Let’s face it: Times are tough for South Africans right now. The rand is volatile, prices are rising and globally there is a great deal of uncertainty. With this environment of uncertainty and belt-tightening as a backdrop to doing business, the economic climate can appear especially daunting for entrepreneurs.
But small business owners should not lose heart. There are many important characteristics that distinguish entrepreneurs from conventional businesspeople, qualities that will give them a better chance of thriving in this difficult environment and leads to many of them being very successful in these tough economic times.
1. Manage your cash flow
Now is the time for business owners to rein in operating expenses and overheads by improving efficiencies – this is good business practice, regardless of market conditions.
In tough economic times cash flow is probably the most important aspect of a business which needs to be closely managed. Be cautious when it comes to taking on large capital projects in a struggling economy as this can place additional pressure on the business.
It is important to strike a balance – prepare for the next positive business cycle, but always ensure you are able to survive the wait while the market turns.
Despite challenging conditions, there will be more than enough opportunity for businesses to chase their expansion ambitions once the economy recovers.
2. Surround yourself with good people
An entrepreneur’s employees can be their most valuable asset. When engaging with potential employees, ensure that you look for individuals who are enthusiastic, talented and dedicated.
In a small business, where there are very few staff members, each person needs to be outstanding at what they do. If not, a significant percentage of your business is not operating at its full capacity.
There is an old saying; ‘hire slow and fire fast’. In a tough economic environment there is no space for baggage. You need to have the tough conversations with employees who are not performing.
Of course, once you have employed remarkable individuals who will give you consistent support and help you grow your business, you need to ensure that you keep them motivated and content.
Your people can often be your saving grace in an economic downturn, so it’s important to look after them both financially and from a career point of view – that is assuming they have performed well.
3. Engage with like-minded trailblazers
The journey of the entrepreneur can often be a lonely road. Even if you have a strong, supportive team behind you, it is very rare that an individual who has the safety net of a steady monthly paycheque can identify with your daily challenges.
It is therefore a good idea to join or even start a mastermind group of other small business owners who can relate to the situations you find yourself in and understand the obstacles placed in your path.
Meet up twice a month and make connections with individuals who are ambitious, share your passion and are keen to share ideas and experiences. When facing a different challenge, you may not have to reinvent the wheel but could greatly benefit from the insights of a fellow entrepreneur that has faced a similar challenge.
4. Partner with the right bank
Having a bank that understands the distinctive circumstances that come with being an entrepreneur is key to your success.
A bank with a salary-slip mindset may struggle to support you in achieving your future plans and may not give you the support you need. Entrepreneurs need a financial institution that is willing to be a partner and not simply a banker.
A bank that actively understand your business and can help weather difficult storms such as the current economic climate we find ourselves in.
5. Consider diversifying
As a small business owner, it is important to focus on what you are good at and become a specialist in that field. However, remaining dedicated to your core skills does not mean that you can’t diversify.
Learn to read the needs of the market and take advantage of opportunities that are complementary to your business offering. Cultivating a mindset of collaboration and making connections wherever you can is vital to the adaptation of your business.
Look at entering other markets. There are still some great opportunities in the rest of Africa.
6. Always keep your goals top-of-mind
Having worked closely with hundreds of entrepreneurs over the past few years, we never cease to be impressed by the clarity of their vision and their passion for their business. It is indeed inspiring to engage with these innovators on a regular basis and help them achieve their ambitions.
However, in times of turbulence, those goals can sometimes seem like elusive dreams. It is therefore vital that, as an entrepreneur, you recommit daily to your objectives and visualise your success.
Take a positive, mindful approach to each task that you perform and allow that attitude to inform every aspect of your business, from your engagement with suppliers and customers through to your interactions with your employees.
Bearing these six tips in mind may help entrepreneurs keep on track, even when the economic climate seems to be testing you and your businesses.
Most importantly, entrepreneurs should stay focused on their vision for their companies and choose a financial partner who is mindful of their unique challenges and can offer solutions that help overcome these obstacles.
Banks are often guilty of giving an entrepreneur an umbrella when the sun is shining and then taking it away when it’s raining. Make sure you partner with a financial institution that provides you an umbrella for all weather conditions.
How To Have Your Store Run Smoothly Without You (So You Can Take A Well-deserved Break)
Below are some tips that can help ensure the smooth running of your store even when you’re not around, and let you take that break without the stress.
It can be hard for business owners to take time off from their retail stores – whether that’s because they’re too busy, need to be around to make decisions, or simply feel they can’t relax without knowing how the business is tracking. But taking a break can be incredibly important, if not sometimes necessary. And as we head into the busiest retail season of the year, taking a break now before the rush could be the best thing you do – for yourself and even for your business.
Below are some tips that can help ensure the smooth running of your store even when you’re not around, and let you take that break without the stress.
1. Make the most of technology that lets you keep an eye on your store from anywhere
The beauty of living in this modern age is that there’s an abundance of tools that can help you run your store even when you’re away. To do this, cloud-based software is the way to go. Using a cloud-based solution to run your store means that you will no longer have everything housed on your computer server in one place. Instead, you can access files, sales and stock data, financials, business reports, customer and even employee data from anywhere, in real-time, and from any device provided you have an Internet connection.
The other beauty of cloud-technology is that it’s usually relatively inexpensive compared to more traditional systems. If you haven’t done so yet, look into some cloud-based software options, such as point-of-sale and inventory management, accounting and finance, customer management, and employee management and scheduling.
2. Develop a store manual
Create a manual that your staff can turn to when you’re not around. Document procedures, contact information, and anything else that will help your employees to know just what to do in your absence. Some of the sections you may want to include in the manual are:
- General store information – What do you stand for? Who are your target customers? Instil this information in your staff. The more they know (and love) your business, the easier it’ll be for them to make decisions in line with your company values. Include details on personnel conduct, pay and scheduling, store access, conditions of employment, store policies, etc.
- Customer service – Have an entire section dedicated to taking care of customers. Include information on conduct, customer service standards, lost and found procedures, and dealing with difficult customers. Also, provide detailed instructions on how to handle theft and shoplifters.
- Cashier procedures – Include information on the operation of your POS software, the types of payments you accept and how your loyalty program works.
- Contact information – Take note of the tools you use in your store (computer, accounting software, analytics, cameras, etc.), and provide basic instructions on how to operate them. These tools likely come with their own manuals, so make sure that employees know where those documents are and how to contact the vendor if required. Include the contact details for the individuals or entities that your store deals with, including vendors, suppliers, business partners, contractors, etc. Also have a list of emergency contacts, such as the local police and fire department, as well as medical facilities in the area.
3. Appoint a second-in-command
Pick a second-in-command (or 2IC) to take charge of the store in your absence. This person should be someone you trust who knows the business.
It’s best to hire someone from the inside — ideally an individual who’s been in the business for a few years (this demonstrates loyalty) and has shown strong leadership skills or initiative.
4. Empower your staff
Of course, the success of your store doesn’t depend on your 2IC alone, which is why it’s important to empower all your employees always do their best, even when you’re not around. This can be accomplished by giving them adequate training and by fostering an open environment that recognises the efforts of each team member. Encourage questions and be sure to give them specific as well as big picture answers so they know exactly how their actions affect the company.
It is important that you clearly define the roles of each staff member. Establish who’s in charge of what and require your employees to be accountable for their actions. Finally, believe in your employees and show them that you do. Trust you did your job right when you hired and trained them and that they’ll be fine even when you’re not there.
5. Do a test run
When should you start planning for your absence? That depends on the nature of your leave and how long you’ll be away. If you’re planning to be out of the office for a few days, then giving your staff a heads up a week or two before would be enough. But if you’re planning for maternity or paternity leave, then obviously your team needs to be notified months in advance.
Still worried? Implement a test run by consciously getting out of the staff’s way for a day or two. Work from home for a while or stay in your office instead of the sales floor and tell your 2IC to handle the store. Consider hiring secret shoppers who can put your staff’s skills to the test and have them report the findings, so you can figure out ways to improve.
With Christmas and holiday season fast-approaching, now is a great time to start empowering your team so you can find the time for a well-deserved break.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.