25 September 2012

Michael Gullan: Don't underestimate good PR

Michael Gullan, Gullan&Gullan Advertising
In 2004, Michael Gullan made the leap into entrepreneurship by starting his own advertising agency, Gullan&Gullan Advertising (Pty) Ltd with a business partner. Their start-up capital was R100 000 and the pair were based out of Seattle Coffee Shop in Hyde Park Corner Shopping Centre in Johannesburg until they won their first client – Vespa – who they still have as a client today.

Have you always been entrepreneurial or is it something that’s grown over time?
My father is a successful entrepreneur and one of his ventures was an advertising and public relations company. As a child, I used to spend time playing in the studio of his agency. I knew then that I wanted to own my own agency

What kind of planning went into starting your venture?
When we started our agency we had no formal business plan. We formalised things a few years into the business. We started with a clear vision and mission of the kind of clients and work we wanted to attract and then went out and found it. That said, for a business-to-business service industry, I can’t see how too much of a technical business plan is relevant or helpful to charting the way forward. What is important is understanding your core offering and point of difference, positioning against competitors and mapping out your financial goals, and then making sure they are met. 

What was your big dream for your venture? 
We originally started the business as Guerrilla Marketing and our niche was to offer clients smart guerrilla marketing tactics and strikes that would have a maximum impact with tighter budgets. This positioning was limiting in that the bigger corporate brands were not interested in guerrilla tactics and so we struggled to make inroads for our full services agency. This is when we made the decision to rebrand Guerrilla Marketing as Gullan&Gullan and developed our proprietary brand-centricTM methodology. 

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them? 
Identify sectors that you have some background experience in, as you will be able to add value and have an intelligent conversation when pitching your services. Target these sectors first by calling key decision-makers. Be sure you have smart and good quality supporting sales and marketing brochures, emails, business cards and website in place so you can communicate with them from multiple angles. What I always recommend is PR; there is nothing more effective for brands and businesses than some good ink, even more so than traditional awareness marketing. It comes with the journalist and media endorsement, and has much more gravitas. 

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique from everyone else and leverage that difference? 
A SWOT analysis would be the obvious answer. But for a start up it’s prudent and important to know what you’re good at and amplify that. Be sure to interrogate your competitors and focus on being strong where they are weak. Also, without sounding too idealist – if you can do what you enjoy and are passionate about, you’re more likely to excel at it. 

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product? 
Pricing your product or service is one of the most important considerations. You need to research understand what your main competitors are doing. And have a clear set of objectives. Do you want to drive volume? If yes, then you should be priced competitively. Do you want a quality positioning? Then you should be charging a slight premium. Are you providing a luxury service; then you should be charging substantially more. Remember the general rule of thumb: The more expensive the more you have to invest in marketing.

What was your most epic fail in the early days? 
Positioning ourselves as a guerrilla marketing agency for clients with small budgets – our own growth potential was limited. The rebranding to Gullan&Gullan was the best solution, we moved offices, rebranded, developed our brand-centricTM methodology and got a bunch of PR and we never looked back. 

What are the two most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make in their first three years of business?
Choosing the wrong business partners out of financial necessity – it is so difficult to get out of an ailing business partnership so rather don’t have partners or go, instead, into a partnership where the skills are complementary. Hiring cheap staff is also fraught – pay peanuts and get monkeys – so be prepared to pay the price for experience and expertise in key-areas of your business. 

How do you keep yourself motivated? 
I am a member of the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) and can always pick up the phone to any one of my fellow members and ask for advice or just a coffee to download some of my frustrations in a safe space. 

Do you have a mentor? 
A mentor is one of the most important assets an entrepreneur can have. I have my father who has successfully built a number of businesses, but he travels for half the year so is not always accessible day to day. Mostly, I draw on his grace, wisdom and in challenging times think, “What would my dad do?” My partner, Desiree, is also a mentor and helps me see and understand things from a viewpoint I don’t always see. 

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground? 
In my experience there are no overnight successes. Even when you hear about a business that became an instant success, I can guarantee that there was at least five to 10 years of history of plugging away. So give yourself at least three years to turn a small profit and at least five to 10 years to achieve your success goals. You should always be looking at ways to improve your offering. People, behaviours and business changes too rapidly for any company to stagnate. The old adage “adapt or die” is too true! 

Is it ever alright to give up on a dream? 
Yes, when your dream becomes a nightmare, you need to wake up and smell the coffee. Then take a deep, honest look within and if need be let go of your dream and cut your losses quickly. Then take the time to learn from your mistakes and apply your learnings to your next dream. 

What’s your life motto? 
Family first. Everything else second. So whatever decision I make, I ask “Is this to the benefit of my family now and in the future?” 

Which three character traits do all entrepreneurs possess? 
A healthy appetite to take risks. The ability to function on little sleep. Being ok with making mistakes. 

If you could give yourself any advice when starting out, what would your top 5 wisdoms be? 
* Hire people smarter than you. 
* Be sure you have enough start-up capital. 
* Be clear about your positioning in the market. 
* Set realistic goals, write them down and have an action plan to achieve them. 
* Embrace change. Business is dynamic and the ability to adapt and change with the business is key to success. 

Get in touch with Michael Gullan from Gullan&Gullan via email: michael@gullanandgullan.com, visit: www.gullanandgullan.com, find him on Facebook and on LinkedIn

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