Lifa Communications is a specialist consulting firm servicing the traditionally male dominated industry sectors such as mining, agriculture, oil, gas, energy and technology, and is the brainchild of founder Gabriella von Ille. The company prides itself on its global experience and expertise, combined with unique African industry insight - a powerful combination.
LoA spoke to Gabriella about her global background and her entrepreneurial journey which brought her to South Africa to launch her business.
What does your company do?
Lifa Communications is a boutique consultancy firm focused on Africa and Natural Resources. We specialize in PR & Strategic Communication, Digital Design and Marketing & Branding. The company was founded by myself and Emma Tracey, however, before we signed our first big contract Emma went on to pursue a career outside of Lifa and I have stayed on as the Founder and Director of the company. An interesting fact and driver behind Lifa lies in our name. I am Swedish, and the word “Lifa” in Norse means “Strong woman”. That alone is a motivating factor and a constant reminder of a woman’s strength, no matter the obstacles we face. It is also symbolic of the continuously growing number of women on a mission to break the glass ceiling in male dominated industries such as the ones that we focus on, i.e. Mining, Agriculture, Oil & Gas, Renewable Energy and Technology. Almost as though fate played a role, after months of being in South Africa I discovered that Lifa also means “Inheritance” in isiZulu and other Bantu languages which I still find very enlightening; how the name had such an unintentional yet meaningful link to Africa, a continent that I have come to love.
"An interesting fact and driver behind Lifa lies in our name. I am Swedish, and the word “Lifa” in Norse means “Strong woman”. That alone is a motivating factor and a constant reminder of a woman’s strength, no matter the obstacles we face."
What inspired you to start your company?
During my time as a mining journalist, I received several requests from my clients to freelance. They are the people who pushed me out of my comfort zone, so much so that one day I decided to quit my job, pack my bags, move to South Africa, settle down and establish Lifa. I was working with a couple of stimulating mining companies right from the beginning and I was told time and again that they had never come across a communications firm with a specific focus either on natural resources or with skills like ours.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Coming from a Northern European and American background, Lifa is able to offer the same skill sets and quality of work obtained in cities such as London and Toronto, but with the benefit of being on the ground in Africa. This is what clients were continuously looking for, and Lifa was founded and structured to support this niche market. We put pride in understanding the industries we work in, capturing a prospect’s concerns and briefs we receive, deliver high quality work and with an extraordinary regard for deadlines. We deliver what we promise, on time, all the time.
"We put pride in understanding the industries we work in, capturing a prospect’s concerns and briefs we receive, deliver high quality work and with an extraordinary regard for deadlines. We deliver what we promise, on time, all the time."
Tell us a little about your team
Lifa consists of an international multi-disciplinary team. I’m the Managing Director with a background in politics and strategic communications; Mahali Molapo is our Account Coordinator with training in corporate communications; Miguel Camacho is our Creative Director, he does all the corporate graphic design work; Sara Wall is Lifa’s Digital Creative with a strong focal point on social media; Tshepo Peterson is our Public Relations and media expert; and Sam Eyler is our copywriter and editor. Together we form a very strong team providing customized services to each one of our clients. Our style of working has received great reception from our clients.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
Entrepreneurship for me has always been the norm. Everyone in my family runs their own business; I grew up listening to business talk around the dining table. My career officially took off at a US agency and financial regulator where I worked in the office of Congressional and Public Affairs in Washington DC, but I never liked the hierarchy in that job. Lifa is one of two companies that I started and now run and I am sure it is not my last entrepreneurial endeavour. Having worked in Africa for some years now, I discovered a need that inspired a cause that is very close to my heart. As a CSR arm for Lifa, Sara and I started the second company, Life Love Water; having discovered the detrimental effect of limited access to water and unsanitary water in children’s lives. We went with the concept of selling branded eco-friendly stainless steel water bottles to our corporate clients as well as to individuals online. A percentage of the proceeds go to funding various water projects, the most recent one being for a primary school in Mbazwana, KZN.
"Lifa is able to offer the same skill sets and quality of work obtained in cities such as London and Toronto, but with the benefit of being on the ground in Africa."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
At the moment Lifa is growing at an exponential rate, having recently moved to a new office. We hope to continue this growth from a small to mid-sized company with the aim of becoming the preferred communications consultancy in Africa for companies operating in natural resources. In two years we would like to open another office in a different part of Africa, possibly West Africa as I was based in Ghana for a few years and I believe there is massive potential for growth in Natural Resources on that side of the continent. Moving on, I would like to develop partnerships with like minded organisations as well as continuing to recruit fresh young talents and develop them into astute professionals. The youth has so much to offer and I believe I can learn from them as much as they will be learning from me.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur means dealing with constant ups and downs. There are great days, when everything goes right and you handle everything with such zeal, but then there are other days that aren't so good. It is all about how you handle the bad days. You can consider them negatively and think, "I didn't manage to accomplish what I needed," or you can push to do even better. Bringing in new team members, signing on a new client or moving to a bigger office; every positive move we make comes directly back to me and the company I created, as does every piece of positive feedback we receive from clients. I feel like I am making an impact and there is nothing more satisfying than that.
"Entrepreneurship for me has always been the norm. Everyone in my family runs their own business; I grew up listening to business talk around the dining table."
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
The best advice I can offer other women looking to start-up is:
1. Never be afraid to ask for help and to give the same help in return. No questions are stupid questions. It is not a competition, and not knowing everything is not a weakness. Working together helps you get more out of being an entrepreneur.
2. Stay driven, and follow through with everything you want to do.
3. Don’t, however, engage in any business that you don't feel happy about because it's not worth it. You have already shown you are powerful by creating your own business, so do not let anyone treat you un-accordingly.
4. If you are feeling low on drive or lacking inspiration, go and get yourself a manicure or walk your dog; whatever makes you happyits the best way to get a fresh perspective and renewed energy.
"Being an entrepreneur means dealing with constant ups and downs. There are great days, when everything goes right and you handle everything with such zeal, but then there are other days that aren't so good. It is all about how you handle the bad days."
Why LoA loves it….
Finding a USP in any marketplace is always a challenge, particularly in a highly competitive market sector such as marketing, PR and brand communications, but in the case of Gabriella von Ille and her company Lifa Communications, she has managed to achieve just that. Servicing specialist industry segments, such as the mining, energy, oil and gas, agriculture and technology sectors, means that Gabriella is able to bring specific expertise and global experience to the table, and therefore provide clients with a unique level of support. As a result, she is building both a valued brand and a reputation to match. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa