- Player: Deon Herbst
- Position: CEO
- Company: Enterprises University of Pretoria (Pty) Ltd
- Established: 2000
- Visit: www.enterprises.up.ac.za
Consider for a moment all the professional areas that the average entrepreneur needs to be, if not excellent at, then at least proficient in: Sales, marketing, accounting, human resources, public relations, IT, logistics – the list goes on and on.
The fact of the matter is, no entrepreneur’s background will ever provide him or her with all the tools needed to run a business. Add to this fact the reality that all the areas listed above are continually evolving, and the need for ongoing learning becomes obvious.
The good news is that upskilling oneself is easier than ever. Not only is information easier to access than ever, but courses are now available that make studying very accessible and achievable, even for busy business people. Entrepreneur spoke to Enterprises University of Pretoria (Pty) Ltd CEO Deon Herbst about ongoing learning for entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs are busy people, so how should they continue their learning while still running businesses?
Online learning is flexible and accessible – you can literally access learning programmes anywhere at any time – perfect for on-the-go entrepreneurs.
Many professionals struggle to find the time to attend formal training sessions, but would still like to continue improving their knowledge and skills. Because of this, it is important to find a solution that makes learning as easy and accessible as possible. For instance, our courses offer integrated online learning environments that optimise global participation. We’ve also recently launched a mobile app that provides a one-stop interactive information service. You can select a course, enrol, pay and track your skills development goals – all on your phone via our app!
What do you consider to be a realistic goal in terms of continued learning? How should entrepreneurs map out their studies?
Take a systematic approach. You don’t complete a marathon by running a marathon – you complete it by running one step at a time and not stopping until you have reached your goal. If you are starting out with a new venture, you can look at a course that will equip you with skills to start a business and manage it to reach unchartered growth.
If you have a business that has been running for a while, and you realise the need and benefits of using technology for your business, look into a course that will provide you with opportunities to understand technology better and how it can assist you in growing your business.
Use your talents and dreams to map the path to your business’s success, and then put together a solid plan to sharpen your skills to get you there.
Can you tell us a bit about the sort of courses that are available for people looking to study while working? What sort of course would you recommend?
It’s important, we believe, to offer courses that address the specific needs of an industry. In order to be truly useful to a professional, a course needs to deal with the specifics of his or her industry.
A professional shouldn’t sign up for some broad, general course, but should instead enrol in something that will meet their immediate workplace needs.
For this reason, we offer a very wide range of courses, from agriculture and food sciences to engineering, law, economics and, of course, business management and entrepreneurship.
Read more on the courses here.
What, in your opinion, should the ultimate goal of any course be?
Well, we believe that any offering should translate into increased productivity and enhanced customer service excellence. In order for any course to be worthwhile to both the individual enrolled and his or her larger company, it should offer high-quality, customised and practical solutions that make a real-world difference to day-to-day operations.
Why is continued learning important for entrepreneurs?
New developments are occurring at a rapid rate, technology is evolving and information is becoming more readily available in real-time settings.
With the significant changes that recent years have brought to the career landscape, the responsibility to upskill, empower yourself and build a workforce with ‘future-proof’ skills has shifted to you, the individual, and you need to make sure that your skills are on par with your ambition.
What kind of continued learning is beneficial to entrepreneurship?
Empowering emerging entrepreneurs is a national requirement and key to the sustainability of any enterprise. For example, courses equipping entrepreneurs with supplier development solutions to grow and support small business are extremely beneficial.
Big organisations now have the opportunity to invest in the skills development of small businesses, and receive greater incentives for buy-back of goods and services once these suppliers have been upskilled to meet their requirements.
By developing qualifying small businesses as value-adding suppliers, big organisations become drivers of change.
In return, small businesses are able to supply quality goods and services and the right technical skills to create the vital link of empowered suppliers.
Apart from enrolling in study programmes, what other strategies would you suggest for those trying to improve their knowledge?
Never underestimate the importance of solid research. By putting science into practice, it can produce business solutions that translate into increased productivity, enhanced customer service and improved business optimisation.
Related: An MBA for Free?
Considering that entrepreneurs are usually busy people, as mentioned, we have tried to bridge the gap between businesses and our research industry experts. You can view and access our experts online, without geographical limitations. Entrepreneurs are critical for our continent and they are the champions in living our credo of ‘shifting knowledge to insight’.
Why Reading Is The Most Important Tool In Your Arsenal
Every great entrepreneur reads — voraciously. If you’re serious about success, it’s time to jump on their bandwagon.
I hated reading as a kid. I hated reading as a teenager. I even hated reading in my early 20s. And then came In Search of Excellence by Robert H Waterman Jr and Tom Peters, which I was given as a birthday present in 1985. It sat on my shelf unread for seven years. In 1992, at the age of 25, I pulled the book off the shelf and began to read… and I’ve never stopped.
The irony is that In Search of Excellence has since been largely debunked, with the lessons it taught regarded by some as fraudulent. Regardless, I found this reading experience incredibly helpful as I tried to apply the book’s lessons in my first entrepreneurial endeavour, the New York Sausage Factory.
I am fascinated by the correlation between successful entrepreneurs and their obsession with reading. Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms. Self-made millionaire and author, Steve Siebold, has interviewed over 1 200 of the world’s wealthiest people and says one of the first things you’ll notice in a wealthy person’s home is an extensive library of books.
All the entrepreneurs I mentor personally are now required to go on a strict diet of one business-related book every two weeks. Any who fail to comply very quickly land up as one of my ex-mentees.
So why is reading so important for entrepreneurs?
1. Opens your mind to new concepts
We are the sum of all our experiences. Books open us up to the experiences of others, too, and show us — conceptually — how they have overcome some of the problems they’ve encountered. This can broaden your arsenal of tools to manage the future. An example of this was when I read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book completely reshaped my respect for documenting processes; something that permeates Raizcorp today.
2. Reinforces old concepts
We all know how lonely the entrepreneurship journey can be. When reading about how others have overcome obstacles or used a certain ‘formula’ as part of their strategy, it is very affirming when you discover that you are using the same ‘formula’ and it encourages you to continue pursuing that strategy. For example, one of the rules at Raizcorp is that we don’t do training only, and we don’t engage with anyone before they have passed our selection process. Very often, there has been a temptation to relax the rules for the lure of a big contract. It can become a lonely space in your mind when wrestling with that decision. But, when you read about other successful entrepreneurs who have stuck to their principles despite a commercial sacrifice and still succeeded, it encourages you to remain true to your own.
3. Apply what works for you right now
The saying that the master appears when the student is ready is particularly applicable to reading a book. You can read the same book at two different periods on your entrepreneurial journey and take away completely different lessons. A healthy way to read any book is not to believe it, but to use it as information that may become applicable to your particular situation. Every entrepreneur’s journey is different and every context is different, so it’s important for you to filter and discern the most important information for you to use or adapt.
4. Cheap learning curve
It’s said that nothing teaches you like experience. The only problem with this is that experience generally costs you money or pain. By reading other people’s experiences and thoughts through their books, you can identify different patterns that are replicated time and again. There is a strong probability these lessons will apply to you, too, and I would always err on the side of this ‘wisdom’. If you’ve read 20 books that all reinforce the importance of spending more time on selecting your team, you would be wise to devise a strong selection process even if you haven’t had an issue with this previously.
5. Great way to connect
Recently, I was sitting on an overseas flight and noticed the person next to me was reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. I had also read the book and loved it. I used the common experience to open up a conversation that subsequently led to a deal. Even if I haven’t read the book someone is reading, my genuine curiosity about whether the book is valuable or not can be a way of connecting with a random stranger. If they are reading a business book, it’s highly probable they are in business themselves, which increases my chances of widening my business network.
Pulling it all together
Reading books is not for everyone but, with apps such as Audible and a pair of earphones, nowadays you can have someone read to you. I never travel in my car or on a plane without an audiobook playing away. I find myself pausing the book and allowing my mind to wander as I reflect on and synthesise what I’ve just heard with a view to how it could be applied to my own business. Every book I have read has provided useable nuggets that have been instrumental in driving my business forward, and I believe they can do the same for you.
“Warren Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading, while Bill Gates and Elon Musk are famous bookworms.”
A Business Lens For Learning And Development
This is a lens that Prof Ulrich has been challenging Human Resources to wear for years, and the lens that has seen him become an inspirational thought leader for those who dedicate their lives to the learning and development of people in the workplace.
In his 1998 Harvard Business Review article, Professor Dave Ulrich controversially called the business Human Resource function “ineffective, incompetent, and costly”, as well as “value sapping”. A few months earlier, in a Human Resource Management journal article, he accused HR professionals of being fearful of quantitative, measureable results and lacking knowledge or experience with empirical assessments. Prof Ulrich probably wasn’t exactly the most popular voice in HR circles back then.
Two decades later, however, this outspoken University of Michigan professor was ranked as the No. 1 Management Educator and Guru by BusinessWeek, as well as the most influential thinker of the decade by HR Magazine!
The Wits Plus Organisational Learning and Development short course drew much inspiration from Prof Ulrich’s views. As an important partner and role-player in the Human Resource camp, Organisational Learning and Development must guard against being ineffective, incompetent, costly, value sapping and fearful of quantitative, measureable results. In fact, with the increasing investment that companies are making in the learning and development of their people, L&D needs to provide business with quantitative, measureable results that prove their effectiveness, competence and the value they add to the organisation.
It’s a tricky situation for L&D practitioners. For years we’ve been reporting on activities: showing how effectively we’ve identified needs; the great L&D solutions we’ve found to meet learning needs; how many people have completed our learning and development programmes; and how well people experience and rate our interventions. Business remained unimpressed by our “warm and fuzzy” reporting, instead demanding facts and figures that demonstrate a clear return on the generous investment made in the learning and development of their people.
As predicted by Prof Ulrich two decades ago, Organisational Learning and Development need to earn the respect of business leadership and their spot at the boardroom table by talking numbers and proving their value. While a host of courses are available to teach L&D practitioners how to be effective facilitators, assessors, moderators, skills development facilitators or instructional designers, few opportunities exist for L&D people to upskill themselves on thinking business, partnering effectively with leadership, and proving in black and white how they add value.
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The Wits Plus Organisational Learning and Development short course has been tailored to provide the L&D professional with foundational knowledge about the L&D landscape, legal compliance, and how to identify and address learning needs. The course then delves into hard business reality – strategy, budgets, analysis, reporting and partnering with leadership. The focus is on objectives and results; Quantitative, measureable results that offer proof of the value L&D adds to the organisation.
It is not impossible to show the numerical, factual impact of Learning and Development on business success. It simply requires Organisational L&D practitioners to look at their function with a different lens – the same business efficiency and performance lens worn by organisational leadership at the boardroom table.
The Power Of Life-Long Learning with University of Pretoria
True success starts with how much you’re willing to do to achieve it. If you’re hungry to learn and develop, partnering with University of Pretoria can make the business world your oyster.
Professor Melodi Botha is an associate professor and researcher at the Department of Business Management in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the University of Pretoria. She is the Programme Lead for the MPhil degree in Entrepreneurship.
Her research focuses on training, educating and supporting entrepreneurs at different stages of preparing, starting and managing a business.
Why is it important for entrepreneurs to focus on personal development and education, even after they are no longer a start-up?
Research in South Africa has revealed that 80% of SMEs fail within the first two years of starting a business. So, if an entrepreneur makes it beyond this stage, it’s worth investing time, money and effort to make sure that they succeed by seeking entrepreneurial education, training and development to improve their business offerings.
New competitors are constantly entering the market and established entrepreneurs should make sure that they maintain their competitive advantage by educating themselves in areas such as the most current trends in their industries, changes in the market, offering more and better innovative products and services, staying close to their target market to determine the most effective marketing strategies and providing a stronger value proposition.
For established entrepreneurs, there is also the risk of growing too fast or not being able to manage their growth.
These entrepreneurs should then educate themselves on the most effective growth strategies suited for their business. Personal development is crucial, as entrepreneurs progress through the entrepreneurial process because they learn as they go.
An example is when established entrepreneurs conduct a personality profile to determine how to cognitively adapt to their current entrepreneurial environment. Weaknesses or areas of improvement, such as poor financial planning for example, are highlighted and entrepreneurs can then work on these areas.
What advice would you offer entrepreneurs who stop researching due to time restrictions?
Time is a problem for all entrepreneurs; there is never enough of it. It’s a matter of how effectively you use your time and how you plan the activities that should happen within a specific time period.
A big problem with entrepreneurs is also a lack of delegation, as they want to be involved in every area of the business. Entrepreneurs need to determine which activities can be delegated to an employee or partner and focus on the core skills that they are competent in and which help the business to grow.
What skills should entrepreneurs be developing while they are starting and then managing a business?
We recently conducted research on the skills that entrepreneurs need as they progress through the various stages of the entrepreneurial process. We identified two sets of skills, namely functional competencies and enterprising competencies.
The findings further revealed that established entrepreneurs viewed functional competencies such as marketing, financial, operational, legal, human resource, networking, technical, communcation and planning skills as important skills to have during the established stage.
Both start-up and established entrepreneurs viewed enterprising competencies such as creativity, innovation, role model interpretation, opportunity recognition, risk taking, need for achievement and the ability to gather and control resources as important during both stages.
More specifically, financial and legal skills should receive more attention when starting a business. In a similar study, we found that potential entrepreneurs should focus on opportunity recognition, opportunity assessment and creative problem solving during the potential entrepreneur stage.
At the same time, start-up entrepreneurs should focus on opportunity recognition, building networks and resilience, while established entrepreneurs should focus on risk management/mitigation, building and using networks as well as resilience.
Are there any tips and tricks you can offer to people who want to study, but still need the time to run their businesses?
Studying or learning should be a life-long journey that should not necessarly have an expiry date. I am talking about gaining life skills and developing entrepreneurial abilities through everyday learning. Most professional qualifications require continued professional education and I see no reason why entrepreneurs should not adopt the same approach.
Therefore, my first tip would be to plan to study. It should be part of a daily routine to study or learn more about an area where weaknesses arise. Many univeristies offer short courses such as three-day programmes in different speciality areas, which you can attend and not be away from your business for too long.
In early stages of formal tertiary education, my advice would be to focus on your studies first and thereafter focus on the business. This does not mean that you don’t have to start planning and aquiring resources while still studying. For example, our second year students, studying towards a BCom in Entrepreneurship, prepare their own feasiblity studies and compile business plans as part of the curricula.
What startling facts and figures has your research revealed that many entrepreneurs don’t realise?
In a recent study we determined that many potential entrepreneurs (students) show a strong entrepreneurial intention to start a business in future but rarely go over into action and the rate of actual start-ups, in South Africa, remains low.
This is also the case for entrepreneurship education graduates. However, prior entrepreneurial exposure, such as having entrepreneurial parents or entrepreneurial role models during the course of their studies, increased the start-up rate.
Another interesting study we conducted on women entrepreneurs revealed that women are in desperate need of entrepeneurial training and education. The Women Entrepreneurship Programme (WEP) at the Univeristy of Pretoria measured 180 women who completed the programme.
These women were measured on their skills level before the programme, directly after the programme, six months after the programme and ten years after the programme took place.
They were measured on eight different levels and the WEP proved to be effective in not only transferring entrepreneurial and business skills to women, but also improving their business performance indicators (turnover, employees, sales and profit). Some of the women (35%) started multiple businesses six months after they attended the WEP.
Ten years after the programme, the results of the study confirmed that these women’s businesses made a significant difference in their communities and the economy of South Africa as a whole.
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