In this article, Donna Rachelson, CEO of Seed Academy, points out the key priorities an entrepreneur should focus on at the outset to build a business.
It is unlikely that you will receive financial support if your business is not ready for it. So, once you do receive funding, you need to impress your investors by giving them a return on their investment, expanding your business, creating jobs and contributing to the economy.
When starting up a business, there a few basic things that are really common sense, but not many entrepreneurs do this. Some entrepreneurs have different ideas about what kind of company they want to run or CEO they want to be.
They don’t necessarily realise that some of the biggest companies in the world started out in a garage – bootstrapping their business, working hard, improvising and making do till they started making the money that allowed them to scale.
Often the attitude is that if they are getting funded (especially via a government grant) then they can start ‘properly’ in a ‘nice’ office – with a few employees and all the gadgets they need in the name of work environment.
Reality isn’t kind to entrepreneurs like these. They often find that they have run out of money before they’ve even made the first sale.
It is vital to focus on user or customer acquisition. Marketing is not a waste of money. It’s an investment, not an expense.
When you start thinking of a business you have a few assumptions about who your customer is going to be. You need to thoroughly test this theory. Pick a potential customer and make a pitch. You can do this even before your launch your business. See how many companies will give you a letter of intent. See how many engage you and are excited by your business.
The more you talk to people, you will also be able to start profiling your potential customer and what they want. Based on this, you will be able to formulate a strong marketing strategy. As a start-up you need to ensure you don’t experiment with marketing money because you can’t afford to. It’s critical to get this right.
The truth is that there is only one true proof of concept – and those are your sales which put actual money into your bank account.
Invest in hiring the right people
These people may come at a price, but you can keep their remuneration performance related. Do not use a recruitment company for at least the first five employees because at this point the company’s culture is still being built and these people should be strategic and deliberate.
Most entrepreneurs come across the right people as they network (if they’re being a good entrepreneur). Often these employees buy into the entrepreneur’s vision and are willing to build the company along with the entrepreneur.
Ultimately this is one of the most difficult parts of building your company – and only when you work with someone do you know the chemistry.
I ask people to do a trial period of about a week with me for which they’ll be paid. It’s a good way to establish who has a good attitude and work ethic and who will fit in with the company culture.
Critically, keep an eye on your cash flows
Just because you have received funding it doesn’t mean you can go crazy with the cash. Cash flows are your oxygen. Without cash your business will not survive. While it’s very important to have an accountant (and there are lots of accounting and book keeping options available for small and micro enterprises) – this cannot replace the business owner keeping an eye on the cash.
Even if it’s rough calculations: How much do we have right now? What do I need to spend on? How fast do I need to close the sales I’m working on? How many sales do I need to cover my expenses?
Often your cash flows dictate what trajectory your business will take. This can change a few times based on the cash status. The entrepreneur needs to learn how to look at and manage the cash at the very least until a CFO comes on board.
Don’t use funding for a higher salary for yourself as the founder (if you can afford not to). As a founder you can get a higher salary when you make a profit. You certainly do not need that state of the art laptop right now!
We are lucky to live in an age that is entrepreneur-friendly in many ways. There are very affordable cloud based software solutions to organise your business.
Often if you use a good CRM system that is linked to your email. It’s very easy to organise information and pull out reports as needed.
Focus on meticulous accounting
Without this it’s like driving a car without being able to see through the windshield.
Be prudent about your spending, market as much as you can, and form a strong core team. Network, network, network …
Think deeply about your business every day
Entrepreneurs should maintain a journal to record their ups and downs – their ideas that change so often. It helps to put things in perspective. I don’t advocate “work-life” balance. I don’t believe there is such a thing when you are starting out. Your business is your life, and it should be.
But, often the emotional intensity of being an entrepreneur can be too much for some entrepreneurs to handle. Don’t beat yourself up if something doesn’t go as planned. Expect nothing to go as planned. As an entrepreneur your job is to improvise, change direction and try again.
Sasfin Is Gearing Your Company For Growth
How trade and debtor finance solutions can enable business growth beyond self-imposed ceilings created by cash flow restraints.
When an entrepreneur running a manufacturing business approached Sasfin for Trade and Debtor Finance, he had four things going for him: Experience, reliable customers, orders and a relationship with Sasfin. When other banks let him know via email that his financing had not been approved, he approached Sasfin, knowing the organisation would take a deeper look at his company than a spreadsheet analysis.
“He approached us because we had a working relationship with the business and they were looking for a facility that would enable them to purchase the stock they needed to fulfil their orders,” says Linda Fröhlich, Head of Business Banking, Sasfin.
“They didn’t have any assets, but they did have those orders, which meant they could bring their debtors to us and we could advance cash against them, getting them started.”
Solutions to enable growth
Today, Sasfin offers a full suite of inter-connected products designed for entrepreneurs and SME owners, but the bank, which operates under the slogan, ‘Beyond a bank’, was built off a base that began with trade and debtor finance.
“Sasfin’s founder, Sydney Sassoon, went into trade finance in the 1960s because as a textile importer he recognised the need for trade finance amongst SMEs and importers,” says Linda. “It takes an entrepreneur to understand entrepreneurs. This business has never been about products — it’s about the best solutions to enable our clients to grow their businesses.”
When Sasfin first launched trade finance it was because of the challenges around importing goods: The time it took for the shipment of raw materials to arrive, manufacturing to take place, the finished article to be sold and then a further 60 days for payment was crippling for SMEs.
Not only were no facilities available that understood that time frame, but traditional overdrafts require security and are not designed for specific needs. Trade and debtor finance on the other hand work hand-in-hand and provide SMEs with the most valuable commodity: Cash.
Cash is King
“Through trade and debtor finance, we can finance the purchasing of your goods and I can give you terms that fit your cash flow cycle,” says Linda. “Now that’s meaningful for the business owner. Yes, we charge for the facility and the risk we carry, but if you have to make a payment upfront to an exporter, you can also negotiate discounts and off-set a portion of the discount you will receive from the supplier to our fees, which is win-win.
“More importantly though, the biggest challenge that SMEs face is cash flow. Cash flow is king, and that’s where trade and debtor finance comes in. If you borrow money that enables the growth of your business, the finance cost is part of the cost of your sales. The upside is that you have access to cash, enabling growth.”
Many SME owners are familiar with the challenges of growth: You work hard, build your client base, get traction in the market, and suddenly you’ve signed a large order or client whom you can’t service without assistance, because your own cash flow doesn’t cover the raw material costs of the order.
“This is true across all product-based industries,” says Linda. “Instead of slowly building cash reserves to grow the business organically, or waiting between 30 days and 60 days for clients to pay, we advance our clients up to 80% of the value of fulfilled invoices, enabling business owners to grow beyond a self-imposed ceiling created by cash flow restraints.”
Related: Think Beyond The Box
Over the years, Sasfin has watched its clients grow from strength to strength.
“One of our SMEs started out with a R5 million facility. Today they’re operating a R50 million facility and continue to grow. That’s the power of cash flow,” says Linda.
“There’s always a good time to gear-up the growth of your business, where it will enhance the growth and profitability of your company. If the time is right, a financing solution that suits your needs can make all the difference.”
The benefits of trade and debtor finance
- Converts sales with proof of delivery into cash for day-to-day expenses
- Extended terms of repayment, with up to 120 days for local purchases and 150 days for imported goods
- A fully disclosed factoring facility or a confidential invoice discounting facility
- Match sales to repayments, enabling cash flow management.
My Business Is Growing… What Now?
Unplanned growth can be disastrous for a business, particularly a start-up where most of the departments consist of one person – the founder – or where the business has been based in one city or town or focusses around one service or product for some time.
It is a known fact that most growth and change are uncomfortable – especially in business. However, when your business grows, you grow with it and so will the business revenue, employment numbers and contribution to the country’s economy. Planning for growth is not only a good way to stay motivated through tough times in business, it will equip you for when the moment of growth arrives– to take your business to the next level.
Make the mind shift
James Cash Penney, founder of JC Penney, said:
“No company can afford not to move forward. It may be at the top of the heap today, but at the bottom of the heap tomorrow, if it doesn’t.”
Business growth should be actively pursued and be a constant part of your business planning acumen. Frequently ask yourself and your staff members: Where do we want to go to next, and what will we do to get there?
Take time out to plan
Research and planning lead to informed decisions which will be critical for your business growth. Consult all stakeholders – external and internal – through meetings or Strat sessions. Whether you bill by the hour, or bake by the truckload, it is critical to remove yourself from operations at least twice a year to take figurative stock of your business growth. This process requires you to be quiet and give it the importance it demands.
Reasons for growth
Studies have shown that the top five reasons for growth include:
- To increase the business’ market position
- To increase profitability
- To improve the use of company resources, better economies of scale
- To increase frequency of use or number of users
- To remain in business.
Know your obstacles
Know what challenges you may face on your journey to growth and be ready for them. Listing the obstacles will bring reality home and help you prepare for how to tackle these obstacles. Think of creative ways to sidestep these barriers to growth by being flexible.
Continuously look for planned, achievable and sustainable growth opportunities. Calculate the risk, be mindful of the pitfalls, but do take up new growth opportunities in your business. See growth as the opportunity – that big break – you have been waiting for in your business, and it just could be that. Start slow or small but do continue to grow your business. In the words of Virgin’s Richard Branson: “There are people in this world who choose to see the glass half empty instead of half full… Personally, I see any glass half full as an opportunity to top it up, start a conversation and perhaps spark a great new idea.”
Growing Globally – Supporting SMEs On The International Stage
Successful internationalisation is often recognised as generating considerable business benefits, which can include increased efficiency, innovation and productivity, whilst also generating growth for the wider economy. However, recent reports have indicated that SMEs in South Africa are not growing and expanding as expected when compared to its international peers.
Internationalisation refers to the increasing participation of businesses in international markets. Commonly associated with exporting, internalisation is far broader than just this activity alone. Importing, supply chain participation, establishing business partnerships and foreign direct investment are all notable examples of relevant activities.
Evidence from ACCA SME members revealed some of the following insights:
- Just under half (45%) of SMEs said the main benefit of internationalisation was access to new customers in foreign markets. Increased profitability (35%), faster business growth (33%) and access to new business networks (30%) followed.
- Both SMEs and Small Sized Accounting Practises (SMPs) considered ease of doing business and high growth potential as the most important factors when choosing an export destination. Geography was seen as less important, which may be a result of new technologies reducing its significance as a perceived barrier.
- Both SMEs and SMPs recognised foreign regulations as the most significant barrier to internationalisation. For SMEs, the second most important was competition (27%) whilst for SMPs it was foreign customs duties.
- In terms of the future, SMEs’ international ambitions are focused on building the capacity of their business (45%), building networks in foreign markets (45%) and introducing or developing more products and services to market (44%).
Small businesses’ call to action
SMEs see the capacity of their business as the most significant internal barrier towards internationalisation and expansion. This may be linked to a limitation in resources, often associated to either the ability of employees to respond to the workload or access to financial capital.
Accordingly, 45% of SMEs also planned to increase their international activities by upscaling their business’s capacity. SMEs looking to successfully enter into the foreign markets should focus on development across the following areas:
1. Adopt cloud technologies from the start
Providing a valuable platform for future international expansion, appropriate applications will provide SMEs with a real-time flow of information, offering detailed measures across various workflows and complementing existing reporting processes. However, each business will need to adapt their business models and management processes to suit these applications, rather than the other way around.
2. Create a business strategy with global ambitions
Internationalising businesses should ensure relevant activities form part of a wider strategic plan and detailed in specific growth objectives. This could form the basis of agreed relevant working priorities and the investment needed to achieve international growth. Such an approach can facilitate a managerial mind set around international growth to be channelled across the business’s wider operations.
3. Develop the scalability of your finance function
An internationalising SME’s growth trajectory can often be unpredictable, often requiring the business to scale up their operations rapidly in order to meet the demands of suppliers, customers and partners. It is therefore crucial that SMEs develop a finance function which has the flexibility to withstand these challenges. Building the right finance function early on can provide greater operational agility allowing better management of future challenges.
4. Identify where external advice could support your international journey
It is important to consider where external advice may be able to support businesses international objectives, depending on the stage of international growth reached by the SME. This should be conducted as part of a business’s planning process, such as through an internal review programme or through regular meetings with senior management.
Technology enabled solutions
SMEs today have access to a wide variety of cloud-based technologies that enables businesses to develop their finance function rapidly when internationalising.
In particular, relevant software can help businesses to monitor operations in international markets. Activities such as processing payroll, compliance events and employee expenses can now be managed centrally with the use of innovative software solutions.
This technology also allows SMEs to understand the flows of data within their own systems as well as with business partners and suppliers. This becomes increasingly necessary with the added operational complexity of participating in global value chains.
Working with professional advisers, this data can be used to support the development of one’s finance function which in turn can cater for international growth. This allows for new business streams to develop as external professional insight with these new technologies is required.
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