If You Can Dream It, You Can Live It

Joyce Mnguni has built her dream business by taking leaps out of her comfort zones, again and again and again… and she's never regretted a single decision.

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Joyce Mnguni is South African, born and bred, but she's living her entrepreneurial dreams as a sought-after wedding planner and co-ordinator in Mexico.

Her experiences over the past decade have taught her two very important lessons: First, that facing your fears and stepping out of your comfort zone will give you wings, and second, that serving others not only builds strong and sustainable businesses, but is extremely rewarding and fulfilling.

Traversing the Atlantic

So how did Joyce end up in Mexico? She did it as many travellers do, via cruise ships. "I studied at the Capital School of Hotel and Tourism. It was selective and limited. We had to work hard, but it opened up enormous opportunities for us. It was an early introduction to the lesson that hard work, discipline and dedication are respected qualities, so nurture them."

Upon completing her school years, Joyce had the choice of university, working at a 5-star hotel, or joining a cruise ship. Eager to travel, she chose the latter option. It was a big leap for someone who had never travelled, but she wanted to see the world and open her horizons.

"It was incredible. The experience showed me how grounded South Africans are, and how deep our values run, but I also realised how big the world is. There are so many opportunities out there, and anyone can do it. You just have to be willing to try. Step out of your comfort zone. It's tough, but hugely rewarding."

The 20-year old Joyce met her future husband on the cruise ship, and he convinced her to holiday in Mexico with him. Once there, he convinced her that this should be their new home once their contracts ran out.

"I literally didn't know where Mexico was when he first asked. But it was an adventure, and I'd already learnt that we need to try new things. The worst that could happen was that I'd hate it and go back to the cruise ships."

The move wasn't easy. It was extremely hot (even for a South African), Joyce didn't speak the language, and she was afraid. "There was real fear in me. I remember it so well. I had to find a way to conquer it."
Step one was overcoming the language barrier, and so Joyce enrolled in adult classes.

"I went to school Monday to Friday to learn Spanish. It was intense. The teacher spoke zero English and I spoke zero Spanish. But it was a baptism of fire and I learnt. Within a month I received a job offer as an elite concierge at a luxury villa on the beach. Kings, queens and celebrities vacationed there. It was highly elite and confidential. We were never allowed to reveal who was there. My experience made me a perfect fit for the concierge, my English helped me with guests, and my limited Spanish meant I could be a conduit between the front of house and back of house Spanish employees."

Taking the plunge

It was a dream job, but for Joyce it was a way to build experience, contacts and perfect her grasp of Spanish. What she wanted to do was plan weddings. She got certified in it and started looking for a job as an in-house wedding planner. And received one "no' after the next.

"The reasons ranged from being over-qualified to not being Mexican. I was incredibly frustrated," says Joyce. And so she did the only thing she could, she started studying private sector wedding planning companies. What did they do right? What did they do wrong? Where was the gap?

"I recognised that service was a big problem in the industry, and that was exactly what I was good at."

Joyce had warned her boss that this was her dream, and as soon as she had enough saved up and a website running, she took the plunge. "I had conditioned myself to take leaps," she says. "I had learnt that growth comes from actively looking for the next big thing. I'm a big believer in continuously finding ways to grow, pushing myself further and stretching my limits.

"When change does come, it will always be uncomfortable; so you have to push through it. I'd rather be in control of that change, choosing it and using it to my benefit, than tossed about."

Be true to yourself

Joyce had been right about her service differentiator. She secured two clients, and both gave her excellent referrals. The word-of-mouth marketing did its job, and soon international clients were lining up for Joyce's personal touch.

"My core goal is to help my clients have their dream wedding. It's a very personal experience, and they're trusting me with it, so I have to ensure that they're getting what they envision. My entire business is built on personal referrals, so this is essential. I predominantly work with international guests who are getting married in Mexico, but not based there. We do everything online until they arrive just before the wedding."

The result is that Joyce not only needs to be highly focused and organised, but she needs to know she can work with her clients as well.

"You need to be true to yourself. This is your business, your brand and reputation. Don't compromise on that. In my first consultation call with a new client, I critically evaluate if we can work together. Not everyone can. It's an important day for them and me. I never want to take on a client who isn't a perfect fit. When I see we're misaligned, I'm open and honest about it. It's better for both of us to not work together, and so I walk away."

Joyce is treating her growth in the same way. Her brand has grown beyond her ability to service all of her clients herself, and so she contracts other wedding co-ordinators to assist her.

"We're becoming a wedding co-ordination agency. I plan each wedding and then hand it over to a co-ordinator. I find people who are starting out and don't have clients. They need to build up their reputation, and I need co-ordinators. I vet them extensively though; this is my brand.

"They have to first be an assistant at one of my weddings to see me in action and so that I can evaluate them. Letting go was a challenge, but I've learnt to recognise individuals who view service in the same way I do. I can't grow without them."

Joyce is now bringing this experience back to South Africa. She plans to spend two months a year in her home country mentoring entrepreneurs. "I really want to help others achieve their dreams," she says. "So many people are scared of running their own businesses. I'm an ordinary person who's far from home, and I've done it. Anyone can do it, you just have to be willing to take the leap."