20 August 2012

Ian & Lise Manley: Reputation brings clients

Ian and Lise Manley, Manley Communications
Ian Hamilton Manley and his wife Lise both have an established background in the hospitality industry. In 2000, when an opportunity presented itself, they each took a month’s salary cheque as start-up capital and set up Cape-based Manley Communications from the alcove in their kitchen. Their aim: to be the leading boutique agency representing the best brands in the tourism and hospitality business.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I wasn’t brought up in an entrepreneurial home so it’s more a case of learning from experience in business over time.

What were you doing before starting your business?
I worked in management at a number of hotels in Cape Town. My wife Lise was also employed in the hotel industry but was approached in 1999 to head up a new hospitality division at a well-known PR agency. As a newly married couple, we decided that it was a good opportunity to leave the “industry” but still be involved in it and also the luxury of one of us enjoying more stable office hours was attractive. After a year, we realised that there was an opportunity for us to start our own agency and niche ourselves in hospitality representation. Lise took the step first by launching the agency and I followed five months later when we could see stability and growth in our portfolio of clients.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
We had no plan which was quite scary and na├»ve, but perhaps those factors worked in our favour as we launched with a fresh approach to the services that we could offer. We literally started our business in an alcove of our kitchen with a sign above our one computer stating, “THERE IS NO PLAN B”.

What was your start up capital?
Offering brand representation required little initial start up funding. We were fortunate to start the business with key hotel accounts from day one and a month’s salary check in both of our back pockets.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
In our industry, your good name is everything. All our new business has been achieved via word of mouth and networking. We’ve never pitched for business. If you’re at the top of your game, the right people will get to hear about you.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
It often comes down to service delivery, which will set you apart from the rest. If you’re quick and offer a quality service, you’ll find yourself soon pipping your competitors at the post, especially if they’ve slackened over time.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
You’ll need to do your homework on what your competitors are charging and then offer a lesser price with more service delivery. As time goes by, you can then increase your charging structure to match your competitors. Your clients will stay with you if they see value in your offering.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Assuming that a new entrepreneur finds quick success, it’s key to stop your ego taking over and becoming too self-assured. Few clients enjoy a cock-sure dude in a Porsche. And don’t grow too fast. Keep on taking stock and re-grouping before taking the next big step in growing your empire.

How do you keep yourself motivated to continue?
There’s nothing like the wolves at the door to keep you motivated! There simply wasn’t – and still isn’t – a Plan B for us, which has kept us energised through thick and thin.

Did you have a mentor?
We didn’t have a mentor as such, but Stewart Banner who is based at the Vineyard Hotel & Spa was always there to give us sage advice and a psychological boost. A mentor is definitely the ideal scenario as there’s nothing more valuable than tapping into experience.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
We were fortunate in that our business launched quickly. I would say that after three months from launch, one should take stock and see what messaging needs to be refined. By six months, you should be on a roll and, if not, drastic changes need to be made or move on to a new venture.

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream?
I’m a realist, so if the dream is not working out, go seek a new one.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Be selective of the clients/business that you want to align with. It takes a lot of time and energy to change the direction of your business if you haven’t got the formula right from the beginning.
* Don’t grow too fast!
* Keep your finger on the pulse at all times. Don’t employ staff to take over key strategic issues unless you’re certain of their ability.
* Over time, we’ve found that it’s better to outsource key work to freelance professionals than get bogged down with permanent staff who can land up being a liability and “dead wood” to the business.
*Always stay in tune with your clients needs and be at least one step ahead of the game.
* “He who controls the pace, controls the victory!”

To contact Ian and Lise Manley from Manley Communications, email: ian@publicity.co.za, visit: www.manley-communications.com, find him on Facebook, on Twitter: @manleycom and on LinkedIn.

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