- 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.
1. Find 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.
2. Create 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.
3. Create 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.
4. Educate 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.”
5. Have 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.
Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk
Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…
You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.
Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.
It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.
There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…
Step 01: Do your research
No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.
Step 02: Understand the costs
Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.
A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.
Step 03: Know when to walk away
As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.
You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.
Mind The Gap
The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.
Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.
Here are five…
It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.
2. Look for pain
Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.
Be the Panado that fixes these pains.
This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.
4. Luck needs courage
You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.
Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.
5. Pay attention
This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.
5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business
As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.
Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.
Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”
As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:
1. This too shall pass
Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.
2. Appreciate what this phase brings
The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.
3. Establish boundaries
Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.
4. Take a break
Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.
5. Give it space to make mistakes
While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.
During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.
While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.