|Kate Emmerson, The Quick Shift Deva |
Photographer: Piet Filmalter
Have you always been entrepreneurial?
Yes, since I left varsity. I was in my first family business at 25 – I’d even bought jewellery in Bali in order to come home and have money to live off of until I could afford to go on my next travels. My dad was an entrepreneur, so it may be in my blood. I have only ever worked for three months in what I would call a “job” in the recruitment industry before I left to start my aromatherapy/reflexology business.
What were you doing before starting your business?
Before I started my life coaching business, I’d been involved in an outside catering company with my partner at the time. But there was an ever-increasing sense of inevitability pushing me to get back into personal development.
What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
I had to do a simple business plan as part of my coaching training in the UK, but I was not stressed about starting this business as I was planning to pick up all my existing clientele from my aromatherapy/reflexology days in Durban. Little did I know I’d land up in Johannesburg, knowing only four people and having to start from scratch again.
What was your start up capital?
I went to France – Provence, specifically – to executive chef for two months and earned the most money I’d ever earned up to that point. That money paid for my course in the UK, as well as my seed capital – if you can call it that. Ten years ago I came back to SA as one of the first professional coaches, armed with R35 000. I bought a VW Beetle and used the rest to set up and live.
What was your big dream for this venture?
At the time my coaching aimed to “support women on the threshold of making courageous leaps” but I grew out of it – I still love the catchphrase.
How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
For me, it was making real connection with people – going to places where I knew I would find the kind of clients I wanted. While I was getting my business started, I also had a “Goddess Gathering” in Joburg and just networked my butt off to bring like-minded people together. Business for me is about people and connecting, nothing more. Then you back it up with your product or service, not the other way around.
How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
By being authentic, honest and knowing what makes you smile. I believe in being who you are, following your passion and the words: “build it and they will come” especially as a small entrepreneur offering a service.
How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
This is the hardest one as it is related to the market, but also very related to your self-worth. I laugh now when I remember how little I charged when I started. And as my confidence/expertise and experience grew, so too did my prices. I also believe it is better to price myself in the top third of the going rate, never below, as there is perceived value from buyers. When I hear of coaches/organisers charging little, I think they are obviously no good if that is how little they value themselves.
What was your most epic fail in the early days?
It came about seven years after I started – I got into way, way, way too much debt with my partner, during a time of economic recession in SA. I was depressed and cried every day for at least a year until I acknowledged my shame, told my family and made a drastic move back to Joburg. I lived in a room in my brother’s home for seven months, with nothing more than my clothes and my car. I worked 90 hours a week for just R11 000 a month in the restaurant/night club industry while still coaching on the side. I had to put my flat into bank rehab, sell my Harley, lose my partner and four animals – but I got me and my life back. I still have the residue of this debt that I am paying off, but it is all manageable now, even if sometimes challenging as an entrepreneur.
What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Take on too much debt, grow too fast, spend too much money on marketing rather than letting the business grow organically. Also not being able to say no can get new businesses into trouble – walking away from business feels like failure, but you have to say no to some in order to say yes to something even better!
How do you keep yourself motivated?
By constantly re-looking what I have written as my authentic goals, which I know I want more than anything, listening to my spirit, walking or doing yoga. And of course a glass of wine helps!
Did you have a mentor?
My mentors have been people I’ve not met – Jack Canfield, Sir Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey. All clichéd but they think big, live large and show courage – that’s what I need to play bigger and bigger all the time. I have an author friend who has written 10 books, who is my publishing mentor now, and I have committed to writing my first book. I’ve also just been given the green light by a local publisher.
How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
It takes a minimum of six months, depending on your capital outlay. It is vital to keep tweaking. I personally get bored so always have to keep moving forward in my offering for me to stay inspired and to keep re-inventing how I offer services to clients. Sometimes it is about learning the lessons, or adding to your skill set, or learning to ask for the right help rather than giving up.
If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Don’t get into any debt.
* Do joint ventures from early on but be careful who you partner with.
* Always trust your gut even if it means walking away from a deal (I do that all the time).
* Get a solid financial base before taking the next step.
* Ask the right people for help.