Just under ten years ago, Brett Perlstein returned to South Africa after working in the US and Canada. Arriving in Canada had turned out to be a happy accident. Originally only planning to work extensively in the US, work visa troubles meant Brett crossed the border into its northern neighbour’s territory, where he met the founders of a successful little start-up called SearchKings™.
Returning home a few months later, the idea kept percolating that here was an opportunity Brett needed to grab. “SearchKings™ was a solid business operating in an advanced market, and I believed that with the right business plan, I could bring it to South Africa and add value to our own market. SearchKings™ is one of only a handful of Google Premium partners in the world. Google has an incredible platform and tools that any business owner can use – all you need is a credit card. I believed that if I could get SearchKings™ off the ground in South Africa, I could help local businesses grow their market share and access key marketing and business insights to help them unlock their potential online.”
Brett reached out to his now longstanding Canadian partners who gave him six months and three weeks of training and told him that if he could go out and secure ten clients, they would talk.
Almost ten years, 27 employees and 300 customers later, and the rest is history.
These are the lessons Brett has learnt during his journey.
“Everyone always thinks they need to come up with the next Facebook or Uber. The reality is that there are a lot of great business models operating in different markets that could really add value to South Africa,” says Brett. “Do your research. Look at other regions, markets and industries and evaluate if solutions already exist that can be repurposed or launched in South Africa – or just in a different industry or vertical.”
“This is a big one for me,” says Brett. “Building a business means taking risks. Many of those risks are calculated, but you are going to fail – and you’re going to fail more than once. If you can’t do that, rather don’t become an entrepreneur.”
As a CA(SA) – yes Brett became a chartered accountant before he decided to travel and work around the world and came back determined to bring SearchKings™ to South Africa – Brett has a solid financial background, but you don’t need to be an accountant to pay attention to your numbers.
“Knowing your numbers is critical,” he says. “Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business. I’ve been exposed to too many great businesses that struggle because the owner is not in touch with the numbers and is too reliant on the company’s accountant or book-keeping firm. Knowing your numbers lets you understand how healthy your business truly is.”
Today’s marketing is data driven. It can be tracked and directly attributed to the bottom line – but only if you completely understand the four stages of demand.
This is where Brett and his team specialise. Stage one is creating and channeling demand. Stage two is capturing demand (or driving traffic to your website or lead capture form so that you can convert an online lead). Stage three is converting demand, and this is where many businesses need to pay more attention if they are serious about growing revenue.
“What happens when the phone rings? Where do forms go? What email addresses are people emailing? We’ve seen so many cases of marketing campaigns capturing and sending hundreds of leads to phone numbers that aren’t monitored or inboxes that don’t exist. What is the point of marketing if you are not converting demand?”
Finally, fulfill that demand – in other words, be the best business you can be with exceptional customer services, and your marketing loop is closed.
“Founding a business can be lonely and many entrepreneurs tend to do everything themselves and then struggle to relinquish control,” says Brett. “If you want to grow, you need to hire great people and then give them autonomy to develop, even if that means they will sometimes make mistakes – and you need to let them. As difficult as this sounds to many entrepreneurs, if you want to scale, you have to know when to step back. Don’t poke your head in.”
“We all love talking about growth, but some exceptionally successful and profitable businesses stay small,” says Brett. “You might think that you want a R50 million business, but that comes with a lot of complexity, staffing and management layers that you might not like. Instead, start with the end in mind – what do you want your business to look like?”
“There is so much potential on this continent. I love that I’ve been able to roll up my sleeves and really make a difference, both to our clients and to the people I employ. It’s one of key drivers and is embedded in our culture – we make a difference. We help businesses, give people opportunities, train and develop them and unlock potential. It’s all about leaving the world a slightly better place than you found it.”