Why South African Talent-preneurs Die Poor

Why South African Talent-preneurs Die Poor


So please explain this to me:

Freddie Mercury died at the age of 45. He was worth an estimated $100mln.

The legendary Mahlathini – who in my view was a talent equal to that of Freddie Mercury – died at the age of 61. There are no reliable sources of information for his net worth, but it is common cause that it was not much.

South Africans are as talented as anyone else is from any nation in my view. So why then do our artists die poor?

  • Are they lazy?
  • Are the financially illiterate?
  • Are they too dependent on someone else to make a living?
  • Alternatively, do they just have a fresh batch of bad luck?

I have pondered on this question, and here are my three reasons why South African artists seldom escape the poverty trap:

You are a businessman

South African artists need to understand that they are not just artists or creative beings. They are talent-preneurs. They make their living through their talents. They must concern themselves with all aspects of their business, sales, marketing, logistics and even financials.

Numbers are not only for accountants

Getting well versed with the numbers of your business and knowing the difference between mark-up & gross margin, net cash & accounts receivables or payment terms & working capital are not boring concepts only for the accountant.

They are logical pieces of information that tell you how much you are creating, if at all.

Marriage is for lovers, not professional colleagues.

No one was born and bred to ensure that you are successful. No, one! You do that for yourself. I have seen countless talent-preneurs (singers, actors, idols judges, dancers and even speakers) sign away their business to someone else. They sign with an agent who earns 25% of their money (off the top) for facilitating a transaction.

Therefore, for merely picking up the phone, taking a booking, sending a contract and getting the often non-complex logistics in order, talent-preneurs will pay 25c of every rand they earn to someone else. That is ridiculous. Imagine Standard Bank giving away 25% of everything they earn to someone else.

Often these agencies expect the talent to sign an ‘exclusivity agreement’ with them but they never sign ‘exclusivity’ with the talent, which means they represent as many artists as they wish & have no vested interest any particular artist being successful.

A TV show does not a brand make

Many talent-preneurs need to understand that personal branding is not marketing.

Just because you are on TV, radio or any other media does not mean you have a ‘compelling value proposition’ that customers can only access through you. This is often why for many of our talent-preneurs, radio or TV is a necessity. Without it, they cannot make a real living.

So why is Jay-Z amongst the best selling hip-hop artists in the world & unlike LL Cool J and the like, he does not know nor have he ever had a TV show? Why did Michael Jackson set world record music sales even though he did not have a reality TV show on Bravo?

Why did Lebo Mathosa leave an incredible trail of commercial success as an artist even though she did not have a show on Vuzu?

The answer is easy: Each of these talent-preneurs were so well versed in their trade and I would argue understood the levers upon which their commercial success rested that they didn’t need the platform. They ran their business like a business. They were in charge. They took their own bookings or managed the office the does. They built an extraordinary brand around consumer experience. That is why Afro-Jack has his plane, and tour bus and booking agency.

They run it like a business.

Recommendations to our talent-preneurs:

  1. Tear the exclusivity agreement. It is your life, your business. Take ownership and drive it.
  2. Know your numbers. Know how many inquiries you are getting, from whom, for what. If they do not book, you ask them why. That is how you gather market intelligence. Is someone else hotter at that time, better, more affordable? The list is endless. The trick is to find out.
  3. Invest in your brand beyond an acting role, a radio show or TV presenter gig. Actually, market yourself.
Vusi Thembekwayo
Mr. Vusi Thembekwayo has been an Independent Non-Executive Director of at RBA Holdings Ltd. since May 14, 2013. Mr. Thembekwayo has already collected numerous accolades and awards as businessperson, entrepreneur and international public speaker. Mr. Thembekwayo completed a PDBA and a course on advanced valuation techniques with the Gordon Institute of Business Science and completed a Management Acceleration Programme (Cum Laude) with the Wits Business School. His speaking achievements include the international hit talk “The Black Sheep” which he delivered to the Top 40 CEOs in Southern Africa, addressing the Australian Houses of Parliament and speaking at the British House of Commons. To add to this, Vusi speaks in 4 of the 7 continents over 350 000 people each year.
  • Hi Vusi, crowdfunding through platforms like Thundafund.com is a viable way for talent-preneurs to take the edge off their financial woes in South Africa, as well as increasing their profile in their target market.

  • Dave Reynolds

    hola Vusi. thanks for posting this, it’s an important conversation – in fact one of THE most important conversations. the reason why? let’s consider and african brand of car – will it compete with the german and japanese cars on our road ? it’s possible but unlikely. they are well established and very few could take them on. any other local manufacturing that we consider is at risk of being swallowed by the chinese, but the arts are unique. a south african story, like tsotsi, or a live performance is something no one can take and do better or cheaper. do it well and it can make a lot of money for the owner but also many other subsidiaries.

    this article is thought provoking which is great, but, i must say, it’s not totally well-researched or presented. did freddy mercury own the rights to his work, or did he sign them away ? was michael jackson a numbers man – did he get a kick out of saying 19 x 7 is 133 as a kid, or did he just leave the numbers to someone else ? did sting’s accountant steal millions from him (without him noticing), or was he looking over his accountant’s shoulder ? if simon mahlathini had insisted on owning the rights to his recorded work, would he have had any recorded work when he died ? did lebo mathosa run her business like a business or did graeme do it for her ? what percentage did graeme take ? did lebo make an album, which, like “dark side of the moon” is still selling many moons later, or did she just drive a fancy car to the interviews with business magazines and exude the image of commercial success without having a long tail like freddy mercury and michael jackson ?

    i’m trying to inspire you to do some research, vusi ! theory is easy for educated people, and it has it’s place, but you ask real questions, and i think you could find real answers too.

    i think a good way to talk about talent-preneurs in 2014 is to talk to artists that are doing it now. the world’s changed so much in the last 4 years that maybe everything prior to 2010 doesn’t count.

    don’t get me wrong. i agree with the three points made, but i find them kinda obvious.