Here’s a thought: Being entrepreneurial is a way of life. It’s not lived in moments and it’s not curated. It’s about being always ‘entrepreneurially-on’. Since a fact of life is that nothing remains as it is and change is always happening, being entrepreneurially on allows you to be present in the change and find opportunity.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a key business activity that occupies a large share of mind in any business. It leads to up-selling, cross-selling, inside-selling and all the forward momentum that any business can hope for. Supplier Relationship Management (SRM), the yang of CRM’s yin, is seldom spoken about beyond quality and price.
The supply-side of your business carries with it as much risk and reward as the demand-side and yet how much do we really know about our suppliers?
Turning disadvantage into opportunity
Pierre is ‘entrepreneurially-on’. As a romantic (and he loves his wife), his first love is concrete. In a trip to Paris a number of years ago he was photographing his wife with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
Beyond the romantic sentiment of the occasion, through his camera lens, Pierre saw a shape that could innovate the retaining walls and structures for the mining, agricultural and materials handling sectors. His mind swirled with the potential this shape offered.
Soon after his return home to South Africa, Pierre went on to develop a series of concrete retaining walls in the shape of the Eiffel Tower. Today his products stretch across all industries and the sectors within them. From creating storage capabilities to erecting temporary material depots on construction sites, his products look over an abundant horizon of opportunity.
With good margins offered by the uniqueness of his patented product and a solid understanding of his customers’ needs, Pierre has grown the business dramatically in the last few years. His order book continues to grow, as does his cash in the bank.
Recently, Gauteng experienced unprecedented rains. The highest rainfall in 14 years impacted many businesses. From a drop in productivity due to power outages, broken traffic lights and an inability to operate outdoors, the construction industry bore a major part of the brunt. In particular, the forecasts of materials suppliers to the construction industry dampened down in the wet weather.
In a recent session with Pierre, I could sense that he was frustrated. Laying concrete structures such as materials handling cells, retaining walls, paving and the like is simply not possible in abundant rainfalls: The substrate upon which the concrete structures are laid keep on washing away. Orders were on hand and Pierre was on track to meet his first quarter forecast but sales where postponed for better weather.
To lift the cloud hanging over Pierre’s business meant that we had to look at an ‘entrepreneurially-on’ opportunity. Given the weather conditions that we had no control over, how could we turn this to our advantage? In addition, he had idle cash burning a hole in his pocket. I suggested we turn to SRM and see what was on offer.
Building collaborative relationships
Cement manufacturers in South Africa are large corporate businesses. Within these businesses, there are systems and procedures. With active shareholders always seeking returns, businesses are governed by extensive revenue forecasts demanded by shareholders.
Sure, one can blame an Act of God for non-achievement of a forecast, but one cannot ever blame inaction and poor imagination.
A deepening understanding by managers of the implications for production efficiencies, jobs, supplier contracts that they had in place and importantly their key performance indicators (KPIs), lent a new insight into the need to turn bad weather into sunshine for all.
KPIs are made up of targets that govern performance in an organisation. Meeting them means you keep your job. Superseding them means a bonus, and non-achievement of the KPIs is frowned upon and may even result in the loss of your job. KPIs are designed to keep managers thinking about their performance day and night.
As we unpacked our suppliers’ challenges further, we understood that further costs of storage were being incurred, deepening the crisis in their financial performance. Each of our meetings with the suppliers allowed us to develop a deeper understanding of their business processes and the individuals’ KPIs. Our process of SRM was deepening.
Recently, a deal was struck with a supplier of cement. We ran our numbers. Confidence in our sales forecast, the most valuable negotiating aid in any supplier deal, allowed us to commit to big volumes for delivery in two batches.
The prices agreed were unprecedented, providing Pierre with a massive cost advantage that he had not enjoyed for years. The orders on hand would absorb close to 28% of the cement stockpile. The balance would be absorbed in the next six months.
In addition, a long-term supply agreement was negotiated with price increases based on the recently negotiated stockpile prices. The sun would continue to shine on Pierre’s margins for a long while.
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Being ‘entrepreneurially-on’ and understanding suppliers through SRM placed Pierre in a position where he could secure a number of short- and medium-term benefits.
A smart place to invest spare cash
We learnt what drives our suppliers and through that, when and how the managers operating the supply relationship with us are performance managed. Through this we were able to have quality conversations on how we could help each other.
In this instance, Pierre would invest his spare cash into stockpiling cement. His return was a splendid price point that yielded his business and invested cash a return in excess of any other investment he could have made in the money-market, JSE or bonds.
In return, the managers we worked with could move closer towards their targeted sales, reduce the pressure of costs by moving stockpiles from their warehouses and maintain production.
Suppliers are people too and business is about people
Even corporate suppliers. While entrepreneurs operating businesses in a concentrated economy like South Africa’s are often abused by large suppliers and customers, there are people behind these functions and they also have their fears and apprehensions about their responsibilities.
Understanding these fears places you in a position to do deals like Pierre when the time is right.
Think beyond your circumstances
SRM is a valuable tool to make sure that you buy right so that you can sell right. Whilst you may operate a business that sells to a local or regional market, large suppliers are often subject to global issues on a more profound level.
Being aware of the global issues impacting their business allows you the opportunity to interpret how you can help them as they help you.
Turn combat into collaboration
Bridging the formality of a supplier relationship with a corporate supplier means spending time getting to know the organisation, how it works, who impacts the life of your contact within the organisation, and how you can make a difference to their performance in your own small way.
Converting the often combative relationships with suppliers which are price-oriented into collaborative relationships driven by understanding will pay dividends.
Change is a given. It’s happening right now. Understanding how to capitalise on it and get the timing right is what entrepreneurship is about to a large degree. If you have idle assets in your business right now, consider how to make the best use of them to secure a lasting advantage for your business.
5 Lessons On Scaling Up Your Company From An EOY Winner
It takes a combination of grit, hard work and the right strategies to navigate the challenges of the scale up journey. What do some entrepreneurs do differently to make it to the top?
Building a successful company is really hard. Even when you have made it through the start-up phase – product development, market fit, building a team, earning first traction – the process of scaling up remains a challenging road.
Louw Barnardt CA(SA), recently named the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year at the Sanlam/Business Partners Entrepreneur of the Year® Awards, shared his five top lessons learnt from fast-growing clients and from their own journey of scaling up Outsourced CFO to twenty five full time professionals.
“There are many stumbling blocks that hinder exponential growth at the scale up phase. Successful start-up founders do not always have the right skill set and experience to build a business from five to fifty people or from twenty to two hundred.”
Louw and his team have taken the concept of an ‘Outsourced CFO’ – a go-to finance person for emerging companies – and built a very exciting business from it. “There are hundreds of lessons one learns on the journey of building a scale-up company. These five stand out among all of the biggest lessons learnt.
1. Invest in People
Doing business is all about people. In start-up phase, founders are able to manage almost everything. From the social media post to the invoicing to the recruitment – it all falls on you. One founder can manage this for a short while and a founder team for a bit longer, but somewhere between five and twenty people this changes. The founders can no longer make every call, have every meeting, answer every client query.
It’s critical to build a solid leadership team and then to equip them with enough autonomy and authority to run with the various portfolio’s within the company. Put a head of HR, head of sales, head of client engagements, head of operation and head of finance in place as soon as you can and keep investing in them – it’s the only way to scale out of start-up mode.
2. Manage Cash Flow
The finance function sits at the heart of every business. If the numbers don’t add up, everything comes to nothing quite fast. Founders need to make sure that they have a firm eye fixed on financials. New cloud systems enable entrepreneurs to have access to every detail of revenue, profitability, debtors and cash flow in real time.
That’s right – exact live financial information at your fingertips for decision-making. Foreseeing cash crunches ahead of time and actively being able to navigate to avoid them makes all the difference in the scale-up process. Growth eats cash, so be sure to manage yours on the way up.
3. Streamline and Automate
A start-up can afford to do what needs to be done in the moment. Scale-ups cannot. Automation of company processes is key to enable scale in various company functions.
Automate your sales process with a tool like Sales Force or HubSpot. Automate your marketing with a tool like Hootsuite. Automate your finance with a tool like Xero. Automate your company culture input with a tool like Hi5. Putting a good system in place and investing in the understanding and utilisation of all of its functions is a prerequisite for high growth.
4. Prioritise Strategy
As execution becomes a bigger and bigger part of your company, the strategy that directs that execution plays an ever-increasing role. The most successful management teams set and stick to good habits around strategy: Annual breakaways to direct long term strategy. Quarterly strategy days to cement key strategic priorities for the next 90 days and the likes.
It may seem counterintuitive to have your full management team out of action for so many full days of work, but putting the right strategy in place to execute is the real deep work required to scale.
5. Brand and Awareness is key
The value of owning a top brand and of being top of mind with all your stakeholders cannot be overstated. A stronger brand lifts the market’s perceived value of your offering. Continuously starting conversations and finding ways of reminding your networks and target market of who you are and what amazing things you are doing opens up ever-bigger opportunities that play a huge part in creating scale for our top entrepreneurs.
“Building a company is hard work. But if you do it smartly, the juice is worth the squeeze many times over. Make these five lessons your own to hack the scale up journey as you build the business of your dreams.”
Use Growth To Help You Live Like A Hero
Often strengths become weaknesses as we progress through our business journey. If you want to remain the hero, you need to focus on growth.
“Do our heroes fall from grace? Sometimes.
However, what makes them a hero is that they fight and crawl their way back to the top. You aren’t a hero because you were once great. You are a hero because you continually strive to be great.”
I am a big Batman fan. The 2008 film, The Dark Knight, gave us an iconic line. In it Harvey Dent, who later becomes Two Face, says, “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”
It’s a cutting view of a fall from grace: How our heroes often become vilified through their actions or our perceptions of them.
But I would like to suggest a different context for this quote. As an entrepreneur, you must develop certain qualities and characteristics to become successful. The problem is that those same qualities and characteristics, once the tools that pushed you to success, can at a later stage become the stumbling blocks that prevent you from progress.
Growth beyond abilities
Here’s a quick example. You wake up one morning with a great idea. Soon after, your idea has been translated into action and your business is up and running. You find yourself jumping between different roles. Sales. Marketing. Accounting. Operations. All your time and energy gets funnelled into the business. You work late at night. Sure, it impacts your social life but at least you don’t have a family to worry about.
Then, growth. Things change. And your superpowers become weaknesses. You need to hire a team to help with the increasing demand on the business. But you struggle to let go. You want to hang on to your ability to control every aspect of the business. It’s how you have always done it. It’s what led you to success. However, the business requires you to change with it. To learn a new skill; finding the right team and trusting them with your dream.
You might then find yourself in a serious relationship or married. Perhaps even a kid. And the amount of time that you can dedicate to the business is impacted. You must find ways of staying productive at work while making time for your family and close relationships. Your previous ability to pull all-nighters becomes futile in the face of new expectations as you need to divide your time in a meaningful way.
What once was a strength now becomes a weakness, and this happens much faster than you might think. So, how do you prevent your superhero abilities from withering?
Truth in reflection
Everything we do starts from knowing. You would be surprised to know how much of your behaviour is driven by subconscious programming that you grew over the years.
Since this behaviour becomes a part of your identity it becomes almost impossible to see how it affects the way you interact with the world and those around you.
So, the only way to really create a new set of behaviours is to pause the auto-play function. And for this to happen you need self-awareness and reflection. You do this by creating time for meditation, journaling, and spending time with a coach or mentor.
In my experience, entrepreneurs are pretty good at learning new things. Especially in the early days. So, as your business grows, you need to grow with it. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs get left behind. It’s much more ideal if your growth drives business growth than the other way around.
I am not going to harp on about this because I think there are more than enough resources that can help you to evolve your thinking, and they aren’t hard to find, in fact you are holding such a resource in your hands right now.
People Are Mirrors Too
The people around you are pretty good at holding a mirror up to you. They aren’t always aware that they are doing so. They hold up the mirror by reacting to you in a certain way and by speaking to and about you in a certain way.
If you are paying attention, then you will pick up on the clues that they leave behind. You will be able to read between the lines and hear their cries for support, encouragement, and trust. But of course, what you are seeing is not a reflection of them but rather a reflection of you.
What part of your identity is robbing people of support? What have you done that created a culture of mistrust?
It all comes back to you and the way you have been conditioned and how you are, in turn, conditioning those around you.
You can stay the hero
That’s why you can’t give up. Heroes don’t give up. — Kiera Cass
The Secret To Growth For SMEs May Be Found In An Audit
Despite the cost vs benefit argument and the burden that obtaining an audit places on the company, the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages.
An audit is an inspection of your business accounts, including accounting systems documents and invoices. The goal of an audit is to determine if the financial statements are representing an accurate view of the company. However, not all businesses need to be audited. In the case of companies, the Companies Act (“the Act”) clearly stipulates which companies require an audit and the requirements are confined more to larger companies.
These requirements exclude a large number of small companies, which contribute 98% to the South African economy and they deliver approximately 28% of jobs in the country (Business Tech; 2018). Small companies are excluded because there is generally no distinction between ownership and management, so the audit objective of giving assurance to the owners becomes less important. Where the owners are not the managers but the company is still small, the Act provides a less onerous “Independent Review” option.
However, some smaller companies still benefit from an audit process as opposed to a review. Keeping in mind the cost vs benefit counter argument, recent publications in The Accountant (2018) and by Roberge (2017) explain some of the major benefits are as follows:
- Assists in obtaining funding from investors and banks – Providing these parties with audited financials will provide them with certainty and comfort that investors will get a return on their investments and more certainty that the loans will be repaid.
- Identifies problems and weaknesses within the company’s accounting system where the system might not be tracking certain transactions correctly.
- Uncovers fraud – This includes instances where employees or management are stealing inventory or other assets from the company. An auditor may be able to identify discrepancies and assist the company in implementing systems that will eliminate these problems in future.
- Identify poor accounting practices – It is hard to see these issues unless you can view the overall picture, which is possible with an audit.
- Improves tax planning – An external audit can assist in ensuring that you are ready for tax season and that you are leveraging tax write-offs and benefits as much as possible. By having proper records and planning, taxes are less stressful and easier to file.
- Strengthens the credibility of the company’s financial records – This is important if you are planning to sell the business in a couple of years time. When you have documented information that demonstrates the success and progress of your company over multiple years, then it will be easier to prove the financial security of the business and make it more appealing to buyers.
- Provides a clear understanding of the financial situation of your company – A good audit will ensure that your accounting records give you a precise picture of everything that is occurring within your business so you can make accurate judgements about the financial situation of your company.
- Educates business owners by emphasising the importance of accounting information in business – Auditors may provide business owners with information on current accounting issues, educational seminars to improve their companies’ accounting process, and other “added value” services.
Despite the cost vs benefit argument and the burden that obtaining an audit places on the company, the advantages may outweigh the disadvantages. Therefore small companies should carefully consider the above points and, if appropriate, volunteer to be audited. This will not only assist them as they grow, it will also yield other welcome unexpected benefits.
Read next: My Business Is Growing… What Now?
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