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Gina Din: 10 principles you need for business success

HUSTLE
By Jacqueline Mahugu | March 3rd 2021

Gina Din (pictured) is arguably one of the biggest names in Kenya’s public relations industry. Before her company was acquired by Edelman Africa, a global PR firm, Gina Din painstakingly built and ran Gina Din Corporate Communications for 23 years. Today, she acts as an advisor to Edelman Africa and is enjoying the slower pace. She shares some of the things that have gotten her through the ups and downs of entrepreneurship and what positioning one’s business involves.

1. Embrace discomfort

Having your own business provides you a rush of adrenaline that’s hard to explain. Getting out of your comfort zone daily and being totally comfortable being uncomfortable. Every time I got comfortable I knew I needed to grow some more to feel uncomfortable. Don’t forget my brand was only three-years-old when we were selected by Vodaphone to handle Safaricom. What a roller coaster that was and the start of a wonderful 12-year journey. Every day there was a new problem to conquer. The success or failure of everything Safaricom did weighed heavily on my shoulders. I am just so proud of what Safaricom has become as a brand. There’s a special place in my heart for that brand. Of course at the same time my own business grew in leaps and bounds. My strength was my need to always keep learning. The more I learnt about the different clients we represented, the more I realised what I didn’t know. I was and I am still constantly learning.

2.  Be OK with making sacrifices

Every entrepreneur has to make sacrifices of some sort. The biggest one was when I was starting out. I traded in a secure, well paying job as Head of Corporate Communications for Barclays Bank of Kenya to start a business. I had decided to bite the bullet and start my own venture in a relatively new industry in Kenya. There were few independent agencies at the time. The public relations function was mostly carried out by advertising agencies so I was treading uncharted waters. The risk of failing was unquestionable. Having had a pretty regular 8 to 5 schedule, I hadn’t quite prepared myself for the incredible demands of owning one’s business. There was no routine or schedule. Every day there was a different challenge. While there definitely were sacrifices, I feel grateful to have done what I truly loved. For me it wasn’t just a business, it became somewhat of an obsession. I was focused on my business. Building my brand totally consumed me. Learning the ins and outs of my clients’ business became critical if I was to succeed. 

Once I started the journey, with all its challenges, I was determined to keep putting in the crazy hours, the very long days and sleepless nights until I got it right. Trying to make your vision a reality is tough. Most people only see the finished product of a successful entrepreneur. Behind the finished product though, there are lots of knots, sweat and tears. Your social circle may get smaller too. I had to start spending time with people that understood my vision and there weren’t many. I simply couldn’t have negative energy around me. I have always believed in having a large network but a tight and small circle.

3. Outpace competition

Competition is healthy and every business will have to face it. That is why you have to offer quality. We brought something unique to the market and had a unique selling proposition. Our solutions added value to an organisation and our brand was strong. Our solutions were customised and nuanced. We understood the market extremely well. It’s really really hard to copy someone’s internal vision. We owe it to ourselves to bring originality into the work that we do. And that is how you outpace your competition. 

You don’t need to copy anyone. Copying is never a smart idea because imitating leaves one simply unable to keep up. You will never lead, you will always follow.

4. Master anticipating market needs

Are you curious? Are you a serial student? You have to always be learning something. 
I had to sharpen my ability to see around corners. By that, I mean my team had to see what the patterns were before they became trends. This got us ahead of the game and able to educate not only our clients, but the Kenyan public. Other PR companies followed suit. But getting there was tough; we died a million deaths, but we never stopped learning. I am naturally a curious person, and this helped my journey a lot.

5. Understand thyself

Do you know who you are as an entrepreneur? Don’t do what others do blindly, know if it works for you and if you will be fine with the consequences. For example, I was quite risk averse starting out; thus I built my business based on the self-fuelled business growth model. This meant I put all my profits back into the business; a business that I started out purely from savings. Someone else could have taken out loans. That would have stressed me out at that point.

6. If nothing else, let your brand be synonymous with quality

After starting out, the next challenge for me was attracting the right business/clients. I have to say I was fortunate to start out with the account of my former employer and before I knew it within the first six months we had landed a number of clients. What was important to me was ensuring quality. I wanted to be known for excellence and quality. I not only wanted to attract the right clients, I wanted to retain them. Do that for your business, and clients will start looking for you. 

7. Nurture good relationships on your way up

Cash flow is always a challenge. Most large corporates expect you to give them 30 days to make payment, and in many cases, more time than 30 days. In the meantime, you have to bear all business-related costs - employees’ salaries, rent and your personal expenses. That for me meant I had to build a steady crew of vendors who would extend credit to us ensuring we have enough time to receive our payments and sort them out. I actually feel very proud of the many vendors we started out with who were small start-up businesses and who grew with us. I realised that opportunity does not knock, it presents itself when you beat down the door. And I have beaten down many doors. I have also been smart enough to go through every door that opened.

8. Find stress outlets

Being an entrepreneur is undoubtedly stressful, and stress needs to be managed. I am lucky to have an incredibly supportive family that have been part of the adventure. I practise yoga and I am prayerful. All these things help to manage stress. I also feel lucky to have friends that have built incredible successful businesses who are wonderful role models and happy to share some of their experiences with me.

9. Expect failure

Success and failure go hand in hand. I really don’t think you can think of entrepreneurs without also thinking of failure. I am grateful that I went through the failures I went through because when success came it was much sweeter. As a first-time entrepreneur you probably won’t get it right the first time. Figure out what’s working, which may sometimes not be what you set out to create and focus on it relentlessly. Of course when I first started my journey into business I took failure way too personal. Further on in my journey I came to see failure as a challenge. I had failures from lack of proper planning, hiring the wrong people, to scaling too fast. I have learnt many lessons. Will I fail again? Probably. Will that stop me on my journey as an entrepreneur? Absolutely not.

10.  Hire the right people from the start

I always hired for attitude. Skill can always be taught. We hired incredible people and trained a large number of PR professionals in the country. 

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