How Do Creatives Start & Build A Successful Business

Tanya McClean

The key challenge for those in the creative industry is all about visualising and capturing what the client wants – but with an added touch of imagination and flair.

Creative entrepreneur and owner of Abelife 1Life Photography, Mosa Mailula started a career in the film and television industry, but finding himself unemployed in 2014, he bought a camera with the intention to do short films and resigned from a retail supermarket after working there for three weeks. The camera led him to photography which is now his major service.

In 2016 he was working in television productions in Johannesburg where he gained experience, before moving to Tzaneen in 2017, close to his home town of Phalaborwa.

“I knew a few people; I was very nervous and it was a major challenge to start getting clients and to build a reputation. Photography is an industry which is driven by word of mouth and so it was a gradual build up.

“But I found I enjoyed photography a lot and felt it was important to connect with the client I was working with on every shoot,” said Mailula, who captures those memorable moments at weddings and events, as well as being sought after for maternity and family shoots.

While his client list includes some high-profile celebs, Mailula said his photography is always about learning, evolving and keeping up with trends.

“I always enjoy taking something new and dealing with new people,” he said, adding that while it may appear that he is doing the same job every day, each client poses a creative challenge.

“I’m always excited about doing a job. One should always keep learning and never think you have learned enough.

“I try and keep on top of trends and in this industry, you have to keep evolving. I’m always trying to do something different and finding a new way to create.”

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He added that seven years into the business, he has clients who are happy to pay 100% of his fee up front after having been recommended by a previous client or having seen his work on his social media platforms. He uses Instagram and Facebook.

Mailula said that the 2020 lockdown had been a very tough year to survive as a small business.

“I’m still recovering from lockdown, it was very difficult financially but I’m looking forward to business picking up in 2021,” he said.

Another creative business owner and CEO of Definitive Brand Culture, Kwezi Mthembu said while his business was also affected by the lockdown, he quickly shifted into the space for face masks.

His business specialises in creative branding and advertising for both products and services.

“Lockdown was quite heavy as we have a lot of clients in the entertainment industry, so there was a knock-on effect. But we managed to quickly move into branding of face masks for corporate and private clients and with that, we managed to keep the lights on.

“But I can say I’m looking forward to 2021, some businesses in our industry have closed and so I’m looking forward to assisting new clients,” he said.

Mthembu decided to start his graphic design and printing company in Secunda in 2015 as it paved the way to assist in uplifting communities. This was after he was involved in a car accident in 2009 which left him wheelchair bound and the community supported him on the road to recovery.

Leaving behind his corporate career as a technical officer, he said, “I wanted to show that even if you have a disability, you can still achieve what you set your mind to do. I think everyone has that need to fulfil his or her own purpose and I also wanted to be involved in community development and give back. I realised I could do that with my own business,” he said.

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From a young age, Mthembu enjoyed drawing and was always fascinated by logos.

“I would look at logo designs on t-shirts and wonder how about the process,” he said.

And building his client base, Mthembu said his key ingredient for success was in the originality of his designs, which comes from the creative process.

He added that the company’s focus is to create a unique name and image for each client, which would speak to that particular client’s target audience and which is done by studying the client, the product and the market.

“When I’m looking for ideas for a client, everything is scattered in my mind – but once I put all my ideas together, you will not see that design anywhere else.

“It’s about being original. As a creative, you want to chart your own path and not mimic anyone else” he said.

His company offers signage installation, pull up banners design and print, outdoor advertising and printed advertising which includes logo design, clothing printing, embroidery and corporate gifts.

With five years of the design and branding processes now tucked under his belt, Mthembu said he is definitely the “go to” person for anyone wanting to build a business profile.

“If you need branding, I’m the first person you need,” he said.

And he has also been busy in uplifting the community, having assisted many young people in schools in Embalenhle township, just outside Secunda, as well as being involved in projects such as providing masks for free to the elderly in the township when the pandemic hit last year.

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