I knew many things when I was younger, but exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was not one of them. I fell into public relations (PR) and, for the next 18 years or so, that was pretty much what I did – and I enjoyed it By career standards, I did well: I was appointed managing director of the company in which I worked, but left shortly after when the knives in my back were too uncomfortable to bear. A few twists and turns later, I set up my own PR agency; and that’s when I started living – as Oprah would say – my best life.
The PR agency I started was not the first business I have set up, but it reinforced a valuable lesson I learnt a few years earlier: set up a business that you know and understand, ideally one in which you have worked before. It helps to know what you are getting into, and this will ultimately save you money.
Branching out on my own was liberating and is not nearly as scary as one might think. In a way, it’s like jumping into a swimming pool. Once you’ve established that there is water in the pool and that you can actually swim – go for it. It’s never as cold as you might think. A certain amount of risk is necessary to be successful as an entrepreneur, but there are lots of types of risk. Setting up a business that you know about with a first client secured is clever risk. Storming out of a job with no idea of what you want to do is crazy risk, and it will probably end in tears.
A PR consultancy needs very little capital to set up – I was essentially selling myself. I worked on my own for a long time until the business grew enough to justify an assistant. I was a fantastic employee: I worked literally 24/7, I didn’t complain and I didn’t pay myself much, but what I gave up in monetary terms I more than made up for in the sense of freedom and passion that I developed. It was liberating to realise that the buck absolutely and categorically stopped with me.
Over the years, I have jumped into many different pools and loved every second of it. I learnt that creating one’s own opportunities is another key to a fulfilling career. Rather than wait for the phone to ring, I created projects and things that I wanted to do. I ran a late-night restaurant in London, a small fashion business in Johannesburg and, more recently, a publishing company. In between, I became an author, I produced a television series, and I presented a radio and television show. But perhaps the most important lesson I learnt was about learning from my mistakes – and there were many.
My late-night restaurant taught me that good staff are hard to find and keep. The fashion business taught me the importance of knowing the ins and outs of the industry you are in before you get into it. The television series we produced taught me about choosing your partners carefully. Writing the book taught me that, if you set goals, you can achieve absolutely anything, and the publishing business has taught me that understanding how to market your products is perhaps the single most important focus for a business.
Along the way, I found out that, for me, the true definition of success was about having a vision, following your passion, setting goals and achieving some (not all) of your dreams. Life simply fills in the rest.
My profile will tell you this about me:
I am a television presenter/producer, publisher, writer, actress and entrepreneur. I hold an honours degree in politics, economics and law from Buckingham University in the United Kingdom. After selling my PR business, which I started in 2001, to the advertising group Draft FCB, I decided to follow my media passions.
From 2001 to 2006, I was the African anchor presenter and field reporter for Carte Blanche. In 2005, I produced and hosted a 26-part marketing show on the South African business channel Summit TV. I am currently appearing in MNet’s Pan-African drama series Jacob’s Cross.
I am an editorial contributor to various magazines and I completed a book, South Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs, which was on the Exclusive Books bestseller list in 2008. The same year, I coproduced and presented a lifestyle television series for MNet, called Living It, about the lifestyles of Africa’s wealthy elite.
My publishing business, which produced the top-selling title South Africa’s Greatest Entrepreneurs, went on to launch a fiction imprint called Nollybooks that supplies to schools and libraries.
What my profile won’t tell you is how much fun I had trying to be successful.
When I was younger, I had a recurring daydream: I was smartly dressed and carrying a briefcase en route to the airport. I would then board a plane and arrive at a five-star hotel somewhere in Africa, where, shortly afterwards, I would conduct a business meeting in the hotel’s lobby.
I didn’t know what the meetings were about or what was in my elegant briefcase, but I did know that I equated this scenario with a successful career. This was something I really wanted, and it eventually came to pass.
I tell you this to illustrate that having a vision for yourself is perhaps the most important key to a successful career either as an entrepreneur or as an employee. I believe it’s more important than knowing exactly what it is you want to do.
WIMBIZZ | Don't Wait for the Phone to Ring