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Performance & Growth

How to Unlock your Business’s Potential

Don’t get caught in a static loop. Learn how to innovate to enjoy entrepreneurial growth.

Howard Blake

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When we think of entrepreneurs, our association should be that of dynamic, perceptive risk takers who are above all else innovative. How then do the paradoxical words ‘static’ and ‘stagnation’ often become associated with entrepreneurs?
In the real world of day-to-day business, what often starts as a great idea can soon slip into a static state leading to stagnation – even if the entrepreneur is energised and motivated. If the entrepreneur fails to innovate and develop the original concept, then it enters a state of mediocrity. And it won’t be long before the brand is perceived in the same way.

Overcoming stagnation

Innovation is what confronts the static stagnation of a business. It makes no difference in what economic sector you trade – mediocrity is a threat each and every business faces and must deal with. Continuing innovation and widening of the initial entrepreneurial offering is critical for both the entrepreneur and the business. To illustrate, our company began life 20 years ago collecting accounts receivables for doctors and the motor retail sector. From there, our clients grew to include credit retailers and banks. Although we were experiencing growth, this represented our static stage. Why? Because we were simply doing more of the same. We were not being innovative. Something had to change or we would be forced to eventually accept our fate as the engineers of our own redundancy.

Growth = growth

Recognising our static state, we introduced technology to our service offering. A piece of software that altered our offering simply by adding an automated letter writing process revolutionised our business. But that new spurt of growth was soon followed by another static phase.
Sure, the product had changed, but once that change was complete it was more of the same for a few years. Until we introduced additional intelligence into our process, giving us a predictive algorithm that calculated each debtor’s propensity to pay.

This latest innovation grew our business at 100% per annum. Why? Only one word answers this question – innovation! Not only did we widen our offering and grow our customer base and the business, but we were soon presented with new opportunities as a result. There’s your second valuable lesson: growth leads to more growth. A widened service offering opens new doors.
But we didn’t stop there. Our innovation continues today. At the core of our business model is a focus on non-stop development, adding value and putting processes in place to address an ever changing market.
An entrepreneur who trades in a technology rich sector but fails to introduce innovation in cycles of less than 18 months will soon feel the effects of stagnation.

Staying ahead of the game

What can entrepreneurs do to ensure they stay ahead of an opportunity?

  • Go back to the basics of your offering. Make a critical assessment of what the value drivers are in the service or product you offer.
  • Isolate each driver and see how it can be improved and re-offered to the market with additional value.
  • Make sure your re-offering is of significance to the customer.
  • Build an additional value proposition into an expanded sales offering.

Innovation is not always a piece of technology but rather a state of mind that challenges the existing status quo and refuses to accept it as best practice simply because it’s the norm.
Early recognition of static stages in your growth allows you to unlock the potential of your business. The moral of the story? Always look ahead and never be reticent to challenge your successful formula. Reinventing your business can lead to unprecedented growth!

Howard Blake founded the Blake Group of companies in 1990. Currently operating across Southern Africa, Mauritius, Europe and the US, the success of the Blake Group lies in the constant innovation of new services designed to add value to its clients’ brands and customer experience. Visit his website for more information.

Performance & Growth

Proven Strategies To Grow Your Start-up On A Scale Following These Guidelines

The following strategies can help you make the start-up scalable and grow it to accommodate a larger demand.

Joseph Harisson

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Scalability and flexibility are important properties of any business. Let’s say you’ve managed to build a successful start-up. It’s profitable and promising, but you want it to become better. The scalability of a business involves its ability to adapt for bigger workloads without losing revenue.

Even if your business is currently small and doesn’t generate huge profits, scalability can help it turn into a large enterprise. The wrong approach to developing a start-up can deprive it of an opportunity to become better.

The following strategies can help you make the start-up scalable and grow it to accommodate a larger demand.

Scaling Vs Growth

Many companies make a mistake of thinking that scaling and growing a company is the same thing. In fact, growth involves increasing revenue or the size of the company (the number of employees, offices, clients).

Constant growth requires numerous resources and may not always lead to a proportional revenue increase. In many cases, the growing number of services or products needed to boost revenue involves high costs related to the growing number of employees and equipment.

On the other hand, scaling allows you to increase the revenue without the costs involved in growth. You can handle the extra load and boost your profits while keeping the costs to a minimum.

At some point, a successful start-up needs to make a choice between growing at a constant rate and switching to the scaling business model.

Even though a single clear method for scaling your business doesn’t exist, there are some guidelines you can follow.

Related: If You Want Scale, Fail Fast And Learn Quickly

1. Get Ready To Be Patient

Scaling is not a quick process so you have to be patient. The overnight success story is not about you. In fact, scaling too fast usually results in unfortunate failure.

Allow yourself to spend the time to understand who your ideal customers are and how you can solve their problems in a better manner. Make sure you understand how to be confident about the new volume of your work.

Do research to find out how you can find the right resources to achieve scaling rather than growth.

2. Choose The Right Software

The lack of time and team members is a common problem for a startup looking for scaling methods. That’s why they need to try and automate as many processes as possible. This can be done with the assistance of the right software.

  • Trello – to simplify in-office and remote teamwork
  • MailChimp – to improve marketing campaigns
  • Brand24 – to get insights about your business
  • Survicate – to collect customers’ feedback
  • Voiptime – to increase connectivity.

Enterprise SEO specialists at Miromind also recommend paying special attention to different programmes to help you with your marketing efforts. Many digital marketing tools available today are free.

3. Take Advantage of Outsourcing

Since you are hoping to limit the expenses while growing the revenue, you have to find ways to spend the revenue in the right manner. The biggest mistake made by business owners who think they are choosing scaling is hiring a big team. By doing so, they turn scaling into growing.

Your best bet to avoid hiring a large team and paying large salaries while achieving your plans is to outsource. Using your resources wisely involves finding freelancers and remote employees who are willing to work for a lower pay on a one-time (or several) contract bases.

For example, you don’t need a lawyer or a computer specialist sitting in the office all day long. Why should you pay them a monthly salary?

Related: What It Will Really Take For South Africa’s Businesses To Scale And Create Jobs

4. Don’t Do It Alone

Even though certain team minimisation is necessary to improve your scaling efforts, don’t try to handle everything on your own. It’s important to have at least one person you can rely on to manage the business-related problems.

Conclusion

Scaling your start-up is possible as soon as you understand what scaling is in detail. You need to be careful not to start growing your business instead of scaling it in the process. Once you have all the fundamentals figured, resources managed, and the right people in place, you are ready to start.

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Performance & Growth

Selling The Cape Town Lifestyle In China

GSB alumnus Grant Horsfield has built a rapidly expanding business in China that aims to provide a better lived environment – both at work and at play – and deliver a more balanced, sustainable and enjoyable lifestyle.

Entrepreneur

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When Grant Horsfield moved to Shanghai, shortly after completing his MBA at the GSB in 2004, he wanted to find a product to sell to China, when the rest of the world was focused on buying from China. “I had a clear purpose,” he says, “I wanted to import something from Africa and bring it to China – I just didn’t know what it was.”

Horsfield had completed the Doing Business in China elective on the MBA programme, taught by Professor Kobus Van der Wath, which led to him accepting a job in China with Van der Wath’s consulting firm – The Beijing Axis. He also completed an exchange programme at Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. During this time, although he found China to be exciting and full of opportunity, Horsfield missed the Capetonian lifestyle – particularly the outdoor life and the interaction with nature.

He says, “that was when I realised that the product China needed was the lifestyle that we have in South Africa. I was sure that if the Chinese knew what they didn’t know, they would be living a more balanced life and be able to appreciate and relax in nature – so that was what I really wanted to import to China, the Cape Town lifestyle.

“At that point there was no concept of a weekend getaway spent relaxing in nature that we are so used to in South Africa,” Horsfield explains. This realisation kickstarted his vision for Naked – a chain of boutique eco-resorts set in natural landscapes across China.

Related: Want To Start An Import Business – Here Are The Importing Terms And Documents Involved

The naked Group, which Horsfield founded in 2007, has built and now operates four luxury resorts with a further six under development. The first boutique resort, naked Home opened in Zhejiang Province in 2007, followed by naked Stables – an award-winning resort in Moganshan which offers horse riding to guests. Naked Stables is an industry pioneer in that it was the first resort in China to receive the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification – an American certification system encouraging the design of energy and resource-efficient buildings that are healthy to live in. Horsfield extended the concept of a luxurious retreat with the addition of naked Castle, a 95-room castle with two restaurants and a spa surrounded by lush forest, and naked Sail which offers a unique travel experience on a 70-foot catamaran in the Andaman Sea.

In 2015, the naked Group expanded into the co-working office space industry through naked Hub. Horsfield sees the move into office space as a natural extension of the naked brand.

“Essentially we had been inviting people to have a better lifestyle outside of work and we realised that we could do that in the work experience too,” he says. “When you build a resort, you build a space that allows people to experience a certain level of comfort and enjoy themselves, so why not do that in an office?” The naked team’s skillset in designing and building sustainable comfy resorts was easily transferred to building office spaces that people enjoy working in.

Naked Hub has seen rapid expansion, opening 50 hubs across China, Vietnam, Australia and the UK in just two and a half years. Initially based on smaller start-ups or freelancers in the gig economy, Naked Hub now caters to larger firms. “The idea of co-working space was born out of trying to make a more efficient smarter space for smaller companies but today more that 50% of our companies are multinationals,” says Horsfield.

The principles of a more balanced lifestyle and a cleaner more sustainable environment are present in all naked projects. For Horsfield, it’s all about trying to make the world a better place.

“No matter what kind of entrepreneur you are, you have to have some values that are important to you. For me, trying to change things for the better has been paramount in everything we’ve designed, and we probably have more sustainability experts on our payroll than most companies. What we do is not just about building, it’s about people, communities and how people interact in their environment.”

Commenting on what it takes to start a successful business in China, and then follow through with rapid global expansion, Horsfield says perseverance, a belief in what you want to achieve, and above all – courage – all play a role.

“You’ve got to have courage to do what looks very scary. If you don’t have a sound belief that it will work, then you just can’t do it.” He adds, laughing, “or as my mom says – I’m just too stupid to see the potential problems! But seriously, courage is what separates businesspeople from entrepreneurs – and that’s something that can’t be taught.”

Horsfield also believes strongly in what he terms AQ, or adversity quotient. “This is the mentality that allows me to overcome obstacles, the ability to hit a wall 20 times but pick myself up and keep on trying.”

Related: Meet The 40 Richest Self-Made Entrepreneurs On Earth

Looking back on his experience of the MBA, he believes the programme’s value lies in promoting self-knowledge and reflection. He says, “each project I did allowed me to examine what I had done before and to consider how I could have done things differently. Examining my strengths and weaknesses was a huge benefit. Today I don’t hire people who have low self-awareness.”

“The other wonderful thing about the MBA was the diversity of students. We had a mixed group internationally, with people from many different cultural and work backgrounds, that was really enlightening. It also gave me a strong network of likeminded people.”

Horsfield believes his South African upbringing and his education at the GSB certainly helped him on his entrepreneurial path. He says, “wanting to do some good in the world, wanting to change things for the better, is a uniquely South African strength.”

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Performance & Growth

What Are You Prepared To Lose?

While business growth tends to be a major goal for most business owners, with growth comes pain. Here’s how you navigate those challenges.

Ed Hatton

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Many, perhaps most entrepreneurs would like their businesses to grow — whether from ambition to create an empire or just to reduce the risks inherent in being a little business. To do so the entrepreneur has to change roles. They must move from where they can control everything, and change from working as they always have. Being human, we fear moving away from familiar routines, we find it hard to give up authority and we lie awake at night worrying if we can afford all those extra people.

When you run a small business you make all the decisions, you monitor performance of your employees, have direct contact with customers and have a small nest egg so you can still pay your people in bad months. A bigger business means higher overheads, more debtors, and additional inventory, all of which will put a strain on cash flow. You are likely to need more working capital to finance growth and may have to take a loan, which only adds to the risk.

You are also likely to have less day-to-day control over operations and will worry about whether your managers are about to commit an appalling blunder. A more insidious risk is the growing distance between you and customers as the business adds layers of sales managers, sales people, project managers, and branches.

Finding the opportunities

It’s difficult enough just to stand still in tough times, let alone grow strongly. The more difficult the competitive and economic situation becomes, the more we want to control every aspect of the business. We hesitate to fill vacancies, clamp down on expenses, get enraged when people make mistakes and push the sales team until they get nervous.

We develop a hang-in-there mentality and hope for better times. Paradoxically, tough times offer great growth opportunities. While others cut down on training and marketing, you have the opportunity to lure customers away from them with aggressive marketing and pricing. You can build a work environment that will attract the best people by offering strong customer support and good development opportunities. If you are bold, you have the opportunity to lock in the best suppliers by paying on time and signing long-term contracts while others delay payments and seek cheaper suppliers. It takes courage to do this, and you will feel the loss of security and comfort zones.

Related: 3 Ways To Promote Business Growth In A Troubled Economy

In this rapidly changing world, it may be easier to grow a business now than it has ever been. Businesses that embrace change and look for opportunities in uncertainty can scale rapidly. Disruptive technologies have changed the rules and allowed new businesses to grow to international giants. Waste — especially packaging waste — green energy, medical technology and urbanisation have all presented global opportunities for smart entrepreneurs.

Change is difficult to manage; we prefer our comfort zones, but treating change as a friend rather than a fear could give your business the growth spurt you desire.

Letting go to move forward

One of the hardest things to do as a business grows is to discard products, people and processes that have built your business to where it is today, but will be a hindrance to you as you grow. You may have a favourite product that was the essence of your start-up, but is now out of date and uncompetitive. Kill it.

There is pain in dealing with staff and suppliers who will not be able to keep up with your growth, especially those who stood by you when you needed them. I am all for loyalty, but if loyalty becomes a hindrance you must act. Be kind to them, give them their dignity rather than carrying them as a charitable favour. Change their roles, or find alternate work for them. Getting rid of encumbrances, products, people, suppliers, customers and processes is all part of what you need to do to take your business into a growth phase.

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