Her brand is unusual because as a digital marketer who works as a business coach and copywriting expert, you’d expect her to brand around those topics. Instead, she sells herself and her personality. This is Tepsii Tshikorokoro.
BD: So why this approach?
TT: I made a very conscious decision in branding myself. I go by one name because I want to join the heavyweights in various industries, people like Oprah, Beyoncé, and so on. In terms of my personality I’m super loving. I like to be supportive of my friends and family, especially my husband and kids. My husband and I come from two different cultures, but we make it work beautifully. It’s always beautiful, but not always easy, or elegant. That’s ok with me.
BD: How so?
TT: Those messy pieces have really shaped who I am. I come from a tight-knit family where we show up for one another. My weekends are filled with cousins, aunts and uncles, and friends who have become family. I believe in hard work and think that if you are able bodied (with a sound mind) you should be working. “I can’t find a job” is my valid excuse in this day and age. There are entrepreneurial opportunities everywhere, from selling chips and sweets to school kids all the way to starting a personal brand and online business.
TT: This really shouldn’t come last, but it’s through my faith that I’m guided. I’m thankful for my business because building it and enduring tough times has brought me closer to
God. I feel so blessed to have a relationship with my creator. I was raised in church, many churches between the US and South Africa, but I’m more of a spiritual person and don’t attend any formal services.
BD: What was your upbringing like?
TT: I was born in the greater Thohoyandou area, in Venda, Limpopo Province. I was raised until age 4 in a small village in Sibasa and moved to Soshanguve, Pretoria, after that where I attended Loretto Convent School. My upbringing was a happy one. When I think back, I remember lots of church and family gatherings, lots of time spent with my external family, and many car trips to visit family or see sights. We sometimes travelled with just my parents and cousins and other times in caravans with lots of family members. We had a lot of fun.
BD: Sounds like an exciting childhood!
TT: Both of my parents come from families that instilled a love of adventure and wonder in them. We moved to the US in 1990. I was 6 years old and it was easy to see things were different at first. We were new residents. We had very little family close-by, and worst of all, the weather was cold where we lived in Burlington, Vermont! I used to cry, asking to come back home, all the time. I felt relieved when my biggest gift showed up at the airport, my baby cousin Mpho’s parents had agreed for her to come live with us in Vermont. Things were more bearable after that. She understands me and since she was born, 2 years after me, we were inseparable.
BD: It is not always easy for anyone to live in a new country.
TT: America was a hard adjustment. Living in Vermont meant there were very few black people and I was often the lone one in my classes at school all the way through to university. Kids would call me nigger, tell me to go back to Africa, and do other cruel things I didn’t quite understand.
BD: Oh dear!
TT: And some of the teachers were racist. It was tough. I always felt like I had to fight to be recognized and was often in the principal’s office for some petty infraction like talking back. The other thing about moving was that I didn’t like the food and we didn’t have a car or any of the other conveniences we’d had in South Africa. As a kid I never understood why anyone would give up the comforts of South Africa to move to America of all places! Little did I know – my parents wanted me to have access to different perspectives and opportunities in life. Part of me still wishes we had never left South Africa because my cousins continued life without me, I lost a lot of my native language, Venda, and I feel like I’m sort of a cultural vagabond.
BD: Have you now overcome that?
TT: I don’t completely understand the why behind a lot of South African cultural norms and I find the patriarchal nature of South African society hard to navigate now that I’ve returned to live here. I convinced my American husband, Sean, to came back to live here in 2015. We love life here, you can’t beat the quality of life here as long as you earn within a certain income bracket. On the other hand, I’m also really grateful for the opportunities I had in the US. I wouldn’t be who I am if not for that experience.
BD: You lost your mother at the difficult age of 14, how was that experience as a teenager?
TT: It was horrible, as you might imagine. Now I look back and feel grateful that I had a mom like mine. She was extremely intelligent, we had moved for her to get her PhD in organizational psychology, so it’s a given. She was extremely loving and dedicated to us, her family. She loved me, my cousin, Mpho, and dad fiercely. But she was also tough. She didn’t let motherhood or being a woman/wife define her. My parents didn’t have the typical relationship with the wife rushing around cooking and cleaning with the dad being served. My mom didn’t believe in those gender roles and she hardly ever cooked or did other things required by society.
BD: That must have been quite something!
TT: I can imagine how tough that was as a woman who got married in the 80’s. I know people judged her, because she passed these traits down to me and I’m also judged severely! My husband loves to cook, do you blame me for allowing him to?! My mom’s passing shook us all. Looking back I realize I fell into depression.
BD: That is always a tough situation for anyone. How did you recover?
TT: My school allowed me to take between 8-12 weeks off to heal and I spent the time here in South Africa with family. My mom was an extremely stable and responsible person. My dad was too, but my mom influenced us all. Life without her was empty. It’s been nearly 20 years since she died… And to be honest, I still feel the emptiness. It’s not just days like graduation, my wedding, and the birth of my three girls when we really feel the loss. We feel it in ordinary moments… Moments where you see something funny and want to pick up the phone to share.
BD: But luckily, you still have that big extended family…
TT: I have wonderful aunts and many of my mom’s best friends also stepped up to love me after she passed. But no one can replace her. I’ve had to learn and do so many things on my own. Like moving into university, or deciding what to study. There are so many times I could have used her counsel. So many times I wish she was here to stand up for me. But I’m the strongest person you know because she instilled so much in me before she passed away. In just 14 short years I learned a lot of what I needed to know so that I could try to figure out problems on my own.
BD: You were also homeless, after the tragic loss of your mother, how did that experience affect you?
TT: I’m so blessed that during those times of being without a home I was not in the streets. I had two special friends take me in, Jennifer and Kelly. Their parents agreed to host me so that I was not literally on the street. But it was hard, I’d never imagined that could be my life. I had a comfortable home, my parents had achieved the American Dream. But after losing my mom, everything changed.
BD: You went through a lot, at a young age. From the loss of your Mother, to being homeless, and to going through domestic violence. Today, you could have used all those experiences to not do well in life, but this is not the direction you took. How did you achieve this?
TT: Above I wrote about how my mom shaped me. One thing my mom did was hold people to a high standard, a higher standard than you could ever hold for yourself. I decided early on that I could either allow the pain of her loss to fall deep into hopelessness and non-action. Or, I could use it as the motivation I needed to throw out all excuses. My mom didn’t stand for a lot… Whenever I was tempted to give up I would ask myself what my mom would say, then I would promptly get myself up and out of those circumstances. One thing I had to do once my mom passed was work hard. It wasn’t unusual for me to have three or four jobs at a time. Things like washing dishes in a restaurant, selling clothes at a retail store, or running the cash register at a pizza shop. Most of these jobs only had 1-2 full time positions to offer. That meant that I had to work 10-12 hours at each one per week to make it work and earn enough.
BD: You hold a Bachelor of Science Degree. So, how did this interest in the arts come about?
TT: My bachelor of science is in the department of community development and applied economics at the University of Vermont. My major was public communication which I would say was a mix of psychology and writing. The reason they issued us a Bachelor of Science degree was because of the science/economics/business classes we were required to take. This major is supposed to prepare you for entry level positions in PR, marketing, journalism and so on. It was flexible and you had to design a lot of the experiences yourself. I opted for an internship to learn writing and producing at a local TV program in Burlington, Vermont, and hoped to land a position as a news anchor. But the economy was not doing well when I graduated. In the US, there are two main types of universities. Liberal arts, and technology. The liberal arts schools require you to take an extremely varied course load. At the university level we did art or music classes, physical education, and so on depending on your choices. We don’t just study our major topics, especially in the first two years when many people are inclined to change their minds.
BD: This led to Tepsii.com?
TT: Tepsii.com was created as a side hobby and at first I would have been happy to earn $500 a month. I was shocked when someone else in the industry told me she made $10k a month. That’s when I got motivated to work harder. I have been very intentional with my branding and making sure my programs, products, and services solved a problem… I lead with thinking of what my ideal clients want and need from me, not what I want from them. This is the key to success!
TT: Yes I used to write those kind of materials. In order to do that you have to be a quick study and self-motivated to learn. I learned on the job, or by purchasing text books. I had no educational background before taking any of the jobs. I guess you have to be good on the spot, because at interviews I had to make my way through jargon I didn’t understand!
BD: You have been in the corporate space for more than 12 years. How does this experience benefit Tepsii.com?
TT: I have always worked for small companies as a consultant to bigger corporations. Small companies are a perfect breeding ground for the entrepreneur. You learn a little about everything from business development to procurement to marketing. And though I’m in a totally different industry, I use most of the lessons I learned in my job daily, especially when it comes to customer service, systems, and business structures. Tepsii.com seeks to assist entrepreneurs channel their words to create cohesive and compelling copy to grow their business.
BD: How do you ensure that you achieve this goal?
TT: I created a copywriting course that covers everything you need to know about using words to sell. It includes branding, ideal client profiling, and writing persuasively.
BD: It cannot be easy heading an organisation like Tepsii.com what makes it worth it to you?
TT: Starting this business was a necessity in the US where we lived when I started. Childcare was extremely pricey, upwards of R16000 per kid, and I needed to be around for pick-ups and drop offs. The motivation to be successful came from my kids. The motivation to continue to grow is knowing that I’m helping thousands of people with my content and teaching. I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of that!
BD: What do you believe is your purpose and do you feel like you are you fulfilling it?
TT: My purpose is to empower other women and young girls, especially those who identify as black or of colour. I believe that entrepreneurship is the women’s liberation movement of my time. Through building a business we can create self-reliance and studies show that when women create success they don’t party away their money. Instead, the money comes home to uplift others. In our current economic climate this is non-negotiable.
BD: One may surmise that your organization is built around community, love, hope and positive energy. Would that be accurate?
TT: I believe that love is the answer to all of the world’s problems. By loving at least one other person you can create a ripple effect. People who are hurt end up inflicting pain on others. We have to start by loving ourselves, this allows us to build up our capacity for loving other people. Any corporation that doesn’t start with valuing human life is simply adding to the world’s problems. It all starts with love!
BD: What has heading your organization taught you, not just about yourself, but about the people in and around it?
TT: People matter. They want to feel that you think they are important. They often go much of their life feeling unheard and unloved. Focus on how you can be of service, listen, be open to feedback, and you’ll see the positive benefits.
BD: What does an ideal world look like to you?
TT: My ideal world looks like this: Education through technical, trade, or university level is considered a human right. Every child has a safe home, they are loved, and they feel important. No one goes to sleep hungry, ever! The safety of women, children, and girls is prioritized and violent sex crime is taken very seriously.
BD: What has been your greatest reward since the establishment of Tepsii.com
TT: My greatest reward is seeing other women who watch me change their lives. They start believing in themselves. They start loving themselves, and they take massive action in their businesses. There is nothing like the feeling I get whenever someone sends me an email or video message to share how they have changed their lives. The feeling I get is total satisfaction and a sense of peace. I know that I’m doing what God wants me to do with my life.