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.

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