SME spotlight: Kym Illman


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Messages on Hold founder Kym Illman gained notoriety for his clever ambush marketing strategy that involved giving football fans giant Messages on Hold gloves to wave behind the goalposts at AFL matches – getting free exposure on TV as a result.

Here are his thoughts on running a business.

I am driven to succeed because…

Life’s too short to wallow in failure.

In business, I admire…

Kirrily Davies (my general manager), who possesses the complete opposite skillset to me, so we complement each other perfectly, and Tonya Illman, my wife and first ever staff member. Together we are a mighty trio.

A key goal in the year ahead is…

To generate $1 million of sales from our new Kymillman.com training site. We’ve already had great success with our online video training series entitled Phone Skills. We recently added Sales Skills (online videos designed to help staff excel at selling over the phone) and will shortly add a Retail Skills and Email Skills series of videos to the site. Businesses pay as little as $25 per month to access all of the content, with staff able to view it at their leisure.

To stay hungry in business it’s important to…

Keep changing things. Improving what you do, looking to others to see what innovations you could be adapting to suit your business and harnessing the power of enthusiastic staff.

The biggest opportunity in my business in the future is…

Using the internet to generate income without tying up a lot of my staff members’ time using the Kymillman.com site.

My favourite business books or websites are…

The Fast Company website out of the US, any Richard Branson book and Nuts by Kevin and Jackie Freiberg.

I’m passionate about my business because…

It affords me a sensational opportunity to do amazing things. I’m about to release Africa on Safari, a 204-page glossy, African wildlife picture book. My wife and I have spent more than 22 weeks in Africa photographing for this book over the past two years and were thrilled when our UK publisher, Papadakis Publisher, advised that National Geographic was releasing a German language version.

On setting and achieving goals, my motto is…

Don’t listen to negative people. They are everywhere and will bring you down to their level if you let them. Never accept NO!

I live my life by the following words…

Do interesting things, and do them quickly. Surprise people often. Get them talking about you and be unique.

To develop client loyalty, I…

Empower my staff to wow customers. They need the right tools to turn around audio productions in the shortest time possible, not when it suits us. They need to emotionally connect with customers so we allow them to send customised cartoon comedy cards. When a client has a baby, they’ll send them our unique ‘baby letters’. We keep detailed notes that can be easily referred to so clients realise we care. Business is business? No, business is relationships.

My tips to build word-of-mouth are…

Do something sensational, unique or bizarre to get the attention of others. Bland is everywhere, I like to surprise clients. When people get wind of Africa on Safari, I know most will be gobsmacked that I’ve managed to pull off a world-class photographic book when my principal trade is audio production and marketing. Keep them guessing!

Avoid mediocrity by…

Pushing the limits. I don’t accept mediocrity with staff so I have to show them it’s not an option.


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