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7 Foundations Monalisa Zwambila Of Riverbed Believes You Must Have In Place To Build A High-Growth Company

Here’s how Monalisa Zwambila learnt to articulate her vision to propel her company’s growth.

Nadine Todd

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Monalisa Zwambila

Vital Stats

  • Player: Monalisa Zwambila
  • Company: Riverbed
  • Launched: 2007
  • Turnover: R80 million
  • Awards: Winner of the Regional Business Woman of the Year 2017
  • Visit: www.theriverbedagency.co.za

There comes a time in a business’s lifecycle when you realise you are through your start-up journey, and if you want to build a high-growth organisation, you need to put the right foundations in place.

For Monalisa Zwambila, founder of Riverbed, a through-the-line communications agency, that realisation happened in 2013, six years after she had launched the business.

“Four years ago I had an epiphany,” she says. “We had 15 employees and a turnover of R18 million. I realised that if we were ever going to get bigger, I needed to find a way to get my vision out of my head, and into the organisation. It needed to be more than just me working towards a goal. It needed to be the whole organisation working together towards a shared dream.”

Today Riverbed employs 40 people and has a turnover of R80 million, with 100% year-on-year growth. These are the foundations Monalisa has put in place to achieve this growth and they remain the foundations of where she plans to take the business.

Related: Edward Moshole Founder Of Chem-Fresh Started With R68 And Turned It Into A R25 Million Business

1Articulate your vision and get the right people on board

monalisa-zwambila-riverbed

For Monalisa, growth had always been a constant. She had never wanted a two-man operation. But when you’re starting out, it’s not always possible to follow a clear vision. You can have a sense of purpose and fundamentals in place, but you’re also a start-up, and you’ll take what you can get to keep the business operational.

“I was MD of a large communications firm before I struck out on my own,” Monalisa explains.

“I had built a reputation based on excellence, hard work and tenacity, and this opened doors for me, and secured our first two clients. Building an ethical and best-of-breed business has always been important to me. I’m a firm believer that if you continually give your best work, something will come of it, and this is what I look for in my employees. But when you’re launching a business, you also need to be a realist.

“In the early days it was just me, formulating the firm’s strategy, and helping my clients develop the right PR strategy and events for their brand. But I needed people to implement, and when you’re starting out, you’ll take anyone. The shift happened for me when I realised that I couldn’t do it alone. I needed like-minded, great people to get on the journey with me. This would only work if they had a sense of purpose beyond just an ad agency, and I realised that it was up to me to give them that. Once I got it, once I realised that to attract and retain the right people, you need to be able to articulate your vision, it brought about amazing changes, both in the character and the culture of the organisation.”

But articulating your vision is easier said than done, as Monalisa, and countless business owners before her, have learnt. You need to be able to get your vision out of your head and into your employees’ hearts.

Do this: If your goal is growth, having the right people in key strategic areas is vital. To attract and retain the best people for your organisation though, you need a clear vision and culture that they can believe in and add value to.

2Find a clear growth path

To move from where they were, Monalisa recognised a step change was needed for the business. There is only so much room for growth for a PR and eventing agency, and so the next logical move was to become a through-the-line agency. In PR, billings are capped. The advertising space offers a bigger creative outlet, and combining these capabilities makes it possible to offer the same clients more.

“There are two ways to do this. You can either bring in heavy-hitters with a client base and expertise in a different channel to your own, or make an acquisition, and grow the business in that way,” she says.

This is true of any business, operating within any industry. If you want to grow through additional revenue streams and areas of expertise, you can build them slowly and organically, or bring in experts and an existing client base. Monalisa decided to make a strategic acquisition.

“We weren’t a big name in the world of agencies, and didn’t hold the right appeal for a creative with their own clout in the market. We weren’t attractive enough at that time for the level of talent that I was looking for. The only other option was an acquisition. The timing was perfect. The owner of Chillibush Communications wanted to sell the business and exit completely, which suited me well. I didn’t want a partnership; I was looking for new, above-the-line skills and an existing client base. Chilibush had a good reputation in the industry, and a solid client base.”

With the due diligence and an agreement in place, Chillibush and Riverbed merged. Monalisa had achieved her objective of becoming a through-the-line agency, but not without some serious growing pains.

“Chillibush had 30 people, and we had 15. It was a bit like the fish swallowing the whale. I had also debated what we would be called, and I’d settled on keeping Riverbed, instead of Chillibush/Riverbed. I had a very clear vision and purpose, and I didn’t want to dilute that, or lose focus. But it did mean that I was making the conscious choice not to keep the name of an agency that had a good industry reputation, and a larger employee base than my own. Ultimately though, I decided that didn’t matter. There would be teething pains — and there were — but it would be worth it. I just had to stick to my vision.

“It was a challenging time. I was clear about the upside, but it was still challenging. Today we are stronger. We’re clear about our purpose, culture and drive, and what we’re trying to deliver on, but we did lose people during the transition. I learnt a valuable lesson. Once your vision and culture is clear, people are able to determine if it suits them or not. If it does, you have full buy-in. If it doesn’t, it’s better for everyone to move on. It took me time to understand this, and to have the courageous conversations when I needed to. You can’t be everything to everyone. Rather know exactly who you are, and create an incredible space for people who share your vision.”

Do this: Are your decisions short-term money decisions, or long-term growth decisions? From a practical business perspective, Monalisa could have kept the Chillibush name and leveraged it to make money. But even though she believed the acquisition of Chillibush was the best growth move open to her, Monalisa had her own vision — one she worked 16-hour days to achieve. To stay true to this vision, she needed to stay true to the brand she was building. It was a long-term decision, but it’s paid off.

Related: 5 Key Tactics That Helped Gill Bowen And Tim Hartzenberg Revitalise The Shooshoos Brand

3Keep your clients happy

riverbed-south-africa

When you’re on a growth path, there’s a fine line between landing big deals and keeping your existing clients happy. This is even more true when it comes to a merger. Riverbed’s team identified the key clients from both businesses, and ensured they were kept happy.

“We needed to win Chillibush’s clients over,” says Monalisa. “We promised it would be a smooth transition — and kept that promise — plus we unpacked the value of what they could now tap into with our additional services, which was to their benefit. These accounts were key — we had higher overheads and a much larger staff complement to take care of. We also made sure we didn’t alienate existing clients.”

Do this: When you’re on a growth path, communicate with your clients often and openly. Be transparent about your plans, and any challenges you’re facing. Unpack the benefits to them, and ask for support when you need it, while giving assurances that any upheavals are short-lived. You never want to alienate existing clients that have supported you up until that point.

4Build your brand

With the right capabilities in place, Riverbed has now focused on brand building. “We’ve been under the radar,” says Monalisa.

“If we want to start securing really big deals, we need to position ourselves in the minds of the right companies. In this industry most pitches are closed tenders, and the process is managed by two or three search companies. We need to be on their radar.”

To achieve this, Riverbed has embarked on its own PR strategy, but this would have been impossible without the ten-year track record that Monalisa and her team have patiently built up.

“The market needs to know who we are. We’re competing against the huge multinationals. We don’t stand a chance unless we get our story out there. We need to let them know that we can do the job just as well, with better local insights, and probably at a better price — but it’s not up to them to find us. It’s up to us to make sure they see us, and can’t ignore us. That takes time — you need to build up a track record. But once you have, it’s time to make use of it, and show your potential clients what you’re made of.”

Do this: Build the right foundations. Most overnight successes are ten years in the making. You need to build credibility and a good reputation. You need the right systems and processes in place to ensure delivery. And you need the confidence to bid for large tenders — and win them.

5Have a purpose — and share it with the world

riverbed-south-african-business-purpose

“We’ve found that to be considered by clients, you need to share your story. People need to notice you, and want to share your story too because it resonates with them,” says Monalisa.

“For us, we’ve launched an initiative called the Greater Good initiative based on my business philosophies. I’ve always held these philosophies, but it took time and experience before I was able to fully articulate them. People and clients have approached me wanting to work with us because we always strive to do Great things for Good. They don’t always remember all the details of what I said, they just know it resonated with them, and that’s the start of the conversation. Ultimately, people do business with people, and so what you care about, and how you do business, matters.”

Monalisa’s path to articulating her vision began with her epiphany four years ago. She realised that all businesses exist within their environments, and impact the world around them. This can either be a force for good or not. “I started thinking about how we can do great things for good,” she explains. “I wanted to align all our campaigns and the clients we choose to work with to this ideal: Where is the good?

“We’ve broken this down into three key areas: Greater good for our clients, which is doing great work and asking what greater good idea can come out of that campaign, and is there a benefit to people?

“Then we look for the greater good for employees. Is there excellence for its own sake? And how do we build, monitor and recognise greatness?

“Finally, is there greater good in the communities we serve? We quantify the pro bono work we do, and we’ve already put two graduates through university. We’ve found that this philosophy gives us purpose, and keeps us all on the same page. We have a benchmark that we can measure our decisions against, and this keeps us on point and all working towards the same goals, which is essential in a growing organisation.”

Do this: Develop a clear vision and purpose, and align this with your core strategy. This gives you a clear point to benchmark all decisions against. What’s your north star and does the current decision support it? This will help you maintain focus and give you and your team fulfilment.

Lessons Learnt

  • It’s all about people. When you go through the process of a structured deal, you tend to do a due diligence on the balance sheets and income statements, but you don’t look at the people, and yet that’s what you’re buying. That’s where the skills lie. This was Monalisa’s biggest mistake – she didn’t spend enough time looking at the people.
  • Leadership is a journey. Recognise that your leadership skills are always a work in progress — and work on them. As the head of your organisation, how you lead your team is essential to your growth prospects.
  • When you make a decision, own it. Monalisa interrogates everything. However, this means that once she makes a decision, she takes complete ownership of it, and never casts blame if it doesn’t work out as planned.
  • Learn to be decisive. When you’re growing a business, you have your head down, working, working, working. And then you look up and realise how many people are now following you. This is often a rough transition for business owners, because you have to own your position — including the tough decisions and conversations that come with it. In this position, decisiveness is crucial. You can’t take time making key decisions that affect your team, business and clients. You need to be decisive.

Key Insights

business-insights

No man (or woman) is an island                

The greatest entrepreneurs recognise the importance of a team. They know that their role as leader is to articulate their vision in such a way that they attract and retain the right employees, who are ultimately able to execute that vision.

Own your decisions            

Don’t cast blame when things don’t work out as planned. Take the time to evaluate all possible outcomes, weigh your options, and then own your decisions.

As a leader, you need to be decisive, and the best way to make that a habit is to have confidence in your decisions, good and bad.

Remember, ‘no decision’ is worse than the wrong decision.

When you buy a business, you’re buying its skills and people           

Due diligence processes look at a business’s books and finances. They evaluate cash flow, current and potential clients, and growth possibilities. What is often overlooked is the core of the business and what makes it tick: Its people. Spend time getting to know the people — they could be your greatest asset, or your greatest burden.

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

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

Don’t miss out on these 50 female trailblazers making an impact in the South African and international entrepreneurial space.

Nicole Crampton

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rapelang-rabana

Here are the 50 top South African business women to watch in no particular order

  1. Anastasia Dobson-du Toit and Michelle Dateling
  2. Charlotte Aubin
  3. Rapelang Rabana
  4. Lynn Baker
  5. Dylan Kohlstädt
  6. Noli Mini
  7. Stacey Brewer
  8. Nonkuthalo Thithi
  9. Daniella Shapiro
  10. Xoliswa Daku
  11. Lorren Barham
  12. Allegro Dinkwanyane
  13. Nadia Rawjee and Zahra Rawjee
  14. Karen Carr and Hanneke Schutte
  15. Michelle Royston
  16. Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
  17. Magda Wierzycka
  18. Jennifer Da Mata
  19. Thuli Magubane
  20. Tracy Kruger
  21. Monalisa Zwambila
  22. Keri Stroebel
  23. Claire Reid
  24. Ramona Kasavan
  25. Carrie Leaver and Shona McDonald
  26. Donna Rachelson
  27. Mahadi Granier
  28. Liesl Esau
  29. Prudence Spratt
  30. Joyce Mnguni
  31. Janine Starkey
  32. Shamila Ramjawan
  33. Busi Skenjana
  34. Benji Coetzee
  35. Jerusha Govender
  36. Lauren Edwards
  37. Ouma Tema
  38. Annabel Biggar-David
  39. Jennifer Glodik
  40. Ntsoaki Phali
  41. Tara-Lee de Wit
  42. Kim Coppen-Watkins
  43. Mogau Seshoene
  44. Andy Golding
  45. Lien Potgieter
  46. Ezlyn Barends
  47. Rabia Ghoor
  48. Katy Valentine
  49. Leah Molatseli
  50. Lynette Ntuli 

“Globally, women entrepreneurship rates are growing more than 10% each year. In fact, women are as likely or more likely than men to start businesses in many markets,” says Karen Quintos, EVP and chief customer officer at Dell.

The growing momentum of female entrepreneurship can clearly be seen in this comprehensive list of 50 of South Africa’s finest. Although this movement has far from reached its peak, for those looking for inspiration, lessons or businesses to invest in, look no further than this list of female pioneers.

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

How Portia Mngomezulu Is Conquering The Highly Competitive Beauty Industry

A great product range backed by an ambitious vision and a determination to get the basics right is helping Portia Mngomezulu to conquer the highly competitive beauty industry.

Monique Verduyn

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portia

Vital Stats

Estee Lauder. Elizabeth Arden. L’Oréal. What is so special about these brands? Why aren’t Africans competing in this market? That’s the question that got cosmetics entrepreneur Portia Mngomezulu thinking.

A qualified systems engineer, and a curious entrepreneur by nature, Portia was always selling something that she had concocted.

In 2010, after she had a child, her mother-in-law suggested using marula oil to help with stretch marks. Portia went to her hometown of Phalaborwa, where she had grown up playing under marula trees, and procured the oil from local women. She saw the difference within a few weeks, and that was the seed that germinated into Portia M, a black-owned skin care manufacturing company that caters, in her words, ‘for every skin under the African sun’.

Keeping the retail dream alive

Portia started small. With a two-plate stove and a couple of pots, she manufactured her first batches of product; her ‘secret oil’, which she sold for R100 per bottle at church, and to friends who were pregnant. People kept buying. But she was adamant that she did not want to grow a network marketing business.

“From the start I was determined to compete at retail level,” she says. “I saw my product on the shelf next to the big international brands. Great and successful entrepreneurs have achieved their purpose and goal by setting a strong and clear vision, and by pursuing it with passion.”

Convinced that she was onto a sure thing, she approached the Small Enterprise Development Agency (SEDA) and asked for help to have her products and formulas tested. Getting the legal paperwork right was a key step in the growth of the business, and one that would pay off later.

Personal care products are subjected to many different tests before being placed on the market for sale. Testing usually includes evaluations for product stability, purity, safety and the effectiveness of preservatives, which protect the product from deterioration. It’s a costly exercise. In 2012, SEDA arranged for the tests to be conducted by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) at Medunsa (now Sefako Makgato Health Sciences University). The process took around six months, during which she continued to sell, without taking a cent from the business.

Persistence, and the willingness to overcome a wide range of obstacles, usually determines the fate of a company. In Portia’s case, believing that she had the power to achieve whatever she wanted meant that mental barriers such as fear were never an issue.

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Black Entrepreneurs To Watch

After getting Makro to agree to stock Portia M at six of its stores, it took another two years to convince the buyers for Shoprite and Checkers to do the same.

“They eventually agreed to just 20 stores, as they wanted a test run. But I resolved not to take it personally. Instead, I used this time to perfect the range. It’s far easier to rectify mistakes when you have a small footprint. Now, our products are in more than 530 Shoprite and Checkers stores.”

She also took the opportunity to show her products to Absa at a trade show. The bank’s representatives were impressed, but said that it was too risky to finance a cosmetics business. Instead, they suggested she take part in a 14-city women in business roadshow they were running. She did, selling more than 30 000 skincare products.

“The last session was in Cape Town, and that was where I met Suzanne Ackerman, daughter of Pick n Pay boss Raymond Ackerman and transformation director of the group. She was impressed by the fact that I had tested the products and had barcodes in place. She encouraged me to approach the company’s buyers. They gave me the opportunity to sell in 20 Pick n Pay stores. It was a life-changing moment and I remember crying when I saw the brand on the shelves.”

The value of social proof

portia-m-cosmetics

Her next challenge was marketing. With no budget available, she had to get the products moving off the shelves. Already accustomed to promoting Portia M to her friends on Facebook, she took her social media presence to the next level, having photos taken of the product range and encouraging people to try it out.

“Miraculously, customers started taking before and after images and telling their stories,” she recalls. The value of ‘social proof’ provided by these testimonials has been immeasurable, and is one of our key selling points — real people, real results. Today we have more than 200 000 followers on Facebook, over 12 000 on Instagram, and over 3 000 on Twitter. At Pick n Pay alone, our sales are worth more than R1 million a month.”

Portia M products are now sold in more than 1 200 stores nationwide. To export the range into other African countries, she has leveraged the operations of Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Clicks to enter Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, and Swaziland.

“Because the paperwork required to export to African countries can be onerous, it made sense to partner with established retailers, convince them to distribute my products for me, and expand the business in this way.”

Words of advice

  • When a brand is new and unknown: “To grow a brand from scratch, you need to build strong relationships with retailers and sustain excellence in delivery. When they place an order, make sure it gets there on time.”
  • When you are competing against multinationals: “Respect the industry, but understand that your competitors also had to start somewhere. Vision and self-belief are key. We are just as capable as global companies of producing top quality products.”
  • When you are trying to get shelf-space: “Shelf space is critical, and you earn it through sales. Our sales are based on testimonials, proving that effective marketing does not have to cost a fortune.”
  • When you need to keep your cash flowing: “Negotiate payment terms with retailers. I have seven-day, 14-day, 30-day and 45-day payment agreements with different retailers, ensuring that my cash flow is always positive.”

In 2015, Portia was named the overall winner of the Tshwane Exporters Awards, thanks to the fact that she registered as an exporter with South African Revenue Services. Representatives from The Innovation Hub invited her to pitch the business, and she was given a small office as well as a 40m2 factory. Today that space has grown to 500m2.

“Moving from home to a factory space was another defining moment,” she says. “I had a team of biochemistry students coming to work for me, using my stove and my pots. It was very embarrassing. They laughed at me at first, but they also believed in me. Together, we formalised the business and one of those students is now the factory supervisor.”

In 2017, she was named a National Gazelle by the Department of Small Business Development and SEDA. She won a grant of R1 million, enabling her to buy additional manufacturing equipment and a truck.

Related: 10 Dynamic Black Entrepreneurs

What lies ahead?

Portia has an audacious five-year goal — to penetrate the African market and to compete comfortably with Africa’s favourite skincare brands. Part of that plan is to get retailers like Dis-Chem and Woolworths on board.

“When I visit other countries on the continent, they want to know how successful the brand is at home,” she says. “To win customers, we differentiated Portia M by providing a tried and tested product, and also by using a uniquely African ingredient that is well-known on this continent. More than anything, I believed in the product before I expected anyone else to, and that has made all the difference.”


KEY INSIGHTS

portia-products

Start with a vision                 

Portia was determined to see her products on retail shelves alongside international giants. She knew this vision was the most important starting point in achieving her goals.

Start small to achieve big                 

Get into the market so that you can tweak and perfect your product while it’s still small. This is much easier to do while you still only have a few customers on board, and it will give you the foundations for a much larger business.

Access Government Programmes    

There are a number of programmes and funds supporting local manufacturers, from access to international markets, to assistance with compliance and even funding. Do your research and tap into them.

Related: Alphabet Soup Founder Nikki Lewin Discusses How They Compete With The Big Boys

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Erna Basson Of Erabella Hair Extensions On Acting The Part And Finding The Gap

Erna Basson says that building your own empire is one of the toughest things you can do, but also one of the most rewarding. She unpacks the lessons she has learnt that have helped her launch and grow three businesses into sustainable brands.

Monique Verduyn

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erna-basson

Vital Stats

  • Player: Erna Basson
  • Company: Erabella Hair Extensions
  • Est: 2017
  • Visit: www.erabellahairextensions.com
  • Career highlights:
    • Named South Africa’s top entrepreneur under 30 for 2017
    • Global female entrepreneur of the year 2017
    • Top 100 most influential young South Africans 2017
    • Interviewing Grant Cardone — 2018
    • Opening speaker at the Mega Success event 2017 in Los Angeles.

Originally from Bloemfontein, Erna Basson has always been highly competitive. She completed a four-year bachelor’s degree in three years, while holding down several part-time jobs. She was first bitten by the entrepreneurial bug in her second year at UFS (University of the Free State). Her class was struggling with business law, so she read the text book and produced an annotated summary that she then sold to desperate students.

Today, she heads up Erna Basson Ltd, a business coaching and speaking venture; Woman Entrepreneur, a global platform empowering and educating female entrepreneurs from around the world on how they can start and scale their businesses; and Erabella Beauty Global, a premium hair extensions brand available in South Africa and globally.

On acting the part

“I was a cheerleader for the Cheetahs while I studied, and I also worked as a hostess at Cubaña,” she says. “I got the opportunity to do tons of promotions for liquor brands and that experience taught me how important it is to always be on point and professional, as the event sponsors could pitch up at any time to check on what was happening.”

Related: How To Start A Salon And Spa Business

After moving to Port Elizabeth with her now husband, Nellis Basson (who is also an entrepreneur), she started working for Gestetner and was out on a sales call at Distell when she heard the regional manager complaining about bad service from an events company. “I said to him, ‘if I can have a company up and running within 30 days, will you make use of my services?’ and he said ‘yes’. I walked into the company as an employee and walked out of the company with a new life and opportunity, and this has taught me a valuable lesson that I still follow every day. Take advantage of every opportunity, even if it scares you. You need to be out of your comfort zone to grow.”

That was one of the first principles she learnt, and which she speaks about to her global audiences.

“The bigger the problem you are solving for people, the more valuable you are to them, and the more money you will make.”

People are always searching for solutions. They will always look for better, faster and smarter ways to accomplish tasks. Erna knew that to grab her customer’s attention, she had to start by solving their problems. “If you can take a person from point A to point B, by identifying their crucial problem and then offering to solve it, you will be able to create a real business that matters.”

Another important thing happened that day. She went back to her boss and immediately told him what had transpired. “Honesty, loyalty and integrity have always been the three key pillars of my business, starting from then, and it paid off — Gestetner became a client soon after.”

She started the promotions business with no staff and she didn’t know anyone in Port Elizabeth. “I called up a friend of one of my husband’s friends and asked her to give me ten phone numbers, and then I asked each one of those women to give me another ten. I sold my Citi Golf so that I could have a small start-up fund, and then the business just took off. We got clients like SAB, MTN, Sony, Mango, Maybelline and L’Oréal. I was earning R450 000 for ten days’ work at the age of 23.”

She soon had seven permanent employees, and more than 500 promoters working on campaigns across the country. “Within a couple of years, I had created systems and processes, which enabled the company to reach its goals and function independently without having me in the business, making it a perfect opportunity to sell and move on to the next challenge.”

Finding the gap in the market

It was just before Erna got married that she came up with an idea for another venture — while she was looking for venues, dresses and décor ideas. “I kept on wishing there was one place where I could find everything related to weddings, and then I thought why don’t I create one?” That was how website and magazine Majestic Weddings was born, an online directory and monthly magazine. After growing it into a successful wedding planning tool, she sold that company in April 2017, through an international business broker, and used the profits to launch her hair extension company Erabella.

Transitioning from services to products

erna-basson-grant-cardone

Erna had never run a product-based business before, but there’s a first time for everything, right? Problem is, product businesses are extremely hard to build and get traction for. They require upfront capital and investment, as well as a whole lot of excitement. Erna certainly had the latter, believing that every woman has the right to have gorgeous thick hair.

But there were some challenges:

  • The output of a service-based company is intangible, but a product-based business sells goods that customers can see and touch.
  • A services company does not have to keep goods in stock or maintain an inventory. The service is created or sold as and when the customer
  • needs it.
  • Service-based companies do not have to put up capital — they provide a service and the customer pays for it.
  • In the service industry, you have maximum control — when it comes to a product based company, you sometimes don’t have control over certain things (like a late courier, or late imports, or increase of exchange rate) but it serves as a great opportunity to apply more systems and processes to lower the risk.

“I had to buy stock for the first time. Different lengths of hair extensions, and different colours. Suddenly, I had invested more than R1 million, just like that. What’s more, in South Africa, there is a 20% import duty, which immediately raises the price of your product, making it more difficult to compete globally.”

Related: Want To Start An Import Business – Here Are The Importing Terms And Documents Involved

There was another problem too. Erna had decided that Erabella would be an online business, but it didn’t grow as fast as she wanted it to and she quickly had to change the business model. “That’s when I realised that you cannot take business personally. The minute you invest emotionally, you will make mistakes. When something is not working, you need to take immediate action and make the necessary changes. Nearly every successful company since the beginning of time has had to change strategy and direction to survive and grow.”

Reverse engineering

She also learnt about the importance of starting with the end in mind.

“If you want to make $1 million, write that figure down and reverse engineer. If my hair extensions are priced at $250, I will need to sell 4 000 sets per year, which means 11 sets a day. Instead of being dumbstruck by that big figure, I’ve now got something manageable to work with. It’s that old story about how to eat an elephant.”

Two can be better than one

Another key lesson Erna learnt was that you can do anything, but you can’t do everything. “When I started Erabella, I had one staff member in Johannesburg, and lots of competition. I had to do everything, from accounts, social media, business development and so on, but now we have an entire team in each department. The business grew too slowly and I realised that doing it alone was not going to work. I found a business partner in Cape Town, Karel Vermeulen — a very successful businessman who owns a personal care brand — and I knew we would be a great fit. I knew I could trust him with Erabella SA because he was invested, and I moved on to growing Erabella New Zealand and Australia.”

As a result of the partnership, the business is soaring. Today, Erabella hair extensions are available in South Africa, Namibia, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Dubai, with Canada next on the list.

That personal investment principle is one that Erna has applied in her coaching business. People do not appreciate what comes free, she says. “If I coach you at no cost, chances are you will say the programme did not work. But if I charge $6 000 a day, I can guarantee that you will do the work required to make it a success, because you have skin in the game. You will value and appreciate the process.”

Related: The Glamorous and Sleek GHD Offices


Erna’s key principles

  1. In the words of Grant Cardone, author of The 10X Rule, follow up, follow up and follow up: ‘90% of business lies in the follow up’. “I always do, and believe that you should follow up so much that they tell you to go away, and then follow up again two weeks later. I chased a client in Cape Town for two years. When their promotions vendor let them down, I was top of mind and I got the deal.”
  2. Never focus on the 10% that’s negative; focus on the 90% that’s positive: “We all need to have bad days in order to appreciate the good ones. When a client says no, see it as a new opportunity (take the negative from the word no, and turn it into a positive new opportunity) to recreate your strategy.”
  3. When people say no, ask them why not: “If I don’t close a deal, I ask, ‘What is the reason we did not do business today? Objections are only complaints — find a solution, and you will win all the time.”
  4. Don’t ask how: “Focus on the what and the who. What do I need to do to achieve my objective and who do I need to speak to? The ‘how’ will take care of itself.”
  5. You are 100% responsible for your business: “Don’t blame the economy, the government or your staff. If you are not successful, it’s your fault.”

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