#FollowTheEntrepreneur: Marion Garassino

Marion Garassino is a professional editor, proofreader, scriptwriter, copywriter, general writer and blogger. She is the owner of Wordswitch.

What inspired you to start a business?

The main reason that I chose to go on my own was because I got tired of working so hard for companies and never personally benefitting from it. I was no longer content to spend hours working overtime and going ‘above and beyond’ for companies that very seldom rewarded this extra effort – least of all in monetary terms. I am an ideas person, and I wanted to use my ideas to be innovative in my own business and resourceful in finding clients. It was a passion of mine. Again, this is not something that is always appreciated – so many companies and bosses say that they encourage ideas and a proactive attitude, but if you’re really good at it, it can be threatening to some. It’s usually seen as though you’re trying to take over or steal their limelight, when, in fact, all you’re wanting to do is give of your best for the benefit of everyone. Individuals in a conservative and hierarchical company system are usually victims of this misinterpretation of behaviour, and can be ostracised as a result. They are often passed over for promotion because their superiors are afraid to be overshadowed. I decided to rather invest my efforts, ideas and hard work into my own business, and similarly, the growth or lack thereof would be entirely my responsibility. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and it hasn’t been, but at least whatever I did, it was for me.

How did you get your idea/concept for the business?

I’ve worked in the publishing industry for many years and touched on advertising, marketing and other fields, too. My business concept was nothing special – I just packaged all my skills and experience together to offer my clients the best service that I could, at a fair price. Often we try to overcomplicate business concepts, and offer clients the world, when what they really need is someone to fill a gap, and provide a good service at a good price. That’s what I’ve tried to do.

To what do you attribute your success?

I’ve always been known for my tenacity, and I think that this is the most important attribute to have in any business. You need to keep going, keep trying, and be prepared to find another approach if something isn’t working. Questions I always ask myself when I’m not sure whether to try something or to make that phone call, are: “What do I stand to lose?” and “If not, why not?” If you can answer “nothing” and “no reason” to these questions, then go for it. When you’re cold-calling or ‘cold-emailing’ as we do more of these days, and you get a few ‘Nos’, try to remember that every ‘No’ is one phone call or one email closer to a ‘Yes’. A friend of mine who used to sell insurance shared that tip with me, and it has always kept me trying.

Another thing that helps a business to be successful is innovation. I’ve said it forever: if you do what everyone else does, in the same way, packaged in the same box, you might maintain your business, but you’re not likely to grow it. Even if you’re offering something that many companies offer, try to be innovative in the way you present or package your offering and throw in some interesting stuff for good measure. People remember you for that.

Obviously, providing excellent service and an excellent product, on time, is the basis of a successful business, but I think all three of these concepts need to be incorporated. You can’t do one and not the others.

What is unique about your business?

I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about my business, although I always deliver quality work, I always keep my promises to clients, and I try to be adaptable in how I assist them. This may not seem particularly unique in principle, but you’ll be surprised how many service providers deliver poor-quality work. I think basic things like professionalism, good manners, respect, and being well-presented when you deal with clients, are vital, yet these simple things are very often neglected these days. I learnt this from my parents. I saw how their behaviour impressed their customers and kept them coming back. I was so proud of them for that and the diplomatic way in which they dealt with some really difficult clients. It was so impressive and I’ve tried to take that on in my business.

Also, instead of just providing the service my clients ask for, I always suggest alternatives if I think it will benefit them. And I’m always honest. I do not believe in crooking my clients to make a few extra bucks. It may benefit your bank balance at the time, but it will come back to bite you.

Name your favourite business book/s and why?

I always think of Principle Centered Leadership, by Steven Covey – an oldie but a goodie. It’s so important to base a business on good principles and ethics- from the way you treat your clients, to how you deal with challenges. This is what enables you to build a good reputation and be proud of how you run your business.

If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what
would it be?

Sometimes people start businesses simply because they have a great product or because they want to make money. Sometimes people start businesses because they’ve been retrenched. And sometimes people simply can’t take another day at their current job. I have been in each of these situations. Whatever the reason you want to start a business, try to save as much money as you can beforehand.

If you’ve been retrenched and weren’t able to save money beforehand, just do the best you can and try to make extra cash on the side of your business to keep you going until you can start turning over some cash through your business – whether it’s making cakes, sandwiches, selling your art, doing admin, or whatever.

If you’ve had enough of your job and just want to leave there and then, you can do it if you’re just too miserable to stay, but it will be extremely difficult for you. I would have to assume that you’ve been unhappy for at least a month or two; probably longer. If you use this opportunity to save as much money as you can until you leave, it will make all the difference when starting your business. If you have to stop eating out, watching movies, buying clothes, or whatever it takes, bite the bullet where you are, smile and look the other way, and do whatever it takes to save as much as you can. Then prepare for your departure by planning your business. Ask yourself: What will you do? Who will you sell to? How will you market yourself? What can you do to prepare before you start? What are some of the possible pitfalls that could arise? Then design a brochure, make a list of clients, speak to your friends, etc., and when you finally take the plunge, you will be better prepared.

Having capital to start will help you enormously. You will be able to sleep at night knowing that you won’t starve, lose all your stuff, and get kicked out of your flat while you’re building your business. It doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels and not get working as soon as you can, but it will give you peace of mind and help you to focus better on your business. There’s nothing like too much stress to kill creativity and the strength you need to build your business.

What I would also suggest when your business is running is that you get someone else to chase up your invoices. If you can’t pay someone to do it, ask a family member or friend. This will help you to separate yourself from the money side of things if your clients decide to get funny about paying. The person you ask must be strict and firm, but diplomatic, and mustn’t get bullied by clients. I’m going to say something controversial now … your clients don’t pay your salary, you do! If you don’t get the client in the first place, and then provide a good service, you will lose that client and you won’t be able to pay your bills. But by the same token, if you don’t do a good job for your client, his business will suffer, too. You provide a service and he pays for it. He is no more important than you are. You must respect the work you do and the rate that you charge. You work hard and you deserve to be paid for it.

Right upfront, get your client to agree to and sign a document that says you require 50% of your fee to be paid upfront (obviously this depends on the service you offer), and the remaining 50% is to be paid on or before the 30th of the month in which the work was completed – no later! If they are not willing to agree to that, then you will have problems with them going forward, and as a small business, you can’t afford to have cash problems because your clients don’t pay on time. I learnt that the hard way. It’s easy when you’re desperate for business to get caught in the trap of accepting second-rate arrangements and lower fees. If you’re starting out and you are desperate, then take the work, but look for other clients as soon as you can (ones that are willing to adhere to your terms), and then slowly weed out the problematic clients. The success of your business ultimately depends on how well you can implement this strategy.

Also, don’t let clients haggle over your fees. If you have done your homework and your fees are reasonable for what you are offering, then politely advise your clients that your fees are set; however if their budget does not allow for it, then you would be happy to restructure your offering for a lower fee. In other words, if you pay less, you get less. We can’t walk into a supermarket or a doctor’s rooms and ask them to reduce their price or fee! So why should people have the right to do that to small business owners? Simple- because they know you’re desperate. And that is something you should not let clients start to think by cutting your fees to get their business. Someone else will pay your price; just believe in yourself and keep knocking on doors.

What are your future plans?

I’m working on several different things right now; for example, I’m writing two books, I’m trying to get more involved in producing and selling my art, I’m working on launching a new food product, and I’m looking for new opportunities to sing at functions and in concerts. So, lots of plans at the moment, and I’m looking forward to all of them!

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