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Business Survival

Confessions Of An Ex-Entrepreneur

This is what I have to confess.

Entrepreneur

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I started a manufacturing business a few years ago. I worked hard, hired staff and invested in equipment. So what on earth do I have to confess?

The business did well. I enjoyed a great lifestyle for many years, thanks to my company. So why did I close my business 8 months ago? Why did I have to close my doors?

This is what I have to confess:

1. Patchwork Growth

I confess I was too busy, and thought I was too clever, to need real systems.

As you grow, you add on people, processes and systems in a patchwork, ad-hoc way, as and when you need them – stitching things together as you go, because who has time to synchronise and systemise your business when you are in the business of business? The weakness in this method is that things eventually start to fall through the gaps, minimal cohesive clarity into a business, inarticulate reporting, poor visibility into the health of your business – and let’s be honest here – sleepless nights.

If you’re still using spreadsheets to run your business, you probably have the same frustration that I did.

There are great systems out there that bring everything together into one, integrated system. If you have the budget and resources you could look into implementing SAP into your business. If you need a more affordable, agile ERP solution you will enjoy QuickEasy BOS.

Related: How To Launch Your Business Like You Mean It

2. Dealing with history

I confess I relinquished control to the ‘experts’.

Accountants are great at what they do – they look at your transactions and record a financial history. This is what they are meant to do. They can tell you ‘that was a bad decision’ or ‘that was a good decision’ based on historical financial data.

I am not an accountant, and as a business owner I felt a bit intimidated by accounts, so I handed over that part of the business to the ‘experts’ and I relinquished my control.

The problem with deferring to the experts is that I had no foresight into where my business was headed. What I needed, as a business owner, was someone who could forecast and plot out the future – showing me potential growth as well as potential pitfalls: What machine was wasting my money? What employee was taking too long to do a job? What client always cost us more than we quoted with every job?

You could use the help of a business coach to help you set vision, business positioning and growth, or look into using an outsourced FD, who can help you forecast your cash flow and financial planning alongside of you, without committing to a hefty monthly salary.

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3. Locked-up Profitability

I confess I didn’t know where to find buried treasure.

Every business has untapped profitability just waiting to be discovered; be it by reducing spoilage, or better downtime-management, or improved utilisation of your fixed assets.

I confess that I didn’t know where to look to unlock my profitability more efficiently. What I should have done was apply the Theory of Constraints as put forward by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt. The Theory of Constraints (TOC) helps business management see what limitations there were within each system of the business, be it old machinery, poor staff attitudes, or expensive office rent, and what bottlenecks are slowing down efficiency and, ultimately, profitability.

This ongoing process would have taken time, and required some change management across the business, but it would potentially have saved my business. Alternatively, any ERP system worth its salt would have shown me this with ease.

Related: 3 Ways To Take Your Business From Start-Up To Success

4. Constant Angst for the Unknown

I confess I was walking blindly into the future.

Every waking minute of every day (and night) of a business owner is plagued with ‘The Fear’ – it was true for me too, and I had no idea how to alleviate it:

  • The fear of whether or not the decision I just made was the right decision, or one that would bring me closer to closing my doors
  • The fear of failure that inhibited me investing time to dream over my business
  •  The fear of disappointing my family, my colleagues, myself.
  • The fear of the unknown – Where is this business going? Can we keep our clients happy? How far is that job from completion? Can I afford to pay salaries? What are my competitors doing that I should be doing better?

The saying goes ‘we only fear what we do not know’ – and that holds true for business owners.

What I needed was a helicopter view of every stage of production, every quote that was pending approval, every invoice that was waiting to be paid and every customer that was waiting to be called.

What I needed was clarity and control and my fear would have been gone, because the unknown would have been replaced by the ‘known’.

Note, I said ‘helicopter view’ – because the worst thing for a business owner, and the team, is a micromanaging control-freak. All that is needed is high level views so that there is enough information to ensure the ship can be steered in the right direction.

Get a dashboard of your business cycles – from CRM to quotes to production to invoicing to accounts – and you will sleep much better at night. You can try project dashboards like Asana and Trello, or a full business overview from BOS.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

Business Survival

Stop Surviving And Start Thriving In Business

It will inform your operations, which will inform your human and asset capital and lastly, the financial investments you make.

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To thrive – and not just survive – in business you need three basic building blocks: 1) attract more customers and clients; 2) who spend more; and 3) buy more often. But how do we make this happen in the tight, recessionary environment we find ourselves in South Africa?

Despite the tough economic conditions, businesses can still thrive. In fact, many small businesses have been found to thrive in difficult economic conditions and are known as counter-cyclical businesses.

So how do you turn the tide from surviving, to thriving? You need to start thinking creatively, making informed decisions and being agile in the business environment. Always start with your marketing strategy. It will inform your operations, which will inform your human and asset capital and lastly, the financial investments you make.

Related: Business Basics: The Four M’s Of A Successful Start-Up

Ansoff Growth Matrix

Business leaders continuously explore various growth strategies to retain and grow market share. One of most respected and often used is the Ansoff Growth Matrix. It was first published in the Harvard Business Review in 1957, written by strategist Igor Ansoff to help management focus on the options for business growth. Ansoff suggested that an effective strategy considers four growth areas, varying in risk. This strategic planning tool guides us to understand our current situation, contemplate strategic options and consider the associated risks.

  1. Market Penetration: Market penetration has the least risk of the four options. Here you are selling more of the same things to the same market. You know your product and market well. The question is, how can you defend your market share and sell more to your existing customer? You may consider special promotions or introduce a loyalty scheme.
  1. Product/ Service Development: Product and service development is slightly riskier as you introduce a new component into your existing market. The advantage is that you sell to a customer/ client that you know, and they trust you. Ask yourself how to grow your product and service portfolio? You may consider adding new services and products or modifying your existing offering.
  1. Market Development: With market development you target new customers and clients with your existing products and services. You sell more of the same things to a different market. You can consider new sales channels, online or direct sales. Do a proper market dissection to target different groups of people, considering different age groups, gender and demographics.
  1. Diversification: Diversification is very risky. Here you consider introducing a new, unproven product or service into an entirely new market that you may not fully understand. You may need new expertise, acquiring another business or venturing into another sector. The main benefit of diversification is that during difficult times only one component or element of the business may suffer.

Related: My Business Is Growing… What Now?

The fifth element: Passion 

In addition, I would add one more element critical to business growth: Passion. It is the single component most critical to business success and, combined with any one or combination of the four areas of the Ansoff Growth Matric, it can equip small business owners with all they need to thrive in their business environment. Passion determines your business success, so make sure you have it in heaps to reap the rewards of your hard work.

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Business Survival

6 Common Decision-Making Blunders That Could Kill Your Business

Among the logical errors nearly everybody makes is thinking only everybody else makes logical errors.

John Rampton

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Humans are often very irrational. If you’ve ever explored behavioural economics or psychology, you may have found a host of examples demonstrating situations when we make objectively bad decisions.

Below are six of the largest decision-making blunders we all make. Avoiding them will dramatically improve your decision-making, your quality of life and success.

1. Sunk-cost fallacy

Of all the ones on this list, the sunk-cost fallacy is the most common. Many of the decisions we make are final or difficult to change. For example, let’s say you invest R1 000 in Facebook, and the price of the stock goes down to R600 the following day. The fact that you put in R1 000 initially is irrelevant to the situation at hand; you now have R600 worth of Facebook shares.

What this means is that once the decision is made and our cost is incurred, there’s no point thinking back. You already put in the time, money or other form of investment. Considering that in any future decision is illogical, despite how tempting it is. Instead, present yourself with the new options at hand — without considering the sunk cost.

Related: The 3 Dumbest Business Mistakes New Entrepreneurs Make Most Often

2. Narrow framing

Would you take this bet? You pay me R1 000 if a flipped coin lands on heads and I pay you R1 200 if it lands on tails. Most people would say no. We tend to be risk-averse, unwilling to risk something like R1 000, despite the reward being a bit greater.

Now, what if I offered you that bet, but I promised we would flip 100 coins? Each time, the loser pays up. Would you take it then?

Almost certainly, right? The chances that you lose money, overall, are extremely slim. This idea can be applied throughout life. When we’re in situations that will repeat themselves over time, we should take a step back and play a game of averages.

3. Confirmation bias

Another common one in the worlds of psychological and behavioural economy is confirmation bias. It hurts our ability to keep an open mind and shift our opinion. When we have a held belief, we typically look for information that confirms our opinion while ignoring data points that tell the opposite story.

For example, if I’m really excited about a new software product that I just integrated into my business, with ten of my employees as users, I might have made up my mind about the quality of the service before we put it to use. I would then be more likely to listen to the three employees who enjoy it, not the seven who don’t.

There’s almost always information that will validate our opinions, no matter how wrong they might be. That means we need to always look for conflicting evidence and, from there, make judgements based on more well-rounded information.

Related: 6 Rookie Investor Mistakes You Must Avoid For Profitable Investing

4. Emotionally driven decisions

When we’re angry or upset, we’re much worse decision-makers. When you have to make an important decision and happen to be in a bad mood, you should hold off. Instead, wait until you cool down and can think more clearly. It will remove the outside influences and let you think more rationally.

5. Ego depletion

This one makes intuitive sense, but it’s one of the most common ways to make bad decisions. The idea of ego depletion is that when we’re drained, physically or mentally, we’re less likely to think critically. Think about the times you’ve been exhausted after a long day of work. In those moments, you don’t want to have to think hard about anything. Instead, you want your brain to work automatically.

What that means is that when you’re tired and faced with challenging choices, you’ll rely more on your instinct or automatic processes as opposed to analysis and thought. That can be extremely problematic in situations that require effort.

6. Halo effect

The halo effect says that once we like somebody, we’re more likely to look for his or her positive characteristics and avoid the negative ones. This is similar to confirmation bias, but it’s oriented around people.

Related: 10 Stupid Mistakes Smart People Make

For example, let’s say I just hired someone named John, who was great during his interviews. Through his first few weeks, John does a few things well at work, but he also does many things poorly. The halo effect — brought on by his wonderful interview persona — could cause me to ignore his poor attributes and emphasise his good traits.

This can be detrimental to our ability to make judgements about others. We have to realise our biases toward certain people and eliminate them.

These are a handful of the many decision-making errors we’re all prone to. Although it’s challenging to scrutinise your preconceived notions, doing so is worthwhile. It gets easier over time and will, ultimately, make you a more effective decision-maker — personally and as a business owner.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Business Survival

8 Reasons Why Failure And Focus Are Essential To Business Success

There are two Fs that define the long-term and sustainable success of your business – Failure and Focus.

Nicholas Bell

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There is an event that runs globally across countries such as the United States, Spain, France, Brazil and Israel. It is a conference that is aimed at the entrepreneur, the investor, the developer and the designer. It also caters exclusively for failure – FailCon asks the entrepreneur, specifically within the technology space, to embrace failure. However, this focus on failure isn’t about leaping blindly into the ball pit of collapsed dreams and wallowing in its sorrow as you shout ‘Bazinga!’. It’s about being comfortable with the idea that failure can happen and using it to drive your business focus and long-term success. These eight steps define exactly how…

1. Not big, iterative

Giving someone advice to fail big isn’t practical. It isn’t the kind of attitude that investors will be drawn to either. Instead, embracing failure is about being open to the fact that it may very well happen to you and some of your ideas. It isn’t necessarily going to be a gigantic failure on a scale of company-wide collapse. It could just be that you had an idea, and it wasn’t a very good idea so it failed.

Related: Beauty Of Failure: The Art Of Embracing Rejection

2. Focus on your agenda

If you’re not focused on your end game and business agenda, don’t expect your staff to be. This level of focus is critical as it gives people direction. They then understand exactly where the business is going, what it hopes to achieve, and the role that they play in taking it there.

If you don’t have this level of focus, your staff don’t have anything to latch onto.

3. Learn

learningThis is where your ability to fail is of value. You need to test your assumptions and ideas and then use their failures to learn more about how they could potentially succeed in the future. You have to learn from your mistakes. Don’t drown in self-doubt, take the mistakes and move them towards enhancing your business.

4. Success isn’t easy

Look, if being a hugely successful entrepreneur was easy, everybody would do it. You need to keep the focus and intensity you brought on your first day all the way through to today. Create short term goals and objectives that give you endless purpose and a sense of achievement and use their success to drive you onwards towards your final destination.

Related: Flourishing Through Failure And Finding Fortune

5. Build in plenty of goalposts

Justify every decision and long-term goal through relentless measurement to ensure they are the right decisions. The last thing you want is to hit your goal in 10 years and discover that it wasn’t the right one, your business hasn’t gone anywhere and you’ve worked incredibly hard for nothing. The effectiveness of your time, decision making and execution is critical.

6. Define failure

What does failure mean to you? Understand how you define it and then use this as a barometer to define your idea of success. As long as you have clear objectives for both, you can assess your business, its effectiveness and your results. As mentioned in above, always set goals and objectives so you give your company and people a sense of purpose.

7. Your ideas aren’t always that good

Some of your ideas are not going to fly. They’re going to collapse with an embarrassed sigh. The lesson is that you should be constantly questioning yourself so when you are in a situation where your ideas don’t work, you can objectively examine why they failed and use these learnings to change and adapt.

There needs to be a healthy tension between learning through theory and practice. The latter is learning to win and to handle defeat in real time with real results.

Related: Your Business Failure is Your Fault

8. Get over it

It’s quite easy to wallow in your failure misery and lose years to personalised anguish. It’s harder to just get over it and move on. The thing is, it’s moving on that counts. Those who get up, dust themselves off and start again are those who end up thriving. The ability to compartmentalise and learn is invaluable as you take your business from your first idea through to a sustainable, epic enterprise.

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