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Performance & Growth

Sometimes It’s Good To Be Bad Says Sirdar Group CEO

Want to be good at one thing? Be willing to be really bad at something else. When trying to grow your business, diversifying is not always the answer.

GG van Rooyen

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Vital Stats

  • Player: Carl Bates
  • Company: The Sirdar Group
  • Established: 2007 (2008 in SA)
  • Visit: sirdargroup.com

Sirdar has developed a reputation for being very good at putting together high-performance boards for private companies. But for a long time, that wasn’t all it did. As is the case with many growing companies, Sirdar started offering clients associated services as time went on. For example, the company started offering a legal service — an obvious extension of its existing offerings.

In March 2014, Sirdar was also in the process of considering launching a new accounting service — something that had been on the cards for a number of years. Something happened, however, that fundamentally altered the company’s expansion plan.

Related: Contributing In The Boardroom

Sirdar Global CEO Carl Bates attended a talk by Professor Frances Frei of the Harvard Business School. What she said had a profound impact on him.

Be unapologetically bad

“Professor Frei explained that the number one obstacle to excellence is the desire to be great at everything. You can’t be great at everything, and you can’t be better than your competitors at all the things you do. So, the answer lies in being willing to be bad at certain things in the service of overall excellence.

“You have to be great at some things, and unapologetically bad at others. The alternative is simply being mediocre at everything,” says Bates.

Bates realised that Sirdar’s approach to growth needed to change. “We had a strategic meeting in April, and once I had shown my colleagues a video clip of Professor Frei’s presentation, we agreed to stop offering legal services,” says Bates. “We also decided to stop developing our accounting service.”

A half-measure

Carl-Bates-

After taking these initial steps, though, the process of transformation within Sirdar stalled. Sure, the argument made sense in theory, but putting it into practice was hard. The thought of purposefully turning off revenue streams just felt, well, wrong.

“By deciding to cancel existing services you’re effectively saying ‘no’ to money,” says Bates. “This can be difficult to do — and difficult to explain to stakeholders. Frei’s theory is simultaneously logical and counter-intuitive.”

Sirdar kept toying with the idea of focusing its operations on what it did best, but Bates and his team remained hesitant to pull the trigger and aggressively implement the strategy. In fact, it was not until late 2015 that it was decided to jump in with both feet.

“We realised that we weren’t truly adopting the strategy on an operational level, and it was costing us,” says Bates. “By spreading ourselves too thin, we weren’t being the best we could really be.”

Related: Understanding Leadership And Natural Energy

Staking a claim

The Sirdar team asked themselves a simple question: What could they be truly great at? Could they offer class-leading legal services? No, they weren’t a law firm. Could they offer the best accounting service around? No, they weren’t an accounting firm.

Could they be the best when it came to the implementation of high-performance boards? Yes, they could — this was where their strength truly lay. It was time for Sirdar to become unapologetically bad at certain things in the service of becoming great at another.

“You need to try and narrow the category in which you operate as much as possible. You need to identify that very specific niche in which you could be a real leader, and then stake your claim,” says Bates.

Turning off the taps

Turning off revenue streams will always sting a little, but Sirdar immediately saw the benefit of this approach.

“Management suddenly had more time to operate at a strategic level. By cancelling certain services, there was more time to focus on the direction of the company,” says Bates.

The company also found that it could now more easily enter into strategic partnerships with other organisations.

“We had been working with partners for a while, but there had always been limits to these partnerships, since our service offerings had encroached on their areas of operation. With the conflict of interest now gone, there could be greater synergy between the companies,” says Bates.

The innovator’s dilemma

What advice does Bates have for businesses wishing to implement this sort of strategy?

“By their very nature, entrepreneurs are innovators. They’re always busy developing something new. So, the key lies is applying that energy to the operational side of things — to focus on things such as customer service and product delivery,” says Bates.

Related: How To Create A Focused Board

And what if you’re not interested in the operational side of things?

“Bill Gates is a good example. He made himself the Chief Software Architect at Microsoft, and not the CEO. You have to ask yourself: Am I the innovator, or am I the CEO? If you’re the innovator, you need to find someone who is great at running the company.

“I’m another good example,” says Bates. “I don’t run Sirdar on a daily basis. I’m more of an innovator — I focus on governance methodology and building our external relationships. But even though I focus some of my time on innovation, I make sure that this innovation stays within the parameters of our core focus.”

Remember this

Do not try to be all things to all people. Diversifying and branching out can be a good thing, but it can also cause you to lose focus and give up your competitive edge.

GG van Rooyen is the deputy editor for Entrepreneur Magazine South Africa. Follow him on Twitter.

Company Posts

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.

Sasfin

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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.

Related: CEO Michael Sassoon Shares Sasfin’s Successful Strategies To Stand The Test Of Time

“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

Gearing up

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.

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Performance & Growth

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.

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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.

Related: Growing Globally – Supporting SMEs On The International Stage

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.

Be brave

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.”

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Company Posts

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.

ACCA

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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.

Key findings

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%).

Related: How SMPs Can Support Businesses Looking To Internationalise

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.

Related: Technology In Accounting – Race For Relevance

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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