The end of 2016 also marks the end of the second full year of doing “my own thing” and I am asking myself: what have I learned? Now, clearly this isn’t a marketing post, but rather a generic overview of what’s on my mind. Call it my annual letter to entrepreneurs!

Trump coined the word HUUUUUGE, but we’ve been obsessed with it from long before. Since going on my own, I’ve been confronted with people obsessed with bigness. I guess I realise it especially since I am so small, as in “one-person-business-starting-from-scratch” small.

The obsession with bigness manifests itself in many ways, starting with the size of the cars competing for space on William Nicol, but here are some other examples…

Working for a big corporate is still seen by many as the pinnacle of a career in this country. We are obsessed with the SABMillers, Standard Banks and Vodacoms of this world. If you don’t work for one of them, or at least do work for them, you have not made the cut. People hold on to corporate jobs as if their lives depend on it. You could argue I made this mistake in my previous life? I am inclined to say more should just get out! Our country has a tiny economy – about the size of the US state of Maryland. There is simply not enough bigness going around for everyone to be part of it!

The obsession with bigness also reveals itself in how entrepreneurs run their own companies. Too often they try to grow fast in the hope that they will appear on the radar screen of one of those same big corporates and get bought over. A vicious case of “grow-big cancer” sets in and before long the business runs out of cash, driven by a ballooning salary bill, escalating rent and an identity crises due to an obsession with selling anything, to everyone!

On an (even more) personal note, the bigness obsession irritates me most when people judge my own business. Somehow Firejuice must expand; it must take on staff; it must have an office, it must work with well-known “big” clients, otherwise it is judged a “lifestyle business”, as one entrepreneur called it. What a lifestyle this is, I’ll tell you! I work 24/7 because a) it’s tough, and b) I love it! Admittedly though I do sometimes work from a northern suburbs coffee shop. Maybe that’s the lifestyle?

The most frequent judgement of my business, of course, is this: “you can’t be selling your hours – it’s not a good business model”, which leaves me to think, what should I be selling? Pottery on the side of the road? It is especially interesting when such comments come from salaried employees, as happened 3 weeks ago sitting in the airport lounge talking to the financial manager of a mid-sized company. At least I sell my time to myself, not a boss!

It does however make for an interesting question: what should I be selling? What should any business be selling? Should we be selling whatever society thinks we should sell; whatever we think will get us on the radar screen of an investor? Or even, should we be selling what our customers want? I don’t think so.

Priority number 1 is to sell what you’re good at and passionate about. Simple as that.

Which brings me to my final point: simplicity. As I end 2016 and enter a new year, my focus will increasingly be to keep things simple, even more so than I’ve managed till now. Keep it very simple, will be my mantra for the new year, especially in how I run my business. I want to sell as few different things as possible, to as few client’s as possible, adding the greatest possible value, at the highest possible price. It’s a very small target, but the impact should be HUUUUUUGE!

Have a nice break. Till mid-January.

  1. Great point. As somebody said…The path to scale/ bigness/reach is…Find 1 customer who loves you, v/s 10 who are just OK with you. The DEPTH mindset is fundamentally different from REACH. Depth can create Reach, Reach cannot create Depth.

    The obsession with BIG is why most big brands still work with big agencies, dont know how to work with start ups and then wonder why they are not getting breakthroughs.

    The obsession with REACH is why most big brands have low ROI on their marketing. In today’s world REACH is not enough. To engage DEEPER you first need to dig deeper into your brand/company and find what do you have which is engaging. If you dont have anything solid, then stop wasting money on REACH efforts as they will just result in low conversion, high bounce rates.

    • Bernard Jansen

      I agree, Asit. Marketing depth before marketing reach! We live in a world that is hugely superficial. Only bands that take a stand against this have a chance to prosper long term!

  2. Good entry! It’s great to read something “personal”. Without having to share your life story, I also find that clients identify with your message far more easily if they can identify with YOU first. It breaks down barriers and opens the door for … deeper … engagement.

    • Bernard Jansen

      Thank you for the feedback Susan. Ultimately business is about people, connecting with people – I think we both agree on this!

  3. Uwais Paulsen


    Now that was a refreshing read. Food for thought…………especially as a start up myself.

    Thank you

    • Bernard Jansen

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Uwais!

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