As a South African expat, I always wanted to expand my digital marketing business from London to Cape Town. After eight years of hard work in the UK and European markets, TopLine Comms was ready and we opened our South African office in 2015. The usual logistics, like setting up local bank accounts, finding office space and hiring staff, were time-consuming tasks but by no means unfamiliar and they were soon sorted.
A far bigger challenge awaited us, which was figuring out how to integrate our new South African colleagues and maintain the company’s culture between two teams across two continents.
Business growth is exciting but you have to put your people first and make sure everyone feels united as a team — regardless of geography.
The following principles are universal for anyone thinking of opening up a second office, wherever it may be.
Why open an office overseas?
Expanding TopLine abroad into South Africa made both personal and professional sense, but I knew that for the move to be successful, it needed a solid business case.
An undeniable benefit of opening an office abroad is that it gives you access to a whole new pool of talent. This boosts your business with a broader range of skills, experience, ideas, languages, culture and networks. It also adds an attractive employment proposition, offering employees the opportunity to gain overseas work experience.
Opening a new office anywhere in the world is primarily driven by the need to scale and tap into lucrative new markets. Our office in Cape Town is more than just a resource hub that supports our London team and services our UK and European client base. It also gives us the opportunity to target the local market.
How do you open an office overseas?
Connection is the word and without today’s technology, TopLine would have stayed put in London. A good, fast, reliable Internet connection is essential to doing business across borders — and to keeping our teams in Cape Town and London working together seamlessly. Skype is an amazing tool but a call can quickly become awkward between colleagues or with a client, if the connection is bad and neither person can hear the other properly.
Regular check-ins, meetings and calls are important for bringing people together across offices. They help forge stronger ties between colleagues and bring the whole team closer to the business. A poor connection can therefore be incredibly frustrating and ineffective, ultimately wasting everyone’s time with limited results.
The right technology is a non-negotiable in our modern working world — offices need to have great Internet to stay connected to one another, especially if they’re using cloud-based services.
The cloud makes it easier than ever before to set up an office overseas, and South African businesses are increasingly starting to embrace it. Cloud-based services are cost effective, efficient and they make it easy for employees to access all the information they need from anywhere in the world at any time. The best way to facilitate easy working between offices is without a doubt to keep your company data in the cloud. Collaboration is simple; everyone can work together from the same page and all documents are updated in real-time so there’s no confusion around which version of what is latest.
Some well-known cloud-based services include Google Drive for sharing and storing documents, Asana for task management, Trello for communication and Xero for accounting and financial management. These are just a few of many — whatever your business need, the cloud can help you do it better.
A lot of communication is non-verbal and relies on facial expressions, hand gestures, posture and attitude. Long distance communication doesn’t have any of these elements which makes it very easy for misunderstandings to happen. A simple misunderstanding can be swiftly fixed when you’re in the same room. If you’re miles apart though, it can fester into something enormous and cause unnecessary issues.
With two or more offices in different countries, there will inevitably be cultural differences — even if everyone speaks the same language. These differences are interesting and important to the personality of your company but they can cause some communication issues that you might not be initially aware of. The South African ‘just now’ for example, is a lot looser than its literal meaning and in the UK, business communication can be quite direct and to the point. If you’ve never met the person behind the emails, you might take their words the wrong way.
The best way to avoid this is with regular phone calls, emails and Skype sessions. We’ve found that sending an internal email out each Friday with positive updates from the week has been good for staff morale. Communication doesn’t always have to be work related so encourage your employees across the different offices to get in touch from time to time to just ‘shoot the breeze’ and get to know each other.
A consistent on-boarding process is key to instilling your company culture across multiple offices. It’s so easy to forget that what is second nature to you is completely unknown to your new employees and colleagues in an overseas office. Starting a new job always involves taking in a lot of information in the first few months which is made doubly overwhelming when the new employee is latitude lines away from most of their colleagues. A comprehensive manual that outlines everything they need to know is critical. It needs to be a completely user-friendly welcome pack that covers all the essentials like where to find certain documents, usernames, passwords and file naming conventions.
At TopLine we give our new-starters an action-packed schedule for their first two weeks — or longer depending on their level of skill and experience. In that time, they get to ‘meet’ the whole team, are introduced to all the accounts we work on and specifically the business that pertains to their role. We make sure that the whole process is managed by a senior employee who checks in every few days to ensure that the new employee is coping and getting to grips with everything and everyone okay. It also gives them a chance to voice any concerns or ask questions.
As amazing as technology is, real relationships are made in person. If you’ve hired new people to staff your new office abroad, then you need to get on a plane as soon as possible to go out and meet them. It’s good to make a few trips a year but it doesn’t always have to be you. Give other senior colleagues a chance to meet the new team and experience their working day in their office environment.
I’ve personally spent many months at a stretch working from the Cape Town office and other UK team members have visited for a few weeks at a time. It immediately strengthens the connection between our two offices and puts a face to a name, avatar or screen image.
The benefits of successfully expanding your business into new territories can be significant. Of course, to do this well, you need to have the right people working together with as little frustration as possible. Make sure your employees are sharing, talking and interacting as much as possible — the greater the collaboration, the stronger and more successful your business will be.
A consistent on-boarding process is key to instilling your company culture across multiple offices. It’s so easy to forget that what is second nature to you is completely unknown to your new employees and colleagues in an overseas office.
Understand why you are scaling your business
A Cape Town office is a valuable resource hub that services a UK and European client base, with lower fixed overheads. It also provides the opportunity to target the local market.
Make use of smart tools in the cloud to collaborate across continents
Having offices across multiple geographic locations is possible because of cloud technology — not only because it facilitates communication, but because it allows for seamless collaboration. If all company documents are securely stored in the cloud, it doesn’t matter where team members are based.
On-boarding is essential to maintain company culture
A consistent on-boarding process is an essential element of creating and maintaining your company culture across multiple offices. Take the time to create a successful and consistent on-boarding system.
The 10 Commandments of Social Entrepreneurship
How does a business, with a definitive social drive, practically draw the tricky equilibrium and make a difference without sacrificing the bottom line? by Lisa Illingworth, CEO and co-founder of educational start-up Futureproof and Development Sector Consultant for Evolve, Silvia De Jager.
The emergence of social enterprises on to the business landscape of the South African economy is often a point of contention due to the seemingly conflicting driving factors of philanthropy versus profit. However, there are many businesses that are underpinned by solving problems for the benefit of society at large and out of this has arisen this area of entrepreneurship.
The Gibbs Social Enterprises in South Africa Report released in 2018, give interesting insight into the growing application of this business model in the South African context but they note, as most social entrepreneurs will have first hand experience of, there is a subtle but very real balance to be struck between purpose and profit. How does a business, with a definitive social drive, practically draw the tricky equilibrium and make a difference without sacrificing the bottom line?
1. Do your research
Ensure you know your market, understand their needs and don’t make assumptions. Social enterprises are much more complex than your regular business and require a lot more research. They have various customer sets, that are either direct or indirect and blending those in operations that meet those expectations is a delicate dance.
“In FutureProof,” comments Lisa Illingworth, CEO and co-founder of FutureProofSA. “We don’t define our customer sets based on what they are prepared to pay for, but rather on what problem we are solving and for whom. This means that the children, their parents, the schools and the management, our coaches as well as those in the corporate space all have various needs and expectations of how those are met. Thus, we have 5 different types of customers and we sell a variety of solutions to each of these, even though some are paying directly for our services.”
2. Remember it’s a business
You want to achieve social impact, but your priority is to ensure you make enough revenue to not only sustain the social enterprise, but to also allow for growth. As a business, you should instil good business practices such as processes, financial planning, legal structures and governance.
A social enterprise is a lot like the human body, if you feed it only enough to survive, growth will be stinted. Give the body more than what it needs to function for the day and growth will be proportional. Don’t sacrifice your profit at the altar of purpose.
3. Allow for flexibility
Have a flexible mindset. When the market is changing, you won’t survive staying the same. If your solution is no longer addressing the problem you are trying to solve, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. How you adapt is important and getting regular feedback from those you are serving as well as those who are paying- whether they are one in the same person or not.
Just because you are doing good work in your own mind, creating a transparent feedback loop, will prevent your business from being infatuated with the vision despite the market losing interest in your solution.
4. Take calculated risks
Be prepared to take risks but do your homework first. This is how you learn and grow both as a business and as an individual. Which means having the mechanisms and people in place to collect the data necessary to take informed steps towards opportunities aligned with the purpose of the business but not at the expense of still turning a profit.
You will never know every risk and it’s potential upsides or downsides, but having enough information that is unbiased can help make better business decisions and maintain both impact and shareholder value.
5. Focus on sustainability
Keep your eye on remaining sustainable at all times. Keep in mind that sustainability is not only financial, it includes your operations and programmes. Socially minded entrepreneurs often make head decisions with their hearts and end up with an operationally capital-heavy structure. Hiring people based on contract positions and keeping overheads flexible will ensure that as your opportunities fluctuate, so the business can adapt accordingly and weather the famine times but grow in the seasons of abundance.
6. Have a clear mission
Have clarity on your purpose and how your business will achieve it. Ensure you have a strong Theory of Change for how you will create and deliver your social impact and develop an ability to clearly communicate it to everyone, both inside and outside of your business. This will also keep you, your team and your business from getting sucked into solving all the social sicknesses that exist in the area that you practice.
Widen your circle. Support can include conferences, business networks, fellowships, mentorships, workshops, training, incubation and shared workspaces. Don’t focus on simply expanding your social circle into those in similar fields but look outside to those with varying perspectives, yet aligned in values and culture with your organisation.
8. Build a strong team
There’s an old African proverb that says “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Don’t ever assume you can do it alone. Invest in a team that can support you, both on a personal and professional level and ensure that they are not only focused on the purpose of the business, but the way in which the purpose is achieved.
Ensure you are being coached in both a personal and professional capacity so as to maintain the momentum for yourself and your team.
9. No Grit – No Pearl
You have to possess grit — perseverance and passion is essential and will get you a very long way. The refining of this business model is more complicated as the numbers may not be the only measure of success. Know what good looks like for your business and be prepared to have the hard conversations to refine your offering to meet both an impact measure as well as a profit measure.
10. Enjoy the journey
You chose this journey because you wanted to make a positive difference in the world. It’s not going to be plain sailing, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fun. Learn to enjoy the process and glean as many lessons as you can, from all sources, in the shortest time frame possible. Entrepreneurship is too hard, not to learn from the mistakes of others.
Finding that healthy tension between serving a purpose and making a profit is complicated and yet possible. One of the major benefits of running a social enterprise is that people are drawn to working in these types of businesses over those strictly increasing shareholder value. Employees feel as though they are serving something more than just making themselves and others rich, as long as the balance can be maintained with a constant activity of business introspection.
How To Start A Car Dealership
Below are some tips on how to start.
If you are passionate about cars, then starting a car dealership might sound like the perfect business opportunity for you. You will be able to be your own boss and you can spend time around products that excite you, such as Nissan Qashai used cars, or luxury pre-owned cars, and used cars for business owners. But, you might not know where to start when planning your car dealership business.
If you want to open a franchise there are steps to follow. All car dealers need to have the correct documents in order when applying for buying and selling rights of cars, and you need to have the service history of all cars for sale on your lot. Interested in opening your own dealership or becoming part of a franchise?
Do your research
Before you jump right in to finding the perfect location for your car franchise or business, it is important to perform some market research into the industry. The first step is determining the demand for your particular service, which is providing used or second-hand cars for sale to the public.
Look at how many cars have been sold in your town recently, assuming that most people are willing to travel up to 16km to find a car. This might show you that in your area, up to 100 000 cars have been sold in a year. This is a significant demand, which will mean that your business model is a viable choice. Find out which people prefer used cars over the pre-owned vehicle options to further help your decisions.
Create a business plan
Once you have performed your research, it is time to create a business plan. You need a business plan to show any prospective franchisees and franchisors or for explaining to your lender exactly what you want to do with your car dealership business. It should include your initial and ongoing costs as well as what your working capital is.
The most important part of your business plan will be the cars themselves. For example, will you be selling new, used, or pre-owned vehicles? Will you be focusing on one brand or offering multiple brands? Answer these questions first and remember to include costing for salaries, lease agreements, and other business costs. Another important part of your business plan include how you will raise money to repay any loans or finance agreements you might have.
Have the right documents
After finalising your business plan, you should do some research into what documents you need to continue. In South Africa, this includes a dealer’s license which allows you to legally buy and sell cars to the public. It ensures that all of your business activities fall under the consumer rights and protection act.
You will also need to have documentation showing that you are leasing or own the property you will be operating from. You should look into a surety bond, which will protect you from any damages to the property. Speak to your lender about the other documents that you need for a franchise agreement, as these might be slightly different from what is required for a normal dealership. Also be sure to provide the correct documents to those you are purchasing used cars from.
Investigate inventory opportunities
The most important aspect of owning a car dealership is, of course, having cars to sell. This means that you will need investigate inventory opportunities, such as going to bank auctions to find cars that you can bid on and then resell at a fair price, or you could offer to purchase used cars from people who need to sell them and then resell these after much needed repairs and sprucing up.
You should always keep your budget in mind when purchasing inventory, as it can become costly if you are continuously running over-budget on purchases. This is when it is important to keep your business plan in mind as it will show you exactly how much you have to spend on inventory so that you can stick to this budget. If you would like to appeal to those who have discerning taste, you should remember that luxury vehicles might cost more than others.
Don’t forget about marketing
Once you have done your research, drawn up a business plan, and found all of your inventory, start working on marketing your business. Invest your money in a company that can help you to reach your audience by using modern digital tactics as well as traditional techniques of marketing. Remember to have the right documents together so that everything is legal and above board before you open your doors. Soon your car dealership will be booming and you will be helping people to find the cars of their dreams.
Got An Awesome New Business Idea? Here’s What To Do Next
If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, the first step is to focus on two questions: ‘Why?’ and ‘Who?’
Do you constantly have great business ideas which fall to the wayside because you just don’t know how to turn those daydreams into reality? If you’re stuck in the brainstorming stage, that’s probably because you don’t know what to do next.
Around 550 000 people, according to the Kauffman start-up index, become entrepreneurs each month and you could be one of them. While there’s no guaranteed formula to starting a successful business, there are steps to take in the planning phase that will not only help you determine if your business idea has what it takes but help you get the ball rolling, too.
Sound like you? Here’s what to do next.
Determine the “why” and the “who”
The first step to take after you’ve come up with a new business idea is to concentrate on the “why” and “who” of it. You may think you’ve thought up an awesome idea, but your business won’t be successful if you don’t know the real reasons behind why it’s a good solution, and whom it would be a good solution for.
Start to really think about what problem your business idea solves. Your business may solve a problem for you, but does it solve a problem for others? If nobody else has the problem that your business proposes a solution for, then who will buy that solution?
After you’ve taken a deep dive into why your business is needed in the first place, determine who will be the target audience of your business. Think about the demographics of your target audience, what’s important to these people and how you will reach them. You can use a free tool like Hubspot’s Make My Persona to get detailed about who your ideal customers are. A business isn’t a business without customers, after all.
Related: 10 Business Ideas Ready To Launch!
Search for similar solutions
No business idea is 100 percent unique; there will always be businesses out in the world that are similar to yours. So, don’t sweat it if there are companies doing what you do; in fact, that proves there’s a market for what you do. What you do have to think about is who your competition will be, what exactly they are providing and what you will do differently or better than they do.
To stand out from the competition, you will need to know what sets you apart. Start doing research on the companies that could become your competition. Look at how much they charge, who their target audience is and how they market to them, to name just a few research points. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but do look at what these companies are lacking in and how you can improve upon those areas in your business, so that you capture their customers.
Talk to your potential customers
Similar to your efforts to study your potential competition should be your effort to study potential customers. Get out there and start talking with your target audience. See if your product or service is something they would use, find out how much they would pay for it and ask what comparable product or business they’re using now to solve the problem.
You could even get super in-depth and ask people to fill out a survey providing answers that will help you get to know your audience even better. Even negative feedback about your business idea can help you refine your idea.
Lock down the details of your business
Coming up with a new business idea is exciting; your mind is probably buzzing with lots of plans and designs – maybe too many. So, sit back and lock down the finer details of your business. Will you be offering a product or a service? How much will it cost? How will you be marketing your business? You need to know your new business concept inside and out before you launch. A great and easy way to organise your thoughts is to use a business plan software like LivePlan.
Also, if you haven’t named your business yet, now’s the time to do it. Do some brainstorming and come up with a name that no one else has already taken.
Related: 20 Quick Money-Making Business Ideas
Determine the “how”
After you’ve worked out all the details of your future business, the next step is to figure out how to turn your dream into a reality. Obviously starting a business costs quite a bit of money, so that’s one of the major “how” factors you need to consider. Decide if you’ll talk to investors, take out a loan, or maybe even start a Kickstarter campaign.
Determine everything you’ll need to get your business up and running. For instance, if you’re offering a product, how will you build it and how much money will it cost? This last step is one of the most important in order to take your business from out of your head and into the real world.
Over to you
What are you waiting for? By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to starting your very own company. If you take the time to plan out your new business idea, you won’t just build a business, you’ll build a successful one.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.