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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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Nyalu-Communications

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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+.

Business Landscape

A Look At Youth Mentorship During Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW)

Entrepreneur: A person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit.

Kristly McCarthy

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Global Entrepreneurship Week kicks off from 12 November – 16 November. Around the world, entrepreneurs are carving out their paths and are taking matters into their own hands.

Back home, Futureproof wants to instil a culture of curiosity, tenacity and risk taking in every South Africa – young or old, intrapreneur or entrepreneur.

In fact, we go as far as to teach young children from the age of 8-years-old about the art of entrepreneurship as part of our countrywide school program. Most recently, the company has seen success in the Orange Farm area and is teaching 110 Grade 3’s to master the art of entrepreneurship.

To celebrate this week, the team at Futureproof interviewed several well-known entrepreneurs and asked them the big question: ‘What do you wish someone had told you before you became an entrepreneur?’ Here’s what they had to say:

Clive Murray, the founder and CEO of World Water Exchange: “Making money is easier than keeping it. Don’t change the rules you make for yourself when times get tough.”

Marc Ashton, former MD of Moneyweb and CEO of Dynamic Body Technology:

  1. Don’t start a business…
  2. If you are feeling foolish and still wan to then do it with partners.
  3. If you are doing it with partners then lay out the terms of divorce upfront.

CEO and Co-Founder, Lisa Illingworth says that Futureproof has made it their life’s mission to aid children with the real-life, hands-on skills that they need to succeed as entrepreneurs.

“Text books just don’t teach the things that entrepreneurs really need to know. So much growth and economic activity can be realised out of entrepreneurial ventures, but we are all too scared to take the leap… why? Because we don’t feel supported and we would probably prefer to stay in our comfort zones”.

Related: The Mentorship Challenge – Behind Every Great Leader Is A Great Mentor

In fact, while entrepreneurship could literally catapult our country, an article in the Daily Maverick in 2017 described entrepreneurship in South Africa as ‘Sitting backwards on a donkey riding further away’.

Issues that entrepreneurs will come to face, even in their younger years is that of funding issues, lack of mentorship and opportunities, low skill levels, compliance and of course, poor standards of education and lack of access to education.

The current structure of the education system was initially designed in an entirely different age to achieve economic outcomes that are no longer viable due, in large, to the rapid innovation and adoption of technology.

“Gearing the country up for the forth industrial revolution is proving to be a challenge in both the public and private sectors. Are we really ready and how we use this particular week of the year to relook the problems and derive opportunities from them?” says Lisa.

Lisa provides context on the issues that entrepreneurs face. “Imagine this: you have a brilliant idea but no investment. You have no clue where to begin but you take it to the banks and a few potential investors. Without a solid plan and ‘street smarts’, the deals fall through, or you jump through hoops, give away more than half of your company and land up working tirelessly with no returns. This a reality for many who really don’t know how to launch an idea, understand its feasibility and raising the capital they need through mechanisms that won’t cannabalise the business at a later point.”

Lisa says that the country remains hopeful for President Ramaphosa to implement his vision for entrepreneurship as stated in the SONA 2018. “The President stated that ‘establishment through the CEOs Initiative of a small business fund – which currently stands at R1.5-billion – is an outstanding example of the role that the private sector can play. Government is finalising a small business and innovation fund targeted at start-ups’,” she continues.

“We need to change how and what schools are teaching for this to be realised on a large scale and providing the foundations so that these kinds of funding initiatives will have the best possible chance of growth and success”.

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Business Landscape

Make Your Travel Even More Rewarding

From engineers to businessmen, hairdressers, creatives and stay-at-home-partners, the British Airways Executive Club benefits all who join.

British Airways

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The British Airways Executive Club is uncomplicated, free to join on ba.com and from the moment you join, you will benefit from exclusive privileges and rewards, such as upgrades, hotel stays and car rentals with British Airways and oneworld® airline partners.

Besides collecting Avios, which can be redeemed on flights, you will also collect Tier Points every time you travel, allowing you to progress through the different Tier levels within the Club, which are Blue, Bronze, Silver and Gold.

Your Tier status will open up a world of opportunities and added benefits, such as fast track check-in, free seat selection and saving your meal preference selection as part of your Executive Club profile for future flights.

When travelling within southern Africa or internationally on British Airways, Executive Club members from Silver Tier status and up will experience a valuable and enjoyable ‘moment in time’ between checking in and boarding with lounge access into all British Airways eligible lounges. Some of these features include on-site spas, wine tasting from a monthly selection of the finest South African and international wines, a Living Library, private meeting spaces and business facilities to mention but a few.

The more Tier points you earn the sooner you will reach your next Tier status in the Club, which will result in additional benefits, such as bonus Avios, priority check-in, extra luggage allowance, access to over 170 lounges worldwide and enhanced opportunities to afford the luxury of travelling in the British Airways Club (Business Class) cabin.

Related: How I Run An International Business From A Remote Beach Town In The Eastern Cape

british-airways-foodWhen travelling in Club, priority boarding is on offer giving passengers a minute or two to reflect as they settle into the comfort of the business class seats, meaning significantly more space, which can be utilised to work on your next business pitch, read a book on your digital device or stretch out and relax before touching down.

Be welcomed with pre-drinks and a hot towel as you get seated and wait for the rest of boarding to complete as the flight embarks to your chosen destination. On-board hospitality will include a variety of delicious meals, which gets your day off to the best start or ends your trip on a tasteful note. Being an Executive Club Member, your meal preferences can be stored and offered where possible.

As part of the Executive Club you will collect Avios every time you fly and you can even top up your Avios with ease and make use of a collective balance by pooling Avios together within a household account, to reach your dream destination sooner. By calculating earnable Avios and Tier points with the simple calculator available on ba.com, an estimation can be done before booking your next flight.

Take advantage of the opportunity to redeem exclusive awards with Avios by booking reward flights, upgrade flights or spoil friends and family by gifting your Avios.

Appreciate travel more than ever before with The British Airways Executive Club. It’s designed to recognise and reward all passengers, ensuring every journey is exceptional and enjoyable.

Fly with British Airways on its extensive route network within southern Africa and beyond which includes Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Livingstone, Harare, Victoria Falls, Windhoek, Mauritius and London.

For more information and to become an Executive Club Member visit ba.com

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Business Landscape

How Schindlers Attorneys Became Involved In The Landmark Cannabis Case

Everything you accomplish accumulates and eventually comes back to assist you further along in your career. This is how a final year LLB assignment became the basis for a Constitutional Court case.

Nicole Crampton

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Schindlers Attorneys are the law firm that were involved in the landmark Constitutional Court judgement on cannabis use within a private space. Paul-Michael Keichel, Partner at Schindlers Attorneys shares how they came to be the foremost legal experts on cannabis and how they became involved in the Constitutional Court case:

How the journey began

“In 2005, my first year at Rhodes University, whilst studying for Intro to Law, it occurred to me that there were strong constitutional points that could be raised to objectively justify the decriminalisation of cannabis in South Africa,” explains Paul-Michael Keichel.

“In my final year LLB, 2009, I took Constitutional Litigation as an elective (largely motivated by the creation of a timetable clash, which meant that I’d not have to sit another semester of lectures for a module that I had failed the previous year). This provided me with the opportunity to write an assignment titled “A Critical Analysis of Prince and an Objective Justification for the Decriminalisation of Marijuana in South Africa”, in which I composed my argument (based on the right to equality in our Constitution).”

Related: 7 Top Lessons You Can Learn From The US Cannabis Market

The start of the partnership

“Fast forward to 2013 and the Dagga Couple find themselves at Schindlers (where I am a first-year associate) to register their NPC, “Fields of Green for All”. The attorney handling the registration (who I’d also bored with my argument) suggests to the Dagga Couple that they speak to me. It turns out that they already knew of me, because my assignment had (unbeknownst to me) done the rounds on the underground cannabis networks. We get chatting and I rope-in my brother, Maurice Crespi, the managing partner of Schindlers,” explains Keichel.

“We are the only firm out of many approached by the Couple who are willing to take on their trial action against 7 state departments and Doctors for Life to push for a declaration of constitutional invalidity of the laws prohibiting cannabis use/possession/dealing in South Africa. We decide to run the challenge for them pro bono.”

The Cape ruling that started it all

“Prince and Acton et al have their matter heard in the Cape, which resulted in the 2017 Judgment. We run a portion of our trial (including expert evidence from international scientists and doctors – the best in field), but it is rendered part-heard. We then heard that Prince and Acton et al’s matter will be heard by the Constitutional Court in November 2017 and we decide, with the Dagga Couple, to intervene in that matter, upon which it is confirmed that my 2009 assignment forms the on-record basis of a major chunk of Prince and Acton et al’s arguments in support of legalisation.”

“Our involvement in the Constitutional Court was such that we provided clear legal argument and authority to support and expand upon what Prince and Acton et al were trying to say to the Court. Ultimately, much of what we submitted has found its way into the judgment of the Constitutional Court.”

Related: 10 Cannabis Business Opportunities You Can Start From Home

How a final assignment became the foundation for a Constitutional Court case

“So, an idea (bolstered by wanting to create a timetable clash) resulted in an assignment, which provided certain credibility and impetus to cannabis activists. Two of these activists ended up being our clients, which, despite being handled pro bono, has brought Schindlers immeasurable positive publicity, and which, ultimately, contributed to the decriminalisation (and potential future legalisation and commercialisation) of cannabis in our country.”

“Schindlers now has a dedicated “Medicinal and Recreational Cannabis Law” department, through which we will continue to make submissions to parliament, apply for licenses on behalf of our clients, support those who have been arrested and charged.”

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