Graphic Designer Ntutuzelo “Zelo” Nogwaza quit his formal job to start his own Graphic Design company after securing an investment of R50 000, only for the investor to pull out last minute. With nothing but a business plan, Zelo picked himself up from that fiasco and established his company and brand iSLAY HOLDINGS, which houses iSLAY GRAPHICS, iSLAY AFRICA, and soon iSLAY QUEER and iSLAY FOUNDATION. These are the type of stories entrepreneurs need to read; stories of those that never give up despite major setbacks. – Tatenda Mark
Tatenda Mark (TM): Hi Zelo. Great to have you on this platform. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, how you got into Graphic Design and how you made this into a business?
Ntutuzelo (Zelo) Nogwaza (NN): Well I’m originally from the Eastern Cape. Mdantsane to be exact.
I hold a qualification in Graphic Design. But I can tell you now, when I arrived in Johannesburg in 2012 with my qualification, I never thought I would eventually have my own company. My aim was to look for a job in Graphic Design but I ended up doing sales for an MTN Call Center in Sandton.
Six months in, I was asked by someone that was very close to me what I would do if I got R50 000 from her. The first thing that came to mind was to start my own Graphic Design business. She made me the offer and I took her up on it. Soon after that I resigned from my work to go back home to prepare for my company.
Sometimes I get emotional when a client calls and says all the beautiful things about my work.
TM: So you resigned from your job and planned your business before you had received the money from the investor?
NN: Correct. My business plan was approved and after 3 months I was back in Joburg ready to introduce my business to the world. As I was getting ready to get my stationery, my investor pulled out. Goodbye 50k! But I still had a business plan.
At that time there was a lot going on in my mind. “How am I gonna eat?”, “How am I going to survive?” and “Should I go back home?”
It took me one day to figure things out. I had no money but luckily I was staying with a family friend and I wasn’t paying rent. Amanda (family friend) got me my first client. It was her church. I designed a logo and a calendar for her church.
Starting my company wasn’t easy but with the help of social media, I started advertising my business by getting my Facebook page sponsored. My company name at the time was ARTISTIC GRAPHICS.
TM: So when and why did you change your company name to iSLAY? It’s a very catchy name. If I’m correct, “I slay” was popularised by Beyoncé hey?
NN: (Laughs) Yes, that is true. Well in 2015 I was looking for something that was recent but long term. So I came up with iSLAY GRAPHICS under my company iSLAY HOLDINGS. The meaning behind “islay” is to kick as* or to dominate. So I was slaying before Beyoncé (laughs).
At the moment I have two companies under iSLAY HOLDINGS; iSLAY GRAPHICS and iSLAY AFRICA – an online store selling accessories for ladies and gents. But I am also busy with two more companies; iSLAY QUEER – online store for the LGBT Community and my nonprofit organisation iSLAY FOUNDATION. Both will be launching this year.
So imagine, everything started with a promise of 50k and when I didn’t get that money I didn’t stop. I just believed in myself and there was no room for quitting. I am glad I didn’t quit but it wasn’t easy. I just had to push and work hard and my hard work is now paying off.
TM: Inspiring. So would you say not getting the 50k was your biggest business challenge?
NN: Yes, definitely. At that time there was a lot going on in my mind. “How am I gonna eat?”, “How am I going to survive?” and “Should I go back home?” But like I said, it only took one day to figure things out and I am not a person who is scared to ask for help.
TM: With two companies running, and a third and fourth on their way, it seems like you have achieved a lot over the years. But what has been your stand-out achievement?
NN: Starting my own company is an achievement on its own. Also the amount of exposure I have managed to get for myself and my work through network marketing.
I am also busy with two more companies; iSLAY QUEER – an online store for the LGBT Community and my nonprofit organisation iSLAY FOUNDATION.
TM: So apart from the new companies, what else can we expect this year from iSLAY?
NN: 2017 is such a different year, a year of change for my company iSLAY GRAPHICS. So many things are happening. Sometimes I find myself sleeping at 3 am, only to wake up at 7 am because of the work that I am doing for my clients.
I have projects that I have worked on earlier this year but I am not allowed to say anything about them until they go live. Sometimes I sign non-disclosures. But I am happy with that. I just can’t wait for people to see more of my work.
TM: What a journey, I must admit!
NN: Quite a journey! I am very thankful to everyone one that has been supporting me since day one. Sometimes I get emotional when a client calls and says all the beautiful things about my work.
I am also thankful to the person who was going to invest in my company, because if it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would be where I am today. SLAYING ALL THE WAY TO THE TOP WITH MY WORK!!!
TM: (Laughs) This has been such an insightful interview. Would you like to give any parting advice to those looking to start something in Graphic Design?
NN: Well, first you need to understand your own brand. Understanding your brand says a lot about your work and makes it easy for your clients to work with you long term. Let your brand speak for you.
Also help your clients understand the direction you will be taking with their brand. They should see the vision before you even bring it to life. Your clients should be your inspiration, let the projects you do for them make you a better graphic designer.
Even when you get a difficult client, talk to them. Make them understand how graphics and branding works. Do not be scared to talk to them.
Starting my company wasn’t easy but with the help of social media, I started advertising my business by getting my Facebook page sponsored.
Promote your business, network and also when you see someone with a “not so good branding”, approach them and offer your services. I have created a brand that brings people to me. They decide before they even speak to me that they want to work with me. Having a website and using social media is very important.
Lastly! Do not give up! It took me 5 years to finally get it. I am still learning new things even today.
Be sure to get in contact with Zelo to find out more about iSLAY:
Phone: +27 11 568 4346
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