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Strategy

Reach for the Dream: Real Business Growth at Your Fingertips

Take your business to the next level! But do you even know what your next level is?

Andrew Bahlmann

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As a business advisor I am contacted daily by business owners that want me to assist them in taking their business to that fabled ‘next level’. I always start off with a very simple question: “What is your next level?”

90% of the time the penny drops, as the answer is always the same. Not a clue! We all want to grow, improve, become more profitable but that is as generic as ‘I want to be more strategic!’

If you don’t know where your business is either going, or needs to go, or how you’re going to get there, you need to define the path that lies ahead very clearly and apply creativity, practicality and relevance.

Where do you start? Well you need a plan.

Crafting a strategy for a smaller business

The strategy journey for any business is mission critical for success, especially an SME. We often fall into the trap of thinking that we need a 40 page strategy document using various models and frameworks to come up with something that pretty much mirrors what it is that we knew we needed to do in the first place!

I personally favour the ‘one-page strategy’. Don’t take this too literally. Keep it short, focused and relevant.

Remember that the strategy itself is not as important as the effective implementation of the required actions to achieve it. What are the steps to craft a powerful strategy for your business?

Define what your goal or ‘next level’ is

Where do you want to take your business? Do you want to grow your number of customers, your revenues, profits, products or markets? The list goes on and on. You need to map this out. Understand what it means to your business.

Do you have the resources and the time? What are your challenges? Is your ‘next level’ achievable and sustainable? This phase of your process should be filled with hundreds of questions. When you can start answering all of the questions you will start realising that you are on track to define what the ‘next level’ is for your business.

Start with the foundation that you have built

Always attempt to leverage the momentum that you have already built. There will be times when you need to make a radical shift in another direction. Perhaps if you sell analogue fax machines in Silicon Cape it may be time to look at a new direction.

However, in this example your momentum is your ability to sell. Leverage that in your new direction. You truly need to understand your business in order to move it forward effectively. We will pick this up in a subsequent article.

Don’t plan too far in advance  

The days of planning a three to five-year strategy are gone. If anyone can predict what lies ahead in excess of 18 months you have some very real talents. It’s important to not live with a short term focus and have a longer term ‘direction’, but focus on delivering on the first 12 months without fail.

There will be more than enough variables for you to have to deal with without you worrying about some potential issue in 48 months-time! I am yet to come across a strategy that remained intact, irrespective of the period.

Determine what you need to get there

Do you have the resources, time and skills in your business to get to where you need to go? Understand what is required in order to achieve your ‘next level’. If you are planning on moving into a new market do you need to recruit someone that understands the technical side of that market? Do you need to raise additional funding?

Map out your ‘Path to Success’

This is the most important step. Translating your strategy or plan into tangible actions is what will ensure that effective execution takes place. Map your action in detail.

If you can translate a 12 month strategy into weekly actions you will ensure momentum is maintained, you will measure whether your plan is relevant and can re-assess and make small changes along the way (if required). You will be working with reality as defined by the market.

Working through the actions and executing them effectively will result in a discipline that will entrench the strategy into your business.

Andrew has had the benefit of gaining experience as both an entrepreneur and a corporate Chartered Accountant. With personal experience of building, buying and selling businesses, he has built up significant experience in working with the owners of privately owned businesses in assisting them to grow and/or exit their businesses at maximum value. As the founder and Managing Director of Deal Leaders Africa he has built a team that resonates with his clients and delivers the results they need.

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Strategy

You Are Your Own Client

Before you can build a start-up that takes over your industry, you need to treat yourself as your own best client.

Allon Raiz

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In business, when you have a client, the relationship is formalised into a structured one where there are defined expectations and regular meetings. For example, if you are a consultancy and have a one-year contract to deliver services to a client, the relationship will be formalised, structured and possibly include monthly status meetings. Some may be report-back meetings while others may be briefing meetings.

Your client will receive a monthly invoice and there may be quarterly reviews of the work you have done. Your general mindset is one of service to the client because they are important and worthy of the effort. Crudely speaking, most service-provider arrangements work in a similar way because the structured model works.

In contrast, as entrepreneurs, our relationship with our own business is often far more chaotic or ‘organic’ than formal. My contention is that it is also much less effective. When I work with SMEs, one of the first things I do is encourage the entrepreneur to treat his or her own business as a client by formalising meetings, ensuring that there is a feedback loop and having a service-provider mindset. By making these philosophical and structural changes, you will create a far more efficient and well-run business.

There are four aspects to any business which, in my view, should be formalised.

1. Partners

It still astounds me how informal the meetings are between partners in SMEs, especially when they operate from the same office. There are no set times, no agendas and no outputs required. The fact that you might sit in the same office or chat regularly is the problem because it’s interpreted as proper communication while it’s actually a very undisciplined and unstructured process. Casual chats do not ensure that all the requisite items or issues are being properly discussed and dealt with.

Related: How Investors Choose Who To Invest In

2. Staff

The often-given excuse for not holding weekly, biweekly or monthly meetings with team members at the same date and time is that the business is fluid and the entrepreneur needs to be responsive to their clients’ urgent needs whenever these might occur. And so non-rhythmic meetings are occasionally inserted into the gaps in between the chaos.

The discipline that I try to imbed in the SMEs I work with is to hold rhythmic meetings at a certain time and day every week, month or quarter. Should there be a need to cancel this meeting for whatever reason, it should be rescheduled. The simple discipline of rescheduling and not cancelling allows for a compromise between the practical reality of an entrepreneur’s life and the discipline required to build a sustainable business.

3. Agendas

Agendas are often seen by entrepreneurs as an icon of the structure of the corporate world. They smack of rigidity, stuffiness and boredom so they are often discarded and replaced with warm and fuzzy chats. In reality, in order for it to be an effective use of time, every meeting requires a structure, outline or agenda.

This can be a comprehensive agenda similar to that used by corporates or as simple as each person in the meeting talking about their three top-of-mind issues. What is important is that there is structure and outputs, otherwise the meeting’s output is merely that it’s nice to know. The output from a meeting with a formalised agenda is that it’s nice to do.

Related: Why Reading Is The Most Important Tool In Your Arsenal

4. Product review

When last did you, as an entrepreneur, formally ask yourself if your products are still relevant and effective in the market? One of the greatest oversights made by SMEs is not regularly reviewing the appropriateness of their existing products or services. In a high-growth, chaotic environment that is attuned to constantly producing new products, existing products soon become the ugly stepchild, only getting attention when the client cancels the contract because your competitor has a faster, shinier and cheaper iteration of your product. An incredibly important discipline in any business is the regular and formalised review of products and services.

We resist structure as entrepreneurs and the price of that resistance is ineffective and inefficient businesses. By simply treating ourselves as we would our clients, we are able to imbed a level of structure to our businesses that will create a far more effective and enduring business.

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Strategy

What’s The Worst That Can Happen With A Disgruntled Silent Shareholder?

Whether a shareholder brings capital to the business, experience or connections, you need to ensure everyone has the same vision and values.

Kyle Torrington

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While we often hear that it can be bad to have a silent shareholder that does not want to play ball, it is not often that we make enquiries about how the governance of a company can be hindered by a disgruntled shareholder.

Most of us assume that as long as they own more than 50% of their own company, they are entirely in control of all aspects of the company and how it is governed. This is not true: Even if you are a majority shareholder, holding less than 75% of all the shares in your company can still result in headaches if a minority shareholder, holding at least 25% of the company, becomes disgruntled and neither participates in the decisions of the company, nor consents to the decisions being made.

What is set out below highlights, among others, why it is so important to give shares in a company to prospective shareholders over a period of time, rather than from the outset. This allows for shareholders to prove their worth without you potentially placing your company in a position where it could be held at ransom for many years.

Related: 7 Factors To Determine Who Are Your Employees (And Who Aren’t)

The illusion of holding more than 50% of the shareholding in a company

  • Many people assume that by holding more than 50% of the shares in a company they are free to do with the business as they please. This generally only holds true for basic decisions of the shareholders, such as the removal and appointment of directors. The most important decisions of a company are based on special resolutions. A special resolution requires that shareholders, either individually or collectively, holding at least 75% of all the shares in a company, vote in favour of a specific decision.
  • Examples of decisions that require a special resolution include:
    • Amending a company’s Memorandum of Incorporation
    • Approving the issuing of shares or granting of other similar rights
    • Authorising the basis for determining directors’ salaries
    • Disposing of company assets
    • Mergers and acquisitions.

So, what does this mean for you and your company?

  • If you are a start-up looking to raise funds, apart from some exceptions, you will not be able to issue further shares to new shareholders or anyone other than existing shareholders if there is a shareholder that is effectively dead weight.
  • Should you manage to vote a new director to the board, you will not be able to determine the basis on which they are compensated (their salary) without a special resolution.
  • If you intend to merge with another company, you will not be able to pursue this without a special resolution.
  • If you plan to raise money by disposing of or selling most of the assets of your company you will, once again, be prevented from doing so.

Related: Reality Check: You Probably Don’t Own That Work You Outsourced

Accordingly, it is always best when starting a venture to vest your shares over a period of time. This means that, for example, shareholders are only entitled to have their shares allocated to them after a certain period of time to avoid a situation where you have a dead-weight equity shareholder hindering the governing of your company, and requiring possible litigation to remove them.

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Strategy

There’s More To Team Management Than Leadership

When you’re running a business you need to ensure that your employees are on your side, helping you to make profits. Giving them job security, taking them seriously and treating them with respect, will go a long way in enhancing loyalty and productivity.

Henry Sebata

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The staff that work for you determine:

  1. How happy your customers are with your business
  2. The quality of the things that you sell
  3. The costs that you incur to sell your products and services
  4. Your risks – the things that can go wrong and how much it costs you

All of these things determine your profitability and how competitive your business becomes. How do you ensure that everyone is on the same side and helping you to make profits?

At work everyone believes that they are getting something (such as money) and are giving something in return (such as time and effort). They are weighing up in their mind “how much am I giving, how much am I getting in return and is this fair?” If they believe that they are:

  • Giving too much or
  • Getting too little
  • Then this is unfair, and they won’t work well (poor productivity – how much they produce).

Related: Why Innovative Employee Benefits Are Your Competitive Advantage

The manager needs to:

  • Know what people are thinking about what they are giving and getting and
  • Manage the giving or getting side
  • So that people become more productive

In a smaller business you sometimes cannot afford to pay more or provide the sort of benefits (pensions, medical aid, bursaries etc.) that larger firms can and so the staff may be unhappy, not be productive and be on the look-out for something better.

How do you increase happiness without money?

Everyone wants:

  1. Job security – knowing that you will still have a job next year – and that you will get paid on time.
  2. Contributing to the success of the business. If you train staff to have the knowledge and skills to do a better job and you then encourage and support them to do this then they are happier, and you increase profits. If you then share some of these profits with the staff that helped you to make them then everyone wins!
  3. To be taken seriously and treated with respect. If you do this then staff are happier, and they will also treat your customers with respect.
  4. To be part of the team. You can often do this by having a regular briefing on what your plans are and discussing ideas. Because staff are doing the actual work they will often have good ideas and then will be motivated to implement them – it was their idea after all!

Staff leaving you all the time is a can destroy significant value. If you implement the strategy above, you will have happier staff that are more productive and a more profitable business.

Read next: Understanding Your Responsibility As An Employer

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