Kirk Mann thrives on helping Aboriginal businesses realize their potential through effective marketing and communications.
“It’s good to see a business that’s Aboriginal come out and be successful,” says the entrepreneur from Peguis First Nation. “[Helping Aboriginal businesses flourish] has always been a goal of mine, and it makes me feel good when I help a business that’s Aboriginal get to the next level.”
According to Mann, many First Nations-led businesses don’t realize the importance of polished marketing and communications strategies, nor do they utilize the resources available.
“There’s a pretty big learning curve for Aboriginal businesses,” he says. “Simple things like logos: [Aboriginal business owners] just make one up and get it down, not realizing that if you think about it at first and get a good logo and have some meaning behind it, later on it evolves.”
Which is where Mann can help. The 2005 graduate of Red River College’s Business Administration program is a founding partner and client development director at Modern Clan Marketing Communications, a full-service marketing, design and digital technology firm with a strong focus in the values and traditions of First Nations communities.
“We bring an Aboriginal perspective, that’s the way we look at it,” he says. “When we meet a new client we let them know the issues and struggles they’re dealing with, we’ve dealt with through our company already.”
Mann’s own First Nation – Peguis – is among the clients Modern Clan has amassed since its launch in June 2013. Others include the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, Say Magazine, Waabanong Anishinaabe Interpretive Learning Centre, FN Developments Inc., the band Indian City, and more. Part of the company’s success has been due to an endorsement from Ovide Mercredi, who is Modern Clan’s strategic advisor.
“It was amazing meeting him, and an honour,” Mann says. “Ovide came on board because he believes in us and he backs what we’re doing and he supports the company.”
The name Modern Clan represents the changing face of Aboriginal business, Mann says.
“We’re a modern company, and in this economy Aboriginal businesses are getting bigger and I think kind of taking over. We’re all from different clans, all the same people, and Modern Clan just kind of clicked.”
Modern Clan is Mann’s third successful business; the 32-year-old always knew he would be an entrepreneur.
“Usually the harder you work, the bigger the payoff, and I’m a really hard worker so I wouldn’t want to work for someone because I always do too much work for too little pay. It made sense just to work for myself and reap the benefits.”
Mann started his first business – a t-shirt printing operation with incredible profit margins – in Grade 9,after convincing teachers to let him into a Grade 12 class.
“They told me I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the workload and the advanced reading. I told them there was no way I was going to fail.”
His t-shirt business turned out to be the class’s most profitable venture.
“I had to stop a month early. Once the teacher found out how much I was making a month, they actually got me to start paying for supplies and stuff like that.”
Realizing that if he wanted to continue to work for himself he’d need more formal training, Mann enrolled at RRC, where he learned to “really fine-tune a business.”
“Attending RRC gave me a lot of confidence in my business. I learned to not just do something but rather think about other solutions and the outcomes of each to pick the best route. I used to get ideas all the time and simply act on them. Now, I do a lot more planning and weigh the pros and cons of each idea.”
Mann loves the challenge and thrill of learning a new task. In fact, during the summer between his first year and second year in Business Admin., he got an internship at APTN as a web designer – despite the fact he had no formal training in the area.
“My first day of work, it was just me and this other guy working in the web department and he asked me right off the bat, ‘How well do you know web design?’ And I told him, ‘I don’t, but I’m a fast learner.’
His colleague took pity on him and gave him a stack of materials to study; the next week, Mann was proficient enough to keep his position, and by the end of the summer he was helping to find bugs in the network’s recently-launched website.
Mann started his second business, Status Solutions, during his second year at RRC. That company specialized in web design, along with graphic design and photography, which he also taught himself. Mann prides himself on delivering more than the client expects, and his business therefore grew steadily mostly through word-of-mouth.
“I was doing all the work myself for clients and running the day-to-day business at the same time. I was working day, night, weekdays and weekends – and loving it.”
Today, Mann is learning video editing and 3D and motion graphics and continues to challenge himself.
“I always go back to that class in Grade 9. That’s where I was first introduced to the word ‘entrepreneurship.’ It means doing what you want – what you’re good at – and making a living out of it, and part of it is taking a risk. Entrepreneurs like taking risks and I like the risk in working for myself. I like taking on new tasks and saying that I can do it even though I don’t know that I can,” he says.
“I haven’t encountered a project that I wasn’t able to complete.”
Shown above: Kirk Mann (left), with Modern Clan colleagues and fellow RRC grads Derek McCorrister, Dwayne Bird and Correy Myco
Profile by Stacy Cardigan Smith (Creative Communications, 2006)