08 August 2012

Terri Brown: Get your brave on!

Terri Brown, Actuate
In 2002 and with zero capital, Terri Brown started Actuate, an internal marketing and communications agency that offers clients bespoke strategies to align their employees with their brand. She had three staff members and a few clients waiting for her to go it alone. Today, Actuate has won numerous industry awards and has some of South Africa’s biggest corporates as clients.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?I've always been very independent and I think that's part of being entrepreneurial – wanting to do it yourself.

What were you doing before starting your business?I was studying, and very briefly worked for a small marketing consultancy. The decision to start my own thing wasn’t a planned or considered one – it just happened in response to an opportunity that presented itself. One month I was a paid employee, the next I was paying employees.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
I didn’t have a plan; I just sort of stumbled along for the first year or two. I think those years were great learning years because a business plan can be a very hypothetical. Getting a few years experience allowed me to understand the realities of running a business and plan from there.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
Word of mouth – look after your clients very, very well. They’ll give you repeat business and send new business your way.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
You have to know what everyone else is doing so that you’re aware of the gaps. You have to know what your clients want to know if the solution is viable and you have to know what you can do very well – better than the next guy.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
Look at what it costs you to create or supply, and then add a reasonable margin. The offer must be sustainable – from a business perspective, a market perspective and a resource perspective. If any of these things are out of balance, the model isn’t sustainable.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Risking money they don’t have; rather grow slowly through self-funding. Taking on too much work and compromising on quality.

How do you keep yourself motivated to continue?
Put on your big girl pants and suck it up! You’ll go through shit times – everyone does – you just have to brave on.

Do you have a mentor?
I do. He told me it’s good to be a little bit scared. If you’re not a little fearful you’re complacent.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
I think it’s different for every business, and every business needs to constantly tweak their offering – otherwise you’ll lose relevance and become outdated. But if you’ve done EVERYTHING and it’s still not working maybe it’s worth moving onto new challenges.

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream?
It’s alright to give up on a dream, but not dreaming. If it’s making you miserable and it’s not worth it, give up and find a new dream.

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* A lot of your problems will take care of themselves.
* It’s never as bad (or as good) as it seems.
* Work hard to keep good people.
* If you have a bad feeling about something walk away.
* If the worst thing imaginable happens – you’ll get through.

Get in touch with Terri Brown from Actuate via email: terri@actuate.co.za, visit: www.actuate.co.za or on LinkedIn.

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