26 September 2012

Emma Dunk: Networking is key to growth

Emma Dunk, EM-Between Communications
Emma Dunk from KwaZulu-Natal started EM-Between Communications, a public relations consultancy in June 2003 after deciding that a life back in the corporate world wasn’t as fulfilling as being a new mum. So she seized the opportunity and hasn’t looked back!

What were you doing before starting your business?
I worked in a corporate PR firm and then moved across to the advertising agency world. I worked at two different agencies as an account executive. The pressure and fast pace took a serious strain on my health and, as a result, I took longer to fall pregnant than I’d expected. Almost two years later my husband and I were blessed with a healthy baby boy (Ethan) and my whole world changed. I knew then that I didn’t want to go back to the corporate world and thought “If not now, when will I ever start my own business?” My passion always remained in PR, so the decision to move solely into this field was easy.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
There wasn’t too much “heavy” planning involved to be completely honest. I brainstormed a business name and settled on EM-Between Communications (for obvious reasons J), had my company name registered and then got a friend who was a graphic designer to design my logo.

What was your start up capital and where did you work from?
I converted my study at home into a small office, bought a computer, printer, fax machine, new office furniture, office stationery etc. Paid my graphic designer friend a whopping R250 for my logo and had a basic website developed. Total set up costs where just over R10 000, which I borrowed from my folks and repaid them within my first year in business.

What was your big dream for this venture?
One of my USP’s (Unique Selling Propositions) was the fact that I was a small consultancy and was therefore able to provide my clients with personal attention – they wouldn’t be palmed off to a junior account executive (AE) who didn’t know how to handle their account. Another big attraction for clients was the fact that I would build relationships on their behalf with key media and get them free below-the-line coverage. Working with someone on a retainer basis is also appealing to clients, as they don’t have the pressure of having to employ a permanent person and set them up with an office, furniture, equipment etc. It’s a far more cost effective option with not as many strings attached!

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
I found networking key to the growth of my business. I joined up with a few networking groups and made sure I met with as many new people as possible – having one-on-one coffee appointments with people so that we could get to know each other and I’d have the opportunity to explain what I do. After all, people only do business with people they know, trust and respect. Ask for testimonials from existing clients and use them! I was pleasantly surprised at how willing my clients were to oblige. Testimonials are your biggest and most powerful form of advertising, especially in a service-related field!

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
Listen to what the market is saying: what problem are they experiencing and how can you help or fix it – make yourself the solution. In my case, I kept contact with a few of the clients from the advertising agency I had left and noticed a common thread when chatting with them – they all complained that they weren’t receiving the attention that they felt they deserved, as they had been pushed from junior AE to junior AE. They also wanted help in getting more free coverage and more below-the-line space in conjunction with their advertising as budgets were getting tighter and tighter.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
I phoned around, Googled and spoke with other contacts in the industry to conduct research in terms of fee structures and billing options, and then positioned myself slap-bang in the middle – not too expensive and not cheap!

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
I had an idea of what I wanted my company logo to look like and got my graphic designer friend to do a few options of it for me to show to friends and family for their opinions. In a nutshell I wanted EM to be placed in the middle of the word communications – I figured this would be quite clever and would literally show EM in-between the word communications. Long story short… this was an epic fail and nobody else got it at all – if anything, they were all completely baffled! I quickly swallowed my pride and had my graphic designer buddy get stuck in to doing what she does best!

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
I think they often fall into the trap of saying yes to any and all business that comes their way instead of being selective with the types of clients they know they should be working with. Another mistake I think most new entrepreneurs make is under-valuing their time – or cutting their price just to get the work … big mistake!

How do you keep yourself motivated to continue?
I have a gratitude journal that I try to write in as often as I can … I always go back to it if I’m feeling low and page through it… within no time I am feeling less sorry for myself and ready to carry on moving forward!

Did you have a mentor?
I didn’t have one mentor in particular, but rather surrounded myself with a core group of other women in business who were always a phone call or email away with help, advice and reassurance!

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
I started off small with only one retainer client and slowly grew from there. It took me eight months before I managed to secure my second retainer client. Rather than shut shop if things aren’t picking up, I say tweak your offering.

Do you believe in internships for your business?
Yes, I have already had three students spend time with me – generally for a few days/week at a time. If readers want to intern, it’s a simple process: email me: emma@embetween.co.za  

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Ask for help! You will be amazed at how many people are willing to give you advice freely!
* Stick to your knitting: stick to what you are good at and outsource what you battle with.
* Get a good accountant if, like me, accounting isn’t your thing.
* Learn to say no when you need to… and be okay with it.
* Get networking!

Get in touch with Emma Dunk from EM-Between Communications via email: emma@embetween.co.za, visit: www.embetween.co.za, find her on Facebook, Twitter: @Embetween and on LinkedIn

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