03 October 2012

Ann Druce: Is your communications strategy clear & relevant?

Ann Druce, Octarine Communications
Ann Druce started KZN-based Octarine Communincations in April 2001 after the mid-size advertising agency where she was working underwent restructuring. She seized the opportunity to go on her own, and set up a home office with friends’ castoff furniture, a computer and a phone.

Have you always been entrepreneurial?
I started out in corporate marketing but, happily, working in organisations that encouraged entrepreneurial thinking. 

What were you doing before starting your business?
I had begun the process of cutting the apron-strings by moving from corporate to a mid-sized advertising agency. Then when things were tough and the agency restructured, it provided the impetus I needed to go on my own.

What kind of planning went into starting the venture?
I don’t think an elaborate document is essential, but a plan certainly is. However, before I’d even started thinking about writing a business strategy, my start-up plan was instigated by a client when I mentioned I might start an ad agency.  He committed to giving me his business if I started on my own, giving me the freedom to make the decision based on what I wanted to do, rather than a fear that it might be a while before I established a client base.

What was your big dream for this venture?
The good old-fashioned ideal of being a true business partner to my clients – learning their business and making a real strategic contribution: translating their marketing strategy into clear, relevant messages that reach their target markets.

How does a new entrepreneur find business leads and profit from them?
Not every entrepreneur is a born salesman. But we have to use what we have at our disposal – from working our existing networks and developing new ones, to the dreaded cold-calling. I recommend that new entrepreneurs join business groups, scan the employment section in the Sunday papers and see when new decision makers are being appointed, and call them up. And that they ask clients for referrals after every single sale, be it a product or a service.

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what makes them unique and leverage that difference?
Sometimes what makes you unique isn’t unique at all. All margarine is cholesterol-free, but Flora made this their point of difference, while others were talking about taste. So decide what your niche is and make your unique claim. Evaluating your target market and what they might need is a good place to start. What are their key stressors? Can you address that? What are the frustrations that people think they have to live with? Can you change that? Is it your hours of service? Is it a standard call-out fee? Is it a guarantee that is credible?

How does a new entrepreneur figure out what to charge for their service/product?
Pricing should reflect your value. Don’t assume that being the cheapest will get you more business – you might just look suspiciously cheap. Establish what your costs are and evaluate your competitors’ pricing, and take a view on what your market can stand. Then decide where you want to position your offering relative to these factors. You may want to be viewed as a luxury item, or you may want to be seen as accessible to all. You may need volumes for production economies of scale or you may prefer to limit volumes and earn a greater profit per item.

What was your most epic fail in the early days?
I was away and relied on a colleague to proofread an ad before it went to print. There was a typo in the headline. Bad enough for any client, but particularly so when the client is a university and it looks like they can’t spell! I discovered it too late to stop it going to print and there was nothing I could do. I phoned the client and told them before they found out elsewhere. Abject apologies and loads of humble-pie – and a relationship of trust and respect – got me past this.

What are the two biggest/most common mistakes that new entrepreneurs make?
Spending money they don’t yet have and focusing on an image of success instead of the work they produce.

How do you keep yourself motivated?
Get dressed and go to work. If you aren’t busy producing work for paying clients, you should be developing your marketing.

Do you have a mentor?
I never really had a mentor, but the single best piece of advice I was given was: When you don’t know where to start, just start. It’s funny how that questions that you need to ask and the research you need do become evident as you begin to structure your project.

How long does it take for a venture to get off the ground, in your experience?
I’m sure this varies by environment. In an area like advertising and graphic design, you are asking a client to trust you with his company image and reputation as well as his money, so it can take a lot longer to build a business than if you are selling low-price, low risk products, where if your product doesn’t live up to expectations they simply don’t have to re-order. You need to build a suitable time-frame into your plan.

What’s your life motto?
Life is too short to do a job you don’t love. 

If you could give yourself any advice back then, what are your top 5 wisdoms?
* Apologise when you mess up. And you will! Don’t make excuses.
* Don’t work with clients you don’t respect.
* Don’t work with clients who don’t respect you.
* Know where the money is.
* Don’t be embarrassed to chase clients who owe you money – they’re the ones who should be embarrassed.

Get in touch with Ann Druce from Octarine Communications via: www.octarine.co.za, on LinkedIn and on Twitter: @AnnDruce

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