How This Chartered Accountant Started a Business While Working Full Time and Raising a Family

Do you want to quit your job and start your own business? What’s stopping you? Maybe a million things including your mortgage and putting food on the table. You probably thinking ‘With so much of responsibilities how in the world can I start a business of my own?’

But you have an idea, and you are sure it’s a good idea.

So, can you take your good idea and turn it into a company while you still have your day job? Yes, It’s possible!

In today’s article, Xoliswa Hlongwane (a Chartered Accountant from SAICA) is sharing the exact strategy she used to start her own clothing manufacturing business, XO Collection while still working full time.

In 2017, she was awarded the KZN Regional Business Women Association Award for the women in Government category. She was also honoured by the Destiny Woman magazine in their November 2018 issue (40 powerful women under 40 years).

What Made Me to Start My Own Business While Working Full-time

I started XO Collection in March 2017. When I decided to start my own business I was still working as a Chief Audit Executive.

I wanted to go ahead with my business idea without quitting my job. It wasn't easy but I had to make it work.

I had my own share of struggles when I decided to work full time and start my own self-funded business. 

This journey has been tough but very fulfilling.

Through my clothing manufacturing business, XO Collection, I seek to contribute towards reducing unemployment.

Presently, I am working as a Head of Expenditure and running my business simultaneously.

Here's my story:

During primary schooling, I was an average learner who got just enough marks to progress to the next grade.

Growing up in different communities and cities made me streetwise and aware of the world out there, which was different from most of my school mates or even peers in the community.

Also, my dad whom I moved to the province to live with died at the beginning of the year. So I had to finish that year at school and then move to my relative's place.

Life was definitely not easy for me. Amidst all difficulties, I gave my best and God being great I did well in grade 12.

I went to the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Durban) knowing only the fact that I will be studying B.Com Accounting. Nothing beyond that.

Luckily the friends I made during my orientation week helped to shed some light on the various career opportunities.

It was then that I got to know about CA from SAICA (The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants) and I chose the CA route.

I funded my further education by taking study loans (I was not aware of bursary) and worked full time while studying.

After qualifying as a Chartered Accountant CA(SA), I worked in various companies in Durban, South Africa.

I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. Not until I fell in love with clothing!

It all started with me wanting to dress uniquely and nicely so I set out to find someone who can make my clothes.

Having spent many nights reading about the fashion industry, I decided to make clothes not only for myself but also ones I could sell. This was March 2017.

I imagined a shop where you do not have to go through rails of clothing to find what you like, a place where you like everything you see and only pick the clothes based on what you need. That is how my company XO Collection was born.

For now, it houses a brand called Xecutive business wear which focuses on ladies’ business wear.

How I Started My Business While Working at a Full-Time Job

The First Step I Took When I Started My Own Business:

Initially, I was planning to only design clothes and then use a Cut Make and Trim(CMT) factory to handle my production.

In fact, I even started using a Cut Make and Trim factory in Cape Town.

Since I lived in Durban I wanted a CMT factory in Durban itself. However, I struggled to find a CMT factory I could rely on in Durban (South Africa).

Did I ever consider using a CMT in China? No. I wanted to make my clothes locally and contribute to employment in our country so using a CMT in China was something I did not want to consider.

That is when I came across an advertisement for factory assets on sale at an affordable price. I decided this is what I needed to control the production of my garments and control quality issues.

So instead of having someone else Cut Make and Trim the clothes, I thought of doing the same from scratch and decided to start my own clothes production from zero.

As a new person to the industry, I was very particular about everything. I also learned to be more flexible.

Once I bought the assets and rehired the retrenched staff, from that point I had to go out of my way to ensure I keep them gainfully employed. There was no going back.

I used a lot of my savings and loans to start my venture and decided to continue working to fund my business.

How Did I Manage My Business While Working Full-time? 

After setting the factory and my staff the next step was to run the business.

Quitting my current job was not an option as I needed money to finance my business. I knew I had to continue with my full-time job in order to make this business come to life.

So I started my business while still working at a full-time job.

I worked all day at the office and then worked for my business in the evening after office and over weekends.

Honestly, I say, it wasn’t easy.

At first, I thought I could get away with just having an Admin person at XO Collection and me being the “brains” of the business.

However, I soon realized that I was stifling the growth of the business by making the business wait for me to make decisions after office hours or on weekends.

My absence from 100% operational involvement had a negative impact on the speed of getting things off the ground.

Eleven months down the line with no prospects of profitability, I started to think who could help me with this. That is what drove me to recruit a fashion graduate so that operational decisions do not wait for my availability.

Hiring someone to run my business had made my business so much more organized.

Decisions are taken in time and when needed. And since then my business has been really promising.

This taught me that sometimes you have to let go a little in order to achieve your goals.

Not everything conceptualized by you needs to be made by you from beginning to end.

How Did I Select The Right Person to Run My Business?

Sometimes we think because the vision is ours, we are the only ones that can make it happen however my company has shown me that it is not necessarily true!

It is about identifying what your business needs and off that what will come from you.

Do not be scared to delegate as long as it is to someone who is good at what they do but more importantly respects your authority.

The industry is a difficult one and highly competitive. It is about what you offer and how you turn “likes” into sales.

I am still learning new things every day. It's a never-ending process!

We have eight staff members including two contract staff and one cleaner who comes once a week.

When will I go full time and focus only on my business?

In a couple of years depending on how stable it is and whether I can complement my income through applying my skills on a consulting basis.

So far am self-funded, but the pot has run out, hence it is very important for the business to show signs of sustainability.

How My Daily Routine Looks Like

I start work at 7:30 after dropping off kids at school.

I leave work around 17:30 for either gym or straight home.

When I get home I shower, have dinner and catch up with the kids.

I later go through the daily report that the staff from XO Collection sends me and respond to areas requiring my attention.

I normally sleep at 22:00.

What Is My Business Model?

I started using a Cut Make and Trim factory in Cape Town and moved from looking for a CMT closer to me to buying factory assets and to starting my own CMT. How dramatic.

My business model has changed so much since I started XO Collection.

Presently, XO Collection is a CMT and fashion house.

We produce our in-house brand as well as for other designers and retailers. We have no minimum quantities and make it easy for designers to be commercial.

Although this started as a hobby it is now a business which employs people that depend on it for a living.

That keeps me on my toes because although I have a job and can find it easy to cut my losses during this stage when we haven’t even broken even, it is the thought of my employees that keeps me going and knowing that closing the business is not an option.

I have tried and tested different things to get to where I am comfortable about who we are.

At this stage, I am looking for enterprise development opportunities for the business so we can grow and my staff can learn more business management skills.

Lessons I Learned From Running My Own Business?

I have learned:

  • It is better to focus on one aspect until you perfect that before expanding through other brands or business segments
  • To get a healthy balance between the CMT work and our internal brand based on revenue generating capability
  • That no matter how crazy you are about your stock you still need to convince customers to buy so invest in brand exposure and distribution channel
  • That it is not easy to train your staff to grow the business
  • That profitability is a function of many things in the right proportions.

Do I Have a Mentor?

There are many facets to me; career, business, social entrepreneur and personal. I need guidance on all.

Mentorship is important to help you not repeat avoidable mistakes or things that don’t work.

Also, it helps to have a sounding board as you progress with your life. The right mentor can help you to grow.

I have a life coach that I talk to weekly and a business mentor, but we struggle to keep to regular meetings as we are both busy.

When we do meet, I learn a lot.

I have just approached a more mature CA to also mentor me. He is very wise.

I believe so much in mentorship that I have started a mentorship programme called #10YearCAChallenge where I intend taking rural learners from grades 10 to 12 on a 10-year journey towards CA.

They are facing several challenges like poor Maths marks. I intend walking with them and getting over the challenges along the way.

Our journey can be followed on my LinkedIn profile and on Instagram @10yearcachallenge.

Have Other Extra Sources of Income

In my opinion, once you have progressed to a certain point in your career, where you have gained a set of skills, then I suggest you start working towards your business aspirations.

It will definitely take a while before it can be a second source of income.

To Conclude…

Personally, I went the route of starting my business on the side while still working as a full-time employee elsewhere. It’s difficult but doable.

There are clear advantages and disadvantages to starting a business while employed. But as long as you can reasonably manage both, I would suggest to retaining employment while starting a business.

If you do proceed to start a business while working full time at a job, be sure to follow the following best practices:

  • Sometimes we think because the vision is ours, we are the only ones that can make it happen however that is not necessarily true! So if required hire the right person.
  • When you recruit someone to handle the operations of your business make sure that they have good integrity and ethics. And of course good knowledge. Make sure that they respect your authority.
  • After your full-time job, take out time in the evening to have a look at the daily workings of your business. Have a daily reporting or some kind of review.
  • Learn to delegate so you can be relaxed.
  • When working at your full-time job avoid thinking or working on your business. This might cause trouble. So stay focused on your job and give it your best.

BONUS: Advice On How To Start Your Own Business

“While you are building your e-commerce business/ store online make sure you add as much as features possible in the start only.

So basically, the whole idea is set up so strongly in the start that later on you only have to upgrade and not add a whole new thing.”

How Astha Started an eCommerce Business In 7 Months


“For people who want to start their own business, having a network of opportunities in place is crucial.

There is a lot of work out there and more than enough work for everyone who elects to become a Forensic Practitioner.

You need to start working on this network as early as you can. In fact, you start to establish a network as early as your first year at university.”

Read How She Started Her Forensic Accounting Business From Scratch


“You can definitely handle both business and a full-time job, but you need to be willing to give up a lot of time and fully dedicate yourself to your career and businesses.

A stable, dependable source of income will give you much more confidence in testing the waters with a new business that has a high likelihood of failure in the first year.”

Read How She Started Her Mobile App and Online Store Business While Working Full Time

Now it’s your turn!

Do you want to start your own business while working full time? Do you have a business idea you want to start with?

Or have you quit your job to start your own business?

Comment now and share your experiences with us. 

Also if you have questions for Xoliswa comment below with your questions and she will get back to you.

You can connect to her on LinkedIn at – Xoliswa Hlongwane.

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