How Tebogo Ditshego Transformed a Failing Business and Tripled his Revenue

How Tebogo Ditshego Transformed a Failing Business and Tripled his Revenue

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Vital Stats:

  • Company: Ditshego Media
  • Player: Tebogo Ditshego
  • Est:  2011
  • Contact:  www.ditshegomedia.co.za
  • Growth:  300% in two years

Recognised by business magazine, Forbes, as one of the top 30 African entrepreneurs under 30 for 2014, Tebogo Ditshego is making an impact in public relations and education, and is being recognised as a young business owner who is helping to transform South Africa.

But Ditshego had to learn the hard way that being impatient to explore new business possibilities can also have disastrous consequences. After a false start, he overhauled his business strategy and succeeded in growing his company’s revenue by a remarkable 300%.

Related: 10 Secrets to Take Your Startup From Barely Surviving to Thriving

29 year-old public relations maverick Tebogo Ditshego is the founder of Ditshego Media, a PR company specialising in media relations, corporate communications, social media management and advertisement placing. He is also the chairman of the South African Reading Foundation. We asked him how he quickly went from failure to internationally recognised entrepreneur.

How did you go about developing your brand as a young entrepreneur?

The building of the company is intrinsically linked to the development of my personal brand. My father, Sam Ditshego, is a prolific writer. We were in exile with him until 1995, when we returned to South Africa. My early interest in writing and reading came from him.

While I was studying I started to write for national media to get my name out there as quickly as possible so that I could start developing my brand. It helped that the Ditshego name was well known because of my father. From 2007 my articles appeared regularly in Business Day, The Sowetan, City Press and The Star.

 

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I always went against the grain, going into the townships and looking for stories about things that directly impact people’s lives, like the relationship between education, unemployment and crime, for instance. As my brand was growing, I was also learning about what editors wanted.

How did this early experience benefit you?

My writing improved, and I learnt a lot about angles for good stories. I became a social commentator and my credibility grew.

That made it easy for me to find my first job. I did an internship at the office of the MEC for community safety in 2008 and then I joined a PR agency to learn the ropes. I spent about two years there before launching my own business.

That experience was invaluable, and I would strongly recommend learning as much about your industry as possible before going solo.

You launched a company and failed. Why?

I had the skills to do the work, but I could not run a company. I lacked the business experience to tackle some of the bigger challenges we faced. With hindsight, I know that the manner in which I packaged our offerings was irrelevant to prospective clients.

As an example, a month after the business was registered I approached Vodacom with a full-service PR plan, but there was no way that an organisation of that stature was going to contract with a young upstart. I had credibility as an individual, but the company was an unknown entity.

Established companies are reluctant to provide young companies with opportunities to manage their PR accounts, while other companies misunderstand the media and want to maintain a low profile.

I had financed the business out of my own pocket, and the debts were piling up. I had to close its doors and go back to work. After six months, I had the opportunity to manage the media relations for the new ‘Mandela’ banknotes communications campaign for the South African Reserve Bank.

What lessons did you apply when re-launching the business in 2011?

I was determined to be a business owner and not a PR practitioner. I also realised that we needed a niche offering, so I focused on packaging services based on elements that are still lacking in the South African PR environment today, three years later – social media and corporate social investment (CSI).

How did you succeed in building the reputation of this new business?PR

I knew the best way would be to focus on the areas of specialisation that we were offering. We had to prove we were the best in the industry.

I started an initiative called Read A Book SA, which, thanks to social media, has grown into the biggest book club in South Africa. We have 31 000 followers on Twitter and are promoting the spread of a reading culture.

The incredible success of this initiative is two-fold – it’s enabled us to run a CSI project that is close to my heart, and to demonstrate how proficient the company is at creating, implementing and building effective social media campaigns. It has also provided me and my team with the opportunity to learn more about social media.

Related: 10 Start-up Tips Learned the Hard Way

What was your first big break?

Believe it or not we made another error in 2012 by sending out a typical ‘spray and pray’ mailer. I was fortunate that Shanduka was willing to give us a chance.

Instead of offering a complete PR package, we proposed a service to overhaul the company’s website and were given the opportunity. We had learnt that specialisation is far more appealing.

There is great value in finding out what a prospective client lacks, and offering to fill that gap. Even if they have a service provider, it’s unlikely that they are innovating enough to keep the client ahead in every respect. 

What is your biggest differentiator?

It’s simple. Many PR agencies simply do not resource accounts effectively. If you have an employee managing your mining accounts, let them focus on that sector and develop subject matter expertise.

Overloading your people, or making them apply themselves across a range of sectors is not the way to do it as this prevents them from delivering optimally and will ultimately disappoint your clients.

Also, do not sign up new clients to boost the bottom line – first, make sure you have the capacity to service them efficiently, and second, determine whether your employees have a real interest in that client’s business. There’s no point signing up a client in the ICT space if your expertise is in retail and pharmaceuticals.

How has employee development paid off?

Letting go and handing over responsibility is one of the toughest challenges for an entrepreneur. But to be able to properly manage and grow the business, I had to stop doing PR.

At the same time, if you want happy, satisfied clients, you have to be certain that your people are able to deliver at the highest level. We focus on keeping overheads low, and are very careful about hiring.

Five principles enable our team of eight employees – all under 30 – to produce the best results.

These are: 

  1. Development – employees must be guided to ensure they are able to execute to the best of their abilities.
  2. Relationships – managers must build good relationships with employees and be approachable.
  3. Accountability – managers must provide constructive feedback to employees, reinforcing good behaviours, and correcting bad behaviours in a motivating way.
  4. Results – We deliver quality work and all employees must contribute to adding value. This enables us to provide greater incentives for staff and grow the business even more.
  5. Enablement – We set up employees for success and encourage creativity by providing guidance to ensure they are self-motivated and disciplined.

How has social media enabled you to grow the company?

I am self-taught in social media. Social media platforms have given us the ability to grow the business. In all, the accounts we manage engage with 43 000 followers – for education and business purposes. As a marketer, it’s good to be able to prove our credibility.

Describe your revenue growth.

By the end of 2013, the business had doubled in size, which was no mean feat because we quickly signed several profitable contracts in the first year, so we were not calculating growth from a zero base. By the end of this financial year, the business will have achieved 300% growth on 2011, due to the contracts we have in place.

In the following year we aim to double our revenue again. We expect hyper growth over the next two to three years, after which it should naturally level out. To manage growth properly, it’s critical to focus on maintaining your existing clients because it is easier to sell to a current client than to a new one.

What is the best advice you have been given?

Andile Khumalo, chief investment officer of MSG Afrika Investment Holdings, once told me to go for quality and not quantity when employing people in a young business.

I strive to maintain a balance between keeping clients happy and overheads low. My aim is to become a major employer but I want to employ responsibly in line with growth. I never want to retrench staff because I misjudged the ability of the business to carry them.

Related: 6 Tips to Keep in Mind When Hiring Your First Employees

How to recover from a false start

One of the toughest things is to restart after a failed venture.

“On average up to 80% of businesses fail,” says Ditshego. “Knowing that made me less despondent. I learnt a lot from that experience and it made the re-launched business that much more ready for success.”

The biggest mistake Ditshego made was offering a service that was so broad that it was undefined, leaving potential clients unsure about what they would get, and also trying to be all things for all companies.

It could have been demoralising to have high expectations for a venture that didn’t succeed, but it’s how Ditshego recovered that really matters.

He had to be brutally honest with himself, drill down and rip his idea apart to get to the root of the issue.

Here are some of the important questions to ask when a venture fails:

  • Was the messaging clear?
  • Was there a need?
  • Was I creating this product or service for me or for my customers?
  • Was it a bad idea or was it badly executed?

Related: How You Can Build a Creative Business From Scratch

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.