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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

Here’s What Jeff Bezos Prefers To Work-Life Balance And Why You Should Live By It

Work-life balance naively suggests working and non-working hours should be evenly apportioned.

John Boitnott

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Amazon is known for building a culture that values hard work. So much so that the organisation has received criticism from current and former employees for having to work on Thanksgiving, or even when ill.

When asked about Amazon’s work-life balance, Jeff Bezos remarked that he ascribed to the phrase “work-life harmony” instead.

Here’s how hard-charging businesspeople can maintain energy at home and at work without burning out by finding work-life harmony in place of work-life balance.

Measure work and home focus as a matter of energy instead of time

It isn’t about how many hours you spend at home or at work; it’s about the energy you bring to both parts of your life. If you enjoy working long hours, and that helps you to feel present while at home, then by all means continue.

This is a fundamental principle in Bezos’s theory of dividing one’s time between work and life. Because Bezos loves what he does, he finds energy from accomplishing his work in a manner that works well with his notoriously high standards.

As many can attest, our emotions bleed into all areas of our life. When you can gain energy from doing good work, it can help to propel you to be more successful in your life outside of work. Conversely, when things aren’t right at home, it can be difficult to find the energy to do your best work in the office. A central precept of work-life harmony is living such that both the professional and personal aspects of our life energise us to be our best at home and in the office.

This does not necessarily mean that we should spend our time in a balanced way, as the phrase “work-life balance” implies. Rather, we should spend our time in such a way that we are our best selves. In so doing, we will be better people on the whole.

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

Build a flexible work-life schedule

Just as different people will amass different levels of energy from work and life outside of work, different people will find they are most productive at different times of the day. The 9-5 work culture that has existed for decades is really shifting now. Most modern offices allow some form of flexible work, which means you have the ability to set your own hours to some degree.

Experiment with working at different times of the day to find the schedule the helps you to be most productive. In so doing, you’ll have more time to do your best work, and more energy to spend with loved ones as a result of increased productivity.

Know when to say “no”

We tend to think that taking on as many projects as possible is a sign of a good professional. But being busy is not the same as making an impact. To do your best work, you’ll need to prioritise projects that you know you can add value to.

Spinning your wheels is demoralising. Look for projects in which you can easily enter a “flow state” where hours melt away. This is the environment in which you are doing your best work, and are happy to be doing the work itself. It is in moments of flow that we often feel most productive, and even fulfilled. Therefore, it is after moments of flow that we tend to feel guilt-free about enjoying quality time with loved ones while unplugging from work.

Related: Jeff Bezos Reveals 3 Strategies for Amazon’s Success

Communicate commitments

If you’re approaching a time-consuming work project, communicate that to the important people in your life. Otherwise, they may think you are avoiding them due to a more insidious reason.

Providing those you love with a glimpse into your professional commitments can also help them to help you. If a good friend knows it will be difficult for you to communicate for a few weeks, they will know to pause conversations so as not to burden you with having to reply to texts or emails.

Similarly, a partner who knows that you are responsible for delivering an important project may be able to rearrange their schedule in order to better support you in the short term.

Conversely, if family commitments will prevent you from working at full capacity for a certain period of time, set the right expectations with colleagues. A good workplace is one that is flexible to the realities of employees’ personal lives. Managers who care about the well-being of their people are usually willing to help employees take care of personal commitments.

Adapting to a changing work life

Work no longer happens between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM, Monday to Friday. Work happens Saturday mornings, and late Friday nights. It happens on vacation, and during graduations. The idea of work-life balance suggests that there should be an even split between working and non-working hours.

Related: Why It Pays To Be A Jerk Like Jeff Bezos

In reality, those who have undertaken ambitious careers should aim for work-life harmony, a lifestyle in which both aspects of life give you the energy to be your best self as frequently as possible.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

Give Your Business The Best Chance Of Success

For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

Gil Sperling

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In my capacity as a business owner and venture capitalist, one of the questions I get asked most often by entrepreneurs is, “how do I ensure my business succeeds?” While there’s no straightforward answer, there are important elements that I believe every entrepreneur must consider to ensure the greatest probability of success.

Firstly, no business will succeed if it doesn’t solve a unique pain point or problem for modern consumers or businesses. However, even if a business is able to carve out that niche, there’s no guarantee that growth will follow. For that to happen an entrepreneur must distil the business’s reason for being and then doggedly pursue that vision.

North Star metric

This principle of having a clear business vision guides all my decisions. Whenever I need to validate a choice or a change in strategic direction, or if I’m trying to determine what to focus on, I always refer back to my vision. If the two are incongruent, then I know I need to change tack.

Elon Musk is a great example of a successful entrepreneur who is guided by his grand vision. Everything he does, from Tesla to SpaceX, pertains to sustainability, both for the planet and the human race. It might be hard to make the connection when you consider his various businesses out of context, but everything he creates fits into a broader ecosystem that in some way moves the needle towards his ultimate objective. Developing Tesla cars that run on renewable energy is but a small, short-term plan that feeds into his grand vision, yet it’s also been the catalyst for the evolution of the motoring industry.

Related: The Popimedia (Mega) Success Story

Be clear, concise

In the same way, every decision an entrepreneur makes should in some way take them a step closer to realising their vision. In this regard, it is also vital that your vision is crystal clear – a murky or undefined vision will divert you off your path to success.

That’s because you’ll tend to focus on the wrong things, especially when scaling rapidly, or when running bigger organisations, because there are many tasks to complete every day. A lack of clarity also leads to poor decision-making, or, worse, decision paralysis, and that’s business suicide – I’d rather make a bad decision than no decision at all, because it prompts action. However, with a clear vision, more often than not, those decisions will be correct.

Defining your vision

So, how do you know if your vision is clear and, more importantly, relevant and consequential? The way I stress test my vision is to evaluate it every day against the decisions I take, and the direction of the business. This daily process helps to sharpen my decisions over time.

The other step is to remain open-minded enough to accept and acknowledge criticism, and take on board advice from trusted confidants and impartial experts. This is important, because you need to craft your vision based on as much information as possible, including valid criticism.

Ultimately, though, your vision for the business should align with your purpose. Forget about money and turnover as points of departure when defining your vision. These are merely metrics that can determine the strength and effectiveness of your business strategy.

For each of my several business interests, be it VC funding or ad-tech innovation, I have different visions. Each are meaningful to me, but in every instance, I don’t wake up every day with the sole ambition of making money.

While I need to make money to grow these businesses, or build something new, having purpose and vision are the ways I pull through those inevitable challenging situations. Having your vision front of mind in everything you do helps you make better decisions, and makes the hardships easier to endure. It helps you see through the turmoil, because you know where the process will lead, and you always know where the ultimate objective lies.

Read next: A Comprehensive List Of Angel Investors That Fund South African Start-Ups

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Lessons Learnt

Jimmy Choo’s Co-Founder Explains Why There Are No Small Jobs

Tamara Mellon shares the strategy that has helped her find new opportunities throughout her career.

Nina Zipkin

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The co-founder of Jimmy Choo, Tamara Mellon, believes that you can find inspiration and opportunity anywhere. All it takes is determination to keep going and a keen eye for observation.

Mellon began her career in the early 1990s working as an accessories editor for British Vogue. Always on the hunt for up-and-coming designers, she came across Jimmy Choo, a cobbler working in London’s East End.

She would commission him to create shoes for fashion shoots. They were so well received by readers that the pair realised they could expand beyond one-of-kind pieces for the pages of the magazine.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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