Gayl Louise Ally | Funworld Productions

Programme sponsor: Henkel

“I knew there was no turning back. Now I had to make it work!”

When I became the sole owner of Funworld Productions in 2006, my ex-business partner said something that I’ll never forget, “I give it six weeks and this company will go under”. It was a scary leap to take because it meant I’d be responsible for everything from finances to marketing and admin, and I must admit that I doubted myself – but I was up for the challenge. As awful as it was to hear those words, I think of them every time I’ve considered giving up – they motivated me and kept me going through some of the toughest times.

Before deciding to dive headfirst into this solo entrepreneurial endeavour, I spoke to my dad who asked me outright if I could do it. In that moment, I wasn’t 100% sure myself but I said “yes” anyway and that’s when I knew there was no turning back. Now I had to make it work!

Through Funworld Productions I work mostly with corporates, developing edutainment school programmes for my clients using their characters – like the Mr Pritt mascot – and take those brands into schools. The first couple of years of running Funworld Productions by myself were great, I successfully managed and grew the business to the point where we had to move to bigger offices every two to three years!

I was determined: my business would survive

I’ve been through tough times too, like when the recession hit and I saw so many businesses like mine closing. I worried I’d have to do the same but I was determined: my business would survive even if it meant making sacrifices. I downscaled, moved to smaller offices and had to retrench some of my staff, but we made it through and rebuilt – in part due to the ongoing support of my biggest client, Henkel.

Things picked up again and a few years ago I even started a second business, Schoolmall, because it felt like a natural extension of Funworld Productions. We were already dealing with stationery lists for schools and they started asking if we could quote them on the stationery supplies too so I set up an online stationery store that schools can sign up to, which takes the hassle out of back-to-school shopping for parents and guardians. I took the risk, expanded my service offerings to schools and successfully captured that new market.

The business took another big knock during the Covid lockdown and its aftermath. A lot of my clients were downscaling and budgets were slashed. I found myself at a crossroads where I knew something had to change to ensure the survival and sustainability of Funworld Productions, but I didn’t know what direction to go in!

Henkel took a chance on me

That’s when I was contacted by Henkel and they told me about the Raizcorp Arize business-development programmes and that they were putting my name forward as a candidate. It was incredibly fortuitous timing and I was both shocked and excited by the prospect. I knew that even being considered for the programme meant that Henkel had faith in me and believed my business had the potential to grow and that vote of confidence is what made me give 100% in all the interviews and assessments.

Initially, I didn’t realise the year-long programme would be fully sponsored by Henkel. I was prepared to pay my portion of it, whatever that would be, because I knew it would be a life-changing (and business-transforming!) experience – and it has been. The year-long programme has given me clarity, a vision for the business, direction, and confidence.

So much has changed since I started the programme. I have more free time than I’ve ever had because I’ve finally learned to delegate. I used to pride myself on being “hands-on” but actually I thought that if you wanted a job done properly, you had to do it yourself. Raizcorp has taught me to let go: I’ve changed the way my staff work and given them more responsibility, and I’m working on a succession plan that will keep Funworld Productions going when I retire one day. I spend a lot more time working on proposals and coming up with new ideas now – I’m working on my business and not just in it. And the numbers back this up, too. My average monthly turnover has increased by 30% and my net profit is up by 7%. I’ve grown from four to seven permanent staff and have built relationships with 3 000 schools nationwide.

Sometimes I think you have to be a bit crazy to choose to be an entrepreneur. It comes with a lot of responsibility because everything – including the livelihood of your employees and their families – hangs on you. If you work for a big corporate you have the luxuries of a guaranteed salary, bonuses and annual leave but what I’ve gotten from being my own boss is worth so much more: I was able to be at every school drop-off and sports match. I often ask myself if I’d trade entrepreneurship for the safety that comes with employment but I can honestly say I wouldn’t.

Entrepreneurship isn’t an easy path to walk but it can be so rewarding. My advice for other entrepreneurs is to be consistent and believe in yourself. If being an entrepreneur is something you want to do and you believe in your product (that’s important!) then you’ll make it. You can’t go into it thinking about how much money you’re going to make though – starting your own business isn’t about status or the holidays you’re hoping you’ll afford, it’s about the passion. The rest will come after.

Thank you to my sponsor

Words cannot express how appreciative I am to Henkel for considering me for this opportunity. Both my business and I have grown in a way that we never would have been able to without their support. I’ve been working with Henkel since 2003 – the company has always been the one to put food on my table, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.