PR is a crowded and competitive field but Sibabalwe Sesmani is the epitome of the saying ‘dynamite comes in small packages!’ She’s an ambitious big dreamer who believes in putting in the hard work to make all her dreams come true. She’s painfully persistent and says she draws her being and strength from God. We spoke with her.
BD: What was your upbringing like?
SS: Where do I start? I come from a family that loves laughter, giving and very supportive parents. I was raised to try and do everything I could imagine and I was raised to do everything prayerfully.
BD: How did the interest in public relations come about?
SS: My first job was in marketing and within marketing I always gravitated towards media. I finally got my first client whilst still working for another company, I resigned and took the leap into the unknown.
SS: When I was younger I always saw myself in this huge office on the highest floor of a building being a key decision maker. I was in an environment with so many entrepreneurs in the place where I used to work. Their day to day seemed intriguing and exciting, but little did I know how strenuous it actually is. I wouldn’t take it back though.
BD: Unorthodox; what was the inspiration behind starting it?
SS: After getting my first client and being paid more by one client than a salary, I decided that, that was the path I need to follow in order to have the life I wanted. I also had to have a name that describes me, and in so many ways Unorthodox describes me perfectly.
BD: Being a black young woman, what were some challenges you faced starting your own company?
SS: Being a woman in business is tough because in business you need a certain level of aggression and being stern which, in my opinion, isn’t taught to women. Often women are also treated in a condescending manner and women are often scared to bill exactly what they require. Being black in business is hard because growing up there were few black people in business that I was exposed to. Also the racial stereotypes still prevalent in our country put so many obstacles in our way. Being young in business is challenging as you are often overlooked. In most meetings you start on an already pre-judged scale based on your age, therefore, you have to work 100 times harder to prove yourself. More and more young black females are in business and are killing it, but there is still so much to do and so many barriers that have to be broken down for us to play on a level field.
BD: There are many public relations companies, how does unorthodox differ from the rest?
SS: Unorthodox, not only deals with the South African market but has played and plans on playing in the African market as a whole. Our focus is more on the corporates, narrowing our focus. Recently I have merged with another PR company and the entity’s new name is Sapphire Relations.
BD: Are there any advantages and disadvantages to being a small company?
SS: I’m not one to use the word disadvantage as I see disadvantages as opportunities for growth. As for the advantages, costs are lower, we can still chop and change our vision, how we do things and there is still room for trial and error. In terms of opportunities, sometimes we feel like we are too small to be big and too big to be small, so growth is almost painful. Often being a small company, our ability to deliver is often second guessed which is normal.
BD: Apart from putting your client in the market, what else are do they receive when working with you?
SS: Our vision more than anything is to act as a connector, and because we see ourselves in that manner, we do not limit ourselves to the traditional roles of a PR company.
BD: You are now the sole director of unorthodox. How has the new responsibility been and how is it different from the time you used to have a partner?
SS: It was a lot more challenging as I did feel the pressure of making all key decisions on my own, but it also taught me a lot about myself and lessons to learn. As mentioned before though I now have another director and lessons learnt have been implemented.
BD: The majority of the staff of Unorthodox is women. Why is this? Was this your initial goal, or it is just a coincidence?
SS: It was an idea I played around with, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Women are more than capable and often are not given a chance, so I thought to be that platform for them. Surprisingly with the new merged company it is still so.
BD: You also hold what you call youthpreneurship workshops. Please elaborate on what these are all about, and how the idea came about?
SS: My partner and I had some rude awakenings when we got into the business world and we went through a few obstacles that are not necessary. The purpose of the Youthpreneur workshops are to inform, equip and bring change to some of the obstacles we faced so that we made the path easier and bearable to those who come after us.
BD: What are some lessons you learnt from this journey?
SS: Persistance is key, Spend some time with yourself to truly know what your WHY is, don’t make emotional decisions, they will cripple you, learn to laugh and have fun, you don’t know what tomorrow brings.
SS: Very cliché, but my mom. She hasn’t told me what strength is, she modelled it through her actions. What inspires me is what hasn’t been done. I live in my head a lot, so often I’m always dreaming about what I’d like to do next. What entrepreneurship has taught me is that if you can dream it, you can live it and it’ll be even better than what you imagined.
BD: How would you like to be remembered?
SS: I’d like to be remembered as this radical, crazy person. I’d like to be remembered as someone who broke down barriers, stereotypes and taught people through how I lived that it’s possible. I’d like to be remembered as a game changer, but most of all I’d like to be remembered as being a lioness. A lioness is calm, strategic, nurturing and protective, but when it’s time to hunt she is fierce in her approach!