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Rich Mulholland on Carving Your Own Niche

Everyone wants to be the expert in their chosen field – but so few are. Rich Mulholland shares the secrets to niche building.

Nadine Todd

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Rich-Mulholland

Vital Stats:

  • Player: Rich Mulholland
  • Company: Missing Link
  • Est: 1997
  • Contact: missinglink.co.za

Richard Mulholland is synonymous in the business world with developing un-boring presentations for large corporates, as well as being a popular speaker that colourfully drops f–bombs. His mantra is differentiate or die. These are his lessons on niche building.

Related: Missing Link: Richard Mulholland

Why do you believe building a niche is so important?

It’s the only sure way for your customers to differentiate you from the competition. I hate commodity. Being the same as everyone else is the worst thing you can do in business. Yes, you might be unique inside. It doesn’t count. You look the same from the outside.

I always use leaves as an example. Each leaf is different, but how can you tell when there are hundreds of leaves on the forest floor? No one cares. Small subtle differences aren’t enough, and if you think they are, I’m sorry to tell you, you’re wrong.

If you really want to differentiate, you need to show that you scratch a different itch – and then communicate this. Don’t assume your clients understand why you’re unique.

So how do you differentiate?

You need to think outside the box. For this to work though, you need lots of boxes. We’re a specialist presentation company. That’s our niche. The problem is that many customers thought of us as the same as their advertising companies.

They took in the box they understood, and slotted us into it. I thought I was so niche, but my competition wasn’t the other two people who do what we do – it was everyone our client perceived it to be. We had to create new boxes, and then educate our clients on what those boxes were.

That’s when we started really differentiating ourselves. Digital has done this particularly well. Ten years ago there were only advertising agencies. Then digital agencies were birthed, and they didn’t want to be in the same category as other agencies, so they created a new box. It takes time, and you need to be willing to educate the market, but it’s worth it. 

How did you present yourself to the market?

When we founded Missing Link in 1997 PowerPoint was what you used for presentations. You could hire a PA for a basic salary who could put together four or five presentations a month.

Our cheapest presentation was R32 000, so we really needed to convince companies they needed us, and that we didn’t belong in their advertising budget. The reality was that people didn’t need presentations; they needed solutions to boring presentations. This was our niche.

I knew we could be the antithesis of boring, and being 23 and suffering from delusional self-belief, I was able to say to clients, ‘You’re boring and we’re not; we can fix that.’ We were unique. The challenge was convincing everyone else of that.

Related: 21 Tanks: Don Packett and Richard Mulholland

One of your mantras is differentiate or die. Can you elaborate?Rich-Mulholland-Missing-Link

If you’re trying to keep everyone happy, you’re failing. People in the market are spoilt for choice. If you aren’t standing out from the crowd, you’re getting lost in it, it’s that simple.

Any advice on how companies can stand out from the crowd?

  1. Be different. Don’t send a present at Christmas with everyone else; send the January ‘back to school’ gift and be remembered.
  2. Find your compelling story. You need to stand out from the crowd in a crazy way – even if that means alienating some customers.
  3. Don’t try to be the best. This is highly subjective anyway, and the value of ‘best’ keeps changing. Next week there will be a new ‘best’. Instead, focus on being the favourite. Figure out exactly who your customers are, what they value most, and give it to them. Think of a fancy restaurant. You won’t eat there every week, and you’ll switch to the new best for your next big occasion – but you’ve got a favourite little place that you keep going back to. What makes them stand apart for you, and how can you implement that in your business?
  4. Solve problems. Once you’ve solved one, solve the next. Your customers’ needs will change, and there will be other businesses that start imitating you – keep focusing on how to stand out from the crowd.
  5. Finally, remember that there are no boring products or services – only boring people delivering boring experiences. It’s all in how you sell yourself, and your solution.

Missing Link is known for its creative offices, including a tree house and tattoo artist. What’s the value of a space like this?

Related: Mama’s Spices & Herbs 10 Smart Start-Up Strategies

Creativity doesn’t happen with noise. It happens in quiet rooms. Our offices are marketing. We look fun and creative, and that’s how we get attention. People think their presentations are boring. That’s their pain.

They have something fundamentally important to say, but lose the audience. You walk in to our offices and see that ‘hey, these guys aren’t boring.’ And that’s our selling point.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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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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