure or define success in your business?

Client satisfaction, retaining them and delivering projects on time.

What are some of the best practices that have made your business successful?

We pay attention to each client. Each is equally important and we never underdeliver. All our clients know we are accessible to them, at any time.

We are also flexible and ensure that we meet them halfway. We focus less on money and more on offering quality services.

What kind of advertising do you do?

It is mainly through word of mouth, and we also allocate a minimal budget for online ads such as Google Ads and Gumtree.

What is your company’s vision?

To be the most trusted and preferred public health and food safety consulting and training firm in SA.

What is your target market?

ASC Consultants works with retailers, food and beverage manufacturers, farmers, pack houses, trade associations and government entities all over the country and SADC.

Presently our primary focus is the Eastern Cape. We target mainly businesses that cannot afford the cost of in-house food safety consulting support.

We also target clients that want an external expert review of their internal systems.

What have some of your highlights been in running your business?

  • Being appointed by international companies, for example Total LNS based in Paris, France, and ExxonMobil based in Texas in the US, to be their chief consultant and assist their teams of medical professionals.
  • Signing an international partnership with  PECB, an international company headquartered in Canada.
  • Working on a hemp (cannabis) project in Lesotho. That was different and quite exciting, especially considering the medical benefits of cannabis.

How important are social media and an online presence for your business?

It is important because everyone is moving online now and if you are to grow across borders, people would need to find you online. Being online is the best marketing tool that one could have.  

How many people do you employ?

We have five people, and use the services of freelancers when needed.

Do you have any plans for expanding the business, and how would you go about this?

We are expanding as we go. We want to focus on growing our online services, focus more on public health consulting, offer more international courses as well as forming partnerships with agricultural co-operatives.

How did you acquire funding for the business?

It was self-funded.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt from your business journey so far?

  1. Do not burn bridges unnecessarily.
  2. Do business with people who appreciate your work, expertise and effort.
  3. Do not assume a client is too small for you.
  4. Take care of yourself and do not forget to rest. Separate your business life from your personal life.
  5. No-one is going to come to save you.

What have been the greatest challenges and advantages of running your business in a city like PE?

I think running a business in PE has been good. I love the city, its people and it is the best city I have lived in.

What do you say are the three key traits of a successful entrepreneur?

Tenacity, versatility, and resilience.

What do you say are the key traits of a successful employer?

It is important to see your team as human beings and not as moneymaking robots. See them as your service providers and yourself as their clients.

They offer services to you and you are paying them for those services. You are not doing them a favour by employing them, so give them the respect that reflects that.

In short, be empathetic and respectful, yet remain assertive.

What do you wish people knew about your industry?

It is an interesting and important industry. No project or company is ever the same. It is vibrant, but at the same time, challenging. However, one mistake can have dire consequences.

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