‘Choose What’s Worth Fighting For’ – Kate Shepherd #ShareYourYear

Updated on 17 December 2019

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What can you achieve in a year? To find out, we asked our thought leaders to share their 2019 highs and lows. Kate Shepherd, founding owner of design businesses Something Different, Something Desired and Something Design, writes about learning to maintain focus during dark times. 

When the going gets tough, you need to keep going

I have been an entrepreneur since the age of 18. Let that sink in – I’m now 34! Originally from England, but married to a South African (for the past eight years), I am very proud to be the founding owner of Design businesses, Something Different, Something Desired and Something Designed based in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. I am also a mom of two little ones.

It all began in a tiny home office and garage and has grown into the large multi-million-rand business that it is today! No small feat, and it didn’t come without its challenges and some great wins. I am very proud to have also been named a finalist in the entrepreneur category in the annual Businesswoman of the Year Awards in 2016 – before I turned 30.

In 2017, we also launched our online custom-design furniture store called Something Desired and in 2018 we opened a branch in Johannesburg, with stock and a team, which proved to be the right move for us.

We really had to decide what is worth fighting for and that integrity does have a cost

Fighting the good fight

It’s exhilarating to think that we have officially been operating successfully in Johannesburg for a year. This was such a crazy idea, which came together in the last minute. The team is growing and we’ve already had to move offices due to doubling stock, warehouse and team size. The scale of events and projects that they can handle has expanded and although it has been not short of hiccups, they have managed to operate without me (the business owner) being present 100% of the time. I see that as a great success! That our brand has got to the point that it can speak for itself and Something Different is not just “Kate” anymore.

With a bigger business come more staff, so it was very important for us to focus on staff retention and growth when we found ourselves in a difficult season of business. We have gone through some really dark times, I’d go so far as to say some of the toughest the business has seen. Yet we still continued to retain great team members and grow skills and staff to manage our ever evolving business.

As an entrepreneur I knew we would face dark times, but it was important for the team, for the business to keep going, even when the going got tough. We are still battling one of the worst bad debts we’ve ever had and managing just before our “winter” season with the loss of income and entering a low point for sales was so crippling. The amount of energy we spend on lawyers, lawyers’ fees and our own time on the matter, was exhausting. We really had to decide what is worth fighting for and found out that integrity does have a cost.

Battling storms

Running a seasonal business means we are very dependent on weather – and in 2019 the weather was our enemy. Typically, Cape Town (and the world’s) weather is unpredictable, but we are still suffering after the water crisis and drought in Cape Town. Much of the tourism side of our business put off coming to the Cape, on the corporate side of things, [there were concerns about being portrayed] as celebrating or spending in a time of crisis, this on top of the struggling SA economy, made for a pretty bleak industry.

The events we did execute (perfectly may I add) were challenging to say the least, we had to battle the craziest storms or hurricane force winds to complete a project. We saw winds pick up couches, bars and structures and throw them across a polo field or the Silo District. We’ve seen marquees torn in half, had the roofs peel off like a can opener would, water, floods and much more. It’s the one constant challenge we face in all we do.

You can plan as much as you can, but it’s about making sure your team is all on the same page, know what you need to get the job done and that they know when it’s time to hustle. It’s key to have the right people on your side.

The journey is so hard, you need to understand yourself properly, where your strengths and weaknesses lie

Lessons learnt

With the challenges came lessons learned and boy we learnt huge ones in 2019 – due to the changing economy, bad debt and the drought crisis.

We have had to reshuffle our financial team, create much stricter controls and employ high-end management, resulting in us bringing in new team members, and even a new CFO. We had to create stronger cash flow structures, tighten our budget, setup ways to guarantee certain costs and cut overheads.

This awareness of the bottom line and how to manage money more accurately, has really helped us feel like we are in control. When things are tight, having no control can make you go into a tailspin. Getting an even better grip on this has helped us plan, prepare and develop better.

This year has mainly been about us creating the best group of winners, moving people around to different positions and working with their strengths and weaknesses. We moved key people into key places and made sure that we have the culture and balance we want to strive to grow both locally and globally. This has however meant a lot of time spent working IN the business and working on the team. This can be so rewarding, although quite draining – I’m not going to sugar coat that. People can you both let you down, inspire you or impress you – spending time on this is unfortunately the only way to find out.

The world needs entrepreneurs

Being an entrepreneur is not a walk in the park, but man it’s rewarding. I am so positive for the future of South Africa – we are seeing a huge increase in future change makers, disruptors and innovators in the entrepreneurial space. I would encourage anyone to take educated steps forward, if they feel inspired to do so. The journey is so hard, you need to understand yourself properly, where your strengths and weaknesses lie, but mostly your market and what’s out there already. Be supportive of others and support those around you. The world is a better place with more entrepreneurs in it!

Of course, with 2019 drawing to a close, my hope for 2020 is that it is an iconic year and that we all continue to see hope in the world. Things may seem bleak in your personal space, city or country, but hope has to be there. It’s not about being uninformed, living in a bubble or being naïve, but about survival. In this tough world, where there is much to take you down, keeping the hope is key to creating positive change.

Professionally, I also hope we continue to create and be creative in a world full of copycats and competition. Everything, in some form or another, is a reflection of something else, but truly being original and trusting your instinct to create is what I hope for. [I also hope to] push the limits, to really create a company, and thus an industry, that is unique and inspiring.

As entrepreneurs, it’s our duty to lead in an inspiring way to create well and authentically. To do our best to find our niche and create new industries, companies, techniques or innovations. This is our job as we strive forward in 2020.

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