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Start-up Advice

4 Vital Ingredients To Create Your Business’ Secret Sauce

Insider insights on what makes start-ups great, competitive and poised for growth — and how your start-up can emulate them.

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1Communicate, communicate, communicate

Working together with my colleagues, we get to steer the business through a relatively democratic process. I’ve discovered that the more I talk to them, the easier it is to make decisions.

In a start-up, there’s no time for ineffective communication.

Unlike my past experiences where I’ve worked in larger teams, we don’t have as many meetings as we have actual conversations. If you’re going into a start-up, be prepared to start some real relationships, and have an open agenda.

Miscommunication, ego, and politics are really damaging to a small team. Try to leave the drama at home.

Related: 9 Answers You Need About Yourself Before Starting Your Own Business

Lesson for owners: Foster a culture of transparency from the moment you open your doors. As the business grows you will need to implement policies and processes, but that original culture will be sustained as you grow — and it will be invaluable for your overall organisational culture.

2Love the process, not the outcome

I have dreamed of running my own business. I imagine myself wheeling and dealing, owning boardrooms with my undeniable charisma, leading a team of happy and well-adjusted staff members with my unparalleled people skills. I have quite an imagination.

The danger of these kinds of flights of fancy is that you tend to fall in love with the outcome, and what you really need to do is fall in love with the hard work required.

This is something that I see in Pieter. He has his fingers in a lot of pies. He isn’t doing it because he imagines himself to be some rich and powerful globe-trotting businessman. He’s doing it because he is in love with the process. He likes putting the work in. He likes dealing with people. He likes seeing how the little seeds he plants will begin to blossom.

Related: 10 SA Entrepreneurs On What They Wish They’d Known Before Starting Their Businesses

Great rock stars aren’t in love with the record contracts, they’re in love with the music. It’s the dedication and devotion to crafting something beautiful that makes them successful. The fame and glory is just a by-product.

If you’re in love with an outcome, a daydream, a lifestyle, be careful. The work is what gets you to the outcome, and if you have no love for it, you will not succeed.

Lesson for owners: Great start-ups are built on passion. You need to love what you do, and enjoy doing it. The cliché that if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life is all about the process and not the outcome — and here’s the secret:

If you enjoy the process, the outcome takes care of itself.

3Learn to shift your priorities

priorities

We started out with a focus on being a service design agency. We were going to consult to big business and help them innovate and build better products and services. We quickly discovered that service design is quite new and nobody really knows what it is.

While we’re working hard on promoting service design, we also find that we have to rely on our skills as a traditional digital agency to put food on the table.

You have to have an idea of what you want the outcome of your start-up to be. In fact, you need more than an idea, you need a plan. I won’t go into the details around planning and the importance of having a structure to work within, but what I will say is that plans change.

You will need to learn to roll with the punches, adapt, and survive. As I mentioned, communication with your team and your clients is key. You might find that the star product or service that you thought was going to make you rich takes a backseat while other products and services that you like a bit less become the real money-spinners.

While you should never put away your hero product, you might have to reprioritise based on customer feedback.

Lesson for owners: The art of the pivot is often what separates a successful start-up from its less successful counterparts. Being willing and able to change direction based on new information is your biggest competitive advantage. It’s a level of flexibility your larger competitors don’t have. Use it.

4Learn new skills

My role is that of strategist. In short, my job is to look at the client brief and budget and come up with a direction for the creatives and a plan for the roll-out. I sometimes do more, I sometimes do less.

The first thing that changed at Havas Boondoggle was that I played a role in helping my clients write that brief. I found that I was more actively involved in their businesses and that I was seen as part of their team in a very real way. I started to see myself that way too. Sure, I was an employee of Havas Boondoggle, but I gladly stepped into other roles in other businesses too.

I also began taking initiative in the creative aspect of our service. Taking my strategies a little further into the realm of creative ideation. I found that working for a much smaller business gave me the opportunity to try new things; to spread my wings a little.

Related: 6 Costly Mistakes People Make When Starting a Business

The thing you quickly discover is that not only will you start tackling tasks that you’re unfamiliar with, you’ll have to tackle them with confidence. You’re going to have to learn to let go of your fear of the unknown, because if you don’t, someone else from another start-up will.

It’s an awful feeling looking back on something that you decided you couldn’t do, to discover that someone else with less experience than you did it. You’ll definitely discover that there are things that you are terrible at, but that’s one of the benefits of working for a start-up — self-discovery.

Lesson for owners: If you hire the right people for your start-up, they will take your business to incredible new heights. Look for passionate individuals who want to be involved in creating something great, instead of working a normal, safe 9-to-5. Fuel their passion and make them feel like they are integral to your own start-up story.

5Be prepared to sacrifice

If you’re going to work for a start-up, whether as the boss or as an employee, be prepared. You’re going to work weekends, you’re going to work after hours. You’re going to be on your phone late at night with teammates, you’re going to come in early, you’re going to go home late.

You’re going to spend time sleeping in hotel rooms in other cities, away from your family. You’re going to discover that there are things you’re not good at. You’re going to discover that sometimes the pressure is too much. You’re going to find out how strong you really are.

Being part of a start-up is a very rewarding experience, but don’t do it if you’re not prepared to make sacrifices. Sometimes those sacrifices are time-based, sometimes they require you to let go of preconceived notions you had about yourself.

Lesson for owners: You’re going to be asking a lot of yourself and your team, so remember to stop and also have fun once in a while. Burning out serves no-one. Make sure your team take time for themselves, celebrate and respect each other’s personal lives — and remember why you’re doing this in the first place. It isn’t to turn into a sleep-deprived zombie, but to live your passions.

Related: Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Successful Entrepreneur?

Pulling it all together

I’ve been with Havas Boondoggle for just over a year now. The experience has been very different from working in a large agency, mainly because we walked into this hoping that we were going to do things differently. In part, we got that right. In part, we didn’t. All things considered, that’s okay, because start-ups are really about the journey.

Craig Hannabus has spent his entire adult life in the technology and marketing industry. He has worked on brands like Standard Bank, Nedbank, General Motors, Nestlé, and Caxton (to name a few). Craig is currently a digital strategist at Boondoggle South Africa.

Start-up Advice

How To Apply Lean Principles To Your Start-up’s Productivity And Time Management

Focusing on one thing at a time is a very good start.

John Rampton

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If you’ve recently launched a start-up, I’m sure that you’ve heard a lot about being “lean.” But I’m not here to discuss the methodology popularised by the likes of Eric Ries.

The lean principles from a Toyota exec

I’m actually writing about the term and concept of “lean” that was originally developed by Toyota executive Taiichi Ohno during the reconstruction period in Japan following World War II. The process was so successful that more and more organisations around the world began to embrace it. However, it didn’t hit the mainstream until James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones released their book Lean Thinking, in 1996.

Applying “lean” to productivity in start-ups

Today, lean principles have been applied to almost every industry both large and small scale. For instance, lean principles in the healthcare industry have been able to reduce costs, while improving efficiency. On a smaller scale, employees have used these principles to organise their workspaces.

Related: What Business Should You Start In Africa?

Here are four ways you can apply lean concepts to your startup to improve both productivity and quality.

1. Improve your workplace using the five principles of lean

According to the Lean Institute, which was established by Womack and Jones in 1997, there are five core principles of lean:

Value: Value means putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and knowing what their needs are. This helps you determine timelines, pricing and expectations instead of constant trial and error. For your team, letting them know how they fit into the bigger picture can keep them motivated.

Value stream: Value stream is where you create a “value stream” of all the steps and processes required in getting the final product or service to your customers. This could include design, production, delivery, HR and customer service. Knowing this information allows you to eliminate any wasteful steps.

Flow: After you’ve removed any unnecessary waste from the value stream, you want to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Flow means not having any interruptions or delays. The flow involves breaking down steps, leveling out workloads, creating cross-functional departments and training your team so they can develop multiple skills.

Pull: When flow improves, so does the time it takes to get your goods or services to customers. As a result, they can “pull” whenever needed so you’re not constantly under- or overproducing inventory, content, etc.

Perfection: Even after successfully completing the first steps, you still need to constantly keep working to improve processes so that you can eliminate waste. Perfection may be an exalted goal in whatever endeavour we are pursuing – but we still must always be moving forward toward being the best and achieving the best.

2. Use the concept of 5S to get yourself organised

5S stands for sort, set in order, shine, standardise and sustain. You can use this concept to organise your workspace so you and your team are more productive by doing the following:

  • Remove any items that you no longer need (sort)
  • Organise your remaining items so you’re more efficient (straighten)
  • Keep your workspace clean and tidy so you can find items and identify problems more quickly (shine)
  • Color-code and label files and calendars to make you more consistent (standardise)
  • Develop repeatable behaviours and habits that will keep your workplace clean and organised, such as completing one task before moving onto the next (sustain).

You and your team – even if they’re virtual employees working from a home office – can get started by throwing away anything unneeded. Place files into cabinets – colour-code your calendars – and keep items you frequently use nearby.

But these principles aren’t just limited to physical items. Digitally, you can use a project management system to assign tasks, quickly see the progress of projects and share files and comments in one organised dashboard.

3. Standardise your work to become more efficient

In manufacturing, there’s a standard process for everything. The reason? By doing something the same way time and time again you will eliminate waste since you’re not constantly trying out new techniques. Standardising also prevents errors and forgetfulness because there’s a checklist for ever step of the journey. For example, when a car is on the assembly line, it can’t move forward if someone forgot a bolt or installed a faulty steering wheel.

4. Standardise what makes sense

Start by keeping a time log to see when you’re most productive and how you’re spending your time. You may notice that you’re most productive in the mornings. If so, that’s when you should work on your most important task.

If you discover that you’re checking your email and social accounts too often, schedule specific times throughout the day to check them. To prevent wasteful meetings, you can standardise meetings. Make sure these meetings are necessary and include only key people pertinent to the information. Keep all meetings as short and concise as possible.

Get into a good flow to optimise your and your team’s performance

Flow is simply how work can progress through a system. When your system is running smoothly, flow is good. When flow hits a snag, it slows down the process and waste occurs.

Manufacturing facilities make it a point to ensure that the flow is good. Unless it’s an emergency, production lines rarely stop running. Everyone has a specific job to do, and that’s all they’re focused on. That’s not the case at your start-up. You must wear multiple hats, as well as deal with constant interruptions. How many times have you been in “the zone” and gotten distracted by a phone call or have no choice but to go put out a fire?

Remember focus

One way you can improve flow in your start-up is by focusing on one thing at a time. That means no more multitasking. Give your 100 percent focus to what you’re working on at the moment and then move on to your next task. This may take some self-discipline. But you can start by turning off all push notifications, closing your door, block scheduling and setting boundaries.

You can also help your team improve their flow by setting “do not disturb” zones and time frames. Another tip is to schedule a “no meeting” day. This way you and your team can maintain focus without getting interrupted by a meeting.

Finally, you may want to consider outsourcing and delegating certain tasks. Instead of worrying about your inbox all day, hire a virtual assistant to manage your email. If you need to get your books in order, then bring in a bookkeeper. This frees you up to work solely on growing your startup.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Start-up Advice

Which eCommerce Platform Should You Build Your Store On?

This is an important decision to make and with so many options out there it can become a bit overwhelming and confusing to decide which platform is the best option for you. So which platforms are best suited for a South African eCommerce entrepreneur?

Warrick Kernes

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Having owned and run websites using XCart, Magento, Shopify and WordPress, I’ve made enough mistakes and learnt enough lessons along the way to be able to help guide you to make the right decision about which platform is right for you…

When looking for options you’ll come across platforms like Prestashop, WordPress, WIX, Shopify, Squarespace, OpenCart, Magento, Shopstar, OneCart, ShopOn, LiquidBox, BigCommerce and endless more. All of which are trying to convince you that their platform is the best for you to use.

Reading international blogger reviews is helpful but they don’t account for how these website platforms perform in South Africa. They don’t review what the support is like in SA and which local software services are compatible. You see, these points are often neglected until you need them further down the line and only then find out how important it is that the platform you’re running your store on is made to work in SA.

Having worked with all the major website platforms I understand the importance of website support and how the site integrates with the local services which will make your life easier and your website better. Services like this include integrations into Rand (ZAR)  based payment gateways, integrations into local courier services, API connections into marketplaces like Takealot and Bid Or Buy, and API connections into price comparison sites too.

Related: 6 Steps To Building A Million-Dollar Ecommerce Site In 60 Days

The final factor to consider is the reputability of the website platform itself. There are many new and upcoming website platforms which I would love to support but when it comes to choosing a platform on which I’ll be building my business I need to know that I am going to be selecting a world-leading service provider.

So with this in mind I can help to narrow down your options to two platforms being WordPress with WooCommerce and Shopify. Which of these two is right for you will depend on how much you value your time.

Shopify will cost you $29 per month but the ease-of-use is such that even a novice can get a site live within a week. Operating WooCommerce on WordPress is complex for beginners and it will take you much longer to figure it all out before you can take your site live but the plus side is that it is free to use.

So ultimately you need to consider which of these two is right for you and your business but the most important thing is that you don’t spend any more time researching, take action and get started sooner rather than later so you can start to grow your online empire.

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Start-up Advice

6 Ways Starting A Business Is Like Raising A Child

Here are six ways that embarking on your own entrepreneurship journey is like raising a child.

Catherine Black

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While you may think work and parenting are worlds apart, when it comes to starting a business versus having a baby, the two have more in common than you think.

After all, both involve bringing something new into the world, preparing for the unexpected, and riding the storm when things don’t go as planned. Here are six ways that embarking on your own entrepreneurship journey is like raising a child:

1. It involves new expenses

From nappies and school fees to food and clothing, there are a whole lot of new expenses involved when it comes to kids. In the same way, starting a business also involves various costs – whether it’s paying accounting fees, setting up your website, buying stock or employing people. In both instances, having a good financial plan in place can go a long way to help you manage these expenses.

Related: How To Start A Business With No Money

2. It’s an emotional rollercoaster

Parenting invariably means you’ll experience every emotion under the sun, from unmatched joy when they’re born, to frustration at toddler tantrums, to wonder at seeing their little personalities develop. The same goes for a new business: Expect a range of emotions, from the highs of getting your first customer, to the satisfaction of making a profit, to anxiety if the market doesn’t respond to your product as you envisioned.

3. Expect the unexpected

Few things are as unpredictable as babies: One minute they’re gurgling contentedly, the next minute they’re crying for reasons you may or may not know. Just like babies, businesses can be highly unpredictable too. Product prototypes can fail and cause delays, employees get sick, an unforeseen tax bill could arrive on your desk – you’ll need to get comfortable with expecting the unexpected. And, if you run your business full time, you’ll need to bid farewell to your predictable monthly paycheque too (at least in the beginning).

4. It requires stamina

Late night feeds, helping your child with homework, washing, cooking, cleaning, answering all their burning questions – there’s no parenting “off” switch. In the same way, being an entrepreneur means it’s hard to stop thinking about your business at the end of the day as you would with a regular 9 to 5. This constant call for attention means it’s crucial to schedule in some downtime for yourself so that you get time to decompress and refresh.

Related: What Business Should You Start In Africa?

 5. You’ll need safeguards in place

While their immune systems are immature, young children get sick, which typically involves trips to the doctor, medication and possibly even the odd hospital stay. Having a good medical aid means you’ll be financially prepared for these intermittent expenses. And, just as you should ensure your child has the right medical cover, your business and your employees should also be covered properly. Fedhealth is one example of a medical aid that specialises in providing medical cover for SMMEs.

6. Love will get you through

As hard as parenting can be, the enduring love most parents have for their children means they keep caring for them day after day, no matter how exhausting it is. Similarly, if you love the industry your business is in and the work you do, you’ll have the fortitude to keep at it over the long term.

Both parenting and starting a business are hard work, but they’re hugely rewarding too. With both of them, it’s true that what you put in, you get out. Seeing your child grow into a well-adjusted, caring adult can be as satisfying as watching your business mature into a something that’s profitable and self-sustaining. Upon reaching these milestones, most people will agree that the journey to get there is definitely worthwhile.

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