A small business is by no means a lesser one to the big corporates out there – even they were once small.
The term ‘small’ simply refers to the size of the company in terms of its turn-over (less than R1 million per annum) and its number of staff (usually 50 or less), certainly not its clout.
In fact, it’s often small businesses that give large corporates a run for their money as being small allows for greater agility and flexibility, quicker turn-around time, and greater room for customisation. Ready to get your small business started?
A small business can start in a home kitchen, a spare room; it can start in a garage. It can start in a small rented office space with just a laptop computer and yourself manning it, or it can start between friends, spouses, business partners.
Mostly though, a small business has minimal staff, is started with a small amount of capital, and it carries low overheads.
Need small business ideas?
Take a look at the list below to help you start brainstorming. The key is to examine an industry that you have strengths in, and determine whether the skills and character you have (or can develop) can meet a need within that industry.
Here are some examples of businesses you can start from home:
- Air-conditioner and appliance repair
- App developer
- Ad agency
- Antique restoration and resale
- Aquarium supplies and maintenance
- Animal trainer.
If you have a skill and it can be sold to someone who needs your skills, it is a business.
- Professional blogger
- Business consultant
- BEE consultant
- Body guard service.
If you are looking at service oriented businesses, make sure you are properly qualified to perform the service and registered with the appropriate associations for credibility.
- Catering business
- Car mechanic
- Cellphone repair
- Child care
- Computer maintenance and repair
- Computer training or programming
- Construction and clean-up
- Customer service professional
People will buy a product or service if it makes their lives that little more convenient.
Something that saves people time, money or hassle is essential for a sustainable business.
- Dry-cleaning service
- Driving service or school
- Data capture or data analysis service
- Desktop publishing
- Dog training, walking or grooming
- Disaster prevention and planning service
- Direct mail marketing service
- Database management
We know you were thinking Doctor – however, there are options beyond being a ‘doctor’.
- Engineering consultant
- Exporting business
- E-tail store
- eBay reseller
- E-tail secret shopper to see if someone’s e-tail experience is easy.
If it’s happening online, you can add an e- to it.
- Furniture removal company
- Fire safety
- Fire-hydrant maintenance and sales.
Whatever you do, it doesn’t always matter if it’s a traditional or ‘old’ business, so long as you’re doing things differently and that they’re meeting the needs and interests of the modern consumer.
Although established internationally, an up-and-coming industry in South Africa is all things green, from construction to materials, to greening businesses through lowered carbon footprints.
- Green cleaning service
- Green consultancy
If green doesn’t float your boat, there are household aggravations like:
- Gutter cleaning
- Garage makeovers
- Gluten free products and foods creation and baking.
- Handyman service
- Holiday planning service
- Home inspection service
- House-sitting service and anything home-based.
- Image consultant
- Image or Internet researcher
- Interior designer.
Be careful to research your industry properly before entering in to it, take ink cartridge refilling for example. As technology changes, will you be able to sustain your business?
- Jewellery designer
- Got space? How about a junk yard?
- Kitchen fitting
- First aid kits like cyclist and other sports, or kit-cars for motor enthusiasts.
- Life coaching
- Labour broker
- Liquor manufacturer
- Lab consultant or running your own lab
- Laundry service
- Language instructor
- Lock-smith service
Provided whatever you do adds value to the customer that they can’t get elsewhere, you’re on to a good idea.
- Start your own marketing company
- Massage therapist
- Make-over consultant
- Motivational speaker
- Moving company
- mobile masseuse
- mobile salon
- mobile food truck
- mobi-app developer
- Medical consultant.
The latest trend as technology advances is for things to be mobile.
So, you want to be an entrepreneur? Then you’ll need a business idea. Here are eight ways to come up with a original business idea.
- Nail salon
- Nurse – Think a post-operative care service, or even elderly care.
- Organic producer
- Online trader
- Occupational therapist.
- Personal shopper
- Party planning
- Personal trainer
- Pest control
- Photo-retoucher and restorer
- Project manager
- Personal tutor
- Pool cleaning
- Quality controller
- Queuing service
- Quantity surveying
- Quiz master.
- Resume consultant
- Research consultant
- Restaurant or business reviewer.
- Secret shopper or secret reviewer.
- Salon or spa
- Social media strategy
- Speech writer
- Sound engineer.
- Translation services
- Transcription services
- Tax accounting and consulting
- Sun-free tanning solutions
- Undertaking services.
- Video producer
- Virtual assistant service
- Voice-over production
- Voice training
- Viral marketing.
- Webmaster services
- Web design
- Wedding planner
- Wallpaper design and hanging
- Car washing service.
Ok you’ve got us there… try something x-treme.
- Yoga instructor
- Youth mentoring, counselor, camps, youth co-ordinator
- YouTube video producer
- YouTube channel manager.
We’re drawing at straws for this one, especially when the only thing you can come up with is ‘zoo’. But even they might need some services outsourced.
Tips about selecting a small business idea
So now your brain is thoroughly overflowing with new business ideas. But before you go quitting your job and investing everything you own into it, it’s time to assess whether it can be turned into a sustainable small business.
Here’s what you need to evaluate:
- Who is the target market? There’s no business if no one will buy your product or service. Is your target market able to afford (and prepared to pay) for it? Do you have reams of market analysis about your target market’s likes and dislikes, area densities, income, responsibilities, age, gender, education etc? The clearer the picture you can paint of your target market, the more able you are to provide to them.
- What makes you stand out? Does your idea already exist? If so, what are you doing differently to your competition? Is there something unique or value adding that you offer? If your business idea is new, is your target market ready to take you on? SEO, for example, was around a long time before businesses saw its value and started paying money for it. Make sure your business has a unique selling proposition (USP).
- Money, money, money. While some ideas are great, whether it will translate into an awesome business is determined by a financial feasibility study. What will it cost you to get the business off the ground, how long will you need to wait before you break even and see a return on investment? What are the on-going expenses like overheads? How will you bridge the gap between starting the business to it becoming profitable? Once you’ve completed a feasibility study, you may be disappointed to discover that the idea just won’t make a profitable and sustainable business. Don’t be sad though, at least you discovered this before you poured in your life-savings into a dead-end idea. Keep thinking.
Choosing a small business idea based on strengths and passions
Everyone has skills. The trick is to see what skills you have in your current job or through your work experience that are transferrable into your new business.
Take a hard look at your business idea and see whether you’ve got both the personality traits and the necessary skills to make it happen.
If the answer is yes, keep going. If you find that you’re quitting your corporate job because you despise it, starting a business to capitalise on that same work experience might not be your calling.
Assess what your personal interests are, what you’re passionate about, and how you can use the skills you have to turn it into a business. Entrepreneurs need to be passionate about their business idea – as it will be passion that motivates you during tough times.
The Rising Cost Of Small Business
Many of the hidden costs that tend to surprise small business owners are related to the employment of people. However, the silver lining is that there are ways to mitigate the risks associated with scaling a business and several tools available to streamline HR processes.
A small business starts with a visionary dream fueled by energy and grit. Founders build on that and attract a small team of people who can help breathe life into the business. But not very long after setting out on course, the harsh realisation of rising costs like insurance, permits, licenses, equipment, maintenance, taxes, shrinkage and utilities suddenly appear.
Poor Labour Relations Management
Extensive labour laws in South Africa require dedicated overseeing and management, which generally lead to additional costs of employing labour consultants or hiring human resources managers that are not entirely relate to the core of your business. However, left unattended, labour relations issues can and will shut down your shop.
Labour relations issues cost South African companies R14 billion annually. Many companies have costly compensation orders from the CCMA due to Line Managers and HR employees not complying with legislation regarding disciplinary matters.
A surprising statistic from SEFA suggested that of the small businesses that fail, 40% of them can be attributed to poor labour relations management, therefore managing disciplinary processes by the book is critical. There are useful templates as well as step by step guides available online to help managers through disciplinary processes and to avoid incurring penalties from the CCMA.
By law employees are entitled to at least 15 working days’ vacation leave in every leave cycle. Employers could face substantial penalties from the Department of Labour if they do not allow employees to take leave. Planning for peak and off peak periods in businesses is a critical part of drafting job specs and these conditions must be communicated to staff early on.
The cost of poor leave management will contribute to the company’s leave liability i.e. the amount of leave an employee is owed is noted as a liability in the general ledger. Annual leave that employees do not take is a hidden expense for a business that if left unattended, will accrue and create cash flow problems for the business.
Employers are advised to make use of a leave management tool that enables both the employer as well as their employees to keep track of leave days owed to employees and brings some automation in to the process.
The Basic Conditions of Employment Act ensures that all employees are “entitled” to a minimum of 30 days (for a 5 day workweek) and 36 days (for a 6 day workweek) paid sick leave.
According to Occupational Care South Africa (OCSA), absenteeism costs the South African economy around R12 -R16 billion per year. This equates to around 15% of employees being absent on any given day. The answer isn’t to go on a witch hunt throwing policy at employees and demanding doctor’s notes for even a few hours off work (employers are not allowed to breach medical confidentiality by requesting a diagnosis on a sick leave note).
Alternatively, employers can be proactive in managing absenteeism by monitoring leave reports monthly and quarterly taking regular health interventions (e.g. flu shots) before a peak sick leave season e.g. before winter. Maintaining a positive work environment where employees feel acknowledged and are encouraged to perform goes a long way in keep workers present and absenteeism on the low.
Is Unmanaged Stress Killing Off Our SMMEs?
Most SMMEs don’t make it past their first year. This is worrying for an economy in which SMMEs are a vital part of growth. A range of reasons are given for what is stifling these businesses, from financing to access to markets, but one factor has been completely overlooked: Stress.
It is now widely understood that Small Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) are key to a country’s economic- and employment growth, but something is amiss in South Africa. Our SMMEs are just not doing what they should and understanding why this is – and fixing it – will be critical to the future success and sustainability of the economy.
The common conversations around SMME failure rates point at six main culprits: (1) access to funding, (2) access to markets, (3) infrastructure challenges, (4) scalability, (5) tough regulations, and (6) skills/education. The problem is that we have known about these for years, and for all the efforts to address them, we are unfortunately not seeing the growth in the sector that is needed.
A recent survey by the Small Business Institute (SBI) and the Small Business Project (SBP) put the number of formal SMMEs in South Africa currently at just 250,000. These numbers are alarmingly low – especially when compared with international benchmarks. SMMEs in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, make up 95% of businesses, and employ between 60%–70% of the working population, contributing up to 60% to GDP. In South Africa, while SMMEs make up 98% of the business population, they only employ 28% of the nation’s workforce, according to Chris Darroll, CEO of the SBP.
And yet the government continues to pin its hopes on the SMME sector. Initiatives like the DTI’s Invest SA and the South African Investment Conference this October, that claims to have attracted billions in foreign investment to the country, have foregrounded the role of SMMEs in economic revival. And the Government’s National Development Plan aims to have SMMEs contributing 90% of job growth by 2030. It is likely that more money will be channelled into support for the sector, to join the billions that have already been spent on incubators and initiatives to help small businesses.
This is a good thing, but it is not enough. The numbers speak for themselves. To date, none of these initiatives has borne much fruit and this signals that we may be overlooking something fundamental. Our collaborative research at the UCT Graduate School of Business suggests that what is being overlooked is something that most of us find difficult to define, or even talk about: Stress.
Stress is under-acknowledged by most people, personally and professionally, and for varied reasons. And this can have devastating effects. If ignored in business, the human devastation is likely to have larger scale effects on job loss, workforce disengagement, health-related days off, impaired teamwork, sub-optimal decision-making, lowering of productivity, and ultimately fuelling a declining economy.
While access to finance and markets, infrastructure and scalability challenges, tough regulations, and not enough educated and skilled employees are all valid hurdles tripping up SMMEs, the fact is that they are perfectly normal hurdles to have in a competitive, emerging economy. Our research reveals that good leaders, who are able to get their businesses over each encountered hurdle, are also able to manage their personal negative stress and harness their positive stress.
Stress can, generally, be quite motivating, however it is generally accepted that there are three kinds of stress: (1) positive stress, which is chosen and does not last very long (like writing an exam), (2) tolerable stress, which is unexpected and lasts a little longer, but then stops and there is time to process, and (3) toxic stress or distress. Toxic stress is tolerable stress left to run on and on without end, without rest and without time for healing and processing. It is this third and debilitating kind of stress that business leaders are likely to experience, and in SMMEs it can be even more severe.
Our research suggests that SMME owners tend to set very high, and often lofty, goals for themselves when setting up their SMMEs. And then they are constantly feeling stretched in either striving for these goals or ‘maintaining the course’. This can mean maintaining good business results, maintaining the customer base, where often 20% of the customer base accounts for 80% of the revenue, maintaining employment levels in changing political and economic conditions, maintaining pricing when squeezed for ever-lower prices while delivering good quality products and services, having their integrity challenged, and dealing with clients/customers who are not averse to replacing their products/services.
Another cause of stress for SMME business owners is that they mostly have internal loci of control, meaning that they take personal responsibility for outcomes and results and therefore blame themselves for every failure, and find it difficult to forgive themselves for deviations from intended results. In addition, an innate sense of accountability to their staff and their staffs’ families reportedly weighs heavily on business owners. Many feel similar accountability toward the broader stakeholder groups that their businesses serve.
All of these factors, which many argue are innate to the nature of business, place undue, long-term pressure (toxic stress/distress) on the cognitive, emotional, psychological and spiritual resources of individual business owners. This reportedly leads to drops in productive activity and motivation, withdrawal from relationships both personal and professional, low energy, impaired decision-making and ill health. And it also destroys resilience – leaving business leaders unable to ‘bounce back’ from personal- or business-setbacks, which is part and parcel of life and business. With a debilitated leader, the business is almost always likely to suffer, on a day-to-day basis and also in the long run. Like a virus, stress transfers to others.
An SMME’s success is inextricably linked to having an effective leader. And effective leadership is inextricably linked to effective stress management and self-care. It stands to reason, therefore, that improving the way SMME business owners manage their stress and boundaries could have a significant impact on improving business survival rates.
Along with offering business advice, funding incubators, opening up markets, attracting foreign investors, educating consumers, subsidising and improving infrastructure, the government should be looking at ways to encourage stress management and self-care into the daily operations of small to medium-sized businesses.
We need to get business owners educated about stress and self-care: about how exercise, sleep, diet, meditation, life-balance, self-forgiveness, and other-forgiveness affect them, their staff and their businesses. Effective self-care, of which stress management is a part, will enable business owners to courageously stay resilient in the ongoing stressful situations they will naturally encounter. This may, in turn, help to turn the tide in South Africa’s SMME sector so that it can drive the country’s economic revival like everyone hopes it will.
Many SMEs Start With Great Plans But Fail To Take The Big Leap
Most small-to-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are aware of the benefits of good governance practice but, faced with limited time and resources, which could be costly in supporting growth ambitions.
- 27% of SMEs don’t have a vision that covers more than the next 12 months
- 45% of SMEs either don’t have a strategy, or one which covers only the next 12 months or less.
The latest global research, inclusive of Africa in supporting small business growth from ACCA, outlines the governance needs of SMEs. It highlights simple but effective practice over vision, strategy and human capital can provide them with greater flexibility, adaptability and resilience as they grow. This a huge factor in the long-term sustainability of the business, if put in practise.
“If you incorporate good practice for running your business from an early stage, your company is more likely to be resilient and is more likely to appeal to external investment,” explains Jo Iwasaki, head of corporate governance at ACCA. It is about leadership directing the company and being aware of factors both within and beyond their enterprise and build resilient organisations in the face pf the changing world.
The research also found that half (49%) of SMEs do not involve anyone external in their strategy discussions, despite the benefits experienced by those that do, which include additional experience and knowledge of the industry/sector (according to 46%), an independent perspective / constructive criticism (44%) and advice on their growth strategy (39%).
“There are a lot of daily concerns for the leaders of a small business, and often the biggest challenge is meeting day-to-day operations and cash management needs while thinking about the long-term future of the company. And while many leaders are keenly aware of the importance of resilience in the rapidly changing business environment and of buy-in from stakeholders, for example funders and employees, there often may not be the time to think or do much about it,” added Iwasaki.
“I hope that this research helps SMEs in focusing on some of the most crucial issues, and can be a resource not just to SMEs themselves but also to policymakers,” concluded Iwasaki.
How vision and strategy helps small business succeed is available at ACCA Global.
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