Connect with us

Lessons Learnt

Less Than 10 Years Got 3 Way Marketing Crashing Through Glass Ceilings

Tom Goldgamer and Danny Aaron have never borrowed a cent; they’ve funded all their growth internally, and their business model is 100% risk- based – which means they take on all the marketing risk, and clients only pay for results (in the form of hot leads or sales). It’s a big upfront cost for the company, but one that’s paid off in spades. Today the Benater Production Group is the holding company for 14 separate companies, has impressive year-on-year growth and a turnover of R200 million per year – all achieved in under ten years.

Nadine Todd

Published

on

Danny-Aaron-and-Tom-Goldgamer

Vital Stats

  • Players: Tom Goldgamer and Danny Aaron
  • Company: 3 Way Marketing and Benater Production Group
  • What they do: Data, analytics and performance-based marketing
  • Est: 2008 and 2012
  • Turnover: R200 million+
  • Visit: 3waymarketing.co.za

When Danny Aaron and Tom Goldgamer launched their business in 2008 they had no grand strategy, five year plan or a physical product. But they did have an idea, a few business philosophies they planned to develop as they went along, and a willingness to take on a lot of risk as they built their company. They wanted to make it as easy as possible for clients to take a chance on them, and their focus was on big blue-chip companies.

“We operate in an industry that changes frequently, so strategising too far ahead is difficult and often counter-productive,” says Goldgamer. “But we knew we needed strong foundations if we wanted longevity and growth, and so we focused our energy on developing business philosophies that we could implement across our various companies.”

As philosophies go, they’ve worked. Turnover is over R200 million, with staggering year-on-year growth.

Related: Grant Rushmere Is Going Bos With Iced Tea

1. Leverage a great partnership

Local investor and dragon on SA’s Dragon’s Den, Vusi Thembekwayo, believes that the best businesses are run by partners. ‘Great entrepreneurs often come in pairs,’ he says. Ex-Accenture COO and venture capitalist Clive Butkow agrees. He will rarely — if ever — invest in a business with a sole founding partner. He believes that running a business alone is too hard, as no-one embodies all of the characteristics required to successfully run a high-impact business.

Goldgamer and Aaron are a perfect example of this simple rule in action. With a fluid management philosophy and roles that change with the business needs, Aaron manages the business development and Goldgamer is more focused on operations.

“Because 3 Way Marketing’s clientele leans towards the financial services sector, the business is regulated and must adhere to strict corporate governance guidelines and KPIs,” says Goldgamer.

“This means we need to be incredibly familiar with the regulations that our clients are subject to. It also means that we’re very hands-on with all of our customers, who interact with both of us depending on their needs. No client is either mine or Danny’s. We’re a single unit with almost interchangeable parts.”

It also helps to be good friends. The lines between business and personal aren’t just blurred, they’re non-existent. “We’ve spent hours and hours on the business during non-business hours,” says Aaron.

“This is our passion, and so it can’t be confined to an 8-to-5 day. Thank goodness our wives get along as well as we do. A business partnership requires a huge amount of trust and respect.”

Aaron and Goldgamer lived next door to each other for the first six years of setting up the company, which also helped to ensure that all of their focus and time was invested in the business.

2. Hire people you like

3-Way-Marketing-and-Benater-Production-Group

Conventional business practice says hire for skill. Goldgamer and Aaron have done the opposite. Most of their early hires were friends or friends of friends with strong referrals and they only hired people they liked. Today 3 Way Marketing has grown to more than 180 employees, with over 300 people in the Benater group, but they still follow this basic principle.

“We hired people who we thought could help us grow the business, not necessarily because they possessed the right skills — those could be learnt — but because they had the right attitude,” says Aaron.

Today, those early hires are managers, instilling the company’s values in their own teams, hiring based on values and continuously focusing on upskilling.

The partners met at Hollard. Aaron was a data analyst in the marketing, insurance and risk management sectors, and Goldgamer was a GM. “Hollard has an excellent corporate advancement project,” says Goldgamer.

“Every new graduate has a line manager and a senior person overlooking their development, so training and mentorship continues on the job. You don’t need to hire for skill if you’re willing and able to upskill internally.”

Aaron and Goldgamer work in such a niche industry, it’s almost impossible to just hire someone who does what they do. “In our early days our core focus was hiring people who shared our values, were driven and who we knew we could teach our industry to. Above all we knew these people could be trusted. We then did a lot of informal mentoring, both during and after office hours. We had a small team, but everyone was engaged and hungry for success,” says Goldgamer.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

“This was how we found great people at the beginning,” adds Aaron. “We’d call guys we knew, who we’d gone to school with or were our mates. Greg Canin, who runs the call centre business, went to school with me. Tom and I wanted a numbers guy, not a traditional call centre guy, and he fitted the profile. We gave him his own budget, bank account and created an environment where he has autonomy. Most importantly, we gave him the trust and space to create something amazing. With zero experience in call centres, he’s almost single-handedly built this into a very successful business.”

Canin is not a unique example to the group of companies. Dov Slowatek, previously a serial entrepreneur with a BSc in mathematics, now runs Benater’s operations environment. Kirill Levchenko started his career working in a call centre, and now heads up the group’s account management team, and Devin Karpes, who joined as 3 Way Marketing’s first designer, now forms part of the group’s exco.

So, how do you make something like this work?

“You need to accept that in a relatively new industry there are going to be a lot of growing pains. It’s important that you and your teams are open and transparent, and you give them a chance to learn from their mistakes. You’ll not only create an environment where everyone wants to try new things and find innovative solutions, they’ll treat your business like their own,” says Goldgamer.

“With friends this can be a bit trickier. It forces you into a more meaningful discussion with give and take, because you want to maintain the relationship. This has always worked for us, and if we’ve parted ways with friends, it’s been on a business level only, and on good terms because we’ve approached the relationship from a place of respect.”

“We learnt this lesson from friends in the private equity space who told us that you never fight over money, especially if it’s in your circle. That’s rule number one,” adds Aaron.

3. Find big clients and build loyalty

Goldgamer and Aaron’s first entrepreneurial venture was called Web Smart, and it focused on SEO for the SME market. “We had a third shareholder who bought us out within 12 months,” says Goldgamer. Although the company was a success, the partners learnt that they would rather focus on fewer clients with mass volumes. In this way, their time, energy, systems and funds would go a lot further, with more focus placed on each client.

“Our idea was to start with our core and then expand into different verticals,” says Aaron. That core was 3 Way Marketing, a data-driven lead generation business.

“Our first client was Hollard,” says Goldgamer. “I’d spent eight years with the organisation and we had a good relationship with them. They were open to our ideas, and had encouraged us to pursue our entrepreneurial dreams with our first business. Now we had a product that they could benefit from. Securing Hollard gave us traction to approach other blue-chips with a track record.”

Since Goldgamer and Aaron were determined to work with a select number of corporate clients and not hundreds of SMEs, they needed a way to get corporates to give them a chance, and they needed it fast.

To achieve this aim, they embarked on a business model and sales pitch where they carried all the risk.

4. Carry the risk to make the sale as easy as possible

“Businesses find it difficult to quantify the value of a lead,” says Goldgamer. “How qualified is the lead? How warm is it? And if no sale results from it, is it worth anything at all? Since our business starts with lead generation, we realised that we needed to put our money where our mouth is.

“Instead of asking, what is a lead worth to you, we now ask potential clients, ‘What is a sale worth to you?’ This is a completely different discussion, because it’s something they can quantify.”

Armed with this insight, Aaron and Goldgamer created a business model that is largely risk-based. “Clients only pay us for a pre-agreed result,” says Aaron. “This makes it much easier to close the sale, but it also means we only make money if we deliver. Until that point we’re actually running at a loss.”

“To make the business model work, we fire ourselves before a client can fire us,” adds Goldgamer. “We evaluate if we can come in with the numbers we need to make a client contract worthwhile. If we can’t, we’re not doing the client or ourselves any favours by continuing with the contract. Occasionally we’ll run at a loss if we can see long-term value, and of course we need to make provisions for poor response cycles and bad data patches, but on the whole it means that we only chase clients and businesses where we are sure we can deliver value and meet our targets.”

“The value to our clients is two-fold,” says Aaron. “First, they only pay us for hot leads and sales. Secondly, irrespective of the result of a campaign, they get brand awareness and exposure, which is a by-product of the lead generation process — and something they aren’t directly paying for. It’s win-win for them and it gets our foot in the door.”

Related: 6 Of The Most Profitable Small Businesses In South Africa

In order to generate leads, 3 Way Marketing uses a wide range of digital channels including email marketing, sms, social media, search engine marketing, affiliate marketing, foot soldiers and content marketing.

“Typically each channel is tested separately and the ones that yield the best results in terms of client sales delivered will be focused on, with the poorer performing channels stripped out,” says Goldgamer.

“This is an important process because we can’t afford to spend time or money on channels that don’t work, so we measure everything. After this filtering process, which typically takes three months, the platform is set for our clients to receive leads from only the top converting channels.”

5. Don’t spend cash on anything until you know it works

3-Way-Marketing-and-Benater-Production-Group-founders

Start small, test quick and measure to see if the yield is there. Every new idea, product or service must follow this path. “The upside is that we only invest significant funds on ideas that have already been market tested,” says Goldgamer.

“The downside is that we often have many processes running at the same time. We build something simple to see if it works. We then evaluate if we can make it profitable, or if it adds significant value to something else that we are working on. It’s a piecemeal and patchwork system, but it’s really worked for us.”

This philosophy directly impacts a value that everyone in the organisation embraces, which says that nothing is ever finished, complete or the best it can be. There’s always more: Another solution, a faster way of doing something, a smarter way to reach a better result.

“We’re continuously revising our system,” says Aaron. This means the team needs to really listen to their clients’ needs. “We’re always ready to make tweaks and adjustments. That’s how you keep improving. We know that systems never work like you think they do, or how you plan for them to work. You need client feedback, and then you need to adjust your systems accordingly.

“For example, we originally had one lead channel. We collected leads, sent them to our client. Because we get paid per lead or a sale, and their sales weren’t as high as we’d expected, we were able to determine that they weren’t receiving all the leads we sent. The problem was that we didn’t know why. So we built a component that tracked and pinged each lead.

“It worked incredibly well, except that now the client felt like they were being flooded with leads. They only wanted a set amount of leads per day. No problem, we adjusted the system for that too. The end result is that you’re providing a service or product that meets your business objectives as well as those of your clients, and that leads to longevity. We’ve lost only one client in eight years.”

6. Cross pollinate once you have scale

Today 3 Way Marketing has close to 60 blue- chip clients, so its risk is spread out, but this wasn’t the case in the early days. “Having only a handful of large clients meant that losing one of them would have a significant impact on our sustainability,” says Aaron. This was the driving force behind developing different but related verticals.

“We wanted a business model that spread our risk across multiple clients and verticals.”

It’s a solid growth strategy: Determining what else you can do based on your core product, service or expertise. Goldgamer and Aaron have done this particularly well. “We started as an intermediary matching affiliates with brands,” says Aaron.

“Then we realised we could create our own site and push leads through it. Today, we own thousands of comparison site domains. Our ‘engine’ is constantly profiling and running data analytics, and whether this is for 100 000 people or one million makes no difference to the system.”

“We then started looking at the lifecycle of a lead,” continues Goldgamer. “First, a lead is collected. Next it’s converted. How can we get involved there? We can make them warmer by asking qualifying questions. This led to the development of our call centre.”

“Next we looked at industries that worked in a similar way to the industry we knew from the inside out: the financial services sector,” says Aaron. “The pure risk model works just as well in automotive, travel, accommodation and education. For example, we generate hot leads for vehicle test drives for some of South Africa’s most prominent brands. We take this one step further by actually pre-qualifying every lead in our call centre and booking test drives on the client’s behalf. In this model our clients only pay once a test drive has been booked.”

As the business grew and diversified however, 3 Way Marketing was no longer an appropriate name for all the businesses Aaron and Goldgamer were involved in.

“3 Way is the golden thread that runs through everything we do,” says Aaron. “But it’s now just one business in a group of companies we launched in 2012.”

This has allowed new verticals and divisions to be added without diluting each business unit’s focus, team or skills.

The founders liken the group to a venture capitalist model. “The group and its companies were built from internally generated funds. Each new company begins as a lean start-up within the group. If we don’t have the specialised skills necessary for the business, we’ll find the right partners. We understand the power of dedicated leaders for each company within the group. This gives us the necessary skills and focus in each vertical, but it also frees us up to concentrate on overall group growth and strategies,” says Goldgamer.

Related: 27four Investment Managers Aren’t Afraid Of The Big Boys

7. Invest in people, processes and clients upfront

“From launch we decided to spend money on client campaigns before we made cash. This meant investing in people and processes, and following the risk model philosophy. We did it carefully, testing and measuring everything each step of the way, but it was a philosophy integral to our growth,” says Aaron.

“For example, we place conversion managers on-site at each client’s office. This is an upfront cost for us, and it’s one we shoulder before they’ve paid for a single lead. Our team member assists the manager with analytics, and best practice to ensure all leads are converted into sales.

“We also know that in sales, there are crucial touch points that ensure higher conversions, such as the time it takes to touch a lead, scripting, closing techniques and so on. An on-site resource makes the likelihood of successfully addressing these principles much higher.”

8. Embrace agility and openness

3-way-marketing-south-africa

“Our industry is constantly changing,” says Goldgamer. “Technology and channels continuously morph, which means we need strong individuals to grow within our organisation, and they’re hard to find. Once we have them, we need them to stay. We’ve found the best way to keep talent is to align them with the company’s performance. This incentivises them and aligns us all to the company’s goals. Our numbers and performance are transparently reported to our teams, which allows and empowers our employees to treat the business as if it were their own.”

Goldgamer and Aaron are the first to admit that it’s an important part of their business model. “What we do isn’t for everyone. It’s a tough, busy working environment. It’s full of daily lists, requires laser focus and you’re pretty much always on. But the rewards are great, both monetarily and from a growth and autonomy perspective.

“As a start-up we looked for passion and made a lot of promises to attract and keep rising young stars. As we’ve grown we’ve needed to deliver on those promises. Part of this is finding the right people who want to work within an organisation, but are also entrepreneurial enough to want to be exposed to deals, run budgets, and see a direct impact on what they do. Our senior managers have been with us since the beginning. They’ve earned their positions, and they run each business unit as their own. They go out and sign deals. Create a trusting environment where people can grow and feel in control, and they will flourish.”

The Benater Production Group

Since the Benater Production Group was formed in 2012, 3 Way Marketing’s role became the marketing engine for 14 other businesses within the group.

These include:

  • Phonefinder, South Africa’s first mobile aggregator.
  • Fix My Life, an online portal that allows you to virtually connect and transact with service providers for your home. The service includes plumbers, painters, electricians, handyman and builders.
  • Hudlr, a data mapping software tool that allows marketers to easily pinpoint and send instant direct messages straight to their target audience.
  • BMI, one of South Africa’s largest AVM (automatic voice recording) businesses, backed by a 6-seater call centre that pre-qualifies each lead before it hits a client’s environment.

In Place Recruitment, created to service the recruitment functions of the group as well as other blue-chip companies with a strong emphasis on financial services and digital.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

Lessons Learnt

The Daily Schedules Of 10 Famous Business Billionaires

Get inspired by the daily schedules of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Oprah Winfrey and other seven-figure leaders.

Entrepreneur

Published

on

Prev1 of 11

sara-blakely

What do some of the world’s most famous billionaire business leaders have in common? Clearly, they’re all intelligent, driven, hard-working and have lots of digits in their account balances, but the similarities mostly stop when you compare their daily routines.

If you want to know how long you should sleep, when you should wake up, how long and whether you should work out or other lifestyle choices, you won’t find a consensus among the business elite. What you will find is a fascinating glimpse into the lives of individuals who have more money than most of the people on Earth combined.

Click through the slides to read about the daily routines of billionaires including Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Oprah Winfrey, as gleaned from clues they’ve dropped throughout the years in interviews and speeches.

Prev1 of 11

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

Critical Lessons Dan Newman Took From CEOwise Interviews And Applied In His Own Business

When I reached the point in my business where I realised I needed to make a change if I wanted to achieve real scale, I turned to other successful entrepreneurs. What I learnt has changed my business, and helped me launch new companies with stronger foundations.

CEOwise

Published

on

By

ceowise

After running my agency, Druff Interactive for over 15 years, I came to the stark realisation that I should have been in a different position with my business. It should have been bigger, more successful. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a bad business — quite the opposite. But it could have been more.

Determined to become a better entrepreneur, I decided to start learning from the best. I figured the best way to access the knowledge, experience and lessons I was looking for was by interviewing successful entrepreneurs with the goal of implementing what I learnt in my own business. The result is CEOwise, a collection of interviews and videos that not only document my journey of learning, but lessons I can share with fellow entrepreneurs as well.

Living up to potential

I began my entrepreneurial journey in 2001 when I launched my web and design agency, Druff Interactive. From the very beginning I thought my business would grow organically. I believed my turnover would increase each year, as would my profits, and that I would keep moving forward, year on year, until I reached 40 and could retire comfortably. In this rosy future, I’d never have financial stress again. I couldn’t have been more off the mark.

Being an entrepreneur is like being a new parent. In the beginning, it’s all excitement and butterflies. But then you get home from the hospital and realise you’re living with much more responsibility on less sleep. Such is a new business, and the reality is that you just have to deal with it and make it work.

In our first eight years, Druff grew from just me working from a spare room in our townhouse to a staff complement of 11 by 2010. I was growing organically (as planned), but in a lot of ways, that was actually a risk, at least when it came to growth. Entrepreneurs who do experience organic growth often become complacent. Although Druff was a successful business, I wasn’t pushing it as much as I should have and we began to stagnate.

The very first entrepreneur I interviewed for CEOwise, Rich Mullholland, said that “Success is only important when measured on potential, and the company has not grown according to potential at all, therefore it’s a failure.” He was speaking about his own company, Missing Link, but the lesson really struck a chord with me. I too believed that Druff hadn’t lived up to its potential.

It was one of my biggest issues. When times were great I should have been innovating and pushing my business into different areas. Allon Raiz, founder of Raizcorp, says that he’s seen too many entrepreneurs take their foot off the pedal, become complacent and their success becomes the seed of their failure.

Related: How Dinesh Patel Pivoted OrderIn Into A Successful Food Delivery App

Focused on growth

These were lessons I only started articulating after I began CEOwise, but the truth of them was already becoming apparent to me before I launched the series. Between 2010 and 2016 we worked with great clients and built an awesome portfolio of work. I was proud of what we’d achieved. And yet I knew that after 15 years the business should have been in a different position.

In hindsight, another mistake I made was not having a proper sales force to bring in the clients. We relied mainly on word-of-mouth referrals and Google Adwords to bring in sales and grow organically. Adwords was great in the beginning and the cost per click (CPC) was cheap, but as more companies got on board, CPC became more costly and less effective. And yet I didn’t adjust my strategy. Allon also says that 10% of your team should be dedicated to sales full time. Mine was not.

By December 2016 I reached the decision to start making major changes in my business. I knew I needed to learn from the best of the best, which meant tapping into South Africa’s most successful entrepreneurs. I also realised that if I was in this position, perhaps many other entrepreneurs were too. CEOwise documents my journey of learning, but it also allows me to share it. My vision is to help more people become CEO ‘wise’, so they can become wiser CEOs.

My idea was never to have a boring sit-down, boardroom interview. When I started, I wanted each interview to be centred around an activity. I contacted my first entrepreneur, Rich Mullholland, whom I’d known for many years, and asked him if he’d go SCAD free falling with me, while doing an interview on all the insights on entrepreneurship he’s learnt over the years. He was in! We ended up suspended inside one of the Soweto towers, dropping 50 metres into a net, discussing entrepreneurship. It was a complete win. At the time, Rich was just about to launch his own vlog called ‘The Get Rich Quick Show’, which I still follow to this day (and suggest you do too).

Related: Benji Coetzee Never Worked In Logistics, Find Out How She Launched Empty Trips A Successful Logistics Marketplace

Finding solutions

Since launching CEOwise in March 2017, I have interviewed over 30 entrepreneurs, each with their own story and advice. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is that there are many ways to solve a problem. This led to the creation of a segment called ‘CEOwise Advice’, in which I ask each entrepreneur to answer the same question. The variety of answers to the same question is fascinating, and proves that there are many ways to approach a situation. I’m now in the process of creating CEOwise Mentors, which asks five entrepreneurs the same question.

Over the past two years I’ve learnt even more than I hoped for. I’ve been inspired to make changes in Druff, and I’ve also started new businesses that I’ve brought my new-found knowledge into, with the goal to do things correctly from the beginning.

I’ve also fallen in love with learning, which is why I’ve read more books in the past year than I have in my entire life. I’m on a mission to become a raging success. I know I’m going to make mistakes along the way. That’s how we learn. But I’m also a better entrepreneur since I started this journey.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is not to be scared of competition, but to embrace competitors instead. When I met Gary Leicher, founder of Smudge, at a Suits & Sneakers networking event, I decided to put this particular lesson into action. Smudge had been a competitor of ours in the web design and development space for many years. Gary said he’d wanted to meet me for a while and I suggested we get together for a coffee the following week. We sat down for lunch and four hours later, after discussing the industry and processes we used, we swopped notes and left wiser than when we arrived. Don’t be scared of competition, embrace it. There is always something to learn from your fellow entrepreneurs. You just have to be open to the lessons.

Continue Reading

Lessons Learnt

Entrepreneur Erik Kruger On The Importance Of Clarity And Embracing Failure

Erik Kruger has walked his own personal development journey, and now he’s helping other entrepreneurs find their ‘best’.

Nadine Todd

Published

on

erik-kruger

Vital Stats

How does a physiotherapist who dreamed of touring the world with sports teams become a mental performance coach for high-impact entrepreneurs? Ask Erik Kruger and the term he’ll use is ‘accretion’, the process of growing and adding layers through experiences.

The point is key: No journey is ever a straight line from point A to point B. Most of us spend years figuring out what we want to do through a process of elimination. It’s by doing that we figure out what we like and don’t like; what ignites passion in us, and what we’re good at.

Erik’s journey began in physiotherapy. He graduated in 2007 and started his own private practice with a friend in 2009. He was quickly realising that his dream wasn’t aligning with reality though. “My goal was to be the physio who toured with the springboks. Instead, I was locuming at hospitals and travelling two hours a day to reach my private practice offices,” says Erik. “I couldn’t see my future in it.”

It’s an interesting lesson: Until you do something, you won’t always know if it aligns with your expectations and goals. But no experience is ever a waste. “Physiotherapy ended up allowing me to have a side hustle. I could pay the bills while I figured out my entrepreneurial journey, because I had no idea what I wanted to do when I started. I registered 45 domain names before I settled on Better Man, and Better Man led me to the Mental Performance Lab and my coaching business.”

Launches and lessons

While he was still in private practice, Erik met fellow entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor, Marnus Broodryk. “Marnus was still in his own start-up phase. We were at FTV and he was handing out business cards for his accounting business, The Beancounter, to everyone he met. I took one, but only ended up contacting him months later because I needed to set up a website, and I thought he’d be able to give me some guidance.”

The website was for the practice, and Marnus helped Erik via skype to set up his first WordPress site. In Erik’s own words, it was a terrible website, but the bug bit. From that moment onwards, Erik’s newfound love affair with the digital space began.

“I liked the idea that you could just create something and people would come,” he says. “I found out very quickly that’s not how it works at all, but by then I was playing around with as many website ideas as I could think of.”

Related: Erik Kruger Explains How You Can Become A BetterMan And What That Means For Your Business

Marnus and Erik played around with some ideas, and settled on directory sites. “The idea was that people would pay a monthly retainer to be on the website and that’s all you’d need to create annuity income. You also wouldn’t need advertising revenue, which requires ongoing sales.”

Because of his own area of expertise, Erik thought a directory for physiotherapists would work well — one of the regulating bodies disagreed. They viewed the monthly retainer as a kickback, which is illegal in the medical profession.

So, Erik moved on to his next idea. “I was doing everything over eLance and Odesk, from web development to graphic design. I started thinking that we needed a local freelance community that entrepreneurs could tap into. My brother agreed to invest in the idea and we hired developers from India to build the site. I directed them to a few sites I liked and briefed them on what we wanted.”

Six months and R70 000 later, Erik received a cease and desist call from one of the big players in the freelance space. “He was furious. It turned out that the developers we had hired had copied his website, section for section, header for header. I had been focused on client acquisition, not the development of the site — I hadn’t even checked what they were doing. I’d only focused on the feedback from beta testing. Faced with being sued for infringement, we took the site down immediately. I was trying different things and failing miserably, but I was also okay with that.”

Finding a niche

erik-kruger

Erik didn’t let his failures deter him. “I was trying to figure out how to make money from digital assets. I registered 45 domain names, and for every one of them I built a WordPress site and developed a marketing strategy. I’d go to work, get home and just do digital for the rest of the day.”

To upskill himself, Erik also took courses on digital marketing, Facebook, Google marketing, WordPress and DNS set-ups. “I created a fitness website for brides-to-be, a mentor site for models and websites for girlfriends to help them run their businesses. Each website would be up and running for a few weeks, and then I’d lose interest, close it and move on.”

And this is where the foundation of Erik’s journey really begins. The fact that he hadn’t yet found what he was looking for was a lesson in itself. “Clarity is a process; I can see it with my clients all the time,” he says. “I didn’t know it then, but I can see it now. Clarity only really comes from wanting to find clarity, trying to find clarity. We often talk about evolution in entrepreneurial circles, but the reality is that evolution can only happen when something already exists, which means you have to be out there trying new things to find your purpose, or big idea.

“When I started coaching, what I was doing with my clients back then versus now is vastly different. No matter how much I read about coaching, thought about what coaching should be like, or listened to different coaches and how they do it, I would never have reached the point I’m at now, if I hadn’t been doing it myself. That’s how we learn and evolve.”

For Erik, the 45 websites he created led him to Better Man, and that’s where his journey started to pivot. “Better Man was the idea I stuck with. Up until that point, I’d been looking for things to do and ways to monetise them, but they were all external and not what really came naturally to me. There’s no such thing as a lightning bolt idea that hits you and that’s it. Amazing, masterful ideas are the result of trial and error.

“People think clarity is a switch, illuminating everything. But it’s actually like striking a match, and that match keeps burning, and you strike another and another and another, and slowly the room fills with light. Even then, you have clarity for a moment, and then the matches burn out, and you have to start again.”

In the case of Better Man, Erik was tired of trying to find something that would work, and instead decided to create something for himself. “I’ve always been into self-development and the idea evolved from there. I decided to create a website based on interviews I’d do with successful South Africans — I’d learn from them, and share the interviews online.”

Erik’s first interview was with Maps Maponyane, followed by Tim Noakes. The site wasn’t getting a lot of traction, but Erik was having fun. “It was the first thing I’d done where I didn’t have any real plans to monetise the site. I was just doing something I enjoyed and figuring it out.”

Erik did want to grow a community though, and so he concentrated on Facebook and email marketing to build up a Better Man database.

“I wanted to experiment with different mediums of communication,” he explains. “The two things that really moved the needle were the group, which was 18 000-strong, and the daily emails I started, which quickly reached 16 500 people.”

Through the community he had built up, Erik then found a way to monetise the business through events. “I was sharing content and ideas that struck a chord with me, which meant they were valuable to other people. That’s how I built up a community, and from there I could offer access to that community to brands.”

For 18 months, there were regular Better Man events, all sponsored by top lifestyle brands. The business was doing well, but through the platform and the community, Erik discovered a new direction: Coaching.

“Once I’d built up the community, I played around with a few different ideas, looking for ways to monetise the platform over and above events. We launched a fitness eBook, an apparel line and partnered with brands for events, but the one thing the community kept asking for was coaching. The events worked as marketing platforms — the next morning I’d sign up clients — and even though I hadn’t known that this was where Better Man would lead, I discovered it was a direction I wanted to explore.”

Related: Fear As Foe And Friend: How To Master This Important Relationship

Focused direction

Up until that point, Erik had been trying a lot of different avenues to see what stuck. He also admits he had shiny object syndrome — even with Better Man. “I was too responsive to every question and query. You can’t just jump around and hope you’ll find success; you need focus and direction.”

Interestingly, even coaching didn’t offer that at first. Erik tried group coaching and Mastermind groups before realising he needed to really focus. It meant stopping the events and even pulling back from the community he’d built, although his daily emails continue, and all group members are the first to hear about workshops and seminars.

“Finding my path required me to sit down and take a long look at what was — and wasn’t — working for me personally. You can try and figure out what people want, and that’s important, but you also need to understand your personal drivers, or you’ll never stick with something long enough to make it a success.

“I was trying out mentor calls through the Better Man community, and I realised that they weren’t working for me. They felt superficial; like I wasn’t driving results. When I spoke to someone, I’d get off the call and I wouldn’t feel good. I’d feel like I’d just spent time telling someone what to do, but where were the results?”

Once Erik made the decision to be a coach though, his focus shifted to being the best coach in South Africa. It was that decision and direction that made all the difference. “I went out and bought every book I could find on coaching. Then I wrote all the models that spoke to me up on white boards and started creating my own coaching framework.”

From there, Erik, signed up for his Master’s Degree in Management, with a focus on business and executive coaching. By 2017 he was coaching full time.

“I had to build up my confidence, which is evident in my early pricing models, but my masters has been the biggest game-changer for me. It shifted a few fundamental things for me, from my coaching approach to developing better listening skills. Ultimately though, internal drive is the biggest differentiator. I want to be the best coach I can be, and that’s making all the difference.”

Because of that drive, Erik has also found his niche. “I want to have a big impact on the world, which means I need to help people who in turn impact the lives of others. CEOs and entrepreneurs are my focus area. My influence and impact are amplified when I’m coaching a CEO of 500 people.”

Since finding his niche, Erik has worked with a number of high-calibre clients, including some of South Africa’s top executives and entrepreneurs.

Action, not words

Better Man gave Erik the platform he needed to launch his coaching business. Although the journey has been organic, once he made the decision about what he wanted to focus on, each step forward has been far more intentional. “I believe in visualisation and intention. Intention is determining where you want to go and then breaking that down into goals. My intention is to become the most sought-after speaker and coach in South Africa. Everything I do works towards that goal.”

In line with this goal are Erik’s own experiences. “Everything we do and think is the culmination of our experiences. In my case, it’s personal experiences as well as what I learn from my clients. Coaching is a gift for me. I can spend time with the CEO of a multi-national and come up with solutions and insights that I can then share with the owner of a 30-man business. With an outsider’s perspective you can start seeing patterns. Coaching is practical, and it draws on the human experience, even in a business context.

“It’s easy to believe that you’re too busy for a morning routine for example. When I see someone who does have the time and still isn’t following a routine, I ask why. What is the deeper value or belief that they aren’t tapping into or living? What experiences of highly busy people who still find the time can I draw from and share? Every experience that is shared broadens our collective exposure.”

Personally, Erik follows many of these practices himself. “I learn about them and implement them. It makes me a better coach. We’re all human, but at the top of the business ladder, we need to perform optimally. There’s a metrics side to business, and a human side, and you can’t ignore either.

“Founding the Mental Performance Lab has been about developing a high-performance state of mind. It’s not just about smashing metrics, but functioning at an optimal level. You need to do the right thing at the right time, and to achieve that, mindfulness is key. You can function flat out, always racing ahead, stressed and busy, or you can function optimally. That’s my focus.” EM


acta-non-verba-book

Read This

Acta Non Verba: The Playbook For Creating, Achieving And Performing At Your Highest Level

Erik Kruger’s first book is a collection of 160 thoughtful reflections on what it takes to live a life of action and not words. Acta Non Verba’s purpose is to get people moving, creating, and generating an unstoppable drive in both their business and personal journeys.

This is not a book to read from cover to cover, in one sitting. Each day there is a new chapter waiting to be read. Put this book on your bedside table, and read a new chapter with your first cup of coffee every morning. Each message is short so you can read it quickly, in the moment, and then reflect and act on it for the entire day. It’s a book that demands action.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

SPOTLIGHT

Advertisement

Recent Posts

Follow Us

Entrepreneur-Newsletters
*
We respect your privacy. 
* indicates required.
Advertisement

Trending