Plan in advance and do not leave everything for the last minute
PRAVINA COOMBS is the owner and executive director of thoughtFIRE, which has established itself as one of the leading event management companies in South Africa. Over the last 30 years, thoughtFIRE has managed hundreds of events with expertise including conferences, banquets, seminars, exhibitions, live events, and specialised meetings to name a few. Her professional journey started back in 1989 while she was working for a local NGO in Durban. Pravina commented that as a single mother to a young daughter, life was tough.
However, said Pravina, "I had a fire burning in me in that knew I was better than my circumstances of living salary to salary. So, I worked on all the strengths I had, and realised that I could fulfil a need in the market and become a professional conference organiser. This was still a new profession, but I knew I had to take up the challenge."
With the help of her now husband, who offered Pravina a rent-free office for six months, and financial help from a friend who loaned her some money to buy her first computer, Pravina said that she was ready for the biggest challenge of her life. She started calling people from previous contacts she had made through the charity asking them if she could help with marketing, promotions, events or public relations.
Thanks to the solid relationships built throughout her career, in the first month of going it alone, Pravina made more money than her last salary. "This confidence in my ability gave me the push I needed to continue, pursue and develop my business." "I knew I had it in me. I believed in myself, I met deadlines, I went out of my way to deliver the goods, be different and I never made promises that I could not deliver on."
Determination and hard work
Pravina's determination and hard work has certainly paid off. Fast forward 30 years, and Pravina is proud to say that she is one of the most sought-after conference and event organisers in Durban. Reflecting on her success, Pravina says that a mixture of solid connections and sheer determination is what has got her to where she is today.
In addition, she says, "My inspiration comes from learning every day, and these lessons come from my friends, family, my children, my staff, contractors, and other business people."
Her success must also be attributed to, "A good team at the office, a good team at home and having the ability to pre plan all my tasks and responsibilities in advance." "I have to say that since I am so overly organised and efficient, or so I would like to believe; I plan in advance and do not leave everything for the last minute. I can pack a lot into a day - so as stressful as my work is - I am able to enjoy both business and time outside of business."
Training and mentorship
In commenting on the role of women in business, Pravina said that while perhaps differences do exist for men and women in business, in her line of work, the differences have not been an issue. "I also think that as much as there are huge issues with corporates and unfair practices in respect of salaries and promotions, women do have the confidence and power to succeed in business today."
Pravina is proud of the role that she has played in helping numerous women and men to succeed through her training and mentorship. In addition, she often educates her clients and other businesses in public relations and first-line marketing. "In my professional life, I have helped many people to start their own businesses and given advice on how to improve their businesses."
Pravina has assisted many organisations by doing pro bona work for schools, and NGOs through marketing and promoting their organisations, including arranging events and providing public relation services. Examples of these include helping to establish the Gin Girls and running the wood work course business plan for the KwaThintwa School for the Deaf, to name a few.
Pravina has sat on many boards and associations in her career. These include the Businesswomen's Association of South Africa - Durban Branch committee and she was the first elected chairperson of the PR & Liaison Committee of the Durban University of Technology. She has done guest talks and lectures at various institutions which have included participating in career days to assist students in their career choices.
Pravina is involved in her son's schooling and has sat on the school's Parents' Council for five years. She currently sits on their Educational Trust committee.
All falls into place
Pravina says that she is comfortable with what she has achieved in her current business and in what she has done for the industry. "But the end goal for me would be to own a boutique hotel and conference centre that would cater for unique events. I think that from my work and experience I have gained sufficient knowledge and insight and definitely see this as amongst my goals."
The advice that she would give to her younger self is: "Take it easy, but not too easy; everything will happen when the time is right but don't wait too long for the right time - give time a push now and again and then all falls into place eventually."
While many businesses have failed, and many are struggling, and others simply fail to get off the ground, Pravina's business is a huge success story. If anything, that says it all about Pravina.
Thanks to the solid relationships built throughout her career, in the first month of going it alone, Pravina made more money than her last salary. "This confidence in my ability gave me the push I needed to continue, pursue and develop my business