Never, ever, give up, says Tamra Capstick-Dale, managing director of public affairs and reputation management consultancy Corporate Image, based in Johannesburg and Cape Town.
Corporate Image works mainly for large listed companies and has worked in 30 countries around the world.
Many of its clients have been with the company, which was founded in 1987, for more than two decades. With a team of 28, she describes Corporate Image as being, in many ways, more of a large family than a medium-sized company.
She has 10 tips for small companies and start-ups.
Survive the first five years
The first five years are critical. Get over that milestone and you should be fine.
Develop, nurture and leverage your network. Referrals are the best kind of business. And never let down a customer or a client who's been referred to you – you won't get many more referrals if you do.
Be persistent without being a nuisance. Sometimes I've hired a company to do work for us who wrote to me each year.
One letter is not enough – you simply don't remember in the avalanche of emails you receive.
Put people first
Be good to your people. Pay fairly. Praise in public and criticise in private.
Find an anchor customer
Try to find an anchor customer or client that covers all or most of your overheads.
Then focus on growing. But never stay that way – relying on one to keep your business afloat is very risky.
Always be honest, decent, and tough but fair in your dealings with people, and expect the same courtesy. It doesn’t cost you anything.
Working for yourself is enormously gratifying but it’s really hard work.
Don’t believe anyone who says it’s easier than working for a company or institution. It isn’t. But it’s more fun.
Befriend the bank
Stay friends with your bank. Update them; tell them what’s happening in your business.
Be honest about challenges and opportunities.
Bank the money
With your first success, bank the money.
If you can, always keep three months of overheads in the bank as cash.
You never know when you might need it.