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Performance & Growth

Breaking Bad Business Habits

The top 20 bad habits that SMEs must break.

Bob Power

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Drawing on the experiences and habits of SME owners I have coached and consulted with in the past, here are the top 20 business habits that SMEs have a tendency to perpetuate. It should be noted that although many of these practices actually break the law, regrettably some SMEs are cash strapped – which means they take chances.

  1. Letting someone else prepare your business plan for a fee – but not understanding the outcome. It may convince the bank, but you must have a plan for your future which you understand.
  2. On the topic of business plans: don’t exaggerate (accepting where possible you want to prove that you will make a profit so you can get a loan). On the whole, be honest but realistic, and keep the plan simple and practical. Above all else have a clear and precise executive summary.
  3. Thinking you can beat the Receiver of Revenue – and even worse not answering his letters. Not answering lawyer’s letters doesn’t help either.
  4. Not having a good relationship with the bank manager: keep in with him; he can put you out of business.
  5. Poor communications – not answering phone calls, emails, letters etc. Even if you are having problems with the sender, always answer – if not you will soon be losing business, especially if you are not answering your customer’s enquiries.
  6. When short of cash – over charging on your invoicing and exaggerating your hours. This sector also includes overcharging expenses. This is fraud.
  7. Using your company credit card for personal matters. This would include the company motor car. In addition, overseas trips on the company’s account are against the law unless genuinely on company business.
  8. Taking too much leave and leaving people in charge who do not understand the business. Conversely not taking any leave, which causes stress and family problems.
  9. Thinking product not profit. In the same arena, watch ‘entrepreneurial excitement’, which means rushing into products without testing the market. Nothing kills a business faster than thinking you have a niche market and finding out too late that there are hundreds of competitors.
  10. Signing legal documents and financial statements without understanding the content and not seeking good advice. Always know what you are signing.
  11. Poor presentation skills. This includes proposals that are too long and are rife with bad spelling and grammar.
  12. During negotiations, rather be a good listener than a good talker. You might think you are making a good impression and showcasing your knowledge and experience, but allowing the other party to speak first will actually make a better impression.
  13. Procrastination. The Oxford dictionary sets out the following: indecisive, delay, dither, drag your feet, put things off etc. We all do it, but it is not the way to run a business.
  14. Pushing debtors to pay but delaying creditors. It can help when you have a cash flow problem, but if you overplay, creditors can cause you major problems.
  15. A dangerous practice for SMEs is neglecting advertising and marketing when experiencing cash flow problems.
  16. Ove-capitalisation. Leasing premises, hiring staff and buying equipment when you are not ready for them.
  17. Not understanding people. A bad habit is to continually threaten employees with losing their jobs, leading to staff who are not loyal to you or your business.
  18. Turning your mistakes into the customer’s problems. Remember, the customer is always right.
  19. Confusing turnover with profit.
  20. Perhaps a little contentious but raised by entrepreneurs I have coached and whom assisted me with these comments – the fact that the word ‘entrepreneur’ is being overplayed. They have found that a better practice is to say they are SME owners – there is more chance of obtaining finance because it is often stated that entrepreneurs take too many risks and that a small business owner is more conservative. An interesting point for debate.

How do we stop these poor habits? Much depends on two factors: not having the right mentality to own a business and lack of finance. In the first case, the answer must be that if you cannot take the pace of business and resultant stress, it may be better to go back into employment. If your health is suffering so will your business. With regard to lack of finance, initial training in how to own and sustain a business, as well as a general understanding of business and people are prerequisites.

The major concern I have however, is that in many cases, even if the two points above are conquered, SME owners still continue to believe in the ‘11th commandment’: “Thou shalt not be found out.” Stick to the rules if you want to grow a sustainable business. Even worse is losing a business to bad habits, launching a new venture, and then continuing with the same bad habits. Recognise where you are following poor practices and adjust them!

Bob Power is the owner of Power Corporate Consultants and an expert on buying and selling a business, amongst other things. He is also the author of Let the Signer Beware and How To Buy a Small Business.

Performance & Growth

Controlling Profit Margins To Build Greater Organisational Wealth

To build organisational wealth, you need to have strong financial management and control. Are you getting the insights you need to properly control your profit margins?

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Organisational wealth is a concept that is based on the premise that businesses can only achieve true wealth once all parts of the organisation are running optimally. It places an emphasis on business systems, internal processes, staff morale, job satisfaction and, of course, financial success.

Having proper control and management of your finances is essential for every growing business. Keeping up with, and staying ahead of, competitors requires more than just a simple accounting system to try control financials. Luckily, modern technology and innovative business management platforms offer practical solutions to give you and your team members up to date information about every part of your business.

This helps businesses better manage cash flow, stock holding, expenses and financial investments for increased control over profit margins as well as continued growth and long-term sustainability.

Here are a few ways in which a good business management system can help you achieve greater profit margins and contribute to building greater organisational wealth.   

Comparing budgets vs actual costs

An integrated system allows different departments to quickly and easily share information on expenses budgeted for and actual payments made. This results in streamlined and seamless project planning and management through automatic distribution of information and project amendments based on accurate information.

Managers can get customised financial reports depending on their requirements and set cash flow alerts as well as expense approvals to ensure that budgets are not exceeded.

Related: 5 Ways To Drive Leads And Double Your Profits

Better buying

With the correct systems in place, your small or medium sized business can manage its entire procurement process systematically. Details of suppliers, requests and responses with cost estimates, purchase orders, returns and outstanding orders can all be recorded, centrally maintained and shared between departments. This will allow you to quickly compare suppliers, negotiate better deals and plan your purchases to maintain and improve profit margins. 

Matching supply and demand

Optimising procurement to expertly match supply and demand can lead to an increase in your business’s profit margins. For many small to medium sized businesses, managing supply and demand cycles can be a time-consuming and complicated task. The good news is that an integrated business system, such as SAP Business One, allows you to get real-time inventory insights and updates.

It also allows you to manage and set up standard and special pricing to cater to seasonal trends, which are also readily available. Over and above that, an integrated system allows business owners to apply volume, cash, and customer discounts and run reports to track the impact these special offers had on overall profit margins. 

Accurate insights to make strategic business decisions

The adage “knowledge is power” is certainly true for businesses – no matter their size. Even in a small business, there is a massive amount of information which can be gathered about your operations within the supply chain and company financials. Having access to accurate information can empower your team members to make more informed decisions.

Related: How You Can Profit From Constrained Consumption

Providing employees with comprehensive information facilitates strategic decision-making, which can lead to optimised stock holding and procurement, meaningful customer relationship management and more successful marketing campaigns. These benefits can contribute to a sustainable growth in profit margins.

An investment in technology may initially seem costly, but when you invest in the right tools and platforms, you will soon start the process of building your organisational wealth through increased profit margins and excellent financial control.

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Performance & Growth

Should You Scale Or Should You Grow? (The 2 Strategies Are Not the Same)

Bigger is not always better.

Pete Canalichio and Mark Di Somma

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For decades, the conventional wisdom in many sectors was that bigger was better. The larger you got, the argument went, the more likely you were to achieve market dominance, supply chain efficiencies and coherencies that you could then carry from developed markets into developing markets. That should lead to happy investors.

Except that, as PwC’s Strategy& discovered, in key sectors like consumer packaged goods there is no direct correlation that can be drawn between being big and achieving higher shareholder returns. That’s a startling conclusion.

There may be a number of reasons for that: Media fragmentation has made it harder and harder to get “big” messages out to a mass audience in the ways that companies could when channels were far more limited; the competitive advantage gap between large companies and smaller participants has closed because small companies have learned how to perform well; and, ironically, innovation has in many ways defeated the need for scale because global networks have changed how big individual companies need to be in order to achieve the presence that they would once have had to grow themselves.

Related: 6 Rules Euphoria Telecom Followed For High-Growth Success

So, how should companies decide whether they need to get bigger? Should they even bother? For many, the decision to remain artisan or to work within defined boundaries is an absolutely valid strategy; it enables them to define what matters to them, and to work within those parameters. But, for those companies that do decide to increase their presence, here are some key factors to consider.

Define your goal, and make decisions from there

The decision as to whether to grow or scale comes down to the definition of success that you have set for yourselves in your strategy.

As Jeremy Melis, UPS’s marketing director for small businesses, told The Balance, “The goal isn’t necessarily the speed of domestic or international growth.The goal is to best position your business to achieve what you’ve defined as success. That could be revenue growth, geographic expansion, a community of loyal customers or a better quality of life for yourself and your employees.”

As in all aspects of strategy, the key concern is why, not what or how. Growth or scaling should be the means, not the end. Your goal should be deciding what you are committed to achieving.

Growth and scaling are different things

A key issue is that growth and expansion are too easily confused. Business coach Mihir Thaker makes the excellent point in an article on the site Business Business Business that, “Growth is all about adding percentages here and there around the business …. Growth is normally a factor of turnover …. Scaling is different.

It’s a process driven approach to growth. No longer is the business concerned with growth for growth’s sake, but only with growth which can be managed.”

So, in seeking to scale a business for example, you are looking to change not just the pace and scope of growth but also the manner in which that acceleration takes place. Growth and scale demand different management styles and therefore different types of leadership, while the pace at which expansion takes place also requires careful judgment.

Expand too fast, and the business risks becoming over-extended; expand too slow and the company risks stalling as others react and/or the business cannot keep pace with demand.

And because scale demands a different set of actions than growth, it follows that it springs from a different mindset. One of the key questions that is asked too seldom is: “Does our company have that mindset?” If not, it may be better, and more profitable, to focus on growth.

To scale the business, first scale the culture

Companies that are serious about scaling their presence must understand that their ability to do so hinges on their ability to shift and coordinate new thinking internally at the same time as they look for opportunities and new customer relationships externally. The temptation is to focus only on the latter – to see a shift in scale as achieving a greater footprint through growth, acquisition and/or diversification.

In point of fact, in order to deliver on that, the business itself must change mindset. As McKinsey has noted, in order to achieve a change of scale at requisite speed, particularly in a digital setting, an organisation today needs to start by realigning its technology infrastructure to handle the new levels of customer interactions that will come.

It will also need to invite new people into the business to make the new scaled process work better, develop new ways to ship faster and more diversely and reset its success metrics so that it can accurately gauge performance against its highest strategic goal and act/react accordingly.

Should you scale?

What questions should you ask yourself to determine if you should scale or grow? We have developed a model that helps companies figure out what they should do in order to meet their objectives. This model, called The LASSO Model, addresses a brand’s optimal expandability.

Nearly all the businesses we spoke to in the course of developing our model commented that the decision to pursue scale was about much more than aspiration. It was a conscious decision to achieve critical weight in the markets that they were focused on because otherwise they risked being unable to achieve their goals.

Related: Elon Musk’s Formula For Successfully Growing Companies Faster

That’s particularly true in sectors like consumer packaged goods, media and entertainment, where the pursuit of scale can become an end in itself.

Companies that are fueling their growth through venture capital, for example, will sometimes set their sights on being a particular size at which they are deemed to have succeeded in their quest to expand. In media, the goal for many is to make it to the R100-plus million revenue mark because that is deemed to be a benchmark for a scaled media presence.

If that’s the metric that is expected of you, then that will be the key measure you focus on. Many will get stuck at around R50 million or lower, unable to grow a unique audience, achieve consistent engagement, differentiate themselves against others and over multiple platforms, and improve their margins.

Size alone is probably not enough

That leads to the final factor. Strong businesses depend on more than one thing to protect themselves against competitors. We liken this to a Rubik’s Cube. What makes the Cube hard to solve is that the puzzle does not exist in one dimension, but rather in three.

Equally, businesses that have ambitious expansion plans need to look for ways to build in other aspects of competitiveness beyond just size itself. Indeed, wherever possible, they need to use scale to reinforce and strengthen those other elements that make up their value proposition, so that the bigger they become, the more competitive they are.

Related: Levergy Founders Tell You How To Scale Quickly – And Intelligently

Many of the companies we spoke to in the course of our research found this the most difficult part of their expansion planning – thinking of scale as a competitive factor that wouldn’t just strengthen their market presence but also raise the barriers to entry for copycats and enable them to profitably leverage and capitalise on what really drew customers to them.

Growth and scaling are different approaches and neither one is “better” than the other. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Each works better in some sectors than others. Each has its own dynamics and makes its own demands. What’s important for entrepreneurs with ambitious agendas is that they understand why they have chosen one approach over the other, how they have organized their infrastructure and culture to make it happen, and where they will integrate growth or scale with other competitive factors to make it harder for others to emulate their success.

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Company Posts

How TomTom Telematics Can Keep Your Business Moving Forward

Successful businesses need to find ways to improve their margins while still delivering excellent and efficient customer service. VDM’s CEO, Deon van der Merwe, explains why this wouldn’t be possible in his business without TomTom Telematics’ solutions.

TomTom Telematics

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When TomTom Telematics entered the South African market in 2010, the local team took a deep dive into the different industry verticals they were servicing.

The more they got to know their customers, the more they realised a different solution was needed to address local conditions, and a subscription model was introduced whereby customers didn’t need to invest a large capital outlay into TomTom Telematics’ technology, but would receive the tech and software, including installation, at no extra cost, in exchange for a monthly subscription fee.

This model gives SMEs affordable access to TomTom Telematics’ solutions, but it’s had another benefit as well: As TomTom Telematics introduces new innovations, existing customers can benefit — without the costs associated with replacing all of their existing technology themselves.

An indispensable tool

For a transport and logistics business like VDM Group, which has more than 160 vehicles on the road, this means they have access to incredible new offerings, without needing to replace their TomTom units themselves.

“TomTom plays a critical role in our business,” says Deon van der Merwe, CEO of VDM Group. “It’s an indispensable tool in ensuring quality customer feedback and the management of KPIs for all supply chain stakeholders.

“Earlier this year, TomTom Telematics launched their New WEBFLEET product. We were very satisfied with what we had, and yet they still approached us and offered to replace all our existing units with new tablets, and they’re covering the installation costs,” explains Deon.

Related: Driving Your Business Growth Towards More Customers

“New WEBFLEET is the result of TomTom innovating their product based on customer feedback from around the world, and the local team wanted to ensure we had access to the additional functionality and innovations that had been introduced.”

Seamless integration with your network

According to Deon, the new TomTom PRO 8275 units seamlessly integrate VDM’s fleet scheduling software with information they extract from TomTom, including individual vehicles’ standing time and arrival notifications.

“The software from TomTom is open API, which means that all our various applications can communicate and interact with each other,” he explains. “From a productivity perspective, we no longer need to manually capture any trip information.

In addition, we have every conceivable piece of data available that will assist us to run a leaner, more cost-effective fleet, enabling us to ensure that we are delivering on all our KPIs — particularly with regards to meeting our customers’ needs.”

Related: Changing The Shape Of What’s Possible

VDM is a large transport business, but Deon believes the benefits for SMEs are as great, if not more so. “Many SMEs don’t have the back-office support that we do. The ability to capture and use this information without a team of admin specialists at your disposal is a huge competitive advantage for smaller businesses,” he says.

Offering you the competitive edge

VDM offers a specialised logistics service that creates custom-made options for clients. In order to ensure the most optimal and cost-effective solutions, while still ensuring top quality delivery, they need to consider special and complex individual customer requirements, from the point of origin to the point of destination, before finalising a customer-specific solution.

“We take into account a host of factors, including inventory carrying costs, volume requirements, product specific factors and route to market,” explains Deon.

“Road transport significantly impacts total supply chain costs, and if not managed properly, can have a severe impact on the sustainability of any particular channel. We try and manage this risk by continuously improving our service through innovative logistical solutions, the use of advanced technology, vertical integration and a team of passionate and talented experts.

TomTom assists in creating differentiators

“This focus has helped us to develop a market offering that includes dedicated and completely flexible inter-modal solutions, which is a big differentiator for us. TomTom Telematics plays a key role in our total productivity, helping us measure the performance of road transport across our supply chain.”

Deon believes that what you don’t measure you won’t know.

“TomTom provides updated fleet statistics that allow us to constantly benchmark our fleet against pre-defined route surveys and, in so doing, enables massive savings in fuel and total turnaround time.

Communicating via the WEBFLEET platform also helps us save time and creates a formal trail of correspondence with our drivers. I don’t believe it’s possible to successfully run a business like ours without a solution like this.”

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