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Increase Profitability

Growing to Profitability

A new entrepreneur faces a steep learning curve with no mentoring.

Ed Hatton

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Challenge

An entrepreneur started a website to provide youth with a free service for employment and small business opportunities. The income comes from web publishing and affiliate programmes. He has no IT background and has to learn operations, marketing, finance and everything at once. He also doesn’t have anybody to bounce new ideas off.

SOLUTION

This entrepreneur, operating in a rural area, wanted to make a difference to young people and small businesses. The website breaks even but he is frustrated at the slow growth and his own lack of knowledge. This is a near-universal problem with new businesses, the learning curve is both steep and multi-disciplined. Affordable advisors are hard to identify.

Learning and getting advice

Finding appropriate learning opportunities and information while running a new business is a challenge. There are many courses advertised and choosing the right one is crucial for entrepreneurs on tight budgets and limited free time.

Start with the free information on the Internet. Entrepreneur magazine’s website at www.entrepreneurmag.co.za is a valuable resource, so is the SME Toolkit (www.southafrica.smetoolkit.org) and many others. There are many great business blogs which start-ups can follow at no cost, including my own at http://marketingstrategy.co.za. It takes time and patience to search for good information, but this is time very well spent.

Entrepreneurs should not be afraid to ask for advice, but only when they have done the basics. Many business people are happy to help, but don’t expect them to come up with answers when the entrepreneur has been too lazy to investigate options. Start with a successful business nearby that is not in competition with yours and ask the managers for assistance. This works well in the Internet world, where free advice is a part of life. Coaches and mentors are available for a fee, but set the expectations and budget in advance.

Will the idea work?

The entrepreneur’s second concern is marketing, but before thinking about marketing, all entrepreneurs should be able to answer the question: How can I satisfy customer needs profitably and sustainably?

His business addresses a huge need, but he must show evidence that he is satisfying the need, not just attracting browsers. His challenge is measuring the success rate and then getting enough seekers and providers to use the site. If that happens advertisers and service providers will be attracted to his site.

Will his business model work sustainably? Will it generate sufficient cash flow? The entrepreneur must plan how and when this will happen, and test the plan for potential weak spots. Then he needs access to experienced mentors to check his assumptions and act as sounding boards. All start-ups should investigate where they can pose questions to experienced business people. This may be by asking questions over the Internet as this entrepreneur did, or by finding a local mentor.

Marketing

Once the entrepreneur is clear about which audiences he needs to communicate with, and his target numbers, including site visits, successes, advertisers and service providers, he can start to structure marketing promotions. The business is Internet-based so it makes sense to use the Internet as the primary marketing medium. Beware, there are many incompetents styling themselves as Internet experts. Check references with a knowledgeable source.

Social media engagement, email campaigns to companies, SMS notifications to job seekers, RSS feeds from sites that publish tenders and offer jobs and reciprocal links to blogs and sites providing useful information should all generate traffic, and a percentage of these will become jobs filled and tenders won. The learning curve on how to use these tools is steep but can be done with the free resources on the net. Look in the help files and forums on Facebook, WordPress and Google as well as the many blogs. There are many free or low cost e-books and courses on website design, web marketing and attracting visitors to websites. The rules of engagement on the Internet change all the time though, so this means an ongoing commitment to learning.

Ed Hatton is the owner of The Marketing Director and has consulted to and mentored SMBs in strategy, marketing and sales for almost 20 years. He co-authored an entrepreneurship textbook and is passionate about helping entrepreneurs to succeed.

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Increase Profitability

Need To Trim The Fat To Boost Profitability? Listen To Your Clients First

Jeff Bezos believed that once you win the client over by doing this, everything else will follow – not least profitability.

Marc Wachsberger

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Finding the balance between offering the extras that set you apart from your competitors and keeping things ‘lean and mean’ to minimise wastage and maximise return on investment is a tricky balancing act.

I’ve noticed that many businesses try to attract or retain customers by offering what they think their customers want, rather than finding out what they really need, and then delivering that. That’s an expensive mistake to make – and it’s not going to achieve the business results you need.

I’ve also observed that now is the age of the new entrepreneur – the game changers who disrupt the status quo long set by big bureaucratic competitors who think that their customers will just accept an inflationary (or slightly larger) increase every year, just because they always have.

While Amazon has been around for a while now, there’s also an important lesson to be learned from its launch goal, which was to bring the price to the client. Jeff Bezos believed that once you win the client over by doing this, everything else will follow – not least profitability.

How have I applied these lessons in my business?

Firstly, we design our hotels backwards – we focus on the needs of our clients, very aware that what hotel guests wanted years ago is not what they want now. That’s why we don’t offer thing like a turn-down service with chocolates on the pillow. Nobody eats the chocolates, and nobody uses the toiletries – so why should we include the costs of these unwanted extras (and the cost of the staff required to implement them) in the final bill to our clients?

Related: 7 Steps To Optimise Your Cycle Of Customer Service

We do, however, offer free WiFi internet connectivity, free parking in our buildings, free laundry services and either bed-and-breakfast options or self-catering rooms.

Simply put, we’ve cut the fat that nobody wants anyway, and added the value that our guests have said they expect.

Our clients have said that they expect the whole hotel to be a workstation, and not just the business centre in a dark, unwanted corner. So, we’ve put a workstation in every room, with always-on access to the internet. Our hotels are designed with beautiful work spaces that cater for nomadic entrepreneurs and double up as comfortable meeting spaces, again – gone are days of boardroom only meetings, our spaces are primed for work and play in one integrated space.

Our clients have pointed out that they’re already paying for their room – so why should they pay for parking?

Many of our clients stay with us for days or weeks at a time, and have said it would be helpful if we did their laundry. So, we do that for them – and we don’t charge them for it.

Related: Good Customer Service Is About Relating At The Same Level

It’s true that many of our old-school competitors offer a broader range of products and services than we do, but we’ve built a successful business on adding the value that our clients need, removing the costs and extras that annoy them, and keeping costs (theirs as well as ours) under control by cutting out unnecessary frills.

It’s an approach that’s worked for The Capital Hotels and Apartments as a disruptor in the hotel and long-stay accommodation industry, and I’m confident that its principles would apply to any other industry that’s ripe for disruption.

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If You Want Scale, Fail Fast And Learn Quickly

Mindset, focus and an understanding of scale are essential if you want to build a highly profitable, growing business.

Matt Brown

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“The secret to scaling a business is increasing revenues without incurring a corresponding increase in operating costs,” says Tom Asacker, author of The Business of Belief, Opportunity Screams, A Little Less Conversation and A Clear Eye for Branding, all groundbreaking books that redefine business and communication for the new age of abundance. “The single most important challenge is to have a deep understanding of your value creation and customer attraction and retention process, as well as how the company will ultimately make money over time through the unique realisation of that process.”

According to Howard Sackstein, founder of Saicom Voice Services, scale used to be measured by the number of people you employed or the number of branches you opened. “Today, these questions have become irrelevant,” he says.

howard-sackstein“When Whatsapp was sold for $19 billion the business had only 55 employees servicing 450 million users who were sending 34 billion messages a day – that’s a tiny company with enormous scale. So, today scale has come to mean something very different. In the new economy, scale is about scalable technology, how do we build software and apps that can cater for a billion users? The ideas of lots of employees and lots of offices has become old fashioned.”

The problem is that scale comes with costs and that’s why money is often the enemy of entrepreneurship. “Many of the great businesses of the new economy all began in garages, a small group of people, each with real skills each trying to bootstrap an idea to see if it worked,” continues Howard.

Related: Do You Have That 1 In 100 Business That Can Scale And Land An Investor?

“Often people go looking for funding; there’s a problem there too though – they scale too fast once they receive the cash and ultimately they fail because they have too much money. Entrepreneurs need to start small and if they fail they must fail fast. They need to test the market and grow incrementally to prove their idea. Once the idea has achieved a degree of adoption and has ‘crossed the chasm’ of technology adoption, only then can you start thinking of scale. And today scale means few costs, few employees, and tech that can scale to a mass market.”

Your Mindset is Everything

Your mindset while scaling is critical. “Value creation, customer attraction and your retention process are the result of every decision you make as an entrepreneur,” says Tom. “Your mindset shapes how you make these decisions.

“Every rand spent should be to add value in the eyes of the customer, or to improve the process that delivers that value, through automation, distribution, channel partners and so on.

“If businesses aren’t hyper-focused on adding value and deepening relationships with customers, someone will come along who will. If that happens, whether or not that process produces rapid growth is beside the point.”

Howard believes that follow-through is also essential. “So many people really want to build empires,” he says. “But how do you measure your success? Is it the number of employees you have, the number of companies, your disruptive influence on the market, revenue or actual profitability?

“You really need to decide this up front and that will affect your strategy. I probably have an old school mentality, but for me profit is everything. I don’t really understand the idea of focusing on scale with no business model in the hope that on an exit someone will find value. I know that’s a common idea in the tech world and you could get lucky by following it, but I think there are few people with that degree of luck – build for profit and sustainability, build as lean as possible and keep your eye on the actual ball.”

Related: What’s Stopping Your Business From Growing?

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Do You Have That 1 In 100 Business That Can Scale And Land An Investor?

Only 1% of businesses are investable, mainly because that’s how many businesses can 10x their growth. There’s an art to scaling, and it starts with you.

Matt Brown

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Only one in every 100 applications typically receive funding from venture capitalists. All 100 applicants believe their businesses are scalable and worthy of funding – and yet only 1% actually close investment deals.

“Most entrepreneurs radically overestimate their prospect of success and scalability,” agrees Jason Goldberg, founder, and CEO of 10X-e and co-founder of Edge Growth.

“If you really want to scale your business, you need to know that you are absolutely obsessed with solving a problem that hasn’t been solved before – so obsessed that you wake up at night with solutions buzzing around your head; so obsessed that your mind is always on the problem you’re trying to solve. The reality is that hunger is an incredibly important success factor – hunger, the hours you’re willing to put in and your level of intensity. How far are you willing to go and how many obstacles will you overcome?”

Related: What’s Stopping Your Business From Growing?

With this in mind, Jason and Vuyo Tofile, CEO of Entbanc Group, a fintech and digital support services firm share their top 3 secrets of scale.

1. You need to shift into a ‘scale’ mindset

Jason-Goldberg

Start-up entrepreneurs are focused on the hustle: More work, more energy, more sales. These are all important factors in building a business, but scaling a company requires a different focus. “Scaling up is all about architecting an enterprise and strategically putting in place the building blocks that will move you from working primarily in the business to working on the business,” says Jason.

“You need to minimise the work in the business so that you can work on the business and build a great company.”

This is easier said than done though. Often the biggest stumbling block to a company’s ability to scale is the founder. “The company founder or owner’s inability to really focus on solving an initial problem for specific target market, understanding what their business really does and is offering, and finally how to truly replicate that service or offering can be major barriers to growth, and they all lie with the entrepreneur,” says Vuyo.

The lesson is clear – you can hustle and make sales without clear structures and strategies in place, but that won’t get you to scale.

“A lot of entrepreneurs love the innovative and creative mind space of start-ups as well,” adds Jason, “which is great, but scaling is all about executing all those great ideas that you innovation and creativity helped you to come up with. If you can’t do that, you’ll never be able to scale.”

“Having the ability to execute on growth is critical,” agrees Vuyo. “Execution of the vision is far more important than having a strong vision. Vision without execution is meaningless.”

2. Get the right team in place

According to Vuyo, if you want to scale your organisation, you need the right people on board – and this too is a crucial skill the founder needs to foster. “You have to be able to build an effective team around the business,” he says. “You don’t need to be able to do everything yourself – in fact, in order to scale you mustn’t – but you do need to know who you need and where you need them.”

For Jason, the lead indicator of your ability to scale is whether or not you can build a sales organisation. “Can you shift from selling to becoming the architect of an organisation that sells for you?” he asks.

Alongside this ability is shifting from hiring who you can afford to who you need. “Start-ups hire talented ‘jack of all trade’ young high potentials (who are typically overworked and underpaid). This is an essential start-up tactic. Mature firms in scale-up mode need seasoned leaders who can take each part of your business to the next level.

“Having an awesome team is your most important ingredient of success. Every senior person needs to be pretty impressive in general, spectacular in their roles, and work well as a team.”

3. Understand if your business is scalable

Not all businesses are scalable – and that’s fine. Not all entrepreneurs want to scale their businesses either. However, if you do want to scale, it’s important to know if your business falls into the scalable or un-scalable category.

“There are three basic rules of thumb,” says Jason. “First, how big is the problem you’re solving? Is this a problem that lots of people have and are willing to spend money on the solution?

“Second, what kind of problem is it? Is your solution a vitamin pill or a headache pill? How does your client feel if you don’t exist? You’re not scalable if they don’t have a painful experience without you. In other words, do they have a headache if they haven’t seen or heard from you today?

Related: Is Your Business Ready To Be Funded?

“Finally, how different is the value you bring to your client than all their other alternatives? You need to be ten times more valuable than your competitors. If you’re not, there’s too much competition, and you’re unlikely to 10x the business.”

Vuyo agrees. “Scale is all about having a service or product that is of real, tangible value to your customer. All the resources and brand equity in the world won’t help you scale if you aren’t providing real value.”

Secrets of Scale Event #3

PART 1 – BUILDING THE AEROPLANE

This segment will be the majority of our focus and will cover practical “how to steps” for scaling your business. We’ll be revealing how to design a scale ready business and walk you through common pitfalls that all entrepreneurs will encounter as they “build the aeroplane” and how to avoid them. We’ll also reverse engineer how to design a scale ready business from a 150 strong team all the way down to a 5 person team.

PART 2 – BUILT FOR WINTER

This segment is all about how to ensure that you remain profitable as you scale. We’ll unpack how to bring different revenue streams, partnerships and products/services to together to help you weather any storm.

PART 3 – SCALE BLUEPRINT

In this segment we’ll explore the systems that can help you scale, how to automate repetitive processes and outsource non-essential tasks and how to design a business that makes more money while you sleep than when you’re awake.


Listen to the podcast here:

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