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How Ephraim Mashisani Rose to the Top of His Industry

Ephraim Mashisani has built a R50 million company in four years. He reveals the challenges of operating in a highly commoditised industry and the smart tactics he’s deployed that have resulted in profit on every single project since inception, and ongoing sustainable growth of his business, Nyalu Communications.

Tracy Lee Nicol

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Vital Stats:

  • Company: Nyalu Communications
  • Player: Ephraim Mashisani
  • Launched: 2009
  • Turnover: R50 million
  • Contact: +27 (0)11 402 8546
  • VISIT: nyalu.co.za

 

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The Challenge

Nyalu Communications is a marketing and communications company that has expanded its printing capabilities to incorporate outdoor advertising, PR and promotions, branding and design, print advertising, brochures and any other kind of printed supporting material for campaigns.

Related: Why Your Product is Not the Solution

The print industry is deceptive; from the outside it looks like an easy, low barrier to entry industry, but the reality is that it is highly technical, extremely cash intensive, the equipment costs hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of rands, and there are just a handful of big players who are well established.

All of this makes it a difficult industry to break into. It’s also highly commoditised, and very price dependent. This means price (and the lowest price) is a common but poor differentiator, and difficult to build a sustainable business on.

The Solution

Despite all of these challenges, Ephraim Mashisani has built a thriving company using very smart tactics that centre on monitoring every single cent, and knowing his industry – competitors included – inside out. Having launched in 2009 as a part-time, bootstrapped company, he’s had to be specific and smart every step of the way. This is how he’s done it.

As a BEE level 1 company do you go straight for big tenders?

No, we don’t participate in all tenders, we select the ones we can have an upper hand on because the processes are difficult and time consuming.

What we do find is that we supply to companies that have secured tenders but don’t have the expertise or facilities to fulfil their obligations – that’s where we come in. But we do have some contracts with government departments and some corporates.

Historically, we’ve found corporate very difficult to break into because they’re not held to the same procurement processes as the public sector – a corporate can easily say they’re happy with their supplier, but the public sector is dictated to by the PFMA, meaning they need to mix up their suppliers from time to time or face an audit query. That’s where you get your chance to pitch for business and prove yourself.

Nyalu Communications is incorporating more and more functions rather than going niche. What is the rationale?

Growth has been a fine balancing act of deciding which functions to outsource to small businesses and which to bring in-house. It all depends how the numbers work out and how reliable my supplier is.

Growth relies on having control of production and I learnt some hard lessons to that effect as an SME: I’d take information from my supplier at face value and take it to client, only to be caught between a rock and a hard place.

The supplier would run over deadline and say, ‘You’re welcome to take your business elsewhere,’ knowing I’d go to the back of the queue if I did. Whatever decision I made I’d still have to go to client with a story about why their delivery would be late.

Another problem with outsourcing to multiple suppliers is that consistency may be compromised – one supplier’s purple may be different to another’s.

So coming back to Nyalu and its growth, equipment is purchased, functionalities added on, or smaller businesses purchased so that we become a one-stop-shop with as much control as possible. As a recent example, I purchased a litho printing company (Xanadu Printing & Graphics) because I realised I was spending in excess of R1 million per month just to outsource magazine print work.

Related: 4 Money Mistakes Made by Businesses That Are Always Short on Funds

I already had 51% shares in the company to secure priority, but realised 100% ownership would bring in more revenue, work towards our one-stop-shop goal, and ensure quality and consistency across different printing systems.

As part of our growth strategy I also recently purchased CMT Machinery for custom-made corporate wear, bags and protective wear after I realised I was spending R200 000 a month outsourcing this work.

How do you avoid value leakage with increased functionalities?

I’ve made sure that I’m qualified in my roles and responsibilities. Where I don’t know things, I hire the best people in those fields.

The danger with embracing all things is that not having the right people will result in more damage than good to the company’s reputation. Here’s an example of how I avoid that: Car branding is very specialised and outside my expertise and you can’t just get anyone to do it, but it’s part of our offering, so I’ve taken on a company that specialises in car branding and I send them on regular training to ensure they’re up to speed with new techniques and materials.

Related: Win Customer Loyalty With an Unexpected Experience

But when I bring in a new division or buy a new company, there’s the inevitable uptake period to recuperate that initial investment. To weigh up the decision I check how much I spend in the particular field, and if I spend more than enough, I research the costs of buying these machines and bringing on the expertise.

I then have the option to continue outsourcing (provided they’re cheaper and reliable), to buy equipment and recruit employees from the field, or to purchase an existing small business. Whichever decision I go with, it’s always with long-term growth in mind.

Outsourcing can be cheaper, so how do you justify the higher price of bringing things in-house and what you can realistically charge?

Obviously you have to know your competition and how much they’re charging, but my pricing always hinges on quality. There are competitor prices I can’t compete with, but it shows in the quality of the final product. We did a job where we were asked to compete with a well-known competitor who I know uses a Chinese model machine that costs around R300 000 and his inks cost next to nothing, whereas my machine is a latex printer that costs around R3 million and three litres of ink cost R5 000. But it’s clear which is which.

I don’t get into price wars. When giving a quote we always offer a sample made at our own expense which inevitably forces the competition to do the same. When clients say our prices are too high for them, the minute they get the mock-ups in their hands and they know what we’re charging them for, they know who to give their business to. Yes, our prices are a little higher, but they’re informed by what’s involved.

Even when competing against inferior quality, we don’t overcharge. In fact we cap our margin at 30% and most jobs fall into 15% to 20% because we work on volumes. We’re more expensive than some, but more competitive than when middlemen are involved.

You’ve made a profit on every single project since you started. How have you achieved this?

I’m exceptionally careful about tracking costs and touch points to complete a project. Every single quote and invoice comes through me before it goes to client and because I’ve been in the industry so long I can pick up errors or anomalies at a glance. I also always have the invoice from the supplier at hand when checking as it prevents mistakes.

But from an internal perspective, you have to consider the time and labour that goes into a job and what it’s costing you. It’s the little things like the time taken for folding and bagging a T-shirt that adds up as you need to buy the plastic bag and pay for the labour.

We had an instance where a client brought in his own T-shirts, wanted them branded, put in plastic bags and then in nice branded boxes (which are expensive, around R5 to R6 each). He then told us we were being unfair to charge for the boxes! By working out every touch point of a project I’m able to determine what it’s costing the company and factor in a 15% to 20% margin.

Even if I’m doing a job for free as a favour, I’ll let them know how much it would have cost – from designing to printing, packaging and finishing – and that goes into our books.

How do you leverage your finances to grow the business?Ephraim-Mashisani

Like a lot of young businesses, I battled to get finance from banks, so most purchases were made in cash. I’d identify a machine, save for it and then buy it a year down the line.

There’d then be a lag time of up to nine months before I had enough capital again to fund big projects that would pay for the machine. Fortunately, we now appeal to banks and it’s easier to access finance. So we finance our purchases and retain our capital to put the machine to work immediately or have it earning interest elsewhere.

It’s critical we have strong working capital as often orders come in on a Monday with a Friday deadline. We’d miss the deadline if we had to apply for finance, especially because some clients can’t even pay a deposit for their jobs.

Related: Why Your Self-Imposed Limitations are Blocking Innovation

For example, a client can give us an order for R5 million without a deposit and then we still have to wait another 60 or 90 days after delivery for payment. This is another reason why we finance the big machines and keep working capital at hand.

With such a long wait for payment, how do you manage your cash flow and ensure payment?

It’s so important to chase and check. Very few clients are ever on the ball and pay on time. We’ve hired a person whose sole responsibility is to chase clients from the 15th of each month by following up on invoices, sending statements, and getting verbal confirmation that they’re on track for payment.

This helps the business because we get a better understanding of our financial status for the month, which then determines whether we must source money elsewhere for salaries and suppliers. We then look to our creditor’s book to see who owes and collect enough money to cover all the costs of the month.

How do you decide who your clients will be, especially if they’re late payers or default entirely?

We don’t want those kinds of clients as it costs us time and money to keep chasing them for payment, so we’re managing our existing debtor’s book and have implemented a policy of putting all new clients through a vetting process with a credit controller company called Credit Guarantee.

They vet new clients on our behalf, determine the client’s credit limit and insure it. If a client defaults, at least we’re covered and it becomes Credit Guarantee’s problem.

How this tactic also helps is that if Credit Guarantee covers a client for R100 000, we then only do jobs up to R100 000 for that client. If their order is larger, we request the excess in cash up-front.

As your company grows how do you manage staff to maintain production quality?

With unskilled labour, you can get those who don’t care that they’re not sticking a label on a bottle straight, so to ensure the quality of all our jobs we’ve got a tiered system of leadership.

My operations manager oversees everything and reports directly to me – she’s very experienced and acts as my eyes when I’m not around. She has a team of production managers who manage their departments. We meet with them daily to look at workloads, challenges and outputs. Every production manager also has a team leader who serves as quality controller, checking quality and quantity.

Once the quality and quantity check is done at a departmental level, it gets sent to dispatch. Here we have a dispatch manager who’s very strict and stubborn as a result of past lessons with clients who would question why their delivery of 50 T-shirts actually amounted to 45. So this dispatch manager literally counts everything going in and going out.

It doesn’t matter if it’s 5 000 water bottles – he’ll count them until he’s satisfied and then records it in Pastel. He then gets the client to sign. This brings all the departments together and ensures the final order is correct. I believe that quality checks and quantity checks go hand in hand. Leakage of 15 shirts per 1 000 doesn’t sound like much but it adds up.

How do you find the time to plan for growth in your company?

All industries operate in cycles, and printing is no exception. But instead of scrambling for business when times are slow, I take that opportunity to think strategically about what operations I can bring in-house.

I always like to be challenged, to tell you the truth. In quiet times I’m able to identify where we have gaps in our offering. The minute you sit and relax, you get used to the situation and things become normal to you.

How do you market your new purchases to drum up business that will pay for it?

Whenever we buy a new piece of machinery, whether it’s bigger, faster or completely new, we send out emails to clients to show off our new acquisition and what it can do. We then invite them to come over and take a look at it. It’s fascinating how that alone drums up excitement and turns into business.

What does the future hold for Nyalu’s growth?

We’re in a great position now that we’ve developed a sound reputation, have the expertise and capital to take on big projects, and are established enough and able to leverage our BEE status to target the sector.

Related: 6 Secrets to Making Business Decisions That Get Results

Tracy-Lee Nicol is an experienced business writer and magazine editor. She was awarded a Masters degree with distinction from Rhodes university in 2010, and in the time since has honed her business acumen and writing skills profiling some of South Africa's most successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, franchisees and franchisors.Find her on Google+.

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Business Landscape

Load Shedding – How To Stay Productive

We’ve all already had massive interruptions from load shedding and it’s not going away anytime soon so, instead of being caught out each time and losing productivity, let’s stay steps ahead of the outages and make sure that our productivity stays where it should be…

Warrick Kernes

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They say that prevention is better than cure and with load shedding the best cure is to have a generator, backup power inverter or UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) set up to kick in when the lights go out. If you don’t have this in place then you will want to understand when you will be affected and how to minimise the impact of this on your work.

The first step is to know when your area is scheduled for load shedding. You can find out by downloading the free app called Loadshedding Notifier which tells you when Eskom has scheduled areas to be turned off. We’ve already seen that the lights don’t always go out when they are scheduled to do so but it’s better to be prepared than to be caught in the dark.

Many entrepreneurs rely on their normal routine to drive their productivity but once you know that your routine is going to be interrupted then it’s time to re-plan your day. You could plan to get up earlier to avoid traffic or to start work super early so that you get through your priority work before the power goes off.

Arrange your to-do list so that you can get through the highest priority and income producing activities first and then you can get around to the rest of your work. Prioritising your daily actions becomes even more crucial when you have limited time. You can also plan priority work for when the power is out; just imagine how many sales calls you can make when not being interrupted by emails.

If you work from home check if the neighbouring suburbs will have power so you can go work at one of the cafes. Most cafes have free wifi but it can be slow and these networks aren’t always secured so it’s preferable to have your own 3G dongle so that you don’t rely on others for internet.

A few more load shedding quick tips:

  • Work in the cloud so that all your work is backed up automatically and not lost if you suddenly lose power.
  • Unplug devices when the power is out to avoid damage from potential surges when power is restored.
  • Keep your electronics charged up such as; headphones, cell phone, laptop battery, powerbank, 3G dongle.

If your computer battery dies or you run out of things to do then create a list of work that you and your team can do which doesn’t require computers or internet. An impromptu team building lunch or a good old brain storming session could prove incredibly valuable or if your team isn’t up for that then the storeroom could probably use a clean.

If all else fails don’t panic as you can always just go for a walk, meditate, spend time with the kids or go to the gym to clear your mind.

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Business Landscape

4 Tips To Create A Great Conference / Workshop / Event In 2019

Being able to host a great workshop or event is an essential skill for anyone in creative and innovative businesses. Your event will have a major impact – that is guaranteed. However, whether it is a positive or negative impact depends on the how well the event was put together and executed.

Revel Africa

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Your business is fantastic. You work with amazing people, and your industry is dynamic and evolving. There are so many exciting ways available to you to share your good stories: social media, podcasts, videos, live streaming, emails. But the trend we’re seeing of more workshops and conferences is the most exciting, and effective. Why? Because people still do business with people, and face-to-face still has more impact than anything digital.

Being able to host a great workshop or event is an essential skill for anyone in creative and innovative businesses. Your event will have a major impact – that is guaranteed. However, whether it is a positive or negative impact depends on the how well the event was put together and executed.

Here are 4 top tips to create and host amazing events this year

1. Purpose

Identify the purpose of the event. Is it to train clients or future clients on the latest trends in your industry in a bid to position yourself as the subject matter expert? Is it to bring a large multi-campus business together into one space to unite them and refocus and energise them? Is it to bring creative minds together to solve a problem? Answer these questions and you will know if you need a small, vibrant workshop, a large, slick event, or a creative team-building conference.

Plus, having a really clear understanding of why you’re doing this event is the best way to deal with the stress of putting it all together. Anchor yourself to the core reason behind the event, and it will not only propel you forward through the process, but will also make a lot of the decisions easier to make as you go.

2. Prepare

If you are going to host an event, then embrace the reality of late nights, money stress, volatile emotions and extended periods when your nearest and dearest, your social life and your free time take a back seat. There’s no nice way of saying it – an event is a huge responsibility and one that will take up a lot of your time.

The best advice we can give you is to find an event planner straight off to help you put your best foot forward at your event and deliver on your vision for the event. That way, once they’ve done all the heavy lifting, all you have to do is arrive on the day of the event looking fresh, fabulous, and stress-free and allow yourself to revel in its success. Your event planner would have handled everything for you, from haggling with suppliers, to sourcing the best locations at great prices, and should even handle the headache of RSVPs. In the Western Cape and Gauteng we highly recommend Revel Africa for bespoke events and innovative ideas that fit your budget.

Whether you use an event planner or not, you will need to think these through.

  • Decide on a theme – A theme helps to unify your ideas, source expert speakers, and market to the right people. Pick something simple, catchy and on topic. You can even go so far as creating a mission statement for the event to keep your efforts focused, such as, “We care a whole lot about this topic / industry / situation and we couldn’t find a conference that matched what we want and need. Our goal is to bring something that is welcoming and inspiring, where the talks are fresh, and the snacks are even fresher. We’d love you to join us and celebrate the people (including you!) who make this industry great.”
  • Prepare a budget and make bookings – Knowing what your budget is will help you set the price for delegates if it is not an in-house event. Here are the most common items you need to budget for, and book:
    • Venue – Once you’ve found a venue within the price and date range that you had in mind, you can fix the date for the event.
    • Transportation – For out-of-town delegates.
    • Catering – Events can rise and fall on the quality of the food provided. Shop around for this one and request taste-tests.
    • Speaker – Start thinking about speakers very early on, as all the good ones get snapped up fairly far in advance, so if you want your top choices, secure them as soon as possible. For interactive staff sales training we recommend Mark Berger, and for your MC / Inspiration needs, we recommend Warrior Ric.
    • Activities – Think of icebreakers and activities to get people out of observation mode and into participation mode.
    • Marketing – If this event is for external delegates, invest in a good marketing agency for social media, printed marketing collateral, banners, brochures, website updates, and paid media.
    • Team members – Select, and brief the team that will help you with this event.
    • Invitations – Once you have a date, venue, and keynote speakers, you can send out your invitation. Managing RSVPs and payment effectively is critical. Quicket can be a useful payment portal for events.
  • Daily emails: Once the conference has started, send out a daily email outlining the itinerary for that day. Keynote speakers and times, social events, meal plans, highlighted sessions, even the daily weather report can all help the attendee feel more prepared and connected when they reach the event. You can use Mailchimp or any other of the great bulk mailer platforms available.
  • FAQ: An FAQ is great for questions that come up again and again. The answers can be published on an event FAQ page on your website and the link sent in the daily mails. Questions like:
    • Are sessions be recorded? When will they be available?
    • Is parking available?
    • What’s the Wi-Fi password?

3. Productivity

Be mindful of who is attending the session and whether or not the session’s content is suitable to them. A talk that is too basic, too advanced, too demographically narrow, or too far off-topic for the conference – no matter how famous the speaker is – will bring the session’s productivity to a grinding halt.

Another great thing to consider is self-directed co-ordination as a great way to meet new people or to connect with people you’ve known for a long time. Using a Twitter hashtag, a Slack team, a Telegram group, are a great communication channel for the event to ensure attendees easily find information about how to network with each other. If your event is more technical, you could also create a wiki during the event to enable sub-communities to self-organise on the day and share content.

When it comes to how productive the sessions are, as the event planner it might be tempting to participate in the day’s events. However, as a facilitator your role is to remain objective and observe. You can’t facilitate and participate at the same time. Keep scanning the room to sense the mood and energy; keep discussions on track by asking great questions; constantly keep the end goal in mind. Typically, a good facilitator or event planner is often invisible on the day of the event.

4. Participation

There are many creative ways to structure the day’s proceedings to facilitate maximum participation.

  1. Campfire sessions – These start like a traditional presentation, with a speaker at the front of the room presenting an idea to a group of people. However, after 15 or 20 minutes, the presenter becomes the facilitator and shifts the focus of discussion to the audience, inviting comments, insights and questions from those around the room. Campfire sessions allow attendees to drive their own learning and share experiences with others, which also assists with networking.
  2. Birds of a Feather (BOF) – BOF groups are small, informal gatherings of people with a common interest or area of expertise who join up to work together, typically over lunch or during the morning coffee break. You can suggest BOF groups for attendees to join or they can create their own. Sessions don’t have a pre-planned agenda and are aimed at encouraging discussion and networking.
  3. Lightning Talks – As the name suggests, lightning talks give speakers no more than 10 minutes to make their presentation. Because speakers don’t have time to waffle, the presentations are to the point, which keeps audiences focused and energised. A window of between 30 to 60 minutes is usually given to lightning talks, which can allow for up to 12 speakers to be heard.
  4. Silent Disco Talks – This is where many speakers present at once within the same room, while delegates – wearing wireless headphones with channels that they can switch between – choose who they want to listen to. Delegates enjoy bite-sized pieces of information and are always tuned in to something that interests them.
  5. World Café – This simple, effective, and flexible format is ideal for hosting large group discussions. Start the first round of discussion with groups of four to six people sitting around a table, and present each group with a question. After 15 minutes, each member of the group moves to a different table. Once all rounds have been completed, key points from each table are presented to the whole group for a final collective discussion.
  6. Storytelling – This is where speakers tell real-life stories that help illustrate or enhance themes in the conference. The story should contain a beginning, a middle and an end, with characters and plots, like adversity and triumph. Stories should be 15 minutes long, with 10 minutes provided for Q&A afterwards.

Here’s to hosting many great workshops and events this year.

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Business Landscape

What Is Business Insurance And Why Does Your Business Need It?

Your business asset insurance cost will go up if you add on more items, but this is common with all insurances. Not sure why you need it? Find out more information below.

Amy Galbraith

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You need to protect your business against all eventualities. This means that you need to have the ability to pay for any physical or legal damages that might occur, such as a client claiming that they were injured while on your property or an asset being stolen from your property. And business insurance in South Africa is a necessity if you want to apply for business finance, as the bank will need to see that your assets are insured.

You might be wondering now, as a business owner, “What is business asset insurance?” It’s insurance which insures your assets, such as vehicles, electronic equipment, and your business premises. You can also opt to have business car insurance if you have a company car that is used by your employees. Your business asset insurance cost will go up if you add on more items, but this is common with all insurances. Not sure why you need it? Find out more information below.

It protects your assets

Whether you are a small business just setting up or an established company, you likely have assets that are important to keep your business functioning. This could be a business vehicle that you use to transport goods to clients or computers that are vital to your employees.

If you do not insure these assets, you will need to pay for repairing and replacing that might need to happen out of your own funds. And this can become extremely expensive, depending on what has been damaged, lost or stolen. Another reason why you need business asset insurance is that there might be a natural disaster or “act of God” that occurs, such as a fire or flood, which could damage your equipment, meaning that it needs to be replaced.

It protects you from legal issues

Some of the problems that businesses face include legal issues, which can become costly and tiresome. These issues can be handled easily and efficiently if your business insurance to help pay for legal fees and settlement fees with the client or employee who is issuing the complaint.

In the case of being sued or taken to court, it is useful to have a business insurance offering available to help you. If you do not have this type of insurance, you will soon see that legal costs can become exorbitant. Legal issues can also reflect negatively on your company in the eyes of other clients or employees, but having business insurance can help to clear up any problems effectively and without any drama.

Your business will not shut down due to incidents

If your business vehicle is stolen or if the equipment is damaged, this could lead to your business closing for a period while you try to recoup your loss of money. This could lead to you losing even more money which could be highly detrimental to the success of your business.

Your insurance company will be able to compensate you the lost funds, granted that the issue is covered by the insurance cover you have in place. This will allow you to stay open despite the fact that you are experiencing difficulties due to equipment not working or other problems. You could even opt for emergency assistance if there is a natural disaster which will keep you, your employees and even your property safe from damage.

Your employees will be protected

Your employees are the backbone of your company. And, as such, you should have protection in place for them. You should have workers’ compensation coverage in place so that should your company lose money or be unable to pay your staff, their needs will still be covered.

And business insurance will protect them from any possible lawsuits that could be lodged against them by clients or customers. It can become highly expensive to pay for these out of your own pocket. Protecting your employees protects your business, so be sure to invest in insurance which offers workers’ compensation as well as disability cover to protect your employees.

Think smart for your future

Having business asset insurance and business insurance is important to both small businesses and large corporations. This is because your assets will be protected from theft and damage, which can be costly to replace and repair. You will also be able to weather any legal storm that might come your way, as well as being able to protect your employees and their welfare.

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