Women Unlocked: Natalie French has an agency for change

Women Unlocked: Natalie French has an agency for change

August is Women’s Month and ECR is honouring women who have found success in their business and personal lives. Meet Natalie French, owner of Espresso Agency.


Women Unlocked - Natalie French

This motivated go-getter from Mount Edgecombe is determined to see her business succeed to new heights and is celebrating a huge milestone today as her business moves to the next level.

This is her story…

1. How does one build a successful brand in business?

Of the critical basics that business owners need, tenacity is probably the most important. Be 100% invested: heart, body, mind and soul, 100% of the time. You need to appreciate that there will be good and bad times, and highs and lows. You just need to keep on going no matter what! It’s also important to note self-belief. Believe that what you are doing matters, and never be scared to hire people better than you are. Integrity is a crucial factor in business longevity. At the end of the day, are you able to sleep at night? Are you operating your business above board and have you treated people with love and respect? I often say that if you wouldn’t do or say it in front of your children, then don’t do it!

2. What motivates you to work as hard as you do?

I am fiercely determined and have an innate passion to win. I’m a perfectionist and I don’t settle or take “no” for an answer. I want to be an example to my children, my husband, my family, my partners, and staff members every minute of every day.

3. What made you start your business and how did you know it was the right idea?

I am very driven by my gut instinct and tend to go with my intuition. After travelling and living outside of KZN, as well as abroad, I settled back in my hometown because this is where I really feel at home and I wanted to support and give back to the city that had provided me with so much. Having experienced agency life, I wanted to explore the industry my way and offer clients a fresh, new perspective. Espresso began nearly two decades ago, when my business partner and I were fortunate enough to win the Gateway account and our first endeavour was to launch The Theatre of Shopping. We began our journey with a staff complement of four in a small house in Morningside and have grown at a steady pace, purchasing our own building in 2008 in Riverhorse Valley Business Estate. I like to set audacious goals and work my hardest to fulfil them! So far, so good!

4. August is Women’s Month. What do you celebrate the most about being a woman?

I love being able to challenge the stereotype and prove people wrong. Underestimate me at your peril.

5. Who is your female role-model?

The matriarchs in my family. My grandmother. My gogo. My mother. All of them true, moral, supportive women who always put others first. Particularly my mother - I aspire to be as good a mother as she is!

6. What is your advice to an aspiring female entrepreneur?

Keep your eye on the prize and make every day meaningful. Go to work every day as if it were your first - with curiosity, wonder, enthusiasm, optimism, and genuine purpose. Don’t get caught up in other people’s opinions (particularly on social media) and surround yourself with like-minded people. Start how you mean to end. Believe in yourself and don’t accept mediocrity. God is in the details, so don’t cut corners. You have to do the hard yards to reap the rewards, and you will appreciate them so much more! Expect nothing, then you will never be disappointed. Put up your hand and say “yes”. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Don’t settle. It’s all about staying power. I could go on…

7. When you look at the work you have achieved, what are you most proud of?

I have had some incredibly rewarding times during my career, but I believe my proudest moment is happening today, the 7th of August! After almost 19 years as an independent agency, Espresso is merging with an incredible, award-winning ad agency group, and will be moving into the future as Avatar Durban. 

8. What are some of your failures, and what did you learn from them?

Like everyone, I have moments of self-doubt. For me, those are moments of weakness, where you become distracted and focused on the stuff that doesn’t really matter or that you can't control.

9. Women today are still not given the same respect and treatment as men when it comes to business. Why do you think this is and how did you develop a thick skin?

The ad industry in particular was always very male-dominated. When I began my career in the mid-90s, I was one of only three women in the 40-strong creative department. Even at Saatchi & Saatchi in London where I spent a few years, I could count the number of female creatives on one hand, given that we had an entire floor of creative personnel! When I started my business, empowering and supporting women came naturally - women have been and will remain in the majority at Avatar Durban!

10. What advice would you give to struggling business owners during these tough times?

Stop looking to see what others are doing because nobody has experienced a pandemic before and there is no guidebook to refer to. Try new things. Reinvent your business. The world is looking at itself differently and so should you. Trust yourself. Back yourself. And work harder than you ever have before!

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