- Player: Prudence Spratt
- Company: Spratt Consulting
- Associations: Member of the GIBS Entrepreneurship Club
- Launched: 2013
- Visit: spratt.co.za
Prudence Spratt left a successful corporate career after completing her MBA at the Gordon Institute of Business Science to launch her own business because she spotted a need and realised that despite moving up the corporate ladder, corporate life wasn’t for her.
These are the top five start-up lessons she’s learnt while building her ecommerce project management firm.
1. Find and meet a need
If, like Spratt, you know that you’re not cut out for the corporate world (or at least, as someone with a boss in the corporate world), then the first step is figuring out what you have to offer your potential customers. What do they need?
Spratt’s background was project and programme management, and she had worked for some of the biggest networking companies in the business, including Internet Solutions, Dimension Data and Cisco, and was the ecommerce product manager at Vodacom.
“Working within large organisations, I realised there was a need for smaller firms that are ecommerce project management experts who understand corporate needs and systems, and yet are not subject to the same red tape and bureaucracy. Big digital consultancy firms can take up to a year to complete a project. There’s a lot of red tape on both sides. If you take that away you can execute faster.
“Consultants that are experts in managing these projects are highly specialised and very expensive. The result is that agencies often end up doing that component of the project as well, even though it’s not their area of expertise.
“By analysing the situation I could see that there was a big gap for a consultancy that can do what big firms can do, but at a more affordable rate. Plus, we could execute projects faster, and that entrepreneurial agility is a real differentiator.
“Looking at the ecommerce landscape and critically analysing it gave me the confidence that there was a need that my particular skill set could fill.”
2. Get your foot in the door
No matter how much experience you have, or how good your reputation is within your industry circles, you still need to find and secure your first clients. Spratt had a very specific strategy in this regard.
“I targeted projects in distress,” she explains. “Projects that are in need of rescue tend to be toxic, stressful environments. Everyone hates each other, things are going wrong, it’s costing money and the client needs help. No one wants to step into a mess, and so it’s an easy sell, first because something needs to be done to salvage the project, and second, because you’re offering your services in an area that everyone else is trying to avoid.
“It was an extremely stressful space to launch the business, because I was stepping into such a negative space, but doing a few of them gave me the experience and more importantly the confidence to approach other clients.
“Execution is where people often fall down, and that’s our sweet spot. Successful project management encompasses everything, from start to finish, keeping the online and offline user experience top of mind.”
3. Don’t lose focus
Like many entrepreneurs, Spratt has bootstrapped her business, the only investment a cash pay-out from her corporate pension, and her access bond and credit cards. The result was that in the early days cash was a scarce commodity.
“You end up taking anything that pays money, and for me, that was anything related to digital,” says Spratt.
The problem was that Spratt Consulting was meant to be a company that specialised in big ecommerce projects. “Instead, I found that we were quickly becoming another digital agency,” she says.
“I don’t believe South Africa needs another agency. That was red waters, full of competitors. It’s also not where my skill set actually lies. I can do it, but we were never going to be leaders if all we did was social media and ad buying. There are other agencies far better than us. In project management though, we could be the industry leaders.
“I had to put the brakes on any agency work and focus on what I wanted the business to be: A consulting firm with a digital development arm.
“The development side of the business functions independently but can also complement the consulting side, mainly because I often can’t find good developers, or the existing team has let the client down.
“Focusing on these two core areas meant saying no to agency work at first, which was essentially saying no to revenue, and that was difficult. It’s something you really need to wrap your head around, especially when there are bills to be paid.
“But it also opened up the time to find and say yes to the work I wanted to take on, and that was how we were going to build the business in the direction we wanted to go.”
4. Never stop selling
Keep your pipeline full. That’s one of the toughest lessons Spratt had to learn the hard way. “In consulting I’m the project manager, but it can’t consume me on the execution side. I also need to be the person out there selling, keeping the pipeline full. In the early days we’d finish a project and I’d realise that I’d been so busy executing the job that I hadn’t been out selling, making sure we had the next job. The result was big gaps between projects — gaps where no revenue was coming in.
“Selling was something I’d never done before. I’d had lots of roles, and sales support was one of them, but I’d never had to hustle. Initially it was a bit scary, but the thought of losing the business and not having an income was scarier, and so you push on.
“It helped that I believed in what I was doing. I felt like I was helping my clients. If you believe enough, it almost doesn’t feel like selling. But either way, you have to be out there doing it. It’s only later, once you’re more established, that business starts coming your way. You can’t expect that as a start-up.”
5. Create your culture
This is important from the very beginning of your start-up journey. Get your foundations right and the rest will follow. For Spratt, her methodology, control and the tools she uses are what set her apart from other project managers.
“There’s a very specific way I want Spratt Consulting to operate, and this needs to be taught,” she says. “I can’t rely on consultants and freelancers to do things my way without being trained in my methodology.”
Spratt works with new members of the team. “They shadow me, learning my processes before running their own projects. It takes longer, but the right foundations are being laid. Ultimately, I need the Spratt Consulting name to have a strong reputation without the need for me to personally execute a project, and that means taking the time to upskill my team.”
Critically evaluate each decision you make according to your original vision: Is it working towards that vision, or is it a short-term win that actually moves you away from your business goals?
Channeling The Fire Of Authenticity: Asia’s’ Top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh
Joanna Soh’s introspective look into why her YouTube channel is not a ‘side project’ and how she makes a difference to her audience.
“The best project you will ever work on is you” – Joanna Soh
The scene was the rooftop of the Cascades Residency in Kota Damansara, Malaysia where the tranquillity of a high vantage point, the colourful deep blue of the pool, and the hypnotic sound of a waterfall created a suitable ambience to interview Asia’s’ top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh.
I only interview entrepreneurs and leaders with a sense of purpose and a deep love for what they do. Joanna Soh is no exception, her smile carries the fire of authenticity, tenacity, caring, and vulnerability. This fire has most definitely spread as Joanna is Asia’s’ top ‘YouTuber’ with well over 1 Million followers and she openly shared her fears and struggles, that in itself is a valuable lesson to all entrepreneurs. Within the willingness to admit to your fears and weaknesses lies great strength and it is an understatement to exclaim that Joanna is a strong woman.
She is driven by the purpose of adding value and making a difference to her audience and is uplifted by the feedback of her fans for they mean so much to her. As I saw a childlike sense of awe and gratitude in her eyes when she spoke about her achievements I was reminded of the master poet Rumi’s’ advice to us all:
“Sell your cleverness and purchase awe”.
Stop making everything so complicated and stop taking yourself so seriously are only some of the basic lessons that Joanna’s’ entrepreneurial journey has taught her. She acknowledges that the ‘road less travelled’ of entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey and reminds the reader that when she started she also had no audience and had to build her brand. That is the reason why having a strong purpose is so valuable as it ensures longevity and makes it hard to give up on your entrepreneurial dreams.
Related: Make Money from YouTube Videos
Starting out Joanna stumbled upon a YouTube article that revealed that there was only one other Asian girl that was sharing fitness related content and took the gap with great agility. Her behaviour reminded me of Julius Caesars’’ famous words:
“I came, I saw, and I conquered.”
Joanna used and still uses basic discipline as a focal point for her brands’ growth. From the start she was disciplined enough to not treat her YouTube channel as a ‘side project’ but instead ensured that she at least worked eight hours a day on her project and meticulously researched all the technicalities of building and scaling her now famous brand.
This influential leader taught the author that there is a science behind building a strong following on YouTube. Every videos’ title is very important and whom you tag is also a priority. All these seemingly small details and mechanisms create compound interest over time when you build your brand on YouTube.
Joanna understands the importance of business metrics and daily tracks the amount of subscribers she has. At this juncture I would like to point out that Joanna’s’ followers grow by thirty thousand per month on average!
Although her background working as a TV producer in England has helped in creating a foundation for her it is most definitely not the only contributing and critical factor to her success. This YouTube stars’ relentless purpose of adding value to her followers has driven her to create ‘evergreen content’ that will still be relevant in five years’ time.
Lean in a little closer
I hope that the reader now ‘leans in’ and carefully listen to this YouTube icons’ advice, and more importantly apply the learnings contained therein:
‘Do not start a channel with the mind-set of getting rich nor famous quickly. Rather start with a clear and defined purpose – Why are you doing it, and what is really going to drive you?
Do not just upload a lot of content and then stop
Consistency is critical so therefore upload according to a pre-set schedule carefully keeping your target audience in mind. Do not limit yourself even in choice of platform, just put yourself out there. Simplicity is very important and therefore leave your audience with very easy to understand tips and practical solutions.
Discipline is a key value
Whether you are tired or not and even when you are not getting early traction still keep on doing it and be patient enough to receive your reward later. Build discipline over time and always remind yourself that helping people and adding value to them will always make you feel more grounded and centred.
Understand your audience and they will keep growing with you. Know who your audience is and work towards that strength. I know for example that eighty percent of my audience is female and continuously track the demographics of my audience. Slowly but surely take on branded sponsors whose vision and activities align with yours.
Carefully select who you follow online and feed off that persons’ energy
Do not confuse yourself and your purpose by following too many people from different industries.’
We concluded the interview and I felt inspired not only by her success but mainly by her tenacity and fierceness as a leader combined with the willingness to share her vulnerabilities which ultimately makes her stronger and stronger.
Follow Joanna Soh and you will learn something valuable. I already am…
10 Inspirational Quotes From Successful Actress-Turned-Entrepreneur Jessica Alba
Jessica Alba isn’t just another Hollywood face — she’s also the founder of a billion-dollar business
While many only recognise Jessica Alba for her performances in Sin City or Fantastic Four, in the entrepreneurial world Alba’s name goes beyond her role as a Hollywood star.
Rising to fame as a young actress, Alba saw much success early on. However, it wasn’t until 2015, when Alba co-founded The Honest Company, that she became a prominent name in the business world. What originally began as a beauty line has since grown into a billion-dollar 500-plus-employee business that sells safe and healthy baby, personal care, cleaning products and more.
It’s safe to say Alba can teach you a thing or two about entrepreneurship and running a successful business.
To learn more, here are 10 inspirational quotes from the actress-turned-entrepreneur.
Dylan Kohlstädt Of Shift One Marketing Weighs In On Digital Marketing For Start-Ups
Digital marketing maverick Dylan Kohlstädt unpacks how start-ups can maximise their marketing spend, get noticed and reach customers through savvy and cost-effective digital campaigns.
- Player: Dylan Kohlstädt
- Company: Shift One Marketing
- Visit: www.shiftone.co.za
How can start-ups go about using social media, networking and word-of-mouth to grow their businesses?
You have to be active on social media, that’s a given, but the only way to cut through the content marketing clutter is to produce content that moves the needle, and the only way to do that is to really immerse yourself in your customer segments. Ideally, it’s video-based, and ideally, your customers are creating the content for you.
Social media is digital word-of-mouth — so if you’re doing it well, customers will become your sales reps, and refer friends to you. Make it as easy as possible for customers to buy from you (usability testing), and for them to refer you.
Why is it easier to market your business than before?
Digital marketing is cheap, and you can set it up and manage it yourself. It also means that you can segment your markets like never before, and reach micro targeted segments with just a few rands. Facebook ads are super cheap, as long as you’re not chasing ‘likes’. You might actually get a few sales from them. Just remember, there’s a lot of rubbish you’ll have to trawl through first.
On the other hand, why is it also harder with such overcrowded markets?
Everyone has competitors, because all it takes is a website and a few bucks and you’ve got a business. Niching is critical. You have to understand your market. You have to be unique. You have to appeal to them, and their needs and emotions.
You have to understand their needs really well. Marketing plays a critical role in brand building — without the research involved in marketing your business, you might not understand your target audience well enough, and your product or service might not hit the mark as a result. Similarly, without a clear brand, you’re going to be lost in the sea of competitors out there.
How can start-ups access their beachhead markets through digital marketing campaigns?
It’s important to be very clear on who your customer is and what your niche is before embarking on a digital campaign. The more niche your market, and the more defined your product, the more success you’ll have and the cheaper your marketing becomes. I encourage start-ups to complete detailed market analysis covering:
- Who is your customer? Include market size, description, demographics.
- What need drives them? What is the gap?
- What are their emotions? What emotions cause them to make decisions and how can you appeal to these emotions, bearing in mind that emotions make people buy, while logic makes them think.
- Which product is right for them? Which product meets their needs?
- What is your message to them? How are you going to package all of what you know about them to create messaging that is compelling?
- What channels are they on? Where are you going to find them? This is critical as you need to target channels that they’re using, and not only the ones you’re comfortable with using.
- What content do they need? This will inform your content marketing strategies.
Related: Can Your Marketing Team Speak Data?
If you don’t do research, you make assumptions. The more time you spend on this process, the cheaper and more effective your marketing will be. It will also help you avoid one of the most common mistakes start-ups make when it comes to establishing who their target market is — you want to be niche, not broad.
Nearly all markets are accessible via digital marketing, and if they are not digital, then SMS and radio. The more information you have about your customers, and the more niched you are in segmenting them, the better your results.
How can a start-up figure out who their real target market is? Any tips?
There are many forms of research out there, but the ones I personally advocate are:
- Usability testing: Get six to 12 customers to use your website and products. This gives you endless insights into who they are and what drives them, as well as the correct wording to use throughout your communication with them.
- Dipstick research: We go to customers, wherever they are, and talk to them, find out who influences them, find out what drives them, find out their feeling about your product and your competitors.
- Content research: Once you’ve identified the voices in the community, reach out to them to get content, establish them as influencers to the community, and create content that is appealing to the market, because it comes from the market.
What should start-ups avoid doing?
Many companies avoid the channels they are not comfortable with. Many agencies produce content that appeals to the account management team, and not to customers. Don’t make big production TV ads or sign up an agency that just wants to win awards — rather create YouTube content that your customers will respond to.
Start-ups often think they need funding to launch. When is this not actually the case and why?
In a services industry, you can get away with bootstrapping. With tech companies, you’ll need to rely on sweat equity (which generally means partnering with a developer and giving them shares in the business) if you can’t afford to pay them. You might just get stuck with someone that isn’t that great at development, but at least they are working on your project for free.
If you do go the bootstrapping route, you need to keep your costs low. You definitely don’t want offices. Instead, run your small team through collaborative online platforms like Trello, Slack or Asana.
Don’t be in a hurry to get funding — it comes with a whole new set of trouble and it might kill your business. Instead, loan what you can from the 3Fs (friends, fools and family), or even a bank loan if you can get one. At least you retain ownership of the business.
Why is cash flow more important than funding in many cases?
Funding isn’t the panacea that start-ups think it is. There are many alternatives to finding an investor, including overdrafts and loans from friends. Cash flow is critical for the day-to-day running of your business. Funding might only pay out in a year’s time, based on performance, and in that time you might run out of cash.
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