Janine Hills: The business of reputation

"To open a company you have to have the right network, the right disciplines, and choose the right timing to be mature enough to go to market successfully."- Janine Hills
Where are on the planet are you currently based? Johannesburg, South Africa
You started a business that focuses on corporate reputation management, called Vuma Reputation Management, that sounds almost out the box but very much needed in the business sector, how and why did you start the business? It’s very much out of the box. Yes, in fact when we named the company and sent out a test to ten leading executives, all ten came back saying, Yes, the market is ready! One very prominent person in marketing did however ask “what the hell is that?” So yes, the industry has evolved certainly over the last 7 years and continues to evolve and the importance of reputation management is becoming more and more a factor, especially in government and corporate and  entrepreneurial environments. My career started when I worked in the hotel industry for years, because I was not able to attend university due to financial restraints. I then moved from the hotel industry into telecoms and eCommerce, then into banking and then finally founding “Vuma Reputation Management”.  It’s no accident that having worked in those sectors and in respectable corporates, that I personally learnt about  financial  discipline, sales, marketing and the will to serve – all of  which has culminated in making a successful company.

I initially took a sabbatical for over a year which allowed me to listen to myself, be still, understand what the market requires and then create something that the market was ready for and that would make money in a very short space of time. When we opened the doors of Vuma I had a desk and an assistant, the second  day we got our first client, the third  day we got our second client, the fourth  day we got our third client. No  capital investment was required and we broke even in the first month. To open a company you have to have the right network, the right disciplines, and choose the right timing to be mature enough to go to market successfully.
In terms of the global economic environment, how much more important has a company’s reputation management become? It has become more vital day by day, CEO's of leading organisations need to have crisis communication plans and work proactively in protecting an organisation's reputation. Currently the world we are working in is becoming smaller and smaller as technology brings us closer and closer. As media houses use multifaceted media like social media, online, blogs, podcasts, the risks to our reputation has increased. So a holistic overview of an organisation and a company’s overview is of paramount importance - after all, your reputation is all you have.
Was starting your own company always something you had seen as a way forward with your career? Not directly, but indirectly, since the age of 25 people had been telling me to start my own company, but I never felt that I was ready.To be able to teach and impart skills, one has to have learnt them. Further I’ve always felt that I’m still a student of life,  a student of reputation. I have to manage my own reputation, my team’s and my own company’s  reputation. So taking  the calculated risk to open a company seven years ago was nerve-racking but my experience allowed me to know that it was the right time for the market and for me personally.
Is your work day planned or is it just a busy non-stop process? I think I really do my best to have a planned day; my diaries are planned a week, two weeks in advance. However, I need to be available for my team, for clients and for media. It’s always a tight-rope between being planned and allowing the flexibility to be available. Because in my heart I really want to run an organisation that thinks big, implements big, yet is warm and approachable.
What are the challenges that you see are the biggest in terms of the economic climate? Sadly, poverty the world over. Poverty brings crime, affects education, and affects dreams. I think we all have an obligation in our small way to assist in alleviating that poverty by starting with people that are close to you. We have done that at Vuma but it’s a constant focus. (FirstStep.me agrees!)
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time? I see myself as a global speaker, global adviser, and imparting skills at all levels of society. Fulfilling a personal dream.
Do you believe that starting the day is best on a cup of coffee…(The FirstStep.me team is coffee powered)? No, I have my cup of tea then my bowl of porridge every morning.  I get the newspapers from 06h30 to 08h00 every morning, scan social media and online, communicate to clients on SMS and by phone calls and then my meetings start from 09h00 running up to 19h00 – 20h00 at night. (FirstStep.me says hectic!)
What advice do you have individuals looking to kick starting their own business? Timing, Timing, Timing. Be prepared to work the hardest you have ever worked in your life, never trust your finances in anybody else’s hands, be firm that your company can never absorb dead wood, make sure that people are happy. Do the best you can to ensure employee wellbeing and separate your work from your personal life so you have a balanced environment.
If you could name your own planet what would you call it? “Vuma”
Any inspirational words for the youth of the planet? Honesty, Integrity, Transparency.  Easy come, Easy go.  There are no shortcuts to building a quality team and a company; it is sheer hard work. No instant gratification, because there isn’t such a thing.
About: Janine Hills is the Founder and CEO of Vuma Reputation Management and Tweets here @janinehills