One of the biggest challenges facing entrepreneurs in the specialised services industry is how to commodotise their offering. Doing so allows them to extend their earning potential beyond the number of hours they can bill, but when the services you provide rely on your personal expertise and hands-on involvement, it can be tricky.
That said, solutions can be found if you employ a bit of lateral thinking. Just ask Jennifer Jones, interior designer, who worked on her own for years. “I’d built up a good base of clients and the business ticked over nicely, but I always came up against the same problem – to earn more money I’d have to service more clients, and I didn’t have the time to do that,”
The puzzle was solved when she read an article in a decor magazine about an online interior decorating service. It was a lightbulb moment. “I thought, That’s It! It was possible to turn my expertise into a commodity that didn’t need to be linked to me being at a client’s premises and doing everything in such a hands-on and time consuming way. Offering my services online would mean I’d have to tweak the delivery method and pricing, but I would extend my market considerably,” she explains, “The lower cost and the fact that proximity to me is not necessary means more people can have access to a well laid out interior.”
Getting the model right
Interior decorating might sound like an odd bedfellow for the internet. What about the unavoidable tactile aspects of the business – the look and feel of fabrics and colours, the ‘eye’ of the
decorator, the ‘energy’ of a room? Jones’ answer was to devise a model that would provide a slightly different service offering to the one she provides when she works with a client in their home.
She knew from years of experience in the industry that clients struggle with a few common problems when it comes to decorating their homes – and she based her web model on addressing these. “Most people know what style they like but they battle to get the layout of the room, furniture size, room function, colour palette and orientation right. These things come easily to me and I can help them address these problems with some key information,” she explains.
The result was the Design A Room webpage, where clients provide Jones with some key information that allows her to give them a decor solution for real rooms in their homes, according to their needs and tastes – all at a fraction of the price they would ordinarily pay for an interior decorator to come to their home.
How it works
The system is designed to be user-friendly and easy to navigate. The site takes users through easy-to-follow steps, as Jones illustrates, “They check out the style preferences page which shows examples of a range of different decor styles, to see which one resonnates best with their taste. Then they fill out a comprehensive 20 item online questionnaire that provides me with all the detail I need including what function they need the room fill, how many people will typically use it, if it needs to be pet friendly, the type of flooring, colours and fabrics they love and hate and, importantly, their budget. These are all the questions I typically ask my face-to-face clients.”
The next step is to send through eight photos of the room (four walls and four corners), room measurements and a hand-drawn floor plan, giving Jones all the information she needs to work
She’s diversified the offering into three different Design A Room options, which clients can choose according to their needs and budget. “This model is designed to be completely flexible. It allows people to mix and match which options they want, or choose all three,” she says. A tailor-made room layout gives them a detailed floor plan and the size and position of each piece of furniture, along with images of items of furniture and decor as examples. These are selected according to the style choice of the client and allows them to go out and source similar pieces.
If they’d rather not do the sourcing themselves, they can pay for actual furniture selections which they can buy from selected suppliers directly. Finally, the colour scheme option couriers paint and flooring swatches and fabric samples to the client’s home or area, allowing them to order the fabrics they like through the website.
While Jones will continue to service clients on a face-to-face basis, Design A Room offers an attractive alternative income stream with excellent growth potential.
Design A Room
Player: Jennifer Jones
Contact: +27 (0)82 883 0131
Designing Her Destiny
Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.
In 2011, Emmerentia van den Hoven took a leap of faith when she decided to leave her graphic design job at an agency and pursue her real passion – and it has paid off tenfold. Here’s her story.
“When I started planning my own wedding eight years ago, I fell in love with wedding design and wanted to do that for the rest of my life. Designing for brands had become a set of rules rather than being creative, and I’d always wanted to work for myself. So, in September 2011, I turned my seven-month-old side gig into a fully-fledged business and launched Oh Yay!
I have to hustle every month to get new clients because every client will use my services maximum twice – first for the wedding invitations and then for the stationery on the day – so I don’t normally have returning clients.
Because my main business is seasonal and usually once-off per customer, I have branched out into branding for small businesses in the beauty and lifestyle industry. I also earn a passive income through the Oh Yay! online shop where I sell wedding décor items. Oh Yay Kids – my other online store – is my passion project. I launched it just before my second child was born, adding items to the store that I made for my two boys when I saw a need for it. I then expanded into prints for nurseries and kids’ party stationery.
I work for myself and have no employees, so the fact that QuickBooks lets me load all my services, products and prices in one place makes running my business so much easier. Being an entrepreneur is difficult because you don’t know if you’ll be successful or not. But if you believe in and love what you’re doing, it reflects in your work and the service you give.”
Less admin, more of what you love
When Oh Yay! was launched, along with her dream of being an entrepreneur, came the nightmare of other administrative tasks. But that changed in 2018 when Emmerentia started using QuickBooks.
“When I was using spreadsheets to balance my books, I was spending 80% of my time on admin, which left very little time to tend to customers’ orders. I now spend no more than 25% of my time on admin, which is important, especially when it comes to the speed at which I send quotes. You don’t get any work if you don’t send out quotes and it’s tough to juggle the admin with your actual job of running the business.
Numbers were never really my strong point, so having a professional quote done in record time not only projects professionalism, but the format also changes the way new clients see me. In my industry, the quicker you can send a quote out, the likelier you’ll get the clients’ business. It gives legitimacy to my business. The QuickBooks system operates so seamlessly that clients communicate with me differently, like I have my own accounting department, when in fact, I’m a one-woman-show.
I used to dread doing admin, but now it’s so easy and quick. I’m not just saying this – QuickBooks changed my life.”
Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch
These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.
From creatives, to tech gurus and medical scientists, here’s how these African women have revolutionised their communities through their innovative and sustainable businesses:
- Portia Mngomezulu
- Nandi Dlepu
- Nthabiseng Ramaboa
- Ntombenhle Khathwane
- Sunshine Shibambo
- Mogau Seshoene
- Nontando Molefe
- Thato Kgathlanye
- Nothando Moleketi
- Allegro Dinkwanyane
- Sandra Mwiihangele
- Shakeela Tolasade Williams
- Reabetswe Ngwane
- Mabel Suglo
- Lucy Agwunobi
- Patience Maame Mensah
- Rachel Sibande
- Nneile Nkholise
- Nelisiwe Masango
- Sheila Afari
- Samke Mhlongo
- Kelebogile Mabunda
- Aisha Pandor
- Karabo Mathang-Tshabuse
- Zanele Matome
- Shingai Nyagweta
- Funke Bucknor-Obruthe
- Vere Shaba
- Khanya Mzongwana
- Portia Masimula
- Monalisa Molefe
- Nozipho Dube
- Rapelang Rabana
- Botlhale Tshetlo
- Lebo Mphela
- Sarinah Matema-Morgans
- Tsholo Wesi
- Theo Mothoa-Frendo
- Palesa Sibeko
- Mokgadi Mabela
- Sibongile Sambo
- Tam de Vries
- Constance Mapule Bhebhe
- Phendu Kuta
- Linda Mabhena-Olagunju
- Nobesuthu Ndlovu
- Regina Luki Kgatle
- Hlengiwe Vilakati
- Lilian Muhammed
- Bonolo Mataboge
Starting a business is not for the faint of heart, but that didn’t stop these 50 women from doing it. Across the continent, women have pursued entrepreneurship, some for the very first time at 50 years old, while others have never even been formally employed.
Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business
Embrace technology every chance you get.
A company that’s been active for more than five decades in an industry that’s hundreds of years old doesn’t sound like a recipe for innovation — and yet that’s exactly what Luci Nouwens, owner of Nouwens Carpets, is focused on.
The modern carpet has a history that goes back thousands of years. And despite the hipster trend of reclaimed and hard wood flooring, the carpet still remains a popular choice for consumers.
In South Africa, a name that’s synonymous with quality carpeting is Nouwens. When Cornelis Nouwens arrived in the country in the 1950s, bringing the skills of a trade which he had mastered alongside his father in Tilburg, the hub of the Netherlands’ wool textile industry, he passed on the skills and the love of the craft to his family and to workers in the Harrismith region in KwaZulu Natal.
More than 50 years after her father started it in 1962, the company remains family owned, and is headed by Luci Nouwens, who has been with the business for 48 years.
“We have maintained our reputation for premium quality all this time by paying meticulous attention to crafting standards and selecting only the finest raw materials,” says Luci. “Equally important is that we have innovated at every opportunity, embracing technology without ever compromising the traditional craftsman’s spirit.”
Innovation drives growth
Businesses that innovate are able to grow and hire more employees. As a result, they grab a bigger share of the market. That’s true regardless of the size of your business: If you innovate, you can scale up.
In 1968 Nouwens launched a pure karakul wool carpet that was extremely hard wearing and took the company into the commercial carpet market. Luci recalls the manufacturing of the carpet as “a major feat of unique textile engineering.” Another innovation in 2005 was the introduction of a totally new style of flat weave wool carpet, a very clean, minimalist and natural look requiring much less wool without compromising on wearability.
“These innovations are just two of many that have allowed the business to boost its market share over the years,” says Luci. “But beyond that, innovation has enabled Nouwens Carpets to form the backbone of economic activity and upliftment in the local community around Harrismith. This has allowed us to make substantial investment in providing education and skills development for the local population, to ensure that the craft is preserved for generations to come.”
Innovation enables sustainability
Innovation in technologies and how they are applied is key to enabling a manufacturer like Nouwens to create new business value, while also protecting the planet.
“We have used technology to enable sustainable manufacturing, for the benefit of the business, the community, and our customers.”
Nouwens selects equipment, materials and manufacturing methods based on their degree of sustainability and protection of the environment. The company is also a member of the Green Building Council of South Africa and submits its products for VOC testing to ensure that harmful emissions are significantly reduced.
“Ultimately, we are driven by a passion for textiles and the ability to constantly find better ways to produce beautiful products. After the downturn in the economy, we started to produce more cost-effective commercial nylon yarns, and in 2017, we became the new kid on the block for synthetic grass. The bottom line is that a true entrepreneur does what has to be done when the time comes.” — Monique Verduyn
The role of disruption in creating value
A disruptive business is a business that challenges and potentially changes the status quo. From a mindset point of view, a culture that questions ‘why’ can help foster organisational and market disruption. But disruption for the sake of disruption is self-defeating, it needs to be on the back of making things better and based on commercial principles, i.e. people or market players actually wanting to be disrupted.
The starting point is this: Does someone, or a market, value what you’re producing? If the answer is yes, you have a commercially viable disruption. Disruption that is valued by its target market has the best chance of resulting in success.
Get that right and you’ll have a customer base, you’ll gain traction and you’ll attract investors, provided you’re also making a meaningful and sustainable difference to your target market or community. — Ian Lessem, CEO, HAVAIC Investment and Advisory Firm
Team up with customers and competitors.
There’s more power in collaboration than competition. We’re stronger together than when we’re apart. When it comes to working with competitors, consider this: They may have something that you don’t, or vice versa, and 50% of something is always more than 100% of nothing. You’re then positioned to add value before you add an invoice, so your clients benefit from your relationships, and the market wins. From there, you become your client’s go-to-person, because you’re putting them first.
Customers are also a great source of knowledge: They might just have the answers you’re looking for, but are you asking them the right questions? They often know more about an entrepreneur’s business than they know themselves, because they’re on the receiving end of your offering. One way to collaborate with customers is to ask them more questions about yourselves, themselves and their clients. Harness their perspective and develop yourself to give them what they want, not what you think they want. — Wes Boshoff, founder, Imagine Thinking
Know what your audiences are interested in
As a brand, there are many ways to ensure your audience is paying attention to you, but you can’t expect them to find you unless you’re sharing content that captures their interest. If you send out press releases, don’t be too rigid or plain. Audiences want to be engaged, and not to have to deal with long, cumbersome information. An infographic, along with a video or pictures will make your release easier to ingest and more memorable. People don’t want boring figures, they want relatable stories.
One way to be relatable is by tapping into influencer marketing. This doesn’t mean you need celebrities with the highest followings to endorse you. Micro-influencers are proving to have just as much clout as those with larger followings. Evidence shows that micro-influencers have a more established and deeper connection with their audience, which translates to loyalty and a readiness to follow their advice. The trick is to find the micro-influencers who are speaking to the audience you want to reach.
Big data plays a key role in painting a picture of who is ‘out there’. With the right information, you can tailor your content to a specific audience. Big data can show you what topics and problems are trending in your industry, so that you can get the jump on them. Use big data to deliver your own insights on current topics, shaping and leading the conversation, converting your audience’s attention into action. — Madelain Roscher, founder and managing director, PR Worx and Status Reputation Management
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