- Players: Judd and Claudia Sherrin
- Company: Innovative Marketing
- Launched: 2015
- Visit: innovativemarketing.co.za
When husband and wife team Judd and Claudia Sherrin moved from Joburg to the South Coast, their plan was to maintain their full time jobs and work remotely. They were both working for a media house in Joburg, with Claudia involved in the editorial, design and eventing side, and Judd running advertising sales. Instead, the move launched them into entrepreneurship. Here’s how they capitalised on a niche, and what you can learn from their start-up journey.
1Find a niche
The most successful start-ups solve a problem. It’s entrepreneurship 101. If there’s a problem that you need a solution to (and would pay for), chances are there are others like you looking for that same solution. It’s a simple yet elegant way to develop a business idea. For Claudia and Judd, it became apparent that South Coast-based businesses did not have a strong online presence.
“It was 2015. The way I primarily found advertising leads in Joburg was through Google and business directory searches. That wasn’t working in KZN. The businesses I was looking for existed, but they had no online presence,” says Judd.
There was definitely a gap in the market, and Judd and Claudia knew they had the skills to fill it. They understood marketing, the digital space and content and eventing. They started putting a business plan together.
2Create a runway and bootstrap the business
Judd resigned from his position, but Claudia maintained her full-time position for another year. This gave the couple the runway they needed to launch their business without worrying about bills needing to be paid.
It’s always tough to maintain a full-time job and launch a business, but if you have a goal in mind, and use your funds wisely, it’s an excellent way to bootstrap your business. It also means that any funds generated early can be reinvested into the company, instead of being used to pay personal bills.
One year into the business, Judd and Claudia’s first client invested in their business and became a silent partner. The cash injection allowed them to accelerate their growth, but they wouldn’t have attracted an investment partner if they weren’t already operational and proving their business model.
Bootstrapping your business is the best way to do that, because you’re in the market, finessing and tweaking your model.
3Create a compelling value proposition
“The incredible thing about digital is that you can track it,” says Claudia. “This means we have the data to prove any claims we make about digital marketing and the online space.”
The trick is to use that data. “People respond to data,” agrees Judd. “We don’t go into a meeting without firm numbers to prove our case. We show return on investment, how traffic is generated, who is viewing and responding to digital marketing, geographical locations and demographics.”
This information doesn’t just prove Judd and Claudia’s sales case, it’s critical to fine-tuning campaigns once they are launched, ensuring more successful marketing spend.
4Educate your market
“We recognised there was a gap in the market,” says Judd. “This meant they either didn’t understand why they needed to be online, or they were fearful of change. Either way, before we could sell our services, we’ve needed to educate the market on why having an online presence is so critical in today’s competitive business environment.”
“You can’t sell your service if your market doesn’t buy in to what you do,” agrees Claudia, “so that was our first challenge. We needed to break the online world and digital marketing down into their base elements.
“You can’t expect a business owner to invest in your services if they don’t believe you can help them, which means before you can pitch your business, you need to lay the foundations of why your industry is such an important marketing and business tool, and how it will benefit your client.”
“Change is fearful,” adds Judd. “The more you educate, the more people understand the benefits of what you’re offering, and the less they fear doing something new.”
There is always the danger that a competitor swoops in with a sales pitch after you’ve put in the ground work, but it’s a risk worth taking. Without an educated market you won’t make meaningful sales anyway.
Position yourself as an expert in your field
As market educators, Claudia and Judd are also setting themselves up as the local experts in the field. They’ve even taken on pro bono work to cement this position.
“We work closely with the South Coast Tourism Board. This gives us credibility with local businesses, particularly as most of our clients are in the hospitality industry,” says Claudia. “The pro bono work allows us to build up our stock profile, generate original content, and network at their events. Our work with South Coast Tourism provides a case study to prove what we can do with a client whose referrals the local community trusts. It’s a win-win relationship.”
Referrals have worked well. “Our silent partner is a respected business owner in this community, and so his word and what we achieved for him carried a lot of weight,” says Judd.
“While you’re educating your clients, make sure you’re listening to them as well,” adds Claudia. “Telling people what they should be thinking is a poor strategy. Educate your market, but listen to their needs and concerns, and tweak your offering accordingly. You need to work together, and all business plans should constantly evolve to suit market needs.”
5Have a growth plan
Judd and Claudia might have started a niche regional agency, but their growth path is focused on a national footprint. “We already have clients in Joburg and Pretoria,” says Judd.
“Our first goal was to assist our local market. By driving tourism we’re also helping to grow our local economy. All businesses belong to the same ecosystem, and we’re very conscious of this fact.”
Working at a local level provided a platform and experience to target other markets. “Our focus now is to build an online business that can cater to international markets,” explains Claudia.