31 July 2012

Simon T. Bailey: Rejection is a gift

Simon T. Bailey, international author,
motivational speaker and founder of
the Brilliance Institute

Simon T. Bailey is author of Release Your Brilliance, published by HarperCollins and ranked #17 of the Top 100 books being read by Corporate America according to http://www.800CEORead.com. He's a thought catalyst and leader of the Release Your Brilliance and The Vuja De Moment Movement,and a former sales leader of the world-renowned Disney Institute.

Do you believe entrepreneurs are born?
I believe that everyone can evolve into becoming a business owner.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique?
Identify exactly what it is that makes you tick. In other words, what causes you to lose sleep at night? Are you working so hard in the business instead of on the business? This answer is a key to your unique assignment.

What steps can you take to ensure you become the “supplier of choice”?
First thing to do is increase the customer experience. If every customer has a pleasant experience, they will tell others about it.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
First give away what you want to attract – help someone else who needs a lead by giving them a lead. Secondly, ask those who you’ve already served for a referral to a similar client.

What are the five most vital characteristics that all entrepreneurs have?
Selling skills, interpersonal skills, they’re likeable, competent and consistent.

How can and entrepreneur stay passionate and fired up about their venture?
Firstly, understand the rejection is a gift. Then find a way to step back from the “no” answers and find out what you learned and could’ve done better.

What were you doing before starting your own business?
Working for Disney; the push came from announcing that I wanted to eventually be the Chairman and CEO. How has the journey been so far? It’s been awesome!

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Doing everything themselves and never delegating, and then trying to be everything to everyone else.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Never settle for less than the best.
* Ask for help.
* Push further.
* Finish what you start.
* Always believe in yourself

Get hold of Simon T. Bailey via email: simon@simontbailey.com , visit: http://www.simontbailey.com, on Facebook, Twitter @simontbailey and on LinkedIn: Simon T. Bailey.

30 July 2012

Clare Appleyard: Shine in your niche

Clare Appleyard, Katannuta Diamonds
Clare Appleyard had a simple dream – to escape her cubicle-bound desk job. With this in mind, she took a leap into entrepreneurship in June 2007, starting Katannuta Diamonds from a spare room in her home, with a R20 000 investment, manufacturing bespoke wedding rings, engagement rings and diamond and gemstone jewellery to order.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
It’s something that’s grown over time. While I’d always harboured the dream to own a sports shop, going into business wasn’t a family trait, nor was it something that my family encouraged. It was a case of go to school, go to university and get a corporate job. So I did, but always felt there was something more to be achieved. 

What were you doing before starting your business?
I was working as a geologist at Anglo American, having moved from De Beers a year before that. A culmination of job dissatisfaction combined with some major life challenges forced me to re-assess and take the plunge. It was a challenging time, but ultimately leaving a corporate job has set me free in the truest sense of the word.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
Very little planning went into starting Katannuta Diamonds! I was that desperate to quit my job that I jumped with absolutely no safety net. The initial Katannuta concept was confused and complicated, as was our website and we had way too many “divisions” focusing on servicing different market needs. We never applied for funding, so were never forced to write a proper business plan. We hacked out a couple of plans, but never stuck to them and never updated them as our concept evolved. Ultimately, for us, a business plan was not necessary at all, but, if you need to apply for funding, it’s probably a necessary evil. If you’re boot-strapping your way, don’t bother.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
We spent a lot of time connecting with people on small business websites and going to networking events and we discovered that people on these websites and at these events were not our customers. You can’t ignore the power of social media nowadays, and a “Google friendly” website is absolutely critical. Word-of-mouth is tremendously powerful, so make sure all your friends and family know what you do. Our business leads are split between referrals and Internet-generated enquiries. We’ve found that advertising is expensive, over-rated and provides little or no return on investment.

How did you figure out what makes you unique from everyone else in your market and how have you leveraged that difference?
We spent an inordinate amount of time trying to be everything to everybody, and we learnt that if you’re marketing to everybody, you’re marketing to nobody. It took me a long time to find my niche market for Katannuta Diamonds and it was a well-timed question from a marketing friend that helped me realise I was on the wrong track. Look at where your best profit for the least effort comes from, and make that your niche selling point. Focus on what you are truly good at and develop that market. If customers are complimenting you on a particular aspect of your product/service, that’s probably your best indication of your unique selling point (USP).

How did you figure out what to charge?
If your product is something concrete – as in the case of jewellery, for instance – logically, you want to take your expenses for that item and add a particular profit percentage, perhaps in accordance with industry standards. I received a lot of guidance from my wholesale suppliers regarding mark-ups, what is an “acceptable” profit margin and what average retail mark-ups are. This has allowed me to gauge a standard mark-up that still allows me to beat retail prices. If your product is a service, it’s a lot tougher – because you’re investing predominantly time and you need to figure out what your time is worth.  Again, look at competitors and colleagues and use their guidelines if necessary.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
Perhaps I’ve got my rose-tinted glasses on, but I don’t remember an epic fail. The biggest mistake I’d say, which stemmed from ignorance on websites more than anything else, was forking out R20 000 for a website which looked great, but wasn’t search engine optimised (SEO) and generated no traffic. Two years later we completely overhauled the website, for a fraction of the cost, and haven’t looked back since.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make in their first three years of business?
Procrastination or lack of action and not being clear on what problem their business will solve.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
Knowing that there’s no way I could ever return to the traffic jams, 9-to-5s, policies and procedures, red tape and corporate bull that rules most people’s lives – the thought of that is motivation enough!

Did you have a mentor?
I started off with a mentor in the diamond industry in my very early days and he taught me the value of honesty, integrity and loyalty in the industry. Diamonds can be a dirty business and you’ve got to build solid relationships. Mentors can provide invaluable guidance and assistance if you find the correct person.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
It’s almost impossible to say how long it will take. Ventures that have little capital investment can provide a return early on. Ventures that required a massive capital injection may take years to turn a profit. If you’re growing steadily – not necessarily turning a profit – you know you’re on the right track. One of my current mentors uses the phrase: “Pay attention. Get excited. Never quit.” I refuse to quit.

In your opinion, is it ever alright to give up on a dream?
Not at all. The only people who have ever made a difference in the world are those that have refused to quit on their dream. If you do, you’ve joined the ranks of the 97% of the population who are just moving through life in a comatose state. Make sure your dream is big enough to fire you up that you won’t ever want to quit.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Don’t wait for everything to be perfect – any action is better than no action!
* Find a mentor or person you consider successful as early on as possible to guide you.
* Identify your niche as early as possible and focus on being great in that area.
* Ensure that your website uses a content management system (CMS) that you have full control of.
* Identify your “income producing activities” from your “non-income producing” and focus on what makes you money.

Get in touch with Clare Appleyard via email: clare@katannuta.com, visit: www.katannutadiamonds.co.za on Facebook on Twitter: @clareappleyard and @katannutadiamnd, and on LinkedIn.

27 July 2012

Infographic: No-worries!

I found this nifty infographic on Pinterest which simplified life for me right now as I've a tendency to overthink things and worry myself into a coma - especially where work's concerned. It was pinned from a site called Awesomephilia but they didn't attribute it to the original creator, which I'd love to do, so if you're that person, please email me and I'll give you all the glory :) So have a break from reading this weekend, chill and we'll meet more awesome entrepreneurs next week!

And to the universe, thanks for this -- and something better.

26 July 2012

David Kokong: Know people

David Kokong, entrepreneur

Mtsamai David Kokong became his own boss in 2000. He made a R10 investment in a training manual and went on to excel as an independent field advertiser (IFA) for life insurance/assurance giant Clientèle Life. And with more than 7 500 people in his network and an unwavering belief in himself, business success was sure to follow!

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
Always! I can specifically recall being seven years old, lining my friends up to catch fish in the river and then selling it for pocket money. At nine, I discovered that people were always hungry at township funerals because they’re so long, so I improvised and started selling cooked mielies and fish cakes to the attendees – even the pastors bought from me!  

What provided the push you needed to go on your own?
I was a correctional officer for 20 years, which landed me the position as the head of the Goodwood Prison in Cape Town, as well as doing IFA part-time. It dawned on me one day, while comparing my salary advice slip to my IFA commission statement, that I was earning more money with IFA, with a quarter of the stress associated with running prison. My fear of sustaining my lifestyle past retirement age gave me the push to go into IFA full-time – I couldn’t see myself getting a job just to make ends meet after the age of 60, which also meant that I wouldn’t be able to be in the ministry full-time either.

IFA is founded on the principles of “ubuntu” meaning daring, caring and sharing, so through IFA, Clientèle Life is bridging the gap between the haves and the have not’s in order to eradicate poverty. That really appealed to me as a black entrepreneur – as part of IFA, the necessary mechanisms are in place to help you succeed. They’ve simplified the business plan and incorporated it into a living programme to ensure the success and sustainability of the business. I worked from anywhere and everywhere and, as long there are people, my business thrives simply because I’m a networker.

What’s your big dream for this venture?
Apart from building the brand and being a good example to others, my late father, Pastor M. Z. Kokong of Apostelic Faith Mission (AFM) instilled in me that every person has the potential to be someone and that we’re not to judge anyone. In my quest to be in ministry, I soon realised that in order for me to bless others, I have to be blessed. My involvement in IFA equips me to be financially free and to guide and empower others to financial freedom. Consequently, I have a vision that through IFA we can touch so many people’s lives, provide them with the opportunity to rekindle their hopes, instil self-worth and, most importantly, to be able to provide for their families without being dependent on government handouts.

What was your most epic fail in the early days and what did you learn from it?
My business suffered a bad blow during the recession when a lot of people lost their jobs and couldn’t afford to pay their premiums. But I stayed focussed and motivated my team to see the bigger picture, changing my strategy to use the dip of the recession to secure new business.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes entrepreneurs make?
They put all their eggs in one basket and give up too easily. Only the strong and toughest will survive. As the saying goes, Rome wasn't built in a day; good quality things take time.

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream?
No, never ever give up! Believe in yourself and your dreams; once others see your passion they will believe as well.

What’s your life motto?
Work like a slave today to live like a king tomorrow.

What three character traits do all entrepreneurs possess?
The foresight to identify money-making opportunities in places or instances where others do not, the ability not to give up; to persevere and innovation.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Patience
* Commitment
* Perseverance
* Focus
* Faith – believe in yourself even when nobody else does.

Get in touch with David Kokong via email: david@dkokong.co.za or visit: http://www.dkokong.co.za

25 July 2012

Nicole Capper: A winning strategy

Nicole Capper, MANGO-OMC
Nicole Capper set up her own business in 2004 with a
R65 000 investment and joined forces with Catherine Luckhoff in 2006 under Catherine’s brand name MANGO-OMC. They’ve built a successful, award-winning venture on rock-solid strategy, research and service delivery. Nicole took over as the sole owner of this dynamic Cape-based boutique PR agency in 2011.

Have you always been entrepreneurial or is it something that’s grown over time?
I’ve definitely not been entrepreneurial in the pure definition of the word. As an employee, I was a highly motivated, productive and self-managing, and took excessive responsibility for the businesses I was employed by onto my own shoulders. But I was risk adverse in terms of my personal finance and in many cases, in terms of my employer’s business decisions.

What kind of planning went into starting your business and is a plan necessary?
Absolutely, definitely and without a doubt. The plan, by the very nature of entrepreneurship, has to be flexible enough to adapt to growth, economic change and market share requirements, but there has to be a road map. When Catherine and I first decided that I would join her to build MANGO-OMC, we spent a lot of time not only devising the company strategy, but also ensuring that very good contracts were set up between the two of us before moving forward into “marriage”.  This business plan laid the foundations for our vision, mission and target market. If you don’t have that focus, you’re already setting yourself up to fail. Focus, set your eyes on a target and press go.

What was your big dream for this venture?
To become the best PR in South Africa J. To provide our clients with what they needed and if this meant that we had a lot of conversations to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of what they needed, rather than what they thought they needed, then so be it. And to always work for clients that we believed in – never to sell out for money – which MANGO-OMC has managed to retain throughout the years. And lastly, to always be aware of the ever-changing landscape and to be first in terms of embracing change and integrating this into the company ethos.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
New business leads generally result from relationships. Good relationships lead to referrals and word of mouth. When first starting out, I focused on an industry that knew me well – the neutriceutal environment – and proved my worth there. From there, there were case studies that I could generate for agencies supplying that market, who then gave me a chance to show them what I could do. Invest your intellectual property when you are first building. You can’t be precious and decide that you’ll supply the bare minimum and charge for the rest; that comes with the establishment of an entrenched reputation

Make sure that you have an online profile that is appropriate – I don’t mean that you should have 600 friends on Facebook; you need to have the right connections and an up-to-date profile on LinkedIn, participate in the appropriate forums and give back. It’s amazing what those last two words achieve in terms of industry respect and referrals. Put together a referral structure for other agencies that makes it worth their while to refer to you. Buy the business magazines and newspapers, and scour them for new developments in specific industries. Make sure that you’re on top of your game in terms of skills and upskill yourself – add this to your profiles. And network; the more you converse with and know the main players, the more referrals, testimonials and case studies become possible.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
You need to pay attention to the industry that you work in. Keep track of what everyone is doing and keep comparing your own projects/campaigns to the highest industry benchmark. Also know your own strengths and weaknesses and initially, when it’s just “you, yourself and I”, pitch for work that you know you can excel at. As your business grows, you’ll start filling in on the weaknesses with additional staff.

How do you figure out what to charge for their service/product?
Research, research, research. Don’t under-price yourself – it leads to potential clients questioning your expertise and is also detrimental to the industry on the whole. Don’t overprice yourself by not knowing what others are charging. Take a look at the size of the project and try to compare what you would like to charge against what others may have. The research is difficult as this information is often kept close to chests, but try as much as you can to understand how competitors and colleagues price.

What was your most epic fail and how did you work through/solve it?
Woody Harrelson was travelling to South Africa to support a client’s product – an exhibition in its second year – and I sent out the information far and wide. A seasoned journalist enquired whether this was 100% confirmed as she had experienced celebrities withdrawing at the last moment. “Of course,” I naively replied.  So, his profile and the announcement appeared in the Cape Argus (including a highlight on the front page) on the same day that he cancelled. There was a lot of grovelling, apologies and personal accountability to make that one right!

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Over-extending themselves. Suddenly a flash new office, custom-made desks and a coffee machine appear to be absolutely essential – to get the clients, you know. Oh, and the right address. DON’T DO IT! Work with your cashflow; keep three months’ cashflow in the bank at all times to cover your overheads, and don’t expand unless you’re ready to.

Arrogance. That dogwork has to be done. Networks take time. You’re not the most fabulous person ever to hit the entrepreneurial landscape and you have to prove yourself. Constructive criticism is good; it’s not malicious intent. You will not make it overnight, so be patient and work towards it – if you want instant gratification, this is the wrong game to be playing.

How do you keep yourself motivated to continue?
Remember what your dream was. Remind yourself of what launched you into the entrepreneurial stratosphere and take it day by day. Don’t look a week down the line; write down your goals for today and keep at it, no matter what happens. And then again the next day. Be prepared to compromise your own comfort for awhile (and set out how long this while is). And give yourself a cut-off point.

What’s your life motto?
The horse is much easier to ride if you ride it in the direction in which it’s going.

What three character traits do all entrepreneurs possess?
Energy, tenacity (perseverance/stubbornness) and passion.

Do you believe in internships for your business?
Absolutely. An intern provides new energy, often a new way of looking at things and reminds everyone of where they’ve come from. In training an intern, you constantly retrain yourself and take yourself back to basics which often results in new systems, processes etc. as you go along. Send a CV to info@mango-omc.com.

In an entrepreneurial arm-wrestle, who would you back: Steve Jobs or Richard Branson?
Jees, that’s a very difficult one as, alike as they are, their styles are so different. I think that Richard Branson might win though as he would come up with a creative slant that could verge on cheating, but with such strategic integrity behind it that he’d get away with it.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Don’t stress – just take one bite out of the elephant at a time and you’ll finish it. A nervous breakdown doesn’t help anything.
* Build business support networks early on. All those people that you sat around tables with all those years ago will be the same people with their successful businesses that continue to support you professionally many years later.
* Don’t be stupidly humble. Shout out about your achievements (obviously only if they really are achievements). You gain nothing by being known as “still waters run deep”.
* Don’t allow the business to swallow your life. Ensure that you still exercise, have social relationships and take time out for yourself. Ask yourself whether you’ll be lying on your deathbed muttering “I got that into Business Day” and keep perspective on the fact that YOU are your biggest asset, so take care of it.
* Surround yourself with people who are as good as, if not better than, you. Don’t operate on the “founder system” that is demotivating and disempowering for others.

Get in touch with Nicole Capper from MANGO-OMC via email: nicole@mango-omc.com, visit: http://www.mango-omc.com, find her on Facebook: MANGO-OMC, Twitter: @mango_omc and LinkedIn: MANGO-OMC.

24 July 2012

Denvor Phokaners: Know your stuff!

Denvor Phokaners, Enterprise Development Essentials

Denvor Phokaners has entrepreneurship in his blood, having owned successful businesses since 1997. His latest venture is a company called Enterprise Development Essentials, which he started in 2010 with his last paycheque and a virtual office. His focus? Helping corporations increase their profitability through supplier and enterprise development, while creating jobs in South Africa.

Have you always been entrepreneurial and did you have a business plan?
I’ve always had an interest in working for myself and have been relatively good at selling and promoting my ideas, which are fundamental traits in any entrepreneur. I started my first business in 1997 as an insurance broker for Fedsure and Momentum Life, which I ran successfully for five years, but then went back into full-time employment. I stepped back into entrepreneurship in 2010 with a basic outline of what I wanted to do – I regret not having a tighter plan, but I was trusting in my own abilities, which can land you in very hot water! Successful entrepreneurs learn to go with their gut and I guess that’s what I did.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
If you don’t network with potential clients or market your products, you don’t exist. You need to first find out who your clients are and where they’re located, then what their needs are, before you venture into your business. Your product and service offering will dictate who and where you’ll find your clients or customers.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and what to charge?
You need to know what your competitors are doing and, most importantly, what they’re NOT doing. You can build a strong business around that key difference. When it comes to costing your offering, people don’t buy on price, they buy on value. They will buy anything – even pay anything – for something they find personally valuable.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
They believe that they know everything and become complacent after a few big deals. Then they take their eye off their finances!

What three character traits do all successful entrepreneurs possess?
Tolerance for pain, commitment and creativity.

What’s the motto you live by?
If you can’t sell, you don’t have a business. If you’re not networking, you don’t exist. And if you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business!

Do you believe in internships for your business?
Yes, internships can work, provided you know what you’re getting yourself into. You need to know your intern’s strengths and weaknesses and why you’re taking them on in the first place, so you need to have a clear strategy on what their value-add will be. Then, ensure you’ve done comprehensive reference checks. An internship is very much a “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” relationship. They need the experience; you need the resource but can’t afford the full salary, so never take advantage of an intern and make sure you’re not just giving them something to do – rather groom them for their future career.

If you could give yourself any advice when you started out, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Be careful who you make your partner. S/he could potentially ruin your business and reputation.
* If you can’t sell, you don’t have a business. If you’re not networking, you don’t exist. And if you don’t know your numbers, you don’t know your business!
* Service is EVERYTHING.
* Know everything about your business.
* Employ smarter people than yourself.

Get in touch with Denvor Phokaners from Enterprise Development Essentials via email: denvor@edeonline.co.za, visit: http://www.edeonline.co.za, find him on Facebook, on Twitter: @followede and on LinkedIn: Denvor Phokaners.

20 July 2012

Top 5 new business basics

Success and/or failure is a two-way street
This week we’ve met Peter Unsworth, Kendel Falkson and Styli Charalambous, all South African entrepreneurs in the media space. But the experiences and information they’ve shared can be applied to any start-up, no matter what industry. The common threads in their working knowledge are:

1. You don’t always need a formal business plan
Many new entrepreneurs get so freaked out by the thought of writing a massive, formal business plan, they simply don't bother. But if you're a small business person who is looking to secure funding to get your venture started, you definitely will. Business plans are there to assure the people you're looking to loan money from – be it a bank, angel investor, venture capitalist, friend or family member – that your venture is viable, has a future and will provide the income to pay their investment back over a set number of years. So, if you’re applying for funding, some admin time will be required – do your sums, make those projections and get that plan down on paper to prove to potential investors that your idea/product/service is worth the cash-injection that will give them payback at set points down the line. You’ll find some great example plans and more advice here, here and here.

Just one thing to remember about getting a second person on-board as “the money” – there needs to be a rock solid, yet reasonable contract in place, crafted by a lawyer (expensive, but worth it in the end). As part of their expectation, the funder may ask you to hand over a percentage of ownership in the business and you need to be comfortable with that; if you’re not and want to retain sole ownership, you may need to relook where the money’s coming from. The contract also needs to handle the “what ifs”… like exit strategies for you and/or your partners, loan payback terms, share buyouts, restraints of trade and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

2. Strategise, be confident and over-deliver
You may not need a formal business plan to get your venture going, but you must take a day or two to sit down and figure out a strategy on how you plan to attack every aspect of the business. From setting up an office and filing, to setting your billing cycles, branding your stationery and what you’re going to say to people when they ask you what your business does. You have to know what you do, the services you offer and the value you can add to potential clients’ lives better than anything in the world. That certainty breeds confidence, and if you’re 10 000% sure about what you do and how you do it, people will be more likely to buy into using your company over a competitor.

In learning about your new business you may want to get some “rules” or have systems in place before you start. Like setting yourself the goal of responding to correspondence within 24 hours, especially if you’re making great service one of your key deliverables.

3. Manage that cashflow
All three of our featured entrepreneurs say mismanaging cashflow is the biggest mistake a newbie makes once the money starts coming in. It’s great having all this cash to wave around and it can make a huge difference in your life – but only if you look after it.

Business – especially new business – comes in ebbs and flows, so until you’ve established yourself a solid reputation in the market, you’ve got to be prepared for those quiet times. Immediate cash relief is great: it will get you out of a debt hole quickly, but there will still be overheads to pay to keep that cash cow grazing. Pay all the bills, salaries and taxes relevant to you and your business in time and honestly, and resist the urge to run out and buy the trappings of a luxury lifestyle. How you spend your profit should be strategised, too! Plan for that “rainy day” wisely.

4. Want new business? Go out and get it!
We live in a connection economy, so the more people you know professionally is a massive plus. All our entrepreneurs agree that if you want to generate leads for your new venture or to seal the deal on new business, you’ve got to leave your house – and your comfort zone!

Whether it means cold calling potential clients, or following up recommendations and referrals from friends and family, no-one sells yourself better than you can – especially if you don’t have an advertising budget. Relying on email shots and phone calls is simply not enough – you need to connect, in person, with as many new contacts as you can. The most important thing to remember is that potential new clients only need to know two things: how your product or service is going to add value to, or simplify, their lives and how much it will cost. Know this information by heart, be confident, show genuine interest in them and keep your promises! Follow up regularly, stay top of mind, but abandon needy and creepy.

5. Passion pays off
Above all else, if you’re not passionate about your business, no-one else will be. Doing something you don’t love it just not worth it – and people can pick up on it. It’s easy to become discouraged when things are slow and aren’t going well. And, judging by our entrepreneurs’ comments, this is exactly the time to “fake it till you make it”! But that doesn’t mean hiding your emotions. If you’re having an off day and you can afford to, take a step back from the business, do some things that you enjoy and reconnect with the reasons why you started the venture in the first place. And lean on that support system – brainstorm new offerings, strategies and business leads. Who knows where the ideas may take you.

But if the cycle of bad days outweigh the good ones, our entrepreneurs agree that there comes a time when you have to assess whether continuing the venture is viable or not. It's a hard decision, but there's no shame in closing doors if something's just not working. Finally, be grateful for what you do have and take the time to say “thank you” in a way that suits you best.

And from me, to the universe, thank you for this -- and something better!

18 July 2012

Styli Charalambous: Selling the idea

Styli Charalambous, Daily Maverick
In October 2009, Styli Charalambous and his team of seven launched the Daily Maverick; a digital “newspaper” that provides South Africans with daily news, insights, analysis and opinions. Charalambous’ abandoned a career in investment banking to embrace SA’s growing digital media industry – and it’s paying off!

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
Yes, I spent most of my misguided holidays working for my dad, so I guess I never really had a choice but to get involved in ventures outside of the corporate world.

What were you doing before starting your business?
I trained as a chartered accountant at Deloitte in Johannesburg and then spent about four years in London, wandering the halls of investment banks. But my passion for South Africa and getting involved in start-ups brought me back. Thankfully!

What was your big dream for this venture?
It was really my editor, Branko Brkic’s dream that I got caught up in, but it’s something we’re both passionate about: changing the media landscape in South Africa and influencing the influencers with smart commentary and debate.

How does an entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
Networking. The best leads come from introductions via people you know and trust. A lot of time you get unsolicited rubbish but, being in the media, it’s our job to know as many people as possible, which helps. I read a lot, and am lucky enough to have close friends who are very enterprising and broad thinking, so I bounce a lot of ideas off them and my editor, and I lean on each one for advice and guidance.

How do you figure out what makes you unique from everyone else in the market and how do you leverage that difference?
I don’t think you necessarily have to be unique in every respect. Sometimes, just doing something better, faster, more reliably than anyone else is good enough. I sometimes joke with my mates that in Africa, service is a unique selling point. Budding entrepreneurs think they need to reinvent the wheel to make it happen, but I can guarantee you that in SA, it's harder than you think. I’m pretty sure that if Mark Zuckerberg had started Facebook in South Africa, it would have been tossed on the scrapheap ages ago, or would have had to leave the country to make it work. South Africa is a tough, harsh environment for dreamers who live on the cutting edge, especially when it comes to technology. We’re a conservative nation with poor Internet penetration, so your lead time to meaningful traction is longer than it would be in developed countries, and even some African countries.

How did you come up with your pricing model?
It depends on the product/service and the industry you operate in. In media, and digital media especially, we have this conundrum where people expect everything in a digital format to be free, but it costs us a huge amount to produce. So pricing a digital media offering is tricky and your product has to be of the highest quality if you expect people to pay for it.

What was your most epic fail in the early days and how did you solve it?
Not understanding how the infant digital media industry operates, how small it is compared to traditional media and not dedicating enough resources to sales and marketing.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make in their first three years of business?
I’ve heard many people talk about this massive market (millions of people) and how they only need to capture “just 10%” of that to make gazilllions. Well, I have news, 10% is a massive number and very difficult and expensive to capture. Don’t kid yourself with your projections. The other thing that entrepreneurs fail to do is managing cash flow adequately; there's nothing scarier than having a payroll to sort out, two days to go and a bare bank account.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
Passion. Without passion for what you do, you will break down and succumb to the pressure of being an entrepreneur. The other extreme is irrational passion, when an entrepreneur is flogging a dead horse or doesn’t exit because he is too emotionally attached to his venture. Sometimes you need to take a step back and make some hard, objective decisions.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
It depends on the scale of the venture, the bigger the scale the longer it will take. But if you’re going to leave the comfort of corporate, make sure it’s worth your while. As a rule of thumb, I’d say don’t expect any miracles in the first three years. It’s ok to abandon your dream, but only if you’ve given as much as you possibly could. Sometimes you can be too early (bleeding edge) especially in South Africa, where the timing just isn’t right and you end up hurting yourself and others. It’s the most difficult call to make when you get to that position because you’ve invested so much time and energy into it. You will have learnt so much and grown so much, which is why round two or three is usually where most entrepreneurs make it.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* This is going to be the hardest thing you have ever done, but the most rewarding!
* You will need more money than you think to become profitable.
* You will need more time than you think to become profitable.
* Sales! Sales! Sales! Sales! Everything else is just admin.
* No-one cares about your business as much as you do, so make sure you do everything you can to make things happen.

Get hold of Styli Charalambous at the Daily Maverick via email: styli@thedailymaverick.co.za or visit: http://www.dailymaverick.co.za, check out his LinkedIn profile: Styli Charalambous or follow him on Twitter: @stylichara.

17 July 2012

Kendel Falkson: Keeping it a small business

Kendel Falkson, Blank Page Communications
It was while working in communications with a friend that Kendel Falkson realised she could go into business for herself. She opened Blank Page Communications in 2009 from her home in Johannesburg, with around R6 000 as seed money and the belief that her venture could help her realise her entrepreneurial dreams.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I’ve always wanted to start my own business. As a child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would always say, “The Boss”.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
I didn’t have a business plan per-se, but I made a point of getting all I needed to understand and know about my business down on paper first. I worked through the following steps:
PROCESSES: I asked myself, "What do I want to do and how?" I then wrote a list of steps I needed to follow, from picking up the phone to call a prospective client, to finding answers for things like how I was going to charge for my services, how I’d do the actual work as one person, how my filing system would be set up, if I’d use freelancers, what my tax options were, how I’d find clients, etc. Once I’d done this, I was much clearer on exactly how the business would run.
BRAND IDENTITY: I decided on a company name, then set about getting a logo done and having my stationery made.
HOME OFFICE: I set up my fully-equipped “home office”, sorting out a desk, chair, laptop, printer, files, etc. Once that was complete, I picked up the phone and started…

What was your big dream for this venture?
I don’t want to be a huge corporation. I want life balance. I’m a mom, a wife, a business owner, and I want to do all all three the best I can. I love my work and want to be able to give my clients my best attention, so I want to keep the business small.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
You have to find a newtork of people you can meet with regularly to brainstorm with or bounce ideas off of. It can just be three friends who own their own business; as long as you’re not completely isolated.

How do you figure out what makes you unique from everyone else in your market and how do you leverage that difference?
If you’re passionate and energetic about your business, you will do well. I know that I’m far more likely to work with people who I feel in safe hands with and the only way you become a safe pair of hands is to know your business inside and out and be confident in that.

How did you figure out what to charge for your service/product?
That came from chatting to people in the industry. Even something as simple as calling a business that’s in a similar niche as you are and asking for a “dummy” quote can help you set your prices.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make in their first three years of business?
They spend too much money – it’s great to have lots of money all of a sudden, but that doesn’t mean spend it all at once! Success can also mean forgetting to save for that rainy day or quiet patch – believe me, they come around every now and then.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
This is the hardest thing in business! I normally have a few days of feeling depressed before I realise what is bugging me… then, I usually take a day off and go and do the things that inspire me. I go to the gym and do some boxing – I find I’m very angry when business is bad, so I start my off day getting rid of all my anger and frustrations. Then I go and have a breakfast out, visit shops I like, see a movie, spend time with friends and remind myself why I started this in the first place.

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream?
Sometimes giving up is better than being forced shut!

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 3 wisdoms?
* The wheel always turns – sometimes business is slow and you want to cry, or you lose a client or a big pitch, but the wheel always turns; business goes in ebbs and flows.
* You can never become complacent; that’s when you lose business.
* If you do do something really damaging you need to learn from it. You can’t take it back but you can NEVER do it again. You have to keep learning!

Get in touch with Kendel Falkson from Blank Page Communications via email: kendel@innovise.co.za, on LinkedIn: Kendel Falkson and on Twitter: @kendelfalkson

16 July 2012

Peter Unsworth: Can you spot an opportunity?

Peter Unsworth, The PR Team
Photographer: Anthony Friend
Peter Unsworth has been successfully running his Cape Town-based public relations company, The PR Team, since 1998. He started the business on his own – with zero capital, a land-line and a laptop – out of a spare room in his home. Unsworth wasn’t a born entrepreneur; he just believed that he had the talent to spot an opportunity

What were you doing before starting your business?
I was in charge of a PR and marketing department for a tourism company, and was approached by a client to represent them, as they believed I “sold” their company better than they did. The retainer earned was large enough to more than cover my wages and expenses.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture? Is having a business plan vital?
Very little, to be honest. I was armed with a laptop and a fax machine/printer, and a great deal of drive and the energy of youth! I had no business plan at all, but had an overall idea of how to run a business, which I learnt from watching my parents in their businesses. I guess that it was subliminally engrained in me. I also believe that business today is very different to when my parents started their businesses and when I started The PR Team. I think if you’re looking for funding, a business plan pacifies the bank, but putting your vision down on paper is a solid idea, as it helps to clarify your own goals.

What advice did your parents give you?
I remember two pieces of advice my Mum gave me: “Don’t take a wage for at least six months,” and, “Call me in 10 years, once you’ve established yourself.” And she was absolutely right! My parents took their businesses from start-up to success by doing everything they could themselves and working around the clock their entire careers. They had one day off a year, which was Christmas Day.

What was your big dream for this venture?
There was no big dream at all. I just knew I wanted to offer a great, honest service to clients. My pitch was honesty.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
I’m a great believer that things come to you when they are meant to. For me, one client lead to the next, lead to the next, and this is how it’s been since day one.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique from everyone else in their market and how do they leverage that difference?
Naturally you have to do as much research as possible and see what others are doing, and how you can do it differently. I’d grown up in the hospitality industry and worked in it extensively worldwide, so I knew that not many PR companies had that full-on behind-the-scenes experience of how a hotel, lodge, wine estate actually ran. I believe that gave me an advantage. I could relate to the client’s needs and, from an operations perspective, I could see the feasibility of how the plan would – or wouldn’t – work out realistically for them.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make in their first three years of business?
(a) Spending money before it’s in their account, and (b) going out and buying a brand new, high-end car!

How do you keep yourself motivated to continue?
By reminding myself that there are bills to pay and staff to keep employed.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience? And if it’s not, when do you give up on a dream?
It really depends on the venture, there is nothing set in stone as to a timeframe. I think a wise businessperson knows when to continue and when to throw in the towel. Everything has a shelf-life. I do believe it’s alright to give up on a dream because you may have already lived it and found a new one.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* I wish I’d concentrated more in maths class at school.
* Don’t spend the money before it’s in the bank account. Pay others before you pay yourself – you can never gain your reputation back.
* Only do something you are passionate about – that’s key! If you’re not having fun, don’t do it; life is too short.
* Expect to sacrifice personal time and investment, but under-promise and over-deliver.
* Remain honest and true to each and every client and in every business dealing, and answer communication within 24 hours.

Get in touch with Peter Unsworth from The PR Team via email: enquiries@theprteam.com, visit: http://www.theprteam.com, on Facebook: The PR Team or follow him on Twitter @prteamcapetown.

06 July 2012

Top 10 questions to ask yourself before you start a business

Dr John Demartini
Photo courtesy of The Demartini Institute
I’ve admired Dr John Demartini for a while. He’s an awesome guy with great ideas, some kick-ass wisdom and the knack of asking you the right questions at the right time. And if you ever get the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with him, jump at it! He’ll pull you firmly into line, cut through the crap you tell yourself and motivate you to strap on a rocket-pack and firework into the rockstar-genius you should be.

Yesterday, his name popped into my inbox again. He’d sent a mail that was all about adventuring into entrepreneurship for the first time. Bloody marvellous – the kick in the pants I needed and too good not to share. 

The mail started off by saying: if you want to open a powerful new business, read the 10 questions below. If you can answer “yes” to the majority of them, you’re pretty sure of success. “No” answers to three or more questions mean you need to stop, think and spend some time and ink strategising exactly how you’re going to turn the negatives into positives and enhance your chances of success. 

The bolded questions are all Dr Demartini’s; the italicised sentences below them are the same questions, just worded slightly differently to get you thinking a little more: 

1. Does your business provide a service you value and are inspired to deliver to the world? 
Are you proud of your product/service and excited to tell the world about it? 

2. Do you value yourself, your vision, your employees and your customer's dominant buying motives?
Are you 100% confident in your own skills, your business vision and the people who’re working with/for you? And are you positive you understand what makes your customers tick?

3. Do you provide your services at fees that offer true fair exchange?
Are your prices realistic; delivering real value at a competitive but fair cost?

4. Do you know how to determine your customer's values and what makes them make decisions?
Any idea what’s important to your customers, what their needs are and what makes them choose one thing over another?

5. Have you developed the art of communication in terms of your customer's highest values?
When you’re marketing yourself to your customers, do those messages plug directly into their needs, wants and interests?

6. Are you setting your business goals congruent to your highest values so as to achieve and build momentum?
Do your personal values puzzle-piece together with the goals you’ve set for your business? If they don’t, it may be a road block to progress/moving forward.

7. Is your life and business vision, model and strategy crystal clear?
Have you taken the time to sit down and think through your goals personally and professionally, and then plotted a realistic, time-specific path to achieve them?

8. Do you have a high value on building wealth and accumulating a fortune?
Are you only in it for the money? Will that objective harm or help your business?

9. Do you know your own business strengths and areas or forms of genius?
What makes you unique from everyone else in your niche and how are you ensuring that genius comes through clearly to others when you’re out in the marketplace?

10. Do you know how to govern your distracting emotions on your way to achieving your business dreams?
Are you too easily steered off course by pessimism or other negative emotions, and do you know how to push past them and focus on being a success?

Today I’ll be working on turning the “no” answers I got for questions 6 to 10. The concepts may be obvious to some, but I’ve not actually focussed on them and written anything down. Very unlike me – I love lists, tables, plans, strategies and charts! And if that’s what it’s going to take to focus my little venture with the precision of a ray-gun, then I’m going to do it. There’s a big world out there and taking it over R1 at a time is going to mean some sassy planning.

To the universe: thanks for this – and something better!

Dr John Demartini is a human behaviour specialist, educator, internationally-published author and a sought-after authority on maximising human awareness and potential. For more information on Dr John Demartini and upcoming events contact The Demartini Institute: info@DrDemartini.co.za or +27 11 011 9093. Website: www.DrDemartini.com

04 July 2012

My Independence Day

If you'd have told me two years ago that I'd be sitting at a loaned computer in the spare room of my home, after having lost pretty much everything that "makes me who I am", I'd have tied you up, covered you in syrup and rolled you down a gravel pathway because I'm spiteful like that. But here I am: no job, single and nursing the fragments of an idea that I'd like to lovingly turn into a legacy project that I can be proud of -- and that turns a profit.

I left a job that I loved at the end of May 2012 -- I've been in the consumer magazine industry in South Africa for the last 18 years. It was a rash, instantaneous decision but the absolute perfect one for me: my independence day. So, I've spent the last month setting up a home office and trying to dream up a strategy that I can use to market my skills set and turn them into a viable business that pays the bills and allows me to live a comfortable lifestyle. Which is not as easy as it sounds.

I've limited capital and loads of confidence in my abilities in the print media and digital space; the only challenge is that I have absolutely no working knowledge of being an entrepreneur. And that's where this blog comes into its own. I hope to put my skills as a journalist and writer into play, and interview those amazing local business owners and entrepreneurs who have done all the hard work before me in setting up their companies. The practical, hands-on wisdom they share, I hope, will be worth far more than spending cash I don't have on courses and tutorials that could turn out to be a waste of time. I see it more as knowledge-sharing and paying it forward.

With the economy being in the sad state that it's in, I have three friends who are struggling entrepreneurs, who need to make some very serious decisions in the next few months on whether to abandon their own-business dreams or to seek out gainful (yet very junior) employment. They seem to think I have a magic business 8-ball on my desk that I can consult on their behalf, to give them ideas on how to breathe life into their own ventures. I don't. I don't even know what to do for my own struggling start-up, except trial and error. But that, for me, is not a very positive or proactive point to start from. So I'm going to do what I do best: interrogate the crap out of this "going on my own" lark in the hopes that it helps other people out there who are in a similar situation to turn their business dream into a reality. It'll be done in my own way and I hope you enjoy coming with me on this adventure into entrepreneurship!

And to the universe: thank you for this -- and something better!