For many would-be entrepreneurs, information about starting and running a small business can give mixed messages: It’s the backbone of the economy, the solution to unemployment, but the statistics of small business survival and success aren’t very encouraging either. Then there’s the question of funding.
It’s easy to become discouraged before you even start. But read on and see it’s possible to overcome many of the initial challenges.
What is considered to be a small business?
A small business is one that is privately owned by an individual or with a partner or two on board. It is for-profit and its actions, whether selling a product or service, are designed to generate income.
A small business can employ a handful of staff, or it may be a sole proprietorship in which case everything that goes down is through you. From a financial perspective, a South African small business has turnover of less than R1 million a year.
Related: Do You Speak Start-up?
Stats on small business
Latest statistics of small businesses in South Africa are enough to make anyone want to give up before they start.
Trade and Industry Minister, Rob Davies, said in May 2013, that five out of seven new small businesses fail within the first year.
That’s a scary statistic especially when 68% of South African workers are employed by businesses that have less than 50 staff, and 43% are employed by businesses that hire less than five staff, according to the Minister.
Adcorp Analytics (2012) also paint a gloomy picture: The growth of local small businesses has stagnated between 2003 and 2012. Despite the economic boom of ‘04-‘06 that saw small businesses increase from two million to 2,4 million, since then the number hasn’t increased as hoped but shrunk on average 100 000 a year, meaning 440 000 small businesses have closed their doors in the subsequent five years.
This is a worrying trend, especially since the number of would-be entrepreneurs starting their own business is also at an all-time low. According to Adcorp Analytics (2012), in 2001 approximately 250 000 individuals were engaged in some kind of activity to start their own business. But by 2011 that number had dropped to 58 000.
The glimmer of hope is that this isn’t a global phenomenon. While recession has influenced some prospective entrepreneurs to stay in their secure, salaried jobs, developing economies like Brazil and India have thriving entrepreneurial communities.
The difference lies in the fear of failure. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) 2011 report, South African’s aren’t afraid of a challenge: Approximately 64% of SA entrepreneurs are driven by a sense of opportunity rather than necessity, and nearly 73% of South Africans believe entrepreneurship is a good career choice with high social status, so the key to improving entrepreneurship is to improve success rates through business and entrepreneurial education.
Small business as the backbone of the economy
Even with these poor statistics, small businesses remain the backbone of the economy:
- In 2011 South Africa had 5,579,767 small business owners – that’s roughly 10% of the total population involved in entrepreneurship.
- The total number of small businesses was slightly higher, owing to some entrepreneurs having more than one business.
- Of these 5,5 million businesses, nearly 80% were retailers – selling something in the same form it was bought in – while a little more than 20% were service providers – providing a skilled service like hairdressing or accounting for example.
- Nearly two thirds of these businesses were run from home and accounted for nearly 12 million jobs.
The government is acutely aware that small businesses are the key to addressing high unemployment and developing the economy – with an average of seven individuals benefitting for every one person employed. To this end, great emphasis is being placed on mentorship programmes, micro and small business finance and non-financial support, and making the red-tape associated with registering a new business as streamlined and easy as possible.
Are small businesses sustainable?
The high failure rate of small businesses suggests that something fundamental is going wrong. The key to small business success lies firstly lies in hard work and dedication to the business, and secondly in sustainability.
Many an entrepreneur has been blinded by the excitement of starting a business and initial success, that a solid foundation in the form of a business plan and cash flow management has been ignored.
Related: 5 Small Business Loan Ideas
Here is a list of some top reasons small businesses fail:
- In it for the wrong reasons. If you want to start a business to get filthy rich, it won’t be a good enough reason to keep you motivated when times are seriously tough.
- Poor money management. Without basic financial and business knowledge, an entrepreneur might not distinguish profit from cash in the bank. They start living the high life, and then realise there’s no money to pay suppliers, staff, and creditors at the end of the month. Profits should be re-invested into the business while it builds equity.
- Microscope/telescope mentality. While a small business may kick off with a niche idea, entrepreneurs need to pay attention to their market. If the market is too small it will fail to generate enough consistent income throughout the year. Similarly, if the business is trying to be too much to too many, the business can lose focus.
- No business or marketing plan. Some businesses emerge from a spontaneous gap in the market and may enjoy success growing organically. But unless there is a comprehensive business plan and marketing strategy in place, the business’ growth can be unsustainable.
- Lack of brand awareness. Thanks to today’s technology, building a brand is easier and more affordable than ever. Without access to a good and informative website, consumers will be less likely to engage you. Build an online presence through blogging, online advertising and social media, and don’t ignore poor reviews – building a reputable brand is critical to success.
- Wearing too many hats. Some businesses have to start off with just you running all aspects of it, but it’s a balancing act. If an entrepreneur gets too involved in the daily operations of a business, they don’t have the time or energy to work on developing the business, managing it, and strategising growth. Conversely, if an entrepreneur is too involved in business strategising, they won’t be devoting time and energy to sales. Business owners should spend their energy in areas of personal strength and recruit skilled people to fill in the gaps.
- Uncontrolled growth. While hyper-growth might seem fantastic at first, growing too quickly for business resources, infrastructure and skills to keep up with is a recipe for disaster. Businesses mustn’t over-gear either, and strategy is essential to sustainable growth.
Small on purpose or small because owners are unable to grow it?
When starting a business, a small business owner needs to determine their reasons for starting a business. Is it because you want a change from the nine to five rat-race? Want to be at home more for the family, because you want to be your own boss, or because you have spotted a gap in the market and believe it’s a gold mine, because you want to harness your skills better?
One of the main reasons for a business being stunted is because of the owners themselves. Without systems, a business owner may find themselves in a position where only they can complete the required tasks – either because of specialised knowledge, reluctance to delegate, or because of lack of systems.
Another reason for limited growth may be an issue of money. As the saying goes: You need to spend money, to make money.
This may require the business owner to take out a loan to increase their business’s capacity through equipment, for example, or by spending money on hiring an administration assistant, manager or accountant.
Pros and cons of small business
Starting and running a small business comes with its fair share of benefits and drawbacks. Here’s a list of the most common pros and cons:
- You get to be your own boss, meaning any success you experience in a business is your success too.
- You have the potential to exceed your current income and control your future wealth.
- You can take your skills and personal interests and turn them into your own business that your employer might not be interested in pursuing.
- A small business has the potential to positively impact your surrounding community with jobs and skills development.
- Until a small business is sustainable, income will be unstable. In fact, many small business owners need to forfeit a salary for a long time.
- You may need to take significant financial risk to get the business off the ground – taking a bond on the house or cashing in a pension fund, for example.
- A small business will take up significant amounts of time and energy that can result in neglecting family responsibility and sacrificing personal time.
- Until you can afford additional staff, you may have to perform tasks that don’t align with personal strengths.
Growing a small business
For small businesses that have survived the first year failure-hurdles, sustainable growth is the next goal.
Depending on the kind of business you own, there are a number of courses you can take, some on their own, some simultaneously.
Here is a list of some ideas for growing your business.
- If your business is operating at full capacity, investigate opening another branch, but plan your strategy and financials carefully. Ensure that your current business has consistent bottom-line numbers, examine the market for demand, prepare a complete business plan for the new branch (don’t assume that what works in one location will work exactly the same in the new location), and figure out how you will finance the new location – a loan, bootstrapping, using the existing business to fund the second – each option having its own pros and cons.
- Consider franchising if the business is thoroughly systematised. While converting to a franchise can be a costly exercise, the benefits include expanding in a less capital intensive manner as franchisees foot the bill new locations. You will have to be absolutely certain, however, that the business is replicable and has all the operational kinks ironed out of it.
- Seek an investor. Provided your business is in demand and well run, you can approach angel investors, venture capitalists or banks for funding to expand. Make sure your books are in order, that your research and projections are realistic (and conservative), and that expansion is what you really want.
- You can expand your business by diversifying your product or service portfolio and by targeting other markets. Both strategies require intensive market research, time and energy.
- You can negotiate a merge or acquisition with another small business, taking on board skilled staff and better resources, but at the risk of losing control of your original business goals, vision and culture.
Support for small business
Entrepreneurship can seem like a lonely and isolating experience for some. Networking is important to your confidence and providing opportunities to learn from others.
Networking also allows you to develop your reputation as a subject expert and bring in new business through referrals.
No new business owner is expected to know all the answers all the time and it’s a good thing to learn from those who have different ideas and perspectives.
Having an experienced business person to mentor you can provide a sounding board for ideas, a channel to offer advice and caution, holding you accountable to your decisions and actions, and guide you on a path to success.
There are also numerous private and public organisations dedicated to improving the skills of small business owners. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can be great in all areas of running a business.
If you have a weakness in finance, try self-study, short courses, part-time courses, or ask someone with the right skills to teach you what you need to know.
All great entrepreneurs eat, live and breathe the philosophy of never stopping learning and being curious about things they don’t know much about.
Small business resources
Even SMEs Can Use Big Data: Here’s How
If entrepreneurs are brave (and forward-thinking) enough to take the plunge into big data, there are many business advantages to be gained… especially before everyone else catches on.
Big data has for years held a reputation as a business tool that only large corporates have the time, money, and human resources to use effectively. But, as is so often the case with technological disruptions – what once seemed unattainable is becoming sleeker, faster, more affordable, and more user-friendly than ever before. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say that with strategic usage, even small businesses can gain as much advantage from big data as any Fortune 500 company.
To start with, what is big data? Organisations deal with data every day, from customer profiles to supply chain processes and sales figures. Big data takes this operational information-gathering to the next level. Multiple data sets are drawn together to create a large resource of facts and figures, which (and here’s the most important part!) are subjected to complex analysis to pluck out useful insights that enhance business operations.
Traditionally, SMEs haven’t delved much into big data. When you’re busy trying to build a successful business from the ground up, submerging yourself in statistics probably sounds more like a hindrance than help. But times have changed, and over the years, capitalising on big data has become a lot easier and more budget-accessible for SMEs. No need for dedicated data managers and unaffordable analytics platforms.
In fact, over 70% of respondents to a global survey of small businesses found that the adoption of this type of technology exceeded their expectations. Closer to home, 27% of SME decision-makers expect to be using big data within the next five years. If entrepreneurs are brave (and forward-thinking) enough to take the plunge into big data, there are many business advantages to be gained… especially before everyone else catches on.
A detailed understanding of your customers
You may think you have a good picture of your customers, but inevitably you’ll encounter blind spots at some point. Big data can fill in the blanks and give that same customer picture HD-clarity. Buying habits, consumer profiles, satisfaction levels, social media usage – combine this information, apply the right machine learning algorithm, and the result is a far better understanding of customer wants and needs, which you can then work to better fulfil. This applies to both the product or service you’re selling and the way you’re marketing it.
Perhaps even more importantly, big data can help you get ahead of trends. There are a few things more valuable to a business than having the first-mover advantage as latent demand surfaces. And the best thing about big data is that it’s based on solid facts and figures. When it comes to predictive decision-making, it removes assumptions and guesswork, allowing you to get off the starting block first, and with sure footing.
Improved internal processes for your company
Big data is not just about heightening customer relationships. It’s a powerful resource with massive benefits for organisations internally as well. And not just in terms of time- and cost-savings around business analysis.
Crunch your operational statistics, and you may find surprising ways to optimise processes – such as identifying places where automation can be introduced or retooling your staffing to meet shifting demands over the workweek. In addition to reinforcing business decisions, big data is excellent at helping to identify problems in real-time and correct course. Today, solutions are available immediately, when in the past it could take weeks or months to mine such valuable insights.
Related: Can Your Marketing Team Speak Data?
Tools to take advantage of big data
What do you need to make the most out of big data as a small-business owner? In the digital age, the foundation is a reliable high-speed Internet connection. This is because of big data’s own evolution. Data analysis was once a lengthy process which required a large amount of hardware storage (and, before that, filing cabinets), it has now evolved into a digital product provided by many business solutions providers over the cloud. The handling of information is streamlined in this way, and setting up databases, sending information for analysis, or receiving meaningful results, happens almost instantly.
SMEs may not have the resources of their more established, big sibling rivals. However, up-and-coming businesses do typically have the advantage of agility thanks to their size. It’s easier for a start-up to move quickly, redirect as needed, and act on just-gained insights and trends. This makes big data no longer “nice but unnecessary,” but an essential tool to give your company that all-important advantage in the digital economy.
A – Z Easy Small Business Ideas
Whether it’s a ‘eureka’ moment at three in the morning, or a persistent feeling that you’ve got a great small business idea, here’s some of the things you need to know to determine if you’re on to a good thing.
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.
Why Small Businesses Need A Security Control Room
Below are just some of the reasons why you need a security control room for your small business.
As a small business owner, you know how important it is to provide your staff and your clients with a safe and positive environment. However, a CCTV control room is often not the first thought that comes to mind for a small business. A CCTV control room is one of the most effective ways to ensure that your staff and office space are safe, day and night. Below are just some of the reasons why you need a security control room for your small business.
It will prevent criminal activity
Businesses that install a CCTV security system are less likely to be targeted by criminals. Often, the mere sight of a camera on the side of a building is enough to deter and prevent criminal activity. Criminals do not want to be caught in the act.
If the unfortunate event occurs that you are broken into, you will be able to prevent further crime by installing CCTV control room equipment in your office space. Criminals tend to target buildings and businesses that appear to be unprotected, which means that having a CCTV control room will reduce your chances of being targeted, and can help to reduce crime in the area overall.
You will protect your business assets
A small business, such as an artisan coffee shop or vegan restaurant, will have assets that help it to function. It is vital to protect these assets, and you will need to have both insurance (in case one of them is stolen) and a CCTV control room to watch over every asset your business owns.
Installing a good security system also relates to cybercrime, as you will be able to watch both consumers and employees, noting who is using your computers at any time during work hours. If you notice missing data or incorrect time logging of employees, you will be able to go over the camera footage to see who logged what at what time. Data and information may not always be covered by your insurance company, which is why having a CCTV control setup is vital to protecting your assets.
Protect your employees
Your small business might only have five to ten employees operating at once, but this small number does not make protecting them any less important. Your employees are your most valuable asset, and so their safety should come first.
A CCTV control room will allow you to keep an eye on your employees, ensuring that they are safe. If any suspicious activity does occur on or around your premises, you will be able to see it happening and take immediate action, such as someone harassing your employees or trying to gain entry to your building. Protecting your employees also protects your business, making it a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Assist law enforcement
If your business is broken into and something is stolen, assisting the police with CCTV footage can help their investigation immensely. The police may need to release footage to the public in order to catch criminals who have stolen significant amounts from your business, or retrace the steps of the crooks in order to catch them.
Law enforcement officers might have the best skills in the business, but without video evidence, they are unable to find criminals with ease. A picture or a video can make a huge difference when looking for criminals, and will also prove to them that you made the right call in contacting them about the situation.
Keep your employees honest
While it is vital to protect your business from outside threats, there are internal threats that could damage it too, such as dishonest employees or employees who steal from you. You do have to make your employees aware that you are filming them with CCTV, but this footage may not hold up in a CCMA court, as every person is entitled to privacy according to the constitution of South Africa.
The knowledge that they are being filmed will, however, encourage employees to be honest and open while working, making for a more productive workplace. In a small business, it is easy to become friends with your employees, as you work closely with one another. While this is positive, it can lead to them taking advantage of you in some situations. Being able to monitor their behaviour will keep them honest and will deter crime in the office space.
Having a CCTV control room is vital for the safety of your small business, but it is important that you make both customers and employees aware that you are using CCTV in your office or retail space. Cameras can help to protect your staff and your assets, as well as aid in diminishing the crime in the area overall. Small businesses need to think about their safety just as much as bigger corporations, so investing in CCTV control room equipment and setting one up is the best action to take.
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