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How Tebogo Ditshego Transformed a Failing Business and Tripled his Revenue

Ready to take centre stage, this young entrepreneur revived a failed PR business and tripled revenue.

Monique Verduyn

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Ditshego-Media

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Vital Stats:

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

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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.

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 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+.

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Lessons Learnt

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt

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You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:

Leadership

The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.

Infrastructure

The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.

People

It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.

Strategy

It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.

Finance

Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks

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When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture

Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.

Nadine Todd

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A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.

At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.

We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.

If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.

Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.

Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture

A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.

Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.

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

Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.

We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.

These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.

Culture doesn’t just happen

We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.

A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.

We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.

Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.

Cost Cutting

The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.

Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”

If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.

The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.

Related: Wise Words From wiGroup On Building A “Wow” Company Culture

Uncover inefficiencies in your process

This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.

Refine your process, then automate

If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.

Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.

Rethink your outreach

Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.

For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.

Related: Take Responsibility For Your Company’s Culture To Boost Productivity

Scrutinise your spend history

There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.

The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent

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