Kate Moodley believes that a business and its founder are inextricably linked, with the personal brand and reputation of one a direct reflection on the other. It’s a vision her employees embrace as well, and has helped her build one of the most successful Discovery Consulting Services franchises in the country.
I’m the first person to admit I don’t have a work/life balance. Work is my life. My personal mantra is to be the best at what I do, or not to do it. It means I’m committed to excellence in whatever I do, but also that I don’t really have much downtime in my life. The lines between business and personal aren’t just blurred – they’re almost non-existent.
It’s a trait that has allowed me to reach my goals and stay true to my business vision though. When I chose a corporate career and decided to join Discovery as a franchise owner, I jotted down an action plan on a single piece of paper. I didn’t ramble. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve, and I had a plan to get it done.
It’s since developed into a two-page working document. It’s not a strategy file sitting on a shelf gathering dust, but a living, breathing document that focuses on the year ahead. I review it quarterly, measure what we have achieved according to my goals, and adjust the plan where needed. But I keep it simple.
It has four parts: What’s my objective? Are we a brand to be reckoned with? Are we profitable? Do we provide our clients with the best possible service? If we aren’t achieving one of the goals encapsulated within those four questions, I need to critically look at myself, the goals and the business, determine why not, and then change what needs to be changed. It’s not rocket science, but it does take discipline.
I learnt early in my career that whether you’re in the corporate world or a business owner, you have a personal brand. People do business with the individual, not a company, even if you are employed by a big, respected brand – ultimately it’s you they choose to develop a working relationship with. Never forget that.
I spent seven years in the corporate world, and when I left to start my own business and I secured a five-year contract with Discovery as their franchise director in the Bedfordview area, I realised how valuable my own brand was.
Over the years I developed a network of clients and industry contacts, I gained market intelligence, people knew who I was, and they trusted me. The network I built up was priceless because when I took over the franchise it had approximately 80 clients, and I grew the business to close to 140 in a relatively short time.
The only reason I was able to do this was because of the relationships I had built up.
I have really cultivated that network over the years. I think it’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming that everyone knows who you are, that you’re doing a good job, and you can now start focusing on other things, but how quickly do things start falling apart if you take your eye off the ball?
Staying plugged in allows me to really focus on securing new business, which I believe is a critical part of my job description. We have consultants who service brokers and even find new business, but ultimately it is my responsibility to ensure that Discovery products are distributed successfully and we provide the best service to our clients.
I need to know the industry and our clients, as well as Discovery’s products and those of our competitors well enough to always be on top of my game.
The same is true of our consultants, who I hire based on word of mouth. If I’ve heard great things about you, I’ll approach you — my business is only as good as my team. But if I don’t have my ear to the ground, how can I know who’s great?
My differentiator has always been that I really understand my industry – not just the financial world, but everything happening within this specific sector, from the best consultants to the best products. You need intellectual capital about your competitors to be able to innovate and offer your clients the best possible solutions. Discovery head office also offers great support and competitor analyses.
My consultants are brought on board because we share the same values and vision. They aren’t just selling to brokers, they pay attention to their needs, and those of their clients. What works? What doesn’t? Where are the gaps?
What solutions do we believe would solve these gaps? All of this information is passed on to Discovery. After all, we’re at the coalface, and if we care about what we’re selling, we should be involved and invested in ensuring we stay best of breed.
I see my role in three parts. I’m a compliance officer, a franchise director and I’m ultimately responsible for meeting the business’s allocated targets.
Without a sound operational structure the business will lose money, either through poor financial systems or simply because the company’s employees don’t operate to the best of their abilities. Similarly, if we aren’t looking after our customers as well as bringing in new business, we won’t make money.
These two points are the foundation of business, and yet I find that many business owners either focus on one or the other, and not both. You can’t leave sales completely up to someone else, just as you shouldn’t ignore the numbers. You don’t need to be a financial guru, but you do need to know what’s happening in your books – and with your employees.
Everything I do is based on the one-third principle. If I want to make a profit, I need to focus on sales and customer retention. If I want to have the best employees operating at maximum efficiency, I need to hire the right people, train them, ensure that they are well managed and well compensated, and if I want the business to run smoothly, I need to focus on the operational systems and admin behind the scenes.
Each of these three areas need to be on my radar, all receiving equal attention from me. That doesn’t mean I can’t delegate anything, but I am always aware of what’s happening in my company – right down to which consultant needs some additional training.
In my experience, one of the biggest deal-breakers in a client relationship is not delivering on your promises. You should never over-commit, but you also won’t win the contract if your offering is sub-par. It’s a delicate balance.
You need to be able to offer more than your competitors (in quality of product, service delivery, advice etc), but you also need to be able to do what you say you can do.
Your employees play an integral role in this. You can have the best products in the world, but if your service isn’t up to scratch, your market offering is worthless.
Our industry, like so many others, is about relationships. My personal dynamic has always been delivering a quality product coupled with good service. I’ve built a solid reputation on this simple formula and people want to transact with me — and it would all be for nothing if this same discipline wasn’t instilled in my employees.
I don’t just hire people and leave them to it. I pay attention to how well they know our products and where their gaps in knowledge and skills lie. First, products are always evolving and we can’t offer good advice unless we know exactly what’s on offer.
Too often consultants learn a few products and every piece of advice they give is based on that knowledge bank, instead of a broader understanding of everything that’s available, every permutation. I make sure this isn’t happening in my business by continuously investing in training, and offering my staff incentives to be the best they can be. We all win: The company, my employees and most importantly the clients.
I also make myself available to our clients – anyone can call me to ask a question at any time. This achieves two things. First, I’m aware that the reputation of my business is built on me. In light of that it’s important that clients know I’m very involved in the business.
Second, it helps me become aware of problems early on. If a client is calling to ask me a question, the consultant doesn’t know the answer. I can then do an assessment and fill those gaps. This is an ongoing process.
Finally, I’m very involved in the financial and operational side of the business. I’m a structured person with a financial background, and so my business is naturally very structured as well. I believe you can’t know if you’re making a profit unless you know exactly what and where your expenses are.
Do you need to cut costs? Where? If you aren’t evaluating this on a monthly basis, chances are you are missing something. As the owner of this business, I’m ultimately accountable and so I check and double check every figure.
Operations are as stringent. Good service starts with a well organised house. Everyone can be as friendly as they like, but if forms aren’t processed quickly and efficiently, the friendliness isn’t worth much. We capture applications, vital information and huge amounts of data – there can be no errors, and this starts with good systems. They’re in place, and I expect them to be followed fanatically.
If we can’t track the business, we can’t measure our productivity levels, I can’t evaluate if we are meeting our goals, and where the problems lie if we aren’t.
For me, success lies in the balance between what happens inside and outside the business. How you are perceived in the market starts with your internal systems and values, and everyone needs to hold a shared vision.
Financial management 101
- Know where your profits come from. Until you can answer these basic questions, chances are you don’t know if you’re making a profit, or where it comes from: What costs am I incurring? Where? Which products are most profitable? Which sell the most? Which require the most effort? How can we sell more of the profitable?
- Maximise your staff. Understand your employee overheads, and evaluate what your staff does on a daily basis. Do you have six people doing what two could do? Are your employees busy enough? Can you change what they do to maximise capacity?
- Control debt. I keep costs down, I am very careful with my cash reserves and I never over-commit, which means we have no debt. You need to balance your profitability against debt before you have a realistic picture of your business.
Name: Kate Moodley
Company: Discovery Consulting Services Bedfordview
Background: Practised as an attorney before becoming the GM of distribution at Momentum. Spent five years in distribution before leaving to take over a franchise. Author of IINC: Be the CEO of your brand.
Accolades: 2012: Selected as the Top 200 SA by the Mail and Guardian and the Rising Star for the Finance Category. 2011: Won Top Woman Executive for SA and Top Business Woman of the Year.
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.
- 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.”
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 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.”
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.”
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
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
Alphabet Soup Founder Nikki Lewin Discusses How They Compete With The Big Boys
Advertising doyenne Nikki Lewin reveals the importance of personal brands, living your values and finding your niche in the market.
- Player: Nikki Lewin
- Company: Alphabet Soup
- Awards (2017): MOST Awards Winner of Traditional Specialist Media Agency; MOST Awards Runner-up for Media Agency of the Year; the Adfocus Media Agency of the Year Finalist
- Media Billings: R100 million annually
- Launched: 2000
- Visit: www.alphabetsoup.co.za
Why did you choose entrepreneurship over a corporate leadership position?
The decision to start my own business was part of my DNA. In 1999 I was offered two media director positions of multinational agencies. I knew I wanted to make a difference and be in control of my own destiny, and that meant launching my own business instead of joining another big multinational.
It basically boils down to a couple of key factors — your appetite for risk, self-belief and knowing why you would walk away from the safety net of a guaranteed income and a defined job spec.
How are you competing against those same big multi-nationals?
When I launched Alphabet Soup I believed there was a market need for specific boutique offerings. I’d been in contact with numerous clients who wanted to work with uniquely South African companies and keep things local.
The more market research I did and the more I tapped into my network, the stronger I became of this conviction. It’s important to do that legwork before you start anything, and my experience in the industry gave me the insights I needed to be confident in my decision.
That same research revealed that we needed to offer our clients a complete, 360-degree solution, and so we created an agency that covers all aspects of advertising media — from strategy, planning and media owner negotiations, to market analysis, below-the-line, promotions, sponsorships and digital media. We also have clients that need media placements throughout Africa, and have since branched into that field as well.
This broad focus, our independent positioning, and the accolades we have received over the years allow us to be competitive, even though we are relatively small in comparison to many of our competitors. You don’t have to be big to be the best. You just have to punch above your weight.
We don’t aim to be the biggest agency, just an agency that delivers intelligent and professional media solutions. We do this by ensuring we are completely up-to-date with the latest strategic thinking in our industry, and we invest in staff training. It’s up to us to be able to educate, inform and guide our clients through key media knowledge.
How important are awards?
The topic of awards centres around whether they add real value to the business or not. In some cases you are nominated, in others you need to choose to enter. It takes time and effort to enter awards programmes, so there needs to be a strong business case for doing so.
We’ve found that the whole process — particularly winning — builds the agency’s reputation and is good for staff morale. For me however, it’s just one component of the journey.
Client longevity is critical and becoming an intricate part of their business is more advantageous to the agency’s success than any award. That said, awards do lend credibility to your brand if a client hasn’t worked with you before, but referrals and word-of-mouth will ultimately lead to business.
The MOST awards are about peer recognition. How important is this and why?
I have always set high standards, both personally and for my staff, and the same applies to media-owner interactions with clients. Our relationships with our media partners are based on integrity, respect and a mutually-beneficial relationship that relies on a cerebral output in order for our clients to have successful campaigns.
We have placed in the top three for the past ten years at the MOST Awards, and it was obviously great to win in 2017, but awards should never let you rest on your laurels. You can’t take past successes for granted. We need to continue to focus on building key relationships in all aspects of media.
How important is a personal brand in building your own business?
My personal brand and business brand are essentially the same. I try and live to the values that are key to me and those that I try and teach my children. The values of respect, honesty, trust and integrity are paramount in my personal life as well as within my business. No matter where you are or what you do, people are always going to form an opinion about you.
My view is that you need to make sure it counts. Stand up for what you believe in, live with passion and make sure you have educated and informed opinions. It’s important that people know where they stand with you and I generally am pretty forthright in my opinions.
How do you separate yourself from the business brand, so that clients want to work with the business, and not just you?
After 18 years in the market, Alphabet Soup has become a brand in its own right, no longer ‘Nikki Lewin’s agency’. I’m just one part of it. I have a supportive team and we have earned our reputation with clients. I’m still always available to clients though, and I’m intricately involved in every aspect of the business. To be successful you need to have your finger on the pulse of your business.
I have always believed in keeping my work life and personal life separate in order to try and achieve a balance. Of course, this is not easy with two young children. Fortunately, my husband was in the advertising business early in his career and is incredibly supportive, while running his own retail and travel business.
Is it important to build a reputation in the industry before launching your own business?
I believe your reputation starts with your first day on the job and every interaction you have thereafter. It’s up to you how you manage that reputation. Respect is earned and if you are passionate about what you do and what you believe in, that transpires into your own DNA. If you’ve built a strong reputation, this will obviously give any new venture you embark on added credibility, but you can build your reputation as a start-up as well. You just need to be consistent and hold true to your values.
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.
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