02 August 2012

Regine le Roux: Partnerships and accountability

Regine le Roux, Reputation Matters

For Regine le Roux, 2005 was a turning point in her career – she turned her apartment living room into an office and started Reputation Matters, one of South Africa’s first reputation management consultancies. Her business provides strategic business insight centred around the communication to stakeholders that has a positive impact on the overall reputation of an organisation.   

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
From a young age I was always thinking of ways to make extra pocket money and the entrepreneurial spirit has definitely grown more over time.

What were you doing before starting your business?
I did my MCOM in Communication Management, specialising in reputation management at the University of Pretoria. To get my foot in the “working world” door, I joined a management consulting firm as a research analyst. This was an interesting time and I learnt a lot, but statistics was not my career of choice; I wanted to get more involved with something a lot more creative, which was more in line with what I studied such as communication management, public relations (PR) or event management projects, so I joined a promotions agency. But, during my time at the agency, I realised that there weren’t many companies that managed reputations, so I grabbed the opportunity!

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
A lot of people do their jobs extremely well and then think that they can start their own business with their expert skills. This is true to some extent and I also fell into this trap, but when starting a business you need to realise that you’re going to have to manage a business, not a job. I personally never wrote a formal business plan, but I had a very clear idea in my head of what I wanted the business to look like and how it should function. I worked with many lists of absolutely everything that I could think of that my ideal business needed, and then systematically started to tick things off. I think a business provides guidance to get you started, if you’ve no idea where to start, but I don’t think it is essential.

Where did your start up capital come from and what was your vision?
When I decided that Reputation Matters would be my future, I played open cards with my employer who was incredibly understanding and supportive, and allowed me to continue working on a half-day basis to supplement my income. I didn’t want my company to be seen as “just another PR agency”. Often, when people think of PR agencies, “gin and tonic girls” or “bunnies and balloons” spring to mind, so it was important for me to position the business as being so much more than just PR and event management.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
Networking, networking, networking! It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you need to speak to people and let them know what you have to offer and, most importantly, make them want what you have to offer.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique from everyone else in their market and how do they leverage that difference?
You get to a point when you realise that you’re an expert in your specific field and you start wondering why you’re working for someone else when you could be working for yourself. From an entrepreneurial point of view, it’s important to make the distinction between realising that you’ll be running a business opposed to just doing the expert job that you do so well on a daily basis. Running your own business is totally different. Once you know this, your communication and marketing strategy will play a key role in getting messages out there that will leverage you in the market.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
Firstly, find out the market value of similar products and services; this will provide a base to work from. For many years I used the “gut-feel” approach, which is definitely not recommended. I’ve never liked accounting, but an important lesson that I’ve learnt is to make sure that I understand my monthly financial statements, and to plan accordingly when it comes to expenses versus income.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
I don’t like to see it as an “epic fail” per se, but there were many challenges thrown my way which taught me two very valuable lessons: SARS needs to be paid, full-stop. They are supportive of small businesses, but ultimately still need the monies owed to be paid, with interest. And beware of partnerships – it may seem great to have someone to share growing pains with when starting a business, but be very careful of who embarks on the voyage with you. Make sure that you have a formally drawn-up contract right from the start outlining everyone’s responsibilities, shares, contributions etc. It doesn’t matter how much you trust each other, there are no guarantees, and you don’t want to be caught out.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
I think the first three years are definitely some of the most challenging you’ll face. If business isn’t picking up, it may also be worth investing in a business coach who is able to provide insight and be a sounding board to see how best an offering can be tweaked.

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream?
If, for whatever reason, your business is not working out, don’t see it as giving up, perhaps it just means that you’re not ready for that specific area in your life yet. Gain some more experience, learn a few more lessons and then re-try later. Don’t give up on something that you believe in.

What’s your life motto?
I have two: “Plan for the future, but live and experience the now, as it’s all we have”, and “Always tell the truth; you can’t remember a lie”.

Do you believe in internships for your business?
Yes, internship is great – it gives the candidate an opportunity to experience the world of communication management so they can see whether it’s a profession that they’d like to pursue further or not. If someone would like to intern at Reputation Mattes, they can send me an email motivating why they should be considered to: info@reputationmatters.co.za.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Always pay SARS on time!
* Be very careful who you go into partnership with.
* Quality – and not the quantity – of employees is very important.
* Accountants are vital; select them with care.
* Invest in experts, e.g. labour management firms have years of HR knowledge, same goes for accountants; leverage on this expertise.

Get in touch with Regine le Roux from Reputation Matters via email: regine@reputationmatters.co.za, visit: http://www.reputationmatters.co.za, on Facebook, on Twitter: @reputationiskey and on LinkedIn.

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