Shift ONE is an integrated marketing agency providing marketing, digital marketing and advertising services. It was started by Dylan Kohlstadt five years ago, when she was retrenched after 20 years in the corporate environment. Kohlstadt had often considered an entrepreneurial venture, but had no idea how to go about it. She attended a three-month entrepreneurial course which gave her the courage, motivation and insight to take the plunge.
One of the first things Kohlstadt did was get access to a business mentor, a relationship that turned out to be crucial in her first year in business. Another big step was to take office space early on, which she believes has helped her to grow more quickly.
When reflecting on the journey so far, Kohlstadt said: ‘It has taken a huge effort to get my business to this level, from hiring interns only, to my first full-time staff member, to eventually hiring a real expert for a top salary. All of these lessons and challenges have pushed me out of my comfort zone and into the space where my business can grow. I am now at the point where I am removing myself from working in the business, so I can focus on working ON the business. I have appointed senior managers who know what I know so they can take over the day-to-day interactions with clients, and I can focus on strategy and growing the business into the UK and the world.’
One of the biggest challenges Kohlstadt experienced was having to fire her biggest client. ‘I had a client that refused to work with my staff, and insisted on working with me only. I would invoice them between R15,000-50,000 per month and the money was certainly appreciated, but the engagement with them was becoming increasingly demanding and even hostile. Although we eventually stopped working together, I still meet the CEO for lunch and chat to him on the phone from time-to-time. There is no bad blood between us as I don’t believe in burning bridges. However they needed to understand that there is a premium on my time, and that it has value.’
Another difficult period was when Kohlstadt’s second child was born. ‘I had to bring her to the office two weeks after she was born, and she spent her first few months with me at work.’ When asked about the challenges of being a mom and a female entrepreneur, she replied: ‘It can be hard to have a family and not be able to attend networking events after hours, or manage my day around dropping kids at school. Women need role models to understand that they can run their own company without neglecting their families, it just takes determination and flexibility and a good team.’
One of the strategies that sets Shift ONE apart is that they transfer knowledge to their clients. ‘We teach them how to do what we do, so they can do it for themselves. We actively give back by giving free training (Freebie Fridays) to anyone wanting to learn about digital marketing, plus we give low-cost training to those who want to learn more about how to grow their businesses.’
Kohlstadt also believes in developing her staff. ‘I hire people who show great potential and train them up. I spend hundreds of hours training and passing on my knowledge to my team so that they can earn more as they learn more.’
The company actively pursues business from abroad (UK, USA, Australia) with a view to turning their offices into a digital marketing factory. With the current exchange rate, it is cheaper to outsource to South Africa than to India, and this is something they take advantage of. The acronym ‘HIT TALL’ describes their David versus Goliath mentality. ‘We are not a big ad agency that charges huge rates and is slow to deliver the work. We are small, nimble and fast, we get the work done for half the price at half the time of other agencies.’
When asked about her entrepreneurial journey, Kohlstadt responded with this analogy: ‘When I was still in corporate I felt like a dairy cow – a cow that had been raised in a herd of other cows, always told what to do and where to go and where to drink and what to think. When I became an entrepreneur, it was as if that terrified dairy cow was suddenly all alone in the wild veld, terrified of its own shadow, terrified of every noise, terrified to take one step in case it was the wrong one and led to death. After five years of being an entrepreneur, I can happily say that I now feel like a longhorn steer – those wild cows in North America that have horns that span 11 meters from tip to tip, and are known to take on cougars and grizzly bears. I am no longer afraid!’
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