Life coaching is big business, says Zimbabwean entrepreneur

American comedian Demetri Martin once defined a life coach as “a really expensive friend with limited credentials”. That was almost a decade ago, and coaches are still the butt of many jokes today. Yet the industry has continued to grow massively, defying the eye rolls to make millionaires out of many people, including Godfrey Madanhire, the founder of South African company, Dreamworld Promotions.

Godfrey Madanhire

Godfrey Madanhire

Headquartered in Cape Town, Dreamworld Promotions sells motivational audio discs (written and presented by Madanhire) which are distributed to subscribers monthly. The company also holds events and workshops through which Madanhire provides inspiration to both individuals and major corporates.

Madanhire, who runs the award-winning company, says he is increasingly landing lucrative speaking opportunities. To drum up more gigs, Dreamworld recently established a dedicated sales division. From humble beginnings, the company now rakes in about R10m annually (about $830,000) and employs 50 permanent staff and 150 others.

Born in Zimbabwe, Madanhire was 26 when he arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2000 to seek a better life for himself and his dependents back home. Back then he believed he could find greater fortunes in South Africa than his teaching job could ever offer.

In a recent conversation with How we made it in Africa, Madanhire talked about his journey so far.

Tell us about your first job when you arrived in South Africa.

I struggled to find work but didn’t give up because I was determined to keep the promises I’d made to my mother. I found a position with Premier Growth Group selling short-term insurance. Direct sales wasn’t my dream job, but I persevered and became successful. And it paid off – a few years later I was sent to open a new office in Cape Town. By 2006 I was managing 11 branches. I had achieved well beyond my wildest dreams and it was exciting.

What made you decide to become a life coach and motivational speaker?

I enjoyed motivating and sharing my experiences with my team and it was rewarding to see positive outcomes. It occurred to me that kind of reward does not come from being a branch manager, or even from your bank account. I needed to commit to an activity that would help me to transform lives, so in 2006 established my own company.

Looking back, were there signs this is the path you would follow?

Steve Jobs once said something very interesting – that we can only join the dots backwards. My life, when I look back, makes perfect sense now even though then it seemed like a puzzle that’s not connected at all. My work as a teacher and in insurance sales involved teaching, working with different people, advising and helping them achieve a different world view. When I was just 10 and growing up in a broken home, I stayed up many nights conjuring comforting and wise words to tell my mother in the morning.

What does a life coach really do?

Generally, we advise people on life. We aim to train clients to reach goals instead of just dreaming about them, and those objectives can include working in a family or business set-up – for example to get employees to buy into a founder’s vision or even motivating for better performance. To be a good coach and motivational speaker, you need a story to tell, to speak with passion and credibility, and to make personal connections. I think I have an exciting story to tell – a story of a person who started with nothing and created a profitable enterprise.

How big is the industry in South Africa? Do you see growth prospects for your company?

Life coaching is big business due to the pressures facing businesses in these hard economic times, and the myriad problems in our society. More business executives are increasingly looking for sources of honest feedback, and spaces where they can be challenged on their thinking and approach.

The speaking industry is lagging behind, compared with countries like the US and UK. More work is needed to bring more organisations on board.

We see exciting opportunities for our company going forward. We have already through commission-based agents made inroads in Namibia, Swaziland and Lesotho. In the short-term we plan to continue expanding in South Africa and to enter more Southern African countries and Kenya. We just need to establish a suitable and cost-effective mode of entry.

What can you share with aspiring entrepreneurs?

The most important thing is to find a business idea you are passionate about. Be an expert in your field. I have seen many small businesses fail because they didn’t have a firm grasp of their trade. Learn how to work and deal with other people, whether it’s your employees or customers. I believe dreams come true, but of course one has to work hard. One big challenge for businesses is staff retention, and I can testify to this. You’ve got to find creative ways of keeping employees. For example, at Dreamworld we help the employees to understand our vision – that it is not just about sales, but making a difference in people’s lives.

Your thoughts on xenophobia in South Africa and businesses that have been ruined due to the attacks?

Our society is in turmoil. Life coaches should be out there talking to people, reminding them of the concept of humanity. I can imagine the hopelessness felt by people who worked extremely hard to establish their businesses, only to wake up one day and it’s all gone. And just because someone feels that you were born in the wrong place. It’s not a trend we expected to see, and it doesn’t augur well for the country and the business climate. We need to start instilling the culture of humanity in young people. A good start is the classroom. Additionally, responsible and accountable leadership is important.

Looking across borders, insecurity is a concerning issue. I think people are taking out their anger and frustration on innocent people, and in terrible ways. We need to cultivate a culture of dialogue, to start believing in the power of conversation. And governments need to start taking people more seriously, addressing grievances rather than waiting for protests.