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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Kim Coppen-Watkins On Having And Maintaining Strategic Growth

The best opportunities don’t just land in your lap – you have to go out and make them happen. But while you’re building your business, don’t lose sight of your original vision.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Kim Coppen-Watkins
  • Company: Think Entertainment
  • Clients: Idols SA, Graeme Watkins Project
  • Launched: 2014
  • Visit: www.thinkentertainment.co.za

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As you grow, take the time to step back and really look at your business. Are you doing what you set out to do? Have you pivoted where necessary, but maintained your goal and vision?

Kim Coppen-Watkins planned to be a performer, but sometimes the best opportunities come along when you aren’t planning for them. You can let them go by, or you can seize them and make them work for you anyway.

“After I graduated I took a job at a Cape-based agency. I wanted to continue working within my industry while I went to castings,” Kim explains.

Related: Women Who Lead: Bonnie Cooper And Esna Colyn On Wearing The Mantle Of Leadership

But while she was still focusing on being in front of the camera or on stage, two things were happening. First, she was booking and managing gigs for her boyfriend, Graeme Watkins, and his two friends.

“Graeme was still studying. To make ends meet he was a performing waiter, and he made up a musical trio with two of his friends. My mom ran a theatre company, Think Theatre, that produced and booked Shakespearean theatre productions for matric students, so I just booked him gigs through her business.”

At the same time Kim was also realising that she hated castings. “They irritated me, but they were the way the industry works. I started questioning where my place was within this industry I loved.” It was becoming clear to her that what she actually loved was being behind the scenes — integral to the magic, but not necessarily in the limelight.

Few people know what they want before they start doing it

Careers change and develop, and so do businesses. Kim’s business would pivot many times in the future, but this was the start of her realisation that nothing is ever set in stone.

And then in 2009, Graeme auditioned for Idols SA — and made the top 16. The couple packed up their lives in Cape Town, got into Kim’s Toyota Tazz, and moved to Joburg. Graeme was that year’s runner up, and the couple realised they needed to leverage the exposure.

The move also triggered Kim’s entrepreneurial spirit. “I took to the road with Graeme, managing his sound and focusing on quality control during his performances. I quickly noticed the importance of a manager who could ensure that artists weren’t taken advantage of and who could stipulate what guidelines were part of the agreement and contract. We decided I would road manage his events going forward.

“At the time, I had a lot of people asking me to be their manager or if they could join my agency, but I wanted to work with Graeme; I knew that together we could do something incredible. Both my parents are entrepreneurs, and I’d seen my dad rise and fall in his various endeavors over the years. I knew the risks, but I also knew the rewards. And that was what I was focused on.

I’m an all or nothing person.

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“I wanted to maintain and own my own ideas. Make them flourish for me. And I was willing to take the risk to do it. I was young, stupid and ballsy, but I guess that’s what you have to be if you want to take this path.”

Launching the Graeme Watkins Project

Together, Graeme and Kim developed Graeme’s rock band, The Graeme Watkins Project, as well as a strategy to launch and grow the band’s foothold in the local music industry.

“We spent a year developing GWP, and I worked exclusively with Graeme. You have to build awareness, generate publicity and manage the tour. To do it right, it needed my full attention.”

As Kim’s business grew, she took on other artists and then realised that the music industry, like all industries, has highs and lows. “We hit a dip and decided we needed a new strategy. All artists need to remain current and fresh if they want to maintain momentum. During a dip on the music side, we secured a presenting job on television with Vodacom Millionaires. This has been running for six years, and has been the foundation for the presenting and MC side of the business.

“Alongside this strategy, we needed a multi-faceted plan for his career. When the rock band side of his brand was quiet because GWP was recording a new album, we decided to create a more collaborative endeavor with Swing City.” Swing City is a collaborative trio between Graeme, and fellow musicians Nathan Ro and Loyiso Bala.

“You can be involved in something creative but you still need to be tactical and strategic about growth.”

“That’s true of any business, and I realised it was why I loved management. As an agent your focus is on procuring work for your clients, but management is what drives me. Management is more strategic in that it combines various elements paramount to the success of your artist’s brand. It’s about taking risks; choosing when to release certain songs to generate spin off on radio and retail; and touring when the song has reached a certain point on radio.

“To get this right, you need to know where your markets live, what they do for fun, and how to engage with them. It’s creative, challenging, and very exciting. However, I believe artists should have both an agent and a manager, which is why I’ve hired specific people in my company to handle the agency side, so that I can focus on management strategy. We work closely together though, and strive for the same goals.”

Make choices as you grow

In all businesses, choices have to be made as you grow, and this was Kim’s first strategic decision for her own business. From there, she was able to implement the lessons she had learnt to build other collaborations, corporate acts and development projects, including The Buzz, a teen band for the youth market.

And then everything changed again. In 2014 Kim was approached by Idols SA to take over the management of the top ten just as she found out she was pregnant. “I took it, and decided not to let them know that there was another life changing event going on.

“I’ve never worked so hard in my life. Taking on ten artists who have no brand and often a very confused idea of the industry is very challenging. We are there to provide guidance and a starting platform for the rest of their career, which I believe is a big responsibility.

Related: Shark Tank’s Dawn Nathan-Jones: How Leaders Who Focus On Growth Will Build Successful Companies

“You have to know who you are and what you want.”

“Up until that point I’d had a lot of side projects and different roles. I needed to decide what I wanted to be, and what I wanted the business to look like. I didn’t want to dilute myself, and at that point I was spread far too thin.

“I was running the business solo, had five core artists that I was manager and agent to, and then the Idols contract came along and I absorbed an additional ten artists. I was at a point where expanding my staff base was the only viable solution.

“The next decision was whether we would be a small, exclusive solution for artists and clients, or if we wanted to be a big agency that has 100 faces on the wall. I believe my personal management style lends itself to small and exclusive.

“I’m forever grateful for the timing that put this all into perspective for me. I had been building up my clients’ careers, as well as my own name within the industry. The Idols contract was a windfall, but trying to juggle so much while being pregnant made me take a step back and critically analyse what I wanted my business to be.

“Up until that point, I would have said I wanted to build an empire. My brand was strong enough to set me on that path. But that’s not who I wanted us to be.

“It took a growth surge to make me realise what direction I wanted to take my business in, and where we needed to focus our energies. I’m a creative; I’m OCD and a control freak. I want a personal touch with my artists; plus, I understand the reality TV business, and it’s unique.

“Reality TV musicians have a psyche that needs a personal touch, because the hard work really starts when they’re voted out, and they need to earn a place in the industry. You need to be able to leverage that brief period of stardom without losing hope because you’ve gone from zero to hero and back to zero. And that’s my niche.

“One of the greatest elements of the Idols account has been working under the guidance of the international management team. They have taught me so much over the last two years, and the insight into traction in international territories has given me a new direction to explore within my business.

“They’ve been an excellent guiding force in understanding the psyche of artists coming out of the reality show mould, which has assisted me greatly in trying to restructure my artists’ mind sets to continue with their passion,” says Kim.

“It’s not always easy to find that balance between reward and growth.”

“Often we’re so busy looking at the next goal post, and the next level of growth, that we forget to really think about what we want our businesses to be.

“We do this to fulfil a need and build a long-lasting brand and legacy. We should take the time to think about what we want that to look like, and how it should be operating.”

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

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

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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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