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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Founder Coco Cachalia Of Grounded Media Shares Her Smart Insights For Building A Niche Business

Coco Cachalia’s Grounded Media celebrates its 20th year in 2017 and boasts a turnover of more than R60 million. Here’s her advice for creating a niche business that can last for decades.

GG van Rooyen

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Coco Cachalia

Vital Stats

  • Player: Coco Cachalia
  • Company: Grounded Media
  • Established: 1997
  • Visit: www.groundedmedia.co.za
  • About: Grounded Media is a communications agency that helps companies and organisations communicate their messages successfully. The agency focuses on lower LSM, and often assists in companies’ CSI projects.

Coco Cachalia’s Grounded Media started out producing educational shows for television, but over the years it has evolved into a one-stop media agency with a very specific focus. Here’s how Coco has built a niche business capable of surviving tough economic times and adapting to a changing environment.

Having a partner is a great idea

When I first started out, I had a partner in the business. We’re not in business together any longer, but I still value our early partnership tremendously.

Together, we managed to create a great business model, and I doubt that either of us would have been able to do it on our own. So, find a business partner who complements you and brings expertise to the table that you don’t have. Growing a company on your own is very difficult.

Related: Meet The 40 Richest Self-Made Entrepreneurs On Earth

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

We started out creating educational television shows for the SABC, but we quickly realised that it’s a bad idea to depend entirely on one client and one revenue stream. We started to diversify, and today we are a one-stop-shop that provides a range of services, including radio, TV, digital, event management, activations, community outreach and strategy development.

The market can be unpredictable, but by having multiple revenue streams, you guard against the worst of it. While one area might take a dip, another hopefully shows growth.

Find your niche

grounded-media

We have diversified significantly, but we’ve also stuck to a particular niche. All the services we offer are related and fall within the communication umbrella. We’re also selective in the kind of work we do. People tend to think that we are a non-profit organisation because of what we do, but this is simply because of the fact that a lot of the work that we create is associated with our clients’ CSI projects.

We focus on the lower LSM markets and don’t really operate in the B2B space. This is a good area for us to operate in. You can be a socially responsible enterprise and still turn a profit. In fact, given South Africa’s history and economic situation, there are some great opportunities in this space.

Appreciate other voices

One of the dangers of running your own business for two decades is that you can become too set in your ways. To prevent this, you need to create an environment where employees feel they have the freedom to speak up and offer contrasting opinions.

For example, we had young people in the organisation who were far more savvy about the opportunities that digital offered than I was. Thankfully, they spoke up and convinced me that it was something we needed to investigate. Had I only trusted my own instincts, we probably would have gotten into digital much later.

Know when to grow and when to consolidate

Growth can be risky, since it usually requires you to spend a lot of money. Sometimes, it’s better to consolidate when things are going well, rather than to try to expand aggressively. You need to know that you have a decent runway that will allow you to sustain your long-term growth.

Long-term contracts are becoming rare in most industries, but if you’re lucky enough to land one, that’s usually a good time to grow. A multi-year contract means that there’s a certain amount of money you can rely on, which makes growth less risky.

Related: Fake It ‘Til You Make It: How These 10 Entrepreneurs Did Just That

Control your product

As we’ve grown, we’ve increasingly brought more functions in-house. When you’re a start-up, you often make use of contractors and suppliers, but that means that you have less control over the product that you eventually deliver and the customer service you offer. Bringing functions in-house is a good way to control your brand and product. That said, it’s seldom a good idea to bring everything in-house.

You don’t want employees to sit around with nothing to do, so it makes sense to use contractors for specific projects.

Also, it doesn’t make sense for us to purchase film equipment, since the industry evolves so quickly. It’s far easier to simply rent what we need.


Key Insights

Listen to your employees

Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of thinking you’re the only person who understands your market or knows what’s right for your business. Let your employees have a voice — some of the best ideas could come from your staff if you give them a platform to share their thoughts.

Consolidation lays the foundations for growth

When things are going well, business owners are often tempted to pursue aggressive growth, instead of consolidating and creating a decent runway that will sustain long-term growth. Growth takes money. Are your foundations in place?

Your brand is your responsibility

Start-ups often have to use contractors and suppliers, but as you grow, bring the key elements that affect your business and brand’s position in the market place in-house. Stay focused on what you’re good at, but control as much as you can.

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Company Posts

Designing Her Destiny

Oh Yay! owner, Emmerentia van den Hoven does business her way.

QuickBooks SA

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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

quickbooks-business_emmerentia-van-den-hoven

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.”

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Watch List: 50 Black African Women Entrepreneurs To Watch

These female entrepreneurs are breaking barriers, transforming industries and inspiring change on the continent.

Diana Albertyn

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Owner Of Nouwens Carpets Shares Success Lessons From Running A 50 Year Old Family Business

Embrace technology every chance you get.

Nadine Todd

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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.”

Related: 10 Successful SA Women Entrepreneurs’ Top Advice On Balancing Work And Family

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

Collaboration

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

Related: Watch List: 50 Top SA Business Women To Watch

PR

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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