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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.

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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Strategy

Jeff Bezos Reveals 3 Strategies for Amazon’s Success

One of the richest men in the world shared his leadership tips for running a company.

Hayden Field

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“It remains Day 1.” That’s how Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, signed off in his 2018 letter to shareholders. He’s been propagating the “day 1” mantra for decades, and it’s meant as a reminder that Amazon should never stop acting like a start-up – even though the company now boasts more than 560,000 employees and more than 100 million members of Amazon Prime, the company’s paid service for free shipping on select items.

Here are some of the most useful nuggets of wisdom Bezos shared in his letter and during a recent onstage interview:

1. Standards are contagious

Bezos says he believes high standards are teachable rather than intrinsic. “Bring a new person onto a high standards team, and they’ll quickly adapt,” he writes. “The opposite is also true.”

If a company or team operates with low standards, a new employee will often – perhaps even unwittingly – adjust their work ethic accordingly.

He also says that high standards in one area don’t automatically translate to high standards in another – it’s important for people to discover their “blind spots.”

Related: Executive Director Hasnayn Ebrahim’s 5 Rules For Strategic Growth In Your Business

Try making a list of your duties, then ask trusted colleagues to tell you which responsibilities are your greatest strengths. If certain things from the list don’t come up during the conversation, it might be useful to think about how you can up your personal standards in those areas.

2. Set clear, realistic expectations

If you’re looking to raise your standards in a particular area, the first course of action is to outline what quality looks like in that area. The second is to set realistic expectations for yourself – or for your team – regarding how much work it will take to achieve that level of quality.

Exhibit A: You won’t find a single PowerPoint presentation at an Amazon company meeting. Instead, teams write six-page narrative memos to prepare everyone else for the meeting.

Bezos says the quality of the memos vary greatly because writers don’t always recognise the scope of the work required to reach high standards.

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

“They mistakenly believe a high-standards, six-page memo can be written in one or two days or even a few hours, when really it might take a week or more!” Bezos writes.

3. Stay involved with the people you’re serving

Whether you’re selling a product or service, it’s a good idea to make sure you never lose touch when it comes to the people you’re serving – no matter how high up the ladder you climb.

Related: Lichaba Creations Founder Max Lichaba’s Inspiring Journey To Entrepreneurial Success

Bezos says he still reads emails from his public inbox (jeff@amazon.com) as a way to keep his finger on the pulse of what’s happening with Amazon customers.

He says he believes focusing on what customers are saying is much more important for success than focusing on what competitors are doing, and he often compares customer feedback to company data to see where they misalign.

“When the anecdotes and the data disagree,” Bezos said at a recent leadership forum at the George W. Bush Presidential Center, “the anecdotes are usually right.”

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Strategy

You Don’t Have To Go It Alone: How To Find A Mentor As A Freelancer

Need a mentor but don’t know where to start? These tips can help you find your perfect mentorship match.

Yu Liu

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As a freelancer, having enough time to not only grow your business, but also grow your career can be challenging. Who can you turn to for guidance when you’re the boss? For those who strike out on their own, putting time and effort into finding a mentor (or several) can make a huge difference in establishing a successful freelance business.

Among small business owners who have professional mentors, the five-year survival rate for their businesses is 70 percent, according to a survey by BCSG; among those who don’t have mentors, the five-year survival rate is half of that.

Now that you’re settled into the new year, it’s the perfect time to reach out to your network (or establish a new one) and find a group of mentors. Here are some tips for identifying those who can help you achieve your personal and professional goals.

Related: Vusi Thembekwayo Launches Entrepreneurship Mentorship Programme

Evaluate your strengths and weaknesses

As a freelancer, it can be challenging to find the time to step back and examine your professional strengths and weaknesses. While it can be tempting to rely on a mentor to give you guidance on where you need to improve, you’ll get much more out of any mentorship relationship if you’ve done some self-reflection first.

As a first step, consider taking a few minutes to complete a skills evaluation test, such as Myers Briggs or 16Personalities.

Both will provide you with a detailed explanation of your personality, including analysis about workplace habits, relationships and ideal career paths. The results will help you understand how you interact with clients and colleagues, as well as what types of careers and working styles are likely to be a good fit for you.

If you need more help determining your working style or how to achieve the next step in your career, a career coach could be a great investment. Finding the right coach can help you develop a strong understanding of your own personality and work style. Once you know more about yourself, you’ll be able to better identify mentors who can help you play to your strengths and improve upon your weaknesses.

Form relationships through networking groups

you-dont-have-to-go-it-alone-how-to-find-a-mentor-as-a-freelancer_forming-relationships_embedded

Once you’ve had time to reflect on your professional needs, it’s time to find a mentor. As a good first step, look into virtual and in-person networking groups where you can meet people in your industry.

Networking groups and programs, like Entrepreneurs’ Organization, allow you to connect with other freelancers and business owners so you can learn from what they’ve experienced over the course of their careers.

This can help you find a mentor who’s also gone through the challenges of becoming a freelancer.

The location of your potential mentor can be a determining aspect as well. Having a mentor that lives close by gives you access to knowledge of the local trends and makes it easier to scheduling a quick chat. Meetup.com offers access to thousands of organisations around the world in sectors ranging from outdoors and adventure to fashion and tech to writing. If one event looks interesting, take the time to attend and talk to the other participants. One (or more) may have helpful insights for your career.

Keep in touch with former colleagues and associates

Just because you’ve decided to strike out on your own doesn’t mean you can’t still rely on former coworkers, bosses or other working relationships that you developed before becoming a freelancer.

Those you’ve worked with in the past are already familiar with your working style and approach to business, which is helpful context for any mentor/mentee relationship.

Make sure to keep in regular contact with former colleagues, especially those you admired when you worked together, so that you can use each other as a resource for professional questions or opportunities. Haven’t been in touch for a while? Reaching out can be as simple as sending your congratulations about a new job or reminiscing about an old work memory, but it can go a long way toward helping secure a valuable mentor.

Releated: All The Business Wisdom You Need From 4 Famous Entrepreneurs

Seek out people who inspire you outside your professional realm

Inspiring mentors can come from unexpected places, not just your professional bubble or your fellow freelancers. Take a few minutes to research interesting organisations in your local area, perhaps through volunteering, and get involved where you can.

Other volunteers might come from unique backgrounds and work in different fields or industries, so their points of view can provide you with unexpected perspective that may help you think about a challenge or client differently. A mentor from a different field has a unique opportunity to see your business from the outside and won’t be bogged down by conventional solutions.

Finding a mentor is one of the most valuable investments you can make for your future as a freelancer and for your personal work enjoyment.

Mentorship makes a difference all the way to the top – 71 percent of CEOs said having a mentor directly improved their company’s performance according to a study in a book by Suzanne de Janasz and Maury Peiperl.

Beyond the financial returns you can see from mentorship, having advisors you trust can make freelancing feel less overwhelming and more rewarding. So, make sure to put yourself out there and start building your mentor relationships.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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