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Performance & Growth

In Business, It’s Who You Know…

Studies have shown that new business success is directly impacted by the types of personal and professional networks entrepreneurs have at their disposal. Here’s how to build yours.

Entrepreneur

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Over the years entrepreneurship research has been unclear about indentifying the factors that contribute to success when founding and growing a new venture. Researchers have largely struggled to find the magic recipe for entrepreneurial success. However, the one thing that has emerged as a robust predictor of entrepreneurial survival and success, is a network of relationships.

How networks promote success

Research has clearly highlighted that both personal and organisational networks contribute to the success and growth of a new venture in at least five different ways:

  1. Networks influence the breadth of ideas and technologies that a person is exposed to as they search for a new business idea.
  2. Relationships provide people with links to funders of new ventures.
  3. People in your network often open doors to cheap sources of supply and are very often the link to hiring talented employees.
  4. The first few sales of most entrepreneurs will be to people they already know.
  5. A strong network of relationships provides more flexibility in dealing with crises and contingencies when they arise.

Getting by with few resources

To make this a little more real, it is valuable to reflect on aspects of my own entrepreneurial journey; I discovered the value of relationships as I walked this road. In 2003 I decided I wanted to be master of my own destiny and escape the trappings of the corporate world – I wanted to launch a new business.

I entered the financial training industry because that is what I had been doing internally at my previous employer and I was familiar with the latest ideas, technology and concepts in corporate training. My business partner and I developed a suite of offerings and products to fill market needs that we learned about by talking to colleagues and associates in the corporate world. As we built the business we drew on a broad base of relationships to help us get up and running. A friend I had helped set up a Web design company three years earlier did all our Web and IT work free of charge. A student who had been in one of our classes did all the graphic design and we drew on family and friends to test all our products, often around the kitchen table with a bottle of wine and a take away pizza on hand.

Our first client was our previous employer; our former boss hired us to deliver some of our products in the organisation where we had worked. Our second client was introduced to us by a university friend of my business partner; he commissioned us to create a financial literacy board game for the company where he worked. Our third client came from a referral; one of our previous colleagues referred us to her husband who owned a company that had a need for training. We did not take on any outside capital; the capital to fund our first year of operations came from the sales revenue from our first three clients. As I reflect on the diary that I kept of my first 12 months in business I am amazed at how we managed to do so much with so little and it was largely because we were drawing on the people we knew to help us keep the business afloat. The bottom line is that a network of relationships is a very valuable resource when starting and growing a business. In this article we will explore what kinds of relationships are valuable in an entrepreneurial context and how to build an entrepreneurial network.

Types of relationships

It is important to recognise that not all business relationships are the same and that different kinds of relationships serve different purposes in developing an entrepreneurial venture. One way to distinguish between diverse relationships is the strength of the tie. Strong ties are deep relationships that develop over an extended period and usually take effort and energy to maintain. Weak ties are looser relationships that form as a result of relatively brief interactions with others. Both weak and strong ties serve useful purposes in an entrepreneurial venture but their purpose is distinctly different. They each take different amounts of energy and effort to maintain and entrepreneurs need to maintain a balance between strong and weak ties to give their venture the best chance of success.

Strong ties

Strong ties are important for three reasons:

  1. Bouncing ideas for new products, services or business strategies.
  2. Mentoring and support.
  3. Information sharing.

Firstly, entrepreneurship is about creating something new and doing things differently. Developing new products or services is an uncertain activity. When engaging in an uncertain activity we need people we can trust with whom we can share our ideas and get honest feedback. Such a discussion is best had with someone with whom you share a good relationship – a strong tie.

Secondly, an entrepreneurial journey is a tough and lonely road and one reason that entrepreneurs fail is because they give up. They become drained and disheartened when things don’t go well or they take it personally when people don’t buy their products. It is at times like these that you need to get support and advice from someone you can trust. Thirdly, in an entrepreneurial venture, information is often a source of competitive advantage. If an entrepreneur hears about a request for tender or a new piece of technology before anyone else then they can quickly position their venture to take advantage of that situation. Really valuable information very often flows only through close relationships. Therefore strong ties are regularly a source of the most valuable incoming information in an entrepreneurial venture. Because of the depth of relationships in strong ties, they take time and effort to maintain and require reciprocation – doing for others what they do for you. It is often challenging to maintain many strong ties and successful entrepreneurs often supplement a few deep relationships with a broad base of loose relationships, or weak ties.

Weak ties

Weak ties extend the reach of an entrepreneur across a much broader base of people and provide valuable information flows for a lot less effort than strong ties require.
Weak ties, or loose connections as they are often called, serve three clear purposes:

  1. They are often the source of information about a new sales opportunity.
  2. They provide connections to potential employees and service providers.
  3. They serve as a source of reputation in the market place.

Because entrepreneurial firms often work from a very low resources base, they cannot hire expensive sales people, invest in big media and marketing campaigns or use the services of a professional recruitment firm. They depend heavily on a network of loose connections to keep the business alive with word of mouth marketing and referrals, accessing free or low cost suppliers and hiring friends, or friends of friends. The key to effectively using a network of relationships as a valuable resource in developing a new business is balance. You need to maintain a few strong ties to serve as a critical support system and source of information when required, while broadening your reach with a vast number of weak ties to garner the benefits of information, referrals and leads.

Steps to build your own strong networks

If you become sold on the idea that it is valuable for you to foster a broad set of relationships as you build and grow your business, what does this mean practically? Fostering relationships is not rocket science. It requires the application of a few simple practices. Although these practices may seem obvious and uninteresting, they are incredibly powerful. Disciplined application of these practices can create huge leverage for a business owner by extracting big results for relatively little effort.

Practice #1: Be honest and genuine

Valuable relationships are based on trust. Trust is forged when people are honest with each other. People you interact with will very quickly assess whether you are being fully honest with them and this will set the tone and the parameters for the rest of the relationship. If they decide early that you are dishonest or untrustworthy, you are doomed. That relationship is unlikely to be of any value in the future. If others trust you, you will probably be allowed to forge a relationship with them that may serve you well in future.

Practice #2: Ask and listen

Relationships are built around connecting points. Connecting points emerge as a result of disclosure. To find connecting points with others you should ask open-ended questions that allow people to disclose something about themselves or their business. Then listen carefully to the answers they provide. Build on their answers as you follow up with another open-ended question and before you realise it you will be involved in a valuable conversation that can forge the foundation of a new connection.

Practice #3: Share your story

Stories are one of the most powerful mechanisms for enabling others to remember key ideas and insights. This is why The Bible is filled with passages phrased as stories and why so many people can remember the key message from the fable “The Tortoise and the Hare”. Our minds are more able to latch onto ideas that are shared within a story and if you want people to remember who you are and what you do, tell them a story. Spend a bit of time crafting your personal and business history into an interesting and concise story. The next time someone asks you what you do, tell them your story and you will be blown away by how much more they remember. The more you tell your story, the better you will become at telling it concisely and effectively and the more people will connect with you and remember you.

Practice #4: Follow up

Research has shown that a single follow up from an initial interaction can significantly change the trajectory of a relationship between two peple. Dropping someone an email or a call or sending them a thank you note after that first engagement changes peoples’ perception of the relationship and significantly increases the likelihood that the parties will interact again at a future date. If you want to benefit from the interactions you have with others, get in the habit of following up with them.

Practice #5: Connect others

The value of a network moves to a new level when you are able to effectively connect others in your network with each other. People will begin to truly value their relationship with you if you are able to connect them with others in a meaningful and valuable way. To do this effectively you need to understand the needs and abilities of both parties and have a trusting relationship with both. As you begin connecting people in your network with one another, they will begin connecting you with others in their network. Over time your network of relationships will begin to multiply many times over.

Practice #6: Maintain an up-to-date contact book

This piece of advice might seem absolutely obvious but I am amazed at how many business people don’t have all their contacts in one easily accessible place. A contact will only create value for your business if you can quickly call on that person at the time that you need them. Creating value from contacts is often about timing and if you cannot find a person’s contact details to call on them at the right time, the window of opportunity might pass you by. These days one can easily use technology to maintain a database of contacts and that database, if well populated, will undoubtedly serve as one of your business’s most valuable resources.

Invest in relationship assets

Relationship building in business is not a new recipe for success; it’s not a fad or some amazing new discovery. It is one of the oldest and most fundamental principles for business success. Yet it is more relevant today than it has ever been. In a world where we have access to more information than we could ever imagine and in which people are often fickle and fast, having a broad but balanced network of people you can call on and trust will be one of your business’s most critical assets. If you are serious about business then it is worth getting serious about your business relationships.

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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Performance & Growth

Alan Knott-Craig Answers: How To Build A Debt-Free Business

It’s tempting to go the debt route when building your business or asset base, but be careful — debt can kill your business just as quickly.

Alan Knott-Craig

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I’ve been offered debt secured against my shares. I can use the debt to buy a house or buy more shares in my company. I really believe in my company, it’s growing fast. What should I do? — Bob

There’s no such thing as free debt. It always has a catch. In this case, the catch is that if you don’t pay back the debt, then you lose all the shares in your company that you’ve worked so hard to build.

In other words, if your share value doesn’t go up, then you will lose the shares you have.

Maybe you don’t think that’s possible, and maybe you’re right. But you never know what black swan is swanning your way. The president could be assassinated. Russia could declare war on America. North Korea could send a nuclear missile to Japan. There could be another credit crisis.

All of these things would have massively negative impacts on the economy and sentiment.

The economy affects your profits (sales drop). Sentiment affects your ability to sell your shares (no confidence = no buyers).

Suddenly you find yourself staring down the barrel of a debt repayment deadline, and BOOM! You’ve lost your company and your wealth.

That’s not to say you should never take risks. When you’re young you have to gamble a bit. Roll the dice. Just beware of debt. Debt kills.

Related: Dealing With Debt As An Entrepreneur

The only legitimate reason for taking debt to buy shares is if your partner wants to exit the business. Maybe she’s met the love of her life and wants to move to Tahiti, and if you don’t buy her shares then someone else will and you’ll find yourself in bed with a stranger.

If you don’t have the cash then you need debt. Fair enough. But be very careful. Debt kills. I can’t emphasise this enough.

It’s best to live life imagining the shares in your company are worth nothing. That way you won’t live beyond your cashflow. And you won’t take debt against your shares.

If you’re still tempted to get debt, ask yourself, “Do I love what I do?” If the answer is “No,” then definitely do not take any debt. Debt will simply yoke you to something you don’t love. Debt will make you a slave.

Generally speaking, debt is driven by greed. Greed, greed, greed.

And greed always ends in tears.

I want to build a property empire, but every time I buy a new property I’m forced to sell my existing property because the bank refuses to give me two bonds. At the moment I’m struggling to cover my bond repayments with rental income. Advice? — Phumlani

First thing first, read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. This book will tell you everything you need to know.

In summary, it’s about using the bank’s money to make you rich. Borrow money, buy property, use rental income to pay off mortgage, you’re left with asset and income stream. Boom! What could possibly go wrong?

Here are some rules of thumb:

  • Buy commercial property. A tenant that relies on his premises to generate income will look after those premises more than a simple residential tenant. In other words, you’ll spend more money maintaining your residential property.
  • Location, location, location. Pick an area with low risk of property prices failing. It might be more expensive but your first priority is always “Don’t lose money.”
  • Yield is everything. Divide the annual rental income by the property value. If more than 7%, go for it. If less, don’t. You want the yield to be close to prime rate.
  • Don’t take more than 50% debt. You never know what will happen. If the tenant misses her rent for a few months you want to have a safety cushion so you don’t get caught short of cash when your monthly mortgage repayments are due.
  • Never sell. The transaction costs for buying and selling properties will eat away your profits. Buy to hold. Never sell.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with growing without debt. Many property moguls never ever used debt to grow their empire. It’s slower, but safer.

Debt is a shortcut. Sometimes it works, but most times it ends in tears.

Related: 7 Ways To Be Debt Free For The Rest Of Your Life


Read this

13-rules-for-being-an-entrepreneur-coverAlan Knott-Craig’s latest book, 13 Rules for being an Entrepreneur is now available.

What it’s about

It’s easy to be an entrepreneur. It’s also easy to fail. What’s hard is being a successful entrepreneur.

For an entrepreneur, there is only one important metric of success: Money. But life is not only about making money. It’s about being happy.

This book is a collection of tips and wisdom that will help you make money without forgoing happiness.

Get it now

To download the free eBook or purchase a hard copy, go to www.13rules.co.za.  To browse Alan’s other books, visit bigalmanack.com/books/ 

Ask  Al

Do you have a burning start-up question?

Email: alan@herotel.com

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Performance & Growth

South African Investors And Entrepreneurs, The World Needs You

With governments and corporations across the globe constantly on the lookout for innovators and entrepreneurs, time is most certainly against those who remain constricted by their limited citizenship portfolio.

Amanda Smit

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Citizenship-by-investment (CBI) was once seen as something only reserved for the ultra-wealthy, but it is now also becoming the new normal for business investors and entrepreneurs wanting to expand their reach. We live in a highly globalised world where the flow of goods, people, and ideas means that the freedom to move and do business internationally has never been more important. With governments and corporations across the globe constantly on the lookout for innovators and entrepreneurs, time is most certainly against those who remain constricted by their limited citizenship portfolio.

How can citizenship-by-investment benefit South African investors?

First of all, entrepreneurs with multiple passports or residence permits are able to take advantage of the benefits and best practices of all the countries to whose jurisdictions they belong, while also being less vulnerable to a single country’s risks, shortcomings, and unexpected changing fortunes. The more jurisdictions an investor can access, the more diversified their assets will be and the lower their exposure to both country-specific sovereign risk and global volatility. By acquiring a higher quality nationality, one obtains greater global access and is better prepared for an uncertain future.

Nations within the EU, for example, offer citizens and residents access to all 28 member states, as well as to a number of other countries associated with the EU’s freedom of movement charter. In addition to expanded global mobility and a reduction in sovereign risk, alternative residence and citizenship also offer individuals access to career, educational, and cultural opportunities on a global scale.

Related: Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Global Expansion: We Met Our Doppelgänger

The benefits to governments and citizens of host nations

st-kitts-and-nevis

It would, however, be misguided to think that the advantages presented by citizenship-by-investment are for investors alone: for the governments and citizens of host nations the benefits are substantial. For governments, the inflow of extra capital reduces pressure on the treasury and protects national sovereignty by helping to mitigate the need for loans. Indeed, the establishment of a transparent, well-managed CBI program is not dissimilar to discovering a sustainable source of oil within the confines of a country’s national borders. Both scenarios create an immediate injection of new funds into the national treasury, which ultimately leads to greater long-term prosperity for the country and its people.

Successful applicants also bring intangible benefits to receiving countries, such as scarce skills and rich global networks. They add diversity and they uplift host nations through their demands for improved and novel services, which can create new opportunities for local communities. In Malta, for example, the establishment of a CBI program was as much about attracting rare talent as it was about generating much-needed capital in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Four years after the launch of the Malta Individual Investor Program (MIIP), Malta has one of the highest GDP growth rates — and one of the lowest unemployment rates — of any EU member state. In 2017, the country also reported a record-high budget surplus, with 90% of the gains attributable to the MIIP.

For smaller economies that face increasing trade and industry competition on the global stage, such an outcome can be transformative. Take the Caribbean nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, for example. Three years after relaunching its CBI program in 2007, the program accounted for around 5% of the country’s GDP. A year later, this figure had doubled, and after the sixth year, the figure had doubled again to 20%. By 2014, the St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program was responsible for approximately 25% of the nation’s GDP.

Related: From Local To Global – How To Expand Your Business Internationally

Moreover, other projects made possible through Caribbean CBI programs have had the knock-on effect of boosting employment and contributing to the greening of their economies. For instance, in Antigua and Barbuda an award-winning 10 MW clean-energy project cluster was realised within two years of launching its program. In addition to large-scale installations, over 50 schools and other government-owned buildings have been equipped with sustainable solar-energy systems in order to benefit from the new clean-energy supply. Such innovations were only made possible through the funds conferred by the country’s CBI program.

Thus, the inflows of funds from citizenship programs can be considerable, and the macro-economic implications for most sectors can be extensive. Just as traditional foreign direct investment (FDI) increases the value of the receiving state, bringing in capital to both the public sector and the private sector, so the benefits proffered by CBI — a form of FDI — rapidly turn the fate of a country away from debt and dependency and towards independence and stability.

Conclusion

In short, citizenship-by-investment is a boon to both host nations and investors alike. For South African entrepreneurs and investors who find themselves burdened by visa restrictions and red tape, acquiring a second citizenship is a simple means of expanding global reach, getting ahead of competitors, and giving something back to host nations that are only too grateful to have these talented individuals as part of their community.

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Performance & Growth

First Rule Of Securing Growth Capital: It’s Not About The Product

Paragon CEO, Gary Palmer, discusses the pitfalls facing business owners searching for capital to fund expansion.

Gary Palmer

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A common mistake made by entrepreneurs looking for growth capital is fixating on which product they should choose. When looking to finance growth in your business, the decision process should be focused on longer-term strategic priorities and then finding a partner to help you access the right product to deliver on those goals.

Let’s get real

At the outset business owners need to look at their business realities and decide whether they should be looking for debt or equity financing. For example, if a business can only support debt of 2.5 times EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation), and they are already at that limit, then they will need to look for equity financing to achieve their growth goals. In many instances, a combination of both debt and equity financing will hold the key, allowing the organisation to benefit from cheaper debt funding, but ensuring that it is not overextended.

Related: Dragon’s Den Polo Leteka Gives Her Top Tips To Attract Growth Capital

Even if the growth project can be funded through debt alone, business owners face the challenge of dealing with a multitude of institutions, each of which puts emphasis on different aspects of the deal. No business owner can know the minutia of their requirements, and so working with a partner who can help you prepare your presentations is a must.

The challenge becomes all the greater when companies may be looking to finance a non-traditional project. We have a client who is looking for finance to build roads leading to his development. This is not something traditional lenders usually deal with, and so in this instance he will need to access more creative funding options not offered by the banks. Another example is when a founder is looking to buy out other partners, this too may need to go to a lending institution which is able to structure deals for out-of-the-box requirements.

Square pegs, round holes

A common frustration faced by business owners is that some lending institutions sell products rather than solutions. Too little time is spent understanding the needs of the client and designing an appropriate solution, tailored to the client’s unique requirements. These lenders are literally forcing the client’s needs into the limited number of financial products they offer.

It’s going to get more complex

Another challenge for business owners is the sheer number of institutions out there. New funds, new lenders and the plethora of fintech offerings are making it harder for growth companies to find the best offer available. In the US and Canada, more than half of the big property deals are now funded by non-banks. We believe South Africa is headed the same way. The added competition, is of course great for the market and will encourage better service and more creative options, but it does make it difficult for business leaders to keep track of everything available.

Don’t fall prey to borrower’s remorse

In so many cases, companies are in a rush to secure funding and often end up choosing a product which is not suited to their longer-term strategy. Getting out of a transaction can be exceptionally difficult. Far too often companies wake up to better options too far down the line. If more appropriate finance is found, companies will be left carrying the settlement fees attached to their previous funding, not to mention the administrative pain of changing lenders.

Related: Funding Growth

Paragon has over 150 lenders on its books and a network of angel investors which we can access to find the right deal. It’s our job to know exactly what is available and more importantly, to work with business owners to ensure they access lending which is not going to result in borrower’s remorse. The only way to ensure good results is to start the lending hunt with a partner who can help you first determine the right lending strategy, based on your business reality. The alternative could prove both expensive and painful.

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