Connect with us

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Modern See Brand Activators: Olwethu Libala

A promotions entrepreneur shares some of the lessons that have made her successful.

Juliet Pitman

Published

on

Olwethu Libala

Olwethu Libala, founder of promotions company, Modern See Brand Activators, lives by a few simple business rules. Some of them are derived from an inherent business sense. Others were learned the hard way. All of them have helped her build a successful company.

In a marketing industry that’s saturated by players both large and small, being the new kid on the block is tough. The need for work can divert your focus away from the original vision you had for your company, and while being flexible and responsive, the market environment is a critical aspect of any business’s survival, so too is a clear sense of self.

“It’s so easy to take on any job when you’re starting out and you’re desperate, but I realised that if I did that, I would just get lost among the hundreds of other non-specific marketing companies. I realised that what you need to do is understand, focus on and master your core business. Accept that you can’t be everything to everyone,” says Libala.  Bearing this in mind, she’s worked hard on building her company as a niche specialist. “Our goal is to be top-of-mind within our specific field – and you can’t achieve that if people associate you with everything in general and nothing in particular,” she adds.

Sometimes this means turning down work, and Libala says she struggled to learn how to say no. “I think many entrepreneurs who are still trying to prove themselves and who are eager to impress their clients make promises they know they can’t keep. I learned that accepting impossible deadlines can damage a relationship or even lose you a client. When you over-promise, you inevitably under-deliver. It’s important to remember that saying no is not a sign of incompetence,” she says.

Another tough lesson was about learning the importance of financial management. “I neglected this aspect of the business initially and it caught up with me. One days SARS informed me that I owed them a whole lot of money, and it came as an enormous shock,” she says. She describes it as ‘a very expensive lesson’ but it taught her not to run her business ‘like a tuck-shop’. “I very quickly made sure I became financially educated,” she says.

Vital stats

Player: Olwethu Libala

Company: Modern See Brand Activators

Launched: 2009

Contactolwethu@modernsee.co.za; +27 (0)82 864 2676

Juliet Pitman is a features writer at Entrepreneur Magazine.

Advertisement
Comments

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Pet Wellness Worx Found Business Success In Rehabilitating Pets

Lorren Barham, the founder of Pet Wellness Worx, spoke to Entrepreneur about the challenges of launching a business in a relatively unknown industry.

Nadine Todd

Published

on

lorren-barham

Vital stats

  • Player: Lorren Barham
  • Company: Pet Wellness Worx
  • Est: 2014
  • About: Lorren Barham is the owner and operator of the hydro underwater treadmill and therapist-in-the-pool facility of Pet Wellness Worx. The business specialises in the health, wellbeing and rehabilitative care of pets.
  • Visit: petwellnessworx.co.za

Certain business ideas are obvious, others aren’t. In a world where many founders are looking to create ‘the Uber of this’ or ‘the Uber of that’, a company that offers rehabilitative care for pets might seem like a niche lifestyle business.

But Lorren Barham’s Pet Wellness Worx has seen fantastic growth over the last three years precisely because it is so niche. Lorren identified a relatively unexploited niche and owned it.

In the modern business world where all the obvious opportunities have already been jumped at, success lies in finding that small but promising industry that is ripe for growth. Not that launching a start-up in this sort of space is easy, mind you. Chances are, you’ll need to educate consumers and grow your company slowly, but if you get the basics right, you can establish a sustainable operation with excellent long-term prospects.

1. How did you identify this unique business opportunity?

I did not have a background in the field, but I’ve always had an intense passion for animals, and because of my own pets, I knew about auto immune disorders like degenerative myelopathy, neurological spinal prolapse and hip dysplasia.

Related: Feel Like Quitting? These 9 Women Prove Grit Can Lead You To Massive Success

Over the years, some of my own animals had to deal with these issues, so I understood that there was a need for a facility that could assist with rehabilitation. So, going into the industry wasn’t a purely tactical business decision — I had a real passion for the work. I think that’s important. You can’t pursue a business idea simply because you think there’s an opportunity in it. You need to be passionate about it. When times are tough, it’s your passion that’ll keep you going.

2. What is your background?

Pet Wellness Worx

I have a corporate background. I started out as a personal assistant, and over the years, I furthered my education, completing courses in fields like bookkeeping and business administration. When I opened my own business, I found that the knowledge and experience I gained in the corporate environment was immensely useful. Procuring expensive equipment, for instance, was less intimidating because I knew how to deal with suppliers and negotiate a fair deal.

You don’t need an MBA, necessarily, but you need some basic business knowledge. You could be a great specialist in your specific field, but running your own business is something very different. As an entrepreneur, you wear a lot of hats, and you have to manage every aspect of the company — you have to manage employees, balance the books and do the marketing — so you need to educate yourself on the basics of running a business.

3. How did you prepare for the launch of the business?

I did a lot of research. I spent months figuring out exactly what sort of services I should provide, and how I should structure the business. Importantly, I had a goal and a mission. It helps to know what your ultimate goal is. Figure out what you want to achieve, and then do plenty of research. Take your time. Solid research will prevent you from making mistakes that can be costly down the line.

Related: Women Leaders In Business: 5 Lessons Learnt

4. How did you market the business in the early days?

We focused on qualified veterinarians. Not only could they refer clients to the business, but it was also clear that in order for the company to succeed, buy-in from them was necessary. So, I spent a lot of time at veterinarians’ offices. I had to show them that I was running a legitimate business that could do real good.

Whenever you operate in a niche area, you need to realise that some education will be necessary. You need to explain the value that you bring to potential customers, and to other important decision-makers in the field.

As the company built a solid track record, and I could show vets the improvement brought on by our rehab work, we started getting more and more clients. I truly ascribe a lot of our recent success to the fact that the vets embraced us.

5. What other marketing strategies have worked for you?

It’s very important to know exactly who you’re targeting. We’re very targeted in our approach. We go to animal shows and events, and we run adds on websites like showdogs.co.za, since these are places that we know we’ll find our target audience. Facebook is another great place to showcase the work that we do. Another strategy that has worked for me has been to write articles for publication.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

As mentioned earlier, it’s important to educate potential customers, and a great way to do this is through editorial. I’ve written articles for magazines and websites, and media companies have generally been willing to run them. If you write an informative article that’s suitable for publication, you can get your name out in that way.

Continue Reading

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Daniella Shapiro Of Oolala Collection Club’s Smart Strategies For Marketing Your Online Business

Entrepreneur, speaker and marketing expert Daniella Shapiro recently launched a proudly South African skincare, beauty and lifestyle eCommerce platform called the Oolala Collection Club. Here’s her advice for successfully marketing your start-up.

GG van Rooyen

Published

on

daniella-shapiro

Vital stats

  • Player: Daniella Shapiro
  • Company: Oolala Collection Club
  • Founded: 2016
  • Visit: www.oolalacollection.com
  • About: The Oolala Collection Club ships proudly South African high-quality skincare, beauty products and essential lifestyle brands direct to your doorstep.

The digital space offers a lot of opportunities when it comes to starting a business, but making your start-up stand out isn’t easy. There is a lot of competition and a lot of noise online, so success requires smart and very strategic marketing. Here’s advice from entrepreneur and marketing expert Daniella Shapiro on marketing your business effectively. Daniella’s advice is gleaned from creating her online beauty and lifestyle start-up, the Oolala Collection Club.

Authenticity is everything. Hyper-connected, information-savvy and socially-conscious consumers are extremely cautious and apprehensive of being sold to. Times have changed. Perfection and image are no longer everything. Now the term ‘image’ has a big question mark: Photo-shopped and filtered. Brand messages are carefully constructed, and consumers aren’t sold. They are seeking. Millennials are ruthless and obsessive in their pursuit for authenticity. They do not want to feel ‘manipulated’.

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

Brands need to get real. Transparency 3.0 is about making almost all touch points of the purchase and experience transparent: Pricing, reviews, popularity, and even personal relevance. In short, consumers want the real story. Smart brands are giving it to them.

Mistakes are inevitable, but the important thing is how you deal with them

Being human means making mistakes. If you do mess up or end up with a social media crisis, the first step you should take is to own it. Admit to faults and take immediate action to resolve the situation. This transparency lets your fans and customers know what happened and what you’re doing to fix it.

As a result, customers’ trust in your company should remain intact. You work so hard to acquire this trust, so you need to do whatever you can to keep it.  Companies should view mistakes as powerful opportunities to increase advocacy.

Ask yourself: What does my brand stand for?

Consumers appreciate brands that stand for more than the bottom line. A great way to build your brand is to make it stand for something by creating a social story that links to a meaningful social cause on a personal level. For example, The Oolala Collection Club is all about affordable luxury and cruelty-free beauty. These causes help position the brand strategically by communicating a clear message that the consumer can resonate with. This will automatically encourage and drives positive change.

Craft a compelling user experience for eCommerce

oolala-collection-club

eCommerce in South Africa is growing in leaps and bounds. South Africans are spending more time online searching for more affordable prices and seeking product recommendations on social media.

Convenience and shopping from the comfort of your own home has become more important as our lives become busier.

Related: Funding And Financial Assistance For SA Women Entrepreneurs

Subscription services allow the customer to do as little as possible, saving time and money, especially with companies offering same day or next day shipping. The whole eCommerce user experience must be seamless, simple and as efficient as possible, from the moment you log on to the site to the moment you check out.

Chatbots and real-time messaging are one of the most interactive ways your audience can learn about products, giving immediate answers to consumers. A Chatbot should be able to provide a personalised shopping experience. It can help users search for the appropriate product, provide comparisons and hand-hold a user through their buyer journey as well as offer sales support. Shopping cart abandonment is also reduced by answering questions immediately.

Know your audience

Considering the current state of the economy, having a well-defined target market is crucial.  No one can afford to target everyone. A small business can effectively compete with a large one by targeting a niche market. This allows you to focus your marketing budget and brand message on a specific market that is more likely to purchase from you and resonate with your brand message and products. Building your brand and social media following takes time and needs to grow organically.  Engagement is key. Build your followers by having a unique voice and consistent brand message that is interactive, relatable and focused.

Continue Reading

Women Entrepreneur Successes

3 Core Lessons From Afrizan On Building A Better Business With Smarter Recruitment

Recruitment experts Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi believe the future of your business’s success lies in whether you’re treating recruitment as a strategic imperative, and if you’re upskilling your employees (even if they’re going to take those skills with them when they leave).

Nadine Todd

Published

on

donna-silver-and-elvira-riccardi

Vital Stats

  • Players: Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
  • Company: Afrizan, a business unit of Persaf Holdings
  • Launched: 2001 (purchased from previous owner)
  • Turnover:  Group turnover is R150 million
  • Visit: afrizan.co.za

Between 2001 and 2007, Afrizan’s turnover was in the R12 million to R15 million range. Today the group as a whole is a R150 million business, and continues to grow. Why? Because it focused on a niche. “When you focus you can really become the expert in your field,” explains Elvira Riccardi.

“For us, we recognised that South Africa needed a recruitment agency that specialises in affirmative action. This wasn’t driven by altruistic or political motivations — it’s an economic imperative.”

The company’s growth over the past ten years demonstrates how well this specialisation has worked. More importantly, the lessons that Afrizan has accrued as specialists in the field sourcing for industry leaders in finance, insurance and banking are valuable insights into how you can get the most from your scarcest and most valuable resource: Your people. Here are their three core lessons in building a better business through smarter recruitment.

Related: 6 Tips to Keep in Mind When Hiring Your First Employees

1. Recruitment and skills development are economic imperatives

“I have an economics background, and I’m passionate about transformation,” says Elvira. “Our focus tends towards top-down solutions only. If we’re going to grow South Africa’s economy, we need to see bottom up transformation, as well. If we transform South Africa’s workforce, we will transform the economy.”

This isn’t just transformation rhetoric for Elvira — there’s a strong business case for every company in South Africa to get on board. “If you’re interested in long-term growth, upskilling is an imperative,” agrees Donna Silver.

“Companies have the view that if you spend money upskilling your employees, they’ll leave and take their skills with them, and someone else will benefit from your investment. Our question is this: Are you in this for the short-term or long-haul? Because if you’re focused on the future of your business, then the economics are simple — increase supply and the salary/skill variances will stabilise; not over decades, but in a few short years. At the moment, skill shortages mean paying a premium for scarce skills. Increase skills, and salaries will become more realistic.”

Elvira and Donna have seen first-hand through the Cadet Academy, Afrizan’s youth development vehicle, how teaching and training can make an impact on the workforce, salaries and the economy as a whole.

“The current reality is that corporates go to universities and all compete to scoop up the top performing graduates. They’re competing with each other and international companies, and once those grads have obtained some experience in the workplace, they are head-hunted again by competing firms,” says Elvira.

But there is a solution. “The workplace doesn’t currently need another person with an over-subscribed degree, but we have learnt that the right degree from the right institution is a reliable predictor of ability,” she continues.

“The phenomenal success of our Cadet Academy proves this theory. We’ve placed over 1 000 cadets who didn’t necessarily have the requisite experience or a relevant degree and found that a graduate will often learn more in three months than a non-degreed person will learn on the job in five years — even if their degree isn’t necessarily related to the industry they’ve joined.”

“The academy channels cadets into admin-intensive roles that function as incubators,” Donna continues. “If you find a cadet with the right attitude, they are learning the business from the ground up. They get to know the brand, and, with the right attitude, are promoted. We only hire graduates who see the opportunity in joining an organisation in an entry-level position.”

Afrizan is convinced of the benefit of a developmental focus. “There are currently less than 50 black female actuaries in South Africa, but the needle is moving all the time,” says Elvira. “Female chartered accountants used to be a scarce commodity, now it’s a position that’s no longer on the scarce skills list. Things change. But you need to constantly work at it, and everyone benefits.”

One of Afrizan’s cadets is now head of graduate recruitment at a leading media house. “She drove here from Bethlehem to interview for our cadet programme. Her mother had to drive back to pick up her things when we offered her the job. She was willing and eager to start immediately. That’s the calibre of people we find through this programme, and they’re a great asset to their employers.”

2. Recruitment is strategic, not operational

afrizan

One of the biggest errors businesses make, according to Donna and Elvira, is treating recruitment as an operational function, instead of a strategic one. Although driven by operations, it shouldn’t originate at an operational level.

“Recruitment and marketing should work hand in hand, and it should absolutely be at the centre of every company’s strategy,” says Elvira. “As a business, you’re competing for skills and clients — every person who walks through your doors is potentially both. What is your strategy to attract the best, keep them, and ensure that you not only have a strong employer brand, but a brand that customers want to support?

“How you treat people, from those you’ve employed to people who you’re interviewing, all interlinks in the market place with your customer pool. Your employees are future customers, and they can either be brand ambassadors in the market place, or spreading discontent based on how they and their colleagues were, or are treated. Your market cares about how your employees are treated, and your employees can directly impact customer goodwill.”

In order to achieve this, Donna and Elvira believe that businesses need to start by changing their corporate vision, mission and identity. “This all speaks to how you meet people, mentor them and grow them,” says Elvira. “Get this right and it will absolutely impact your bottom line. Where’s the result? What did you achieve? It’s a business objective — so is it filtering down? The future is skill. Your business’s growth depends on it, so are you finding the right skills, growing them and nurturing them? Because that’s your competitive edge when no-one else is doing it.”

Donna and Elvira believe the most successful businesses must have a strategy parallel to skills development. “Hire the best and most skilled, and in addition develop internally, and grow your industry and business,” says Donna. “For the first three years many of the people you train and upskill will be stolen, sure. But by then there will be new skilled individuals in the market, you can concentrate on hiring again, and salaries won’t continue to be driven up by scarce skills.”

There’s an added benefit to this strategy too. “Consider what this is doing for your brand in the meantime,” says Donna. “You’re earning BEE points, plus you’re developing a robust training policy that you can use to keep your employees by agreeing to payment terms if they leave the company within a stipulated time frame. You’re also building a good employer brand known for having and training the best people in the industry that all your competitors are trying to poach. People will always feel brand affinity for a company that upskilled them, even if they leave — and they’re sharing that affinity with their friends and family — your potential customers. It’s a simple sustainability strategy, and you’re training people into your culture, systems and processes.”

Elvira agrees. “We’re not focused enough on development. It’s perceived as a cost. So many companies view this as a negative, and so people aren’t trained or retained. Top executives agree that to survive today you need skills, but that doesn’t filter down through the organisation. Procurement and learning and development just tick boxes. And the result is that you miss out on a real strategic differentiator.

“What we’ve experienced in the market is that too many businesses don’t have enough respect for recruitment. What is your recruiter doing, whether they’re internal or an agency? They are procuring a valuable skill. This should be viewed as a selling opportunity. Depending on their skill level, you aren’t doing candidates a favour — you want to attract them. Does your ethos support that?

“Skills are the most sought-after commodity in the universe, and yet they’re not given nearly enough strategic focus — not in recruiting them, upskilling them, or keeping them.”

3. Use the skills development levy to your advantage

The new BEE Codes of Good Practice came into operation in May 2015 and included significant changes in terms of skills development. The target for spend increased from 3% to 6% of the leviable amount (your annual payroll). Donna and Elvira have seen a shift in the market because of this B-BBEE qualification. It’s working — but are companies making the most of it?

“Procurement will drive BEE, because it’s a mandate” says Donna, “This means businesses bring learners in, but too often they are under-utilised because we are too busy to train them. This is just one instance where you could be using a mandate as a competitive edge, instead of just ticking a box.

Related: The Key To Hiring The Best Employees

“Not only do you get points for training people, but if you keep those learners and employ them, you get five bonus points. SMEs through to corporates qualify for these points, and it’s an excellent way for SMEs that are not majority black-owned, in particular, to reach level 2, 3 or 4 status.

“What are you doing to achieve this in your business? Essentially, you just need to focus on creating skills that you need anyway. This shouldn’t be a grudge spend. It’s a real business solution.”


TOP TIPS

Interviewing for success

Here are Donna and Elvira’s top tips for interviewing — and hiring — the best candidates for your business.

  1. Red flags. One of our favourite questions is ‘Tell me about when you missed a deadline.’ It’s an immediate red flag if they say they never have; either they’re lying or they’re not accountable. We’re looking for an answer that says they had an issue, what that issue was, that they recognised it, and how they found a solution — solution and accountability are key. We’ve found that a person’s belief system dictates how they answer this. Everyone believes they’re right. No one is trying to give you a terrible answer, but what they say gives you real insight into their beliefs.
  2. Uncover values. There’s one sentence that will also give you huge insight into your candidate and their values: ‘What’s the one thing your parents said to you that you will always remember?’
  3. Hire for attitude. Look for phrases like ‘I’m prepared to do anything,’ and ‘any work experience is positive’. You’re looking for candidates ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and build their careers — even if it’s from the ground up.
  4. Find motivators. One strategy that will reveal how determined a candidate is to join your organisation and to prove themselves is to offer a lower salary with potential for growth.
  5. People don’t change. Interviewing is a psychological science. Past behaviour is absolutely a predictor of future behaviour, so you want to uncover that past behaviour. People change, but you can’t change a person’s wiring. People may grow and mature, but there are fundamental behaviours that won’t change. If you’re always late, you’ll likely always be late, for example.
  6. In control. As recruiters, we’ve found our biggest successes are often the children of entrepreneurs, because they’ve learnt that they are the architects of their own destiny.
  7. Interviewing is a skill. Most managers aren’t good interviewers; it’s not a skill that’s been practised or that they’re focused on. It’s not what they do. They are specialists in their fields. If you’re a manager or business owner interviewing people, think through your questions and interview process carefully, and upskill yourself. In other words, take it seriously. This is the foundation of your entire staff strategy and complement.
  8. Use technology. Technology can make the whole process easier, particularly if you are stretched for time. Spend time designing questions and then get someone else to ask them. Video each interview, watch the interviews in your own time, and then select the top candidates for face-to-face interviews.
  9. People lie. Don’t rely on CVs or take them at face value. People lie. One of the most common issues we see is people who take the job spec of the position they’re applying for, and copy and paste it into their CVs. They’re not truly representing themselves, they’re just trying to be what the company says it needs. This makes the interview particularly important. People make up stories, and if you don’t know how to interview, it’s not always easy to catch them out.
  10. Use references. Make sure you have qualifying questions to double check everything interviewees claim to know. One of the best ways to still do this is through reference checks. Many people think reference checks are a waste of time, but they’re actually your greatest tool — if you ask the right questions. Be direct. Don’t ask open-ended questions. We think people won’t say bad things about someone else, but they also won’t put their credibility on the line. If you state what the job entails, and if the candidate can deliver, that’s a yes or no question. Ask for an example of what they have delivered based on specific requirements. In particular, ask the question ‘If you were going to develop the candidate, what would be your recommendation?’ You’re not looking for a negative answer, but it will give you insight.

KEY INSIGHTS

Skills shortages are driving up salaries — if you want to compete in the future, upskill now

You might invest in employees who leave, but if upskilling is integral to your long-term growth strategies, you’ll not only increase the pool of skills in your industry, you’ll become known as the company in your sector with the most skilled employees (that everyone’s trying to poach and where everyone wants to work).

Recruitment is strategic, not operational

Operations drive recruitment, but the company’s focus and mandate must be determined at a

board level. Skills are the most sought-after commodity in the universe — are you giving them enough focus?

The skills development levy is a boon, not just a compliance issue

BEE legislation now requires that 6% of an entity’s leviable SDL salary spend (your annual salary bill) be spent on training. You can either use this to your advantage, or view it as a grudge purchase.

Continue Reading

Trending

FREE E-BOOK: How to Build an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Sign up now for Entrepreneur's Daily Newsletters to Download​​