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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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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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Vital Stats

It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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