Briefly introduce yourself, what is the nature of your business?

We’re Nicola and Claire, founders of Firecracker Marketing & Events, Africa Scotland Business Network and our own event platform, Illumi.Nation. 

Firecracker is an award-winning, integrated marketing and events company focused on corporate, experiential and NGOs event design and production. Claire heads up events and Nicola heads up marketing. We specialise in designing customer journeys around the varying components and dynamics of an event from the marketing collateral to technical design. After 7 years in business creating work for clients, we decided it was time to write a blueprint for our own event. Illumi.Nation was born in 2019 thanks to generous sponsorship from DGB Brands and Paddington Station PR. 

Nicola is South African and Claire is Scottish. We decided to use the strength of our nationalities in the market place to launch an international business network based in Africa focusing on commercial opportunities between Scottish and African businesses. The Africa Scotland Business Network has a thriving network of business members in 4 African nations and soon to launch in East Africa. We have partnered with the Scottish government and private sector networks to assist African businesses launch in Scotland. As a network consisting of a strong African and Scottish board plus a growing members base in Africa, we are perfectly positioned to facilitate Scottish businesses entering African markets. 

What inspired the launch of your business?

Life circumstances. Claire knew she had enough experience to launch her own events business and Nicola wanted to leave the corporate world to start a family but also continue working. The only way she could do that was running her own business. Claire and Nicola met through Nicola’s husband Ben when Claire and Ben worked together for Bob Skinstad. The two got chatting, decided they could spark something special and the Firecracker brand was born a week later. The rest is history. 

How did you know there was a market for it?

We knew there was a market for our type of agency because we worked in the respective industries for many years. We knew we could offer a more client-led service while remaining authentic human beings in the process. Claire and Nicola’s value system is what makes Firecracker the company it is. Work hard, play hard but remain authentic in everything we do. 

Nicola Probyn and Claire Alexander, Africa Scotland Business Network (co-founders).
Nicola Probyn and Claire Alexander, Africa Scotland Business Network (co-founders).

How did you raise startup capital?

We didn’t raise startup capital. We hit the market through emails and phone calls to generate quick sales instead. The clients came and we slowly grew the company. 

Describe your business model and how you make money?

Firecracker is a transactional events and marketing company. We work on one-off events to long term retainers. The mix of both is essential to cash flow and large injections of cash. 

Our business network has three income streams – paying members, commission from international trade deals and sponsorship.  

What challenges has the business faced and how did it overcome them?

Firecracker plateaued in 2017 and had to change strategy. Firecracker had thrived on word of mouth for 5 years through good fortune, hard work and a little bit of luck. Businesses can’t survive on word of mouth unless they are extremely lucky, therefore we had to start proactively marketing the business. We had a great year in 2018 and 2019 when the client base dropped, we had to pivot in business. That’s when Illumination and ASBN were born. It’s minimised risk since it’s provided additional income streams into our companies. 

What was the business’s first big breakthrough?

Being the first South African based agency to produce The Color Run South Africa under the license holders. It still remains the biggest learning curve we’ve ever went through in our business journey.

What online tools/apps is business using daily?

Sage, Monday.com, event apps, Google Drive to name a few! 

What marketing strategy has proven profitable for your business?

In 2018, we refreshed our brand and put a much more professional spin on our business. We hired a couple of strategists to assist us with the process which was worth the investment. Our brand now looks a lot more ‘grown-up’, calming and promotes Firecracker as an authentic and passionate service provider. We updated our website and updated the profile of our business on social media and free communication tools. We also used speaking opportunities to directly engage with potential customers and show them the new ‘face’ of Firecracker at the same time.

What remains a challenge for your business today?

Stable cash flow. 

Please share your business website and social media links…

Author Muzi Mohale

Welcome to StarterJourney.com where I showcase small beginnings to inspire the next entrepreneur in you. It's a journey worth tapping into, many life lessons get to be experienced, money made and money lost...You're welcome to share your entrepreneurship journey with my audience.

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