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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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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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