How did you identify the market opportunity?
I started out as an advertising and promotions manager for an IT company and I became involved in the conferencing side of the business. I was drawn to the glitz and glamour of it all. In 1989, when I started the company, there were few event-focused agencies, and no one thought about booking their conferences through event managers.
I began cold calling and I had to convince companies of the benefits of going through an agent.
Where did you find start-up capital?
I used money I had saved. You don’t need much capital in the service industry and, if you do it right, you can make money from month one.
What is your differentiator?
Solutions Group is bigger than most event management companies. I employ ten people, where many work alone out of the second bedroom in their cluster. I believe in doing it right or not at all. You have to have staff and proper offices to succeed.
I learnt a lot about image and professionalism from working in advertising. Also, I am always calling people, making new contacts and asking for business. It helps that I really like what I do – I don’t see it as a job, I see it as an opportunity to build relationships with people.
Can you identify what your big break was?
I got my first brief one week into starting the business, and it became consistently busier. One of the first big clients I signed up has been with me ever since. I don’t believe in the 80/20 principle, so I always aim to have as many diverse clients as possible every year. You cannot risk going out of business because you lose one contract.
What was your key sales driver?
It’s always been very simple – get on the phone and call. I measure my sales people by the number of calls they make every day, and how many of those are converted into meetings. We go for big companies with budgets, not small players who count every penny.
Also, I encourage my team to infiltrate a company – if you sign up one product launch event, you cannot say you have that company’s account. You have to get into the organisation and ensure you do its training, marketing and sales conferences too.
What is your marketing strategy?
This has always been quite low key. We send an e-newsflash to clients and prospects once a month and we work with our PR agency on getting exposure in all sorts of publications. I’m also a firm believer in client hospitality programmes and relationship building exercises.
You can never have too much business. I’m competitive and I need to see growth every year. Perhaps most importantly, we do everything stylishly.
What is the biggest obstacle you have faced?
BEE policies have made things very difficult for small companies. These have impacted the procurement process and the way business is done. Companies used to source two or three quotes for an event; now we are briefed around a table with 20 other companies.
It’s a process I find quite vulgar, especially when I know it’s just a formality. The best way to address this is to put a fantastic proposal together that cannot be turned down. Ultimately it boils down to the law of averages – the more you pitch, the more you are likely to win.
Mind Power into the 21st Century by John Kehoe
Be positive and visualise what you want. The mind is all powerful and can get you there.