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Ikageng Solutions: Kgosi Mahumapelo

A branding company hones the focus of its business and reaps the rewards

Monique Verduyn

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Kgosi Mahu of Ikageng Solutions

In the world of business there’s a lot to be said for choosing one thing and doing it really well. Unfortunately,however, most start-ups are so busy trying to make ends meet that they’ll diversify their offering almost endlessly to land some kind of work.

The upshot of this is that they end up being a generalist rather than a specialist, which makes it very difficult to position themselves in a competitive market.

It’s a dilemma that Kgosi Mahumapelo, founder of branding company Ikageng Solutions, can tell you a thing or two about. The former aircraft mechanic says that focus is one of the biggest lessons he’s learned in business to date.

After furthering his education by obtaining various qualifications in IT, Mahumapelo embarked on his entrepreneurial journey as a freelance web designer, eventually registering his own company in 2003. “Over time, however,I realised that what I was really passionate about was the marketing side of design, and I had to make a decision about the direction in which I was going to take the business,” he recalls.

What followed for Ikageng was something of an identity crisis. “I was doing web design and wanted to be in marketing, but I didn’t really know where in marketing I wanted to be,” he says. Fortunately Mahumapelo had established a strong feedback loop with clients.

“I would always ask clients how they thought I could improve and the feedback was that I was a bit all over the place. It meant I’d made mistakes like wasting money on marketing myself when I really didn’t know what the business’s focus was,” he says. Selecting one area to focus on wasn’t easy.

“It means that you have to turn away work initially because it doesn’t fit in with your focus area, but once I’d made the decision to make branding my niche, I just stuck with it.”The decision proved to be the business’s tipping point and Mahumapelo landed some significant jobs.

Among these were some ever-elusive government contracts. “We came up with the design concept for the Department of Agriculture and Conservation’s Female Farmer of the Year Awards, and did the entire re-branding and re-positioning for the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature,” he relates.

But he’s quick to point out that the small jobs matter as much as the big ones. “Do every project as if it’s the only one you’re working on – that’s our philosophy and it would be my advice to entrepreneurs.

No matter how small or seemingly insignificant the work, you can only get repeat business if you are totally committed to excellence. It’s especially important when you’re doing branding because your work is out therein the public space.

If it’s below par, it reflects badly on your company but if it’s outstanding, there’s a good chance it will generate business. There have been a number of occasions when we’ve got big new clients because they happened to see small jobs that we’d done for other companies.

“We’ve never relied on our black empowerment credentials to get us work. I see so many people making the mistake of relying on their government ‘connections’ instead of the quality of their own work and I can testify that the quality we offer, and the way we present it in tenders and in our marketing material, has spoken for our company and landed us far more work than any connection ever could.”

Being thoroughly prepared for every pitch has also helped. “We’ve learned that you can never be over-prepared, no matter how small the pitch. When we get a call about potential work, we conduct background research on the company, their business, their market and their sector, even before we’ve landed the job.

We try to pre-empt what their needs might be and what we’ll have to know if we do land the job. People are really impressed when you arrive at a first meeting and can already talk intelligently about their business and the potential solutions we could offer them.

It makesa great first impression,” he says. Ikageng’s philosophy is based on the belief that branding needs to deliver on the business imperatives of the client.“Everything we do is concept driven – we don’t believe in branding or design for aesthetics’ sake. We research the end-audience to ensure that our work has the impact clients are looking for and that we can ultimately measure. At the end of the day, companies want justification for the investment they make in branding and our work needs to deliver on that,” he concludes. Contact: +27 11 695 4825; www.ikagengweb.co.za

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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