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Kezi Communications: Keri-Anne Clarke

A communications consultancy devises an innovative expansion model that delivers multiple benefits.

Juliet Pitman

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Keri-Anne Clarke

Countless entrepreneurs who have started off as one-man businesses face the same challenge – how to expand the business beyond their own input so that it can grow into an entity on its own. The answer is seldom easily found.

Real business growth requires structures that free up the managing director from the day-to-day operational running of the business, but that in turn requires solidly accountable, and therefore commensurately remunerated, staff.

If you’re in the services industry, there’s the question of how to ‘wean‘ clients who’ve come to expect the hands-on involvement of the business‘s founder in every aspect of the work. These are challenges with which Keri-Anne Clarke, founder of Kezi Communications, is very familiar. But they are also ones to which she has devised an innovative solution which is becoming a trendsetter in the world of communications.

Growing into the vision

“When I started Kezi Communications, we were chiefly a writing and publicity business, but the vision was always to grow into a full communications consultancy,” says Clarke, describing how the business initially grew slowly and organically, increasing the scope of its services as clients’ needs dictated. “But having said that,” she adds, “one of our key differentiators is the fact that we are small and personal. It’s something our clients value and we never wanted to lose it by becoming a really large consultancy.”

Having started the business alone, Clarke has always been an integral part of the face of the company and long-term clients have come to rely on and trust her input. “I was concerned about how they would react if the business suddenly changed and I was no longer interfacing with them.”

For these reasons, and because being cash liquid has always been a key driver, Clarke’s approach to growth has historically been conservative. But it’s  a strategy that’s worked well for Kezi. In the five years since its inception, the company has three times been voted by FinWeek’s Ad Review as a Top 20 PR Company in South Africa in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The challenge then was how to grow without being subsumed into a large existing business, without having to employ an expensive management team and without giving clients the jitters that too much change was on the way.

Taking the leap

“But in spite of my concerns and fears, I also knew that the business had so much potential and I really wanted to see it realise that,” Clarke adds.

Her solution lay in a business model that leveraged the strength of her existing team to expand the business’s offering. Dividing the company into four business units that would afford it growth opportunities in four key areas, Clarke offered staff members the opportunity to head these up.

This meant that all staff, barring an administrative core of four people, would swap their permanent positions for remuneration based on a percentage of the client’s retainer. The pool of writers and designers would continue to be outsourced to keep overheads down.

It’s an entrepreneurial and highly incentivised model. “Each account manager is wholly responsible for the clients and budget in their business unit. If they lose a client, they lose money personally, but if they work hard and grow their portfolio, their earnings will increase,” Clarke explains.

In spite of the risks associated with the change, Kezi staff jumped at the opportunity for greater responsibility and greater potential earning power, providing Clarke with an almost risk-free model for expansion.

“I think what people found attractive is the fact that they get to build their own small business, within the Kezi business. Some staff have already hired their own assistants to help them expand their unit. That’s not to say this kind of model works for everyone, but when people take to it, it does help the business to retain staff because it gives people flexibility, freedom and autonomy,” she says.

Managing the change

The growth shift has involved hard work; Clarke has invested heavily in change management, both for staff and for clients. “I undertook a road show towards the end of last year to explain to clients the change in how the business is structured.

There were some really positive spin-offs because long-standing clients hadn’t realised how many offerings we had, so what started out as a communication exercise ended in us signing on new business in some instances,” she says.

While the account managers are the key point of contact for clients, Clarke attended all meetings and ensured she was copied on all correspondence for the first three months following
the transition.

A quarterly meeting with clients provides an important opportunity to assess how the model is working for them, while staff meet every Friday at a workshop to catch up. For Clarke herself, the biggest challenge has been letting go and learning to trust that things will run smoothly.

For a self-confessed A-type personality, she’s managing remarkably well. And as she points out, “The pay-off is that I can concentrate on bringing in new business. That’s when we’ll really start to see growth and take things up a level.”

Kezi Communications
Player: Keri-Anne Clarke
Est. 2005
Contact: +27 11 616 1860, www.kezi.co.za

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27 Of The Richest People In South Africa

Here are 27 of South Africa’s richest people, but how did they achieve this level of wealth? Find out here.

Nicole Crampton

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Learn the secrets of SA’s most successful business people, here is the list of the 27 richest people in South Africa:

In a world with growing entrepreneurship success stories, victory is often measured in terms of money. The feat of achieving a place on this list is, however, years of hard work, determination and persistence. “One has to set high standards… I can never be happy with mediocre performance,” advises Patrice Motsepe.

From the individuals that made the 27 of the richest people in South Africa list, actual entrepreneurs and self-made business people dominate the list; while those who inherited their fortunes have gone on to do even bigger and better things with their wealth. Over the years, some have slipped off the list, while others continue to climb higher and higher each year.

  1. Elisabeth Bradley
  2. Sharon Wapnick
  3. Bridgette Radebe
  4. Irene Charnley
  5. Wendy Ackerman
  6. Paul Harris
  7. Wendy Appelbaum
  8. Mark Shuttleworth
  9. Desmond Sacco
  10. Giovanni Ravazzotti
  11. Markus Jooste
  12. Gus Attridge
  13. Gerrit Thomas Ferreira
  14. Cyril Ramaphosa
  15. Adrian Gore
  16. Raymond Ackerman
  17. Michiel Le Roux
  18. Lauritz Dippenaar
  19. Jannie Mouton
  20. Stephen Saad
  21. Patrice Motsepe
  22. Allan Gray
  23. Koos Bekker
  24. Ivan Glasenberg
  25. Christoffel Wiese
  26. Johann Rupert
  27. Nicky Oppenheimer
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Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

South Africa needs more entrepreneurs to build businesses that can make a positive impact on the economy. These up-and-coming black entrepreneurs are showing how it can be done.

Nicole Crampton

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Early-stage South African entrepreneurial activity is at an all-time high of 11%, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and entrepreneurial intentions have also increased to 11.7%. With both activity and intentions growing significantly year-on-year, there are more businesses opening up around South Africa than ever before.

The increase in entrepreneurship has seen the rise of more black entrepreneurs across numerous sectors. From beauty brands to legal services and even tech start-ups, these are 50 top black entrepreneurs to watch:

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Watch List: 50 Top SA Small Businesses To Watch

Keep your finger on the pulse of the start-up space by using our comprehensive list of SA small business to watch.

Nicole Crampton

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Entrepreneurship in South Africa is at an all-time high. According to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), total early-stage entrepreneurial activity has increased by 4.1% to 11% in 2017/2018. This means numerous new, exciting and promising small businesses are launching and growing.

To ensure you know who the innovative trailblazers are in the start-up and small business space, here are 50 of South Africa’s top establishing companies to watch, in no particular order:

  1. Livestock Wealth
  2. The Lazy Makoti
  3. Aerobuddies
  4. Mimi Women
  5. i-Pay
  6. AfriTorch Digital
  7. Akili Labs
  8. Native Décor
  9. Aerobotics
  10. Quality Solutions
  11. EM Guidance
  12. Kahvé Road
  13. HSE Matters
  14. VA Virtual Assistant
  15. Famram Solutions and Famram Foundation
  16. BioTech Africa
  17. Brand LAIKI
  18. Plus Fab
  19. LifeQ
  20. Organico
  21. 10dot
  22. Lenoma Legal
  23. Nkukhu-Box
  24. Benji + Moon
  25. Beonics
  26. Brett Naicker Wines
  27. Khalala
  28. Legal Legends
  29. The Power Woman Project
  30. Aviro Health
  31. AnaStellar Brands
  32. Data Innovator
  33. Fo-Sho
  34. Oolala Collection Club
  35. Recomed
  36. VoiceMap
  37. ClockWork
  38. Empty Trips
  39. Vula Mobile
  40. SwiitchBeauty
  41. Pineapple
  42. The Katy Valentine Collection
  43. OfferZen
  44. KHULA
  45. Incitech
  46. Pimp my Book
  47. ART Technologies and ART Call Management
  48. Prosperiprop
  49. WAXIT
  50. The Sun Exchange
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