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Lessons Learnt

Talk About Been There Done That: From Advertising To The T-Shirt Business

Here are 9 tips for turning a dying business into a profitable one.

Ben Wren




You didn’t think an ad agency could run a t-shirt company.

But, as a veteran of the communications industry, I’m now the part-owner of Been There Done That, a B2B supplier of t-shirts with eye-catching designs. Until we took over, Been There Done That was running at a loss. In 3 months, it’s turning over a healthy profit.

We handle the design, manufacture the t-shirts and then deliver them to our clients: Boutique retailers with nationwide reach.

Been There Done That has broadened my education. It’s forced me to understand the value chain of a good company. The business is as far removed from the communications landscape as you can get – and yet it’s not.

To transform the business, we’ve kept it simple, cut the fat and employed elementary business practices that should be reinforced for every entrepreneur.

Related: 7 Business Tips From The 3 Way Marketing Group Founders

Here’s what I’ve learnt.

Reduce overheads


Overheads throttle you. Before we took over, Been There Done That was paying through the roof for salaries, rented space, parking and non-essential amenities.

We cut non-essential staff and dropped the rent by moving to the Inner City Ideas Cartel in the Cape Town CBD. The space looks good to clients, but it’s also cost-effective, and bundles all your amenities together in one attractive package.

Concentrate on what you’re good at

It’s tempting to try and do everything yourself, but that makes you lose focus and slow down. Plus, we’re only really good at one or two things. Stick to them.

Running Been There Done That, I knew I’d be wasting my time if I tried to do everything. We plugged in talent from Area 213 (my advertising agency) and our trusted partners. New talent filled the gaps.

Keep it simple

Our dream is to one day launch Been There Done That as a brand. But we realised very quickly that the company was fulfilling a niche as a B2B entity. As a B2C brand, it was going to struggle.

So we focused on the B2B business, growing it as best we can, and shelved the B2C dream until we knew we could dedicate the resources to make a success of it. The upshot? Diversifying a business too quickly can kill it.

Related: Make A Distinctive Impression With House Of Janine

Build up relationships


I realised right away that the suppliers and the clients hadn’t been serviced properly, and a lot of them were dropping us because our designs got stale.

I corrected that by simply picking up the phone and rebuilding a rapport with them. I brought a new designer on board, and made sure that we fed a steady stream of new designs weekly to our retailers.

Good people are crucial in any business

Get the right people on board, and give them a key stake in the business.

With Been There Done That, our designer boasts extensive experience. We can’t afford to pay him a salary he deserves, so we’ve given him equity in the company instead.

Incentivising people properly is crucial in getting the best out of them. Find a way to make it work.

Sort out the supply chain

No matter what industry you’re in, speed is everything. When we took charge, t-shirts were taking 4 weeks to be produced. One client told us he would increase the quantities he ordered tenfold if we could deliver in 5 days. We now deliver in 5 days.

Get financial terms right

Sometimes, you need to the confidence to raise your price. Been There Done That was losing massive amounts of margin because the price of t-shirts hadn’t gone up in years – all because no one had the confidence to raise it.

Worse, the company was being held to ransom by unreasonable financial demands and being squeezed by both the clients and the suppliers. All the risk was sitting with us. Payment to suppliers was made in cash and clients had us on 30 days plus. I negotiated better credit terms with our suppliers, rose our quantities, secured discounts and raised our price.

Related: Never Go Out Of Style

Do your market research

One of the reasons I had the confidence to hike up the price was because market research demonstrated that we were far cheaper than the competition. Even with our price increase we are extremely competitive.

Do your research properly and you’ll secure yourself a proper bargaining position.

Grow slowly but methodically

Down the line, the dream is to launch the brand as an online retailer for high-end t-shirts with eye-catching designs. But we’re not there yet, and it’d be a mistake to try and scale it too quickly. We’ve been focusing on sorting out all the operational stuff first – and that’s key.

With a career spanning over twenty years, starting in London and now in Cape Town, Ben Wren has been fortunate enough to work with some of the best clients in world. These include: Nike (W+K London), Microsoft (Euro RSCG London), Coco Cola (60 Layers of Cake South Africa), Windhoek Lager (The Jupiter Drawing Room Cape Town) and Diageo (Isobar South Africa). Last year, he put his experience to good use by embracing entrepreneurship and starting his own venture: Area 213 Communications & Area 213 International.

Lessons Learnt

Richard Branson’s ABCs Of Business

Throughout the year, the Virgin co-founder shared what he thinks are the essential elements to success.



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If there’s one thing Richard Branson knows, it’s how to run a successful business.

Throughout last year, the Virgin founder shared what he thinks are the keys ingredients to building a successful company with each letter of the alphabet, which he slowly revealed through the 365 days.

From A for attitude to N for naivety to Z for ZZZ, check out Branson’s ABCs of success.

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Lessons Learnt

How Reflexively Apologising For Everything All The Time Undermines Your Career

How can you inspire confidence if you are constantly saying you’re sorry for doing your job?




I’m one of those weird people who gets excited about performance reviews. I like getting feedback and understanding how I can improve. A few years ago, I sat down for my first annual review as the director of communications for the Florida secretary of state, under the governor of Florida.

I had a great relationship with my chief of staff, but I had taken on a major challenge when I accepted the job a year prior. I didn’t really know what to expect.

Youth takes charge

I was 25 at the time, and everyone on my team was in their thirties and forties. I came from Washington, D.C., and was an outsider to my southern colleagues. I was asking a lot from people who had been used to very different expectations from their supervisor.

I sat down with my chief of staff who gave me some feedback about the challenges I had tackled.

She then paused and said to me, very directly,”But you have to stop apologising. You must stop saying sorry for doing your job.”

Related: 8 Valuable And Inspirational Web Series You Should Check Out

I didn’t know what to say. My reflex was to reply sheepishly, “Umm, I’m sorry?” But instead I immediately decided to be more cognisant of how often I said I was sorry. Years later, her words have stuck with me. I have what some may consider the classic female disease of apologising. When the New York Times addressed it, five of my friends and past coworkers sent it to me.

In it, writer Sloane Crosley got to the heart of the issue:

“To me, they sound like tiny acts of revolt, expressions of frustration or anger at having to ask for what should be automatic. They are employed when a situation is so clearly not our fault that we think the apology will serve as a prompt for the person who should be apologising.”

Topic of debate

I’ve talked at length with other women trying to figure out this fine balance. The Washington PostTime, and Cosmopolitan have all tackled this topic. Some say it’s OK to apologise; others criticise those who are criticising women who apologise. Clearly, I’m not alone in dealing with this issue. In fact, I’m constantly telling the people I manage that by apologising they give up a lot of their power.

Related: Want To Feel Empowered? Check Out These 17 Quotes From Successful Entrepreneurs And Leaders

Here’s the bottom line: Don’t apologise for doing your job.

If you’re following up with a coworker about something they said they’d get to you earlier, don’t say, “Sorry to bug you!” If you want to share your thoughts in a meeting, don’t start off by saying, “Sorry, I just want to add…” If you’re doing your job, you have absolutely nothing to apologise for.

That’s what I think. And I’m not even sorry about it.

This article was originally posted here on

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Lessons Learnt

10 Quotes On Following Your Dreams, Having Passion And Showing Hard Work From Tech Guru Michael Dell

If you’re in need of a little motivation, check out these quotes from Dell’s CEO, founder and chairman.



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There’s much to learn from one of the computer industry’s longest tenured CEOs and founders, Michael Dell. As an integral part of the computer revolution in the 1980s, Dell launched Dell Computer Corporation from his dorm room at the University of Texas. And it didn’t take Dell long before he’d launched one of the most successful computer companies. Indeed, by 1992 Dell was the youngest CEO of a fortune 500 company.

Dell’s success had been long foreshadowed. When he was 15, Dell showed great interest in technology, purchasing an early version of an Apple computer, only so he could take it apart and see how it was built. And once he got to college, Dell noticed a gap in the market for computers: There were no companies that were selling directly to consumers. So, he decided to cut out the middleman and began building and selling computers directly to his classmates. Before long, he dropped out of school officially to pursue Dell.

Fast forward to today. Dell is not only a tech genius and businessman, but a bestselling author, investor and philanthropist, with a networth of $24.7 billion. He continues his role as the CEO and chairman of Dell Technologies, making him one of the longest tenured CEOs in the computer industry.

So if you’re in need of some motivation or inspiration, take it from Dell.

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