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Dial-a-Nerd: Staying on Top While the Market Changed

Over the past 15 years Dial-a-Nerd has grown from a novelty concept employing students to a trusted name in IT.

Nadine Todd

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Founder Colin Thornton is quick to point out that the brand’s growth is largely because of the management team’s willingness and ability to keep relearning the basics and adapting to change.

“If we didn’t evaluate who we were and what we do on a regular basis, particularly with market changes in our industry, we wouldn’t still be going,” he says candidly. It’s this ability for self-reflection and above all, change, that marks Dial-a-Nerd’s propensity for success – and continued growth.

One of the biggest lessons we have learnt over the years is to never become complacent. Business is about constantly reviewing what you are doing and how you’re doing it, from your business model and the products or services you offer, to what staff and management structures you have in place.

When we launched in 1998, extending our footprint was the most important thing to me. I wanted a branch in every main (and not so main) centre in South Africa. Our model was based on doing onsite work, and so the more satellite offices we had, the wider our reach.

I concentrated on opening offices and getting technicians within those areas and didn’t even question this logic. We needed to be everywhere to grow our brand.

In hindsight, this was definitely the right strategy at the time. We managed to grow a national brand, and we had technicians across the country. And then the market changed. New technology enabled us to do most of our work remotely.

Suddenly, we didn’t need to be onsite, and we certainly didn’t need offices in far flung places. Maintaining those offices is expensive, and so are travel expenses. It’s far more cost-effective and efficient to work remotely, particularly since in many cases we were sorting out problems remotely anyway, and the offices were just sitting there costing us money.

It sounds so obvious, but if you don’t pay attention to the numbers, you can often miss the obvious.

If I could go back, it would be to have realised this earlier and begin our consolidation sooner than we did. You can’t close offices overnight, and so we are still carrying some unnecessary costs. On the other hand, if we hadn’t realised this at all, we wouldn’t still be going. We’ve gone from 14 to ten offices in the last year, and are aiming for eight.

From budget solution to premium service

The technology changes that affected how we operated also changed our market. For many years the average client needed to see us every three to six months, and our market was 80% consumer and 20% corporate. Over the past year and a half though, technology has improved to such a degree that home-based tech doesn’t need fixing.

Again, this sounds obvious – we all know tech has improved substantially over the past few years – but when your whole business is based on helping non-tech savvy people fix their hardware or instal and troubleshoot software, it’s problematic when the problems go away.

A large part of our business also focused on training, and again, as people have become far more comfortable with technology, this market has also shrunk. We could have stuck to our guns and tried to approach more people, expanded our marketing and sales efforts or simply accepted a shrinking business, but that’s no way to run a sustainable business.

We needed to change our business model instead. There’s no sense in holding on to something that’s no longer working.

Our solution was the corporate market. The consumer market for training and after-sales support might be shrinking, but the corporate market is growing. More and more businesses are using tech – particularly smaller companies that could not previously afford to.

The difficulty for us was understanding the difference between the two markets.

Consumers want to pay less, but they are happy to wait a few days for assistance. The corporate market will pay more, but demands immediate service. Their own businesses are based on their tech – everything needs to be running smoothly, at all times.

We have adjusted our offering accordingly. It’s meant a number of shifts. First, the students we employed for consumer work are not suited to the corporate market. In many cases students have grown with us, and years later are ideal for this market, but it has changed our hiring practices.

We need technicians who are comfortable working in a corporate environment, work well in high-stress, high-pressure situations, and intimately understand bigger and more complex corporate systems.

Our entire model has shifted to 80% corporate and 20% consumer. As a result, we need far more technicians as well. Our corporate clients can’t wait for assistance. We need to be addressing their problem within four to six hours at the most, which means we need a surplus of technicians who are actually sitting around, waiting for a call.

To be able to afford this model and offer this level of service, we need to charge a premium price to take into account the fact that we have capacity that is not being used. Interestingly, this has not been a problem. We originally started out as a budget solution.

Today, we offer a premium service, and as long as we are able to deliver on our client service agreements, it’s a premium price our clients are happy to pay for the value we are adding to their businesses.

Our strategy over the past year has been to grow the business side as quickly as the consumer side shrinks. It’s been a challenge, but because we keep re-evaluating the way we operate, we’ve been able to streamline a lot of our processes along the way, which has alleviated cost pressures during the transition.

Know your profit generators

The trick with both pricing and watching the bottom line is understanding where you make your money. It sounds like a cliché, but in my opinion it’s the single most important part of running – and growing – a business.

Hardware and software have become so commoditised that you need to make your margins on service offerings. Since our model was already based on charging premium prices for excellent service, this could have been the end of it, with an assumption we were making a tidy profit.

Instead, each year we do an extensive overview of where we are making money, and where we’re spending it. We take nothing for granted.

Through the exercise we could clearly see how much the 14 branches were costing us, but also how our system gave a false impression of how well some of the branches were actually doing.

A branch manager would report a profit of R100 000 for example, but not take into account that head office administrative and accounting support cost R300 000. Without balancing the books, you end up with essentially false margins, and branch managers who don’t have a strong picture of how their deliverables are impacting the business as a whole.

Similarly, we needed to determine what was making us money, and these are not necessarily the jobs that offer the biggest margins. Let’s take network cabling as an example. On paper this offers a 60% margin, which is great. What you don’t factor in are the hours of upfront consulting and management hours. These are indirect costs, but they add up.

Compare this to a job that only has a 20% margin, but no additional costs for time and manpower. At the end of the day you end up with a higher profit, even though the margins are lower.

What we learn each year from this exercise is that you can’t assume you know where your money comes from, and that the highest paying contracts aren’t always the biggest profit jobs. As a business owner, I regularly sit down and question how well I know and understand the inner workings of my own business, and I make sure I’m as informed as I can be.

Keep a constant watch

The most important job description that I have though is managing people. Someone from every branch reports directly to me, and although our branch managers are empowered to make their own decisions and manage their own teams, I get regular updates on what’s happening in each branch so that I have a strong handle on where the business is.

It’s my job to motivate my managers, support them, train them and help them solve issues. When we receive a complaint, it’s not about assigning blame. It’s about asking what went wrong, determining the best way to resolve the issue, and then putting systems in place to ensure the same mistake never happens again.

Everyone is involved in the process, and we all learn from it, across the branches.

Customer service is our entire business. If we relax, this starts slipping, so I keep a constant watch on how we are delivering on our mandate and receive monthly reports on client interactions. I am also very conscious of the fact that I need to lead by example.

If a client wants to speak directly to me, I make sure I’m available. One of the things that has always driven me nuts is companies whose MDs are inaccessible. You have a problem and you’re passed from manager to manager and never feel like your issue is being addressed or taken seriously.

This isn’t the business we want to be. Our differentiator is service, and I can’t insist on that with our employees if I’m not willing to follow suit with my own time.

Achieving sustainable growth

  • Never become complacent

If you assume you’re making a profit or your pricing is spot on, chances are you’re missing something. We regularly take a long, hard look at what actually makes us money, and we’ve realised that higher margins don’t necessarily relate to higher profits – sometimes it’s even the other way around.

  • Focus on your market

What previously worked might not work today. Stay on top of market trends and relate them to your business model. If we had stuck to our consumer model because that was the way we had always worked, we wouldn’t be around today.

  • Find your differentiator

It sounds clichéd, but when you are offering a non-commoditised service, the value you offer your clients determines your price point. Understand what value you bring to your clients’ lives or business.

The higher the value, the more you can charge – and no, value is not the quality of your service or product, but what you bring to the client. In our case, we give our clients the gift of minimum down time. They don’t care how great our technicians are, as long as they don’t feel the pain of tech that doesn’t work.

Nadine Todd is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Magazine, the How-To guide for growing businesses. Find her on Google+.

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Lessons Learnt

10 Gary Vaynerchuk-Approved Success Strategies

The VaynerMedia founder gets real about drive and ambition.

Nina Zipkin

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Gary Vaynerchuk

Perhaps the best way to describe Gary Vaynerchuk is “nonstop.” The founder of VaynerMedia, VaynerSports and Vayner/RSE is also an author, host and vlogger who records just about everything he does.

He is known for being relentless in his pursuit of the hustle and has a loyal audience of millions (2.4 million on Instagram, 1.58 million on Twitter and 2.3 million on Facebook) who take his advice to heart.

We took a deep dive into his blog archive to find some of his best tips and advice for making it as an entrepreneur.

1. On why failure shouldn’t scare you

“It’s the lack of fear of failing that has allowed me to make decisions so quick. People don’t make decisions because they are scared to lose. I make decisions because I want to know what’s going to happen, and then I use that information to help advise what I do next,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“The one thing I know for sure, is the outcome of what happens if you don’t decide. If you never make a decision, or deliberate for too long, all the upside or potential opportunity could be lost.”

Related: 5 Vital Keys To Success From The Likes Of Tony Robbins And Gary Vaynerchuk

2. On the value of patience

“The game is LONG. There’s so much opportunity. Optimism is the secret to capitalizing on this opportunity and that’s where you need to live. You need to figure out how good it really is and how much opportunity you have,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“Patience is practical. I push patience because I know life is long. Everybody around here is running around like it’s not. 24 year-olds running around like it ends tomorrow. Like they need it now. What’s wrong with being 26 or 41 or 73?”

3. On why age has nothing to do with ability

gary-vaynerchuk-entrepreneur

“The youth are the future of everything. They are the future of business, of society, of law and of government. We better pay attention, and empower them to be the best that they can be,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“My hope is that we lose the sentiment of age makes a difference in skill. There are plenty of 22 and 24 and 26 year olds in my office right now that work harder and smarter than some of the 50 year olds I know. It’s just the truth and we are going to continue to see this trend adopted in the marketplace. You can’t deny results.”

4. On how to build a lasting legacy

“I think my actions map to my ambitions. Because my ambition is to have legacy. I treat it that way. I treat everybody I interact with, with kindness and respect. These days, as my notoriety has grown, I still treat people just the same. I look them dead in the face and I’m just in it with them for that one minute or two or three or 10, and really care about they have to say! Because I am very appreciative and humbled for their attention. I will never get over it. I will never get over the fact that people actually care.”

Related: 8 Pieces Of Sage Advice From Ernest Corbett of Tintswalo Safari Lodges

5. On the importance of an open door policy

“I don’t think one can win in business without having the proper teammates and empowering them to play their role. Ideas can come from anywhere but the fact of the matter is you need an offensive line, you need a receiver, you need a quarterback, you need them all and I think any leader that doesn’t recognise that will ultimately not succeed in the long term. Obviously you can have a company that runs for six months and you sell it but over a 10, 20, 40 year period, there is no other strategy that will actually work.”

6. On why you need to prioritise your own happiness

“To truly be selfless, you have to give without expectation. It’s the mindset of giving with expectation, which kills everything. It just doesn’t work at all. Being selfish is the gateway to selflessness, because you learn to take care of your own personal needs first in order to use that as collateral later so that you can really, truly help.”

7. On why you shouldn’t think about how things “should be”

gary-vaynerchuk-entrepreneur-quote

“Navigating our society and our lives with the hope of how it ‘should be’ versus the way it actually is, is the quickest and least practical way to create success. This is something I say to myself every single day,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“I am in control of my destiny. Nobody else. I get to decide how I react and how I respond, and the greatest motivator to inspire perspective is the simple statement ‘What’s the alternative?’”

8. On why you must value the perspective you bring to the table

“Why are you taking somebody else’s opinion about yourself greater than your opinion about yourself? It’s the single greatest mistake that will keep you from finding happiness and confidence in who you are,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“And it’s not that their opinions don’t matter. You have to have an equal amount of respect for yourself as for others. It’s a democratic society and everyone gets a vote. So beyond the thought leaders, and politicians and school systems you have to have respect for yourself. You need to put yourself on your own pedestal and then start weighing the opinions of others proportionately to how you actually feel about yourself.”

9. On why the competition doesn’t matter

“I am and always have been consumer focused. The reason I don’t pay attention to my ‘competition’ is not because I’m brash or cool. It’s because it doesn’t matter when you’re obsessed with the end consumer,” Vaynerchuk writes.

“Because it starts and it ends with the end consumer and where the attention actually is. I will always do actions that bring you the most value because then I get value in return.”

10. On why your goal should be to keep working

“I didn’t need to get mine at 25. Heck, I don’t even need to ‘get mine’ at 41. This is the long, long game. I’m driven by the climb. It could be because I’m an immigrant and I just have this chip on my shoulder. Or maybe it’s in my DNA. I don’t like winning. I like losing. I like the struggle. I like people telling me that I can’t,” Vaynerchuk writes. “I don’t give a shit if my payday comes tomorrow. I want the game. The game is my life. There will never be a moment to quit. There’s no dollar amount. Nothing you can do to make me stop.”

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Lessons Learnt

7 Motivational Habits That Drive Millionaires

Habits seem to rule us. They can hold you back, or you can adapt the right habits and prosper.

John Rampton

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wealthy-people

Have you ever been awed by the motivation of a successful entrepreneur, leader or athlete? I have. It’s not jealousy, either. Far from it. It’s respect for how motivated they are. Even though I consider myself fairly motivated, their examples encourage me to become even more focused and driven.

The good news is that by adopting the following seven habits, anyone can become more motivated:

1. Find your why

“Highly motivated people start with their WHY. WHY do you do what you do?” asks J.D. Meier in an article for Time.

“If you climb a mountain simply because it’s there, that’s probably not enough to keep you going when the going gets tough. If you know WHY you do what you do, and it matters deeply to you, then you will find your strength in any situation,” adds Meier.

Why do you want to start a workout regiment? Because it was suggested by your doctor? Did your spouse mutter a comment? Are you tired of feeling lethargic? Once you find your why, you can use that to motivate you to follow through with exercising.

2. Get your morning started on the right foot

sleeping-habits

One of the easiest and most powerful habits that drive motivation is kicking off your day correctly by having a morning routine. Think about it. Getting your day started on the right foot makes it a lot easier to stay motivated throughout the entire day.

To ensure that you wake up on the right side of the bed, try these tips:

  • Have a reason to get out of bed. It could be anything from walking your dog, making sure your kids are off to school, or squeezing in a workout before work.
  • Stretch and breathe deep. This gets the blood and oxygen flowing to your brain, and helps you get up.
  • Do something simple to start the day. I make my bed immediately once I’m up. It’s not because I want the bedroom to look presentable. It’s because it’s an easy task that makes me feel like I’ve already accomplished something — even though I’ve only been awake for a couple of minutes!
  • Create rote tasks. As explained by Due’s Miranda Marquit, “Look for ways you can make mornings easier by creating rote tasks that are easy to accomplish. We don’t like to face a day that starts hard. Do what you can to make it easier. Once you’re up and moving, you’ll feel better and eventually be awake enough to tackle the
    hard stuff.”
  • Set goals for the day. This doesn’t have to be lengthy. Just list your top priorities for the day.

Related: 20 Things Millionaires Aren’t Sharing With You

3. Change it up

There’s an old saying: Variety is the spice of life. Variety keeps you motivated to meet goals when you haven’t yet made much progress and risk falling into a rut.

Changing things up is like your workout routine. You can’t just work on your legs. Other parts of your body need some loving too. Keep doing the same exercises and you’ll soon plateau.

The same is true for any aspect of your life. Changing things up gives you a chance to break up the monotony, try out new skills, and have new experiences that can lead to new ideas or develop a new passion.

4. Chart your progress

This is a simple way for you to see how far you’ve come along. Sounds simple, but think about when you set a reading goal. Maybe you want to read more books. Your initial goal is to read for just five minutes a day, but once you start you’re reading for ten minutes and then 30 minutes and soon you’re flying through books.

If you can do 30 minutes, then why not bump up to 40? Just imagine all the books you’ll be able to read. Mark this on your calendar each and every day.

5. Create environmental anchors

working-environment

This is simply writing your goals or inspiring quotes on a Post-it or 3×5 card and placing it on the wall of your office, the inside of your car, bathroom mirror or calendar. A daily reminder of your goal will push you to accomplish it.

6. Develop gratitude

Just by identifying the one thing every day that you’re grateful for is powerful enough in helping you achieve both mini-goals and your big goals, since it develops the ability to look for a daily opportunity that you can grow from.

For example, if you’re grateful that you just landed a new client today, use that feeling and experience to secure two new clients tomorrow.

Related: The One Habit of Self-Made Millionaires

7. Discover your passion

Obsession can be an extremely powerful motivator since it creates its own motivational might. In fact, the most successful individuals are those who chased their passion and are doing what they love to do.

When you become passionate, whether it’s at work, exercising, or volunteering, it no longer becomes laborious. It becomes something that you enjoy, look forward to, and want to get better at.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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Company Posts

From Local To Global: Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA) Shares Top Tips On Being A Successful Entrepreneur

Managing Director of W.Consulting, Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA), has done exactly that and shares his top tips.

SAICA

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bruce-mackenzie

How do you grow your own SME into a global consultancy? Managing Director of W.Consulting, Bruce Mackenzie CA(SA), has done exactly that and shares his top tips.

“I started W.Consulting with the aim of providing an independent, high-quality alternative for corporates and audit firms looking for advice on International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS). The business has grown substantially to more than 40 people working globally, providing advisory services on IFRS, audit risk and corporate finance, training and IT product development.” These are Bruce’s five top tips for achieving growth.

1. Take the risk as soon as possible

It was a nerve-wracking decision to go on my own, as CAs(SA) are taught to be risk-averse. It’s very tough to throw away a CV, but rather than spend a life regretting not taking a chance, if you have thoughts of running your own business, do so sooner rather than later, as the decision only gets tougher with each passing year.

Related: Better Thinking For A Better World

flights-to-london-long-day2. Work hard and persevere

One point seldom emphasised enough when talking of entrepreneurs is that it is very hard work and requires a great deal of energy and perseverance. I attribute my success in large measure to high energy levels. You need that.

It’s exhausting — long days, early flights to London to deliver training, and sometimes back again the same day. So, yes, you need a surplus of energy.

3. Know how to sell yourself and your business

You also need a predisposition towards selling, as any business requires sales in order to expand. Selling is something that’s in my DNA.

Especially when selling advice, it requires persistence because I know that a potential client will at some point need services like ours, so I make sure W.Consulting is top of mind when that day comes. I achieve this by keeping up the relationship, sending new ideas with no sales angle connected, mailing interesting books, and checking on how things are with the client. It’s a matter of having genuine interest. 

4. Hire trustworthy people who share your passion

There are many risks in establishing your own business and one of the first challenges stems from the need to expand beyond a one-man operation. There’s a certain comfort in doing all the work and seeing all the cash in the business as yours, but it puts a fairly low ceiling on the business’s prospects and potential income.

The decision to expand and hire your first employee is both a big decision in itself and important as to the individual you select. It’s the biggest single decision most entrepreneurs have to make — and one that most don’t make early enough. You need to scale up a business to release resources at the top. That process never really ends — whatever you’re currently doing, you have to continually ask yourself: “Could this be done down the line?”

In an SME, each hire, but especially your first, has to be somebody you can trust, someone with the same objectives as you. Instead of having 9 to 5 people, rather employ someone who will do whatever is necessary, regardless of what time of day it is.

My philosophy is to hire people with passion and who preferably know what they’re doing, and then pay well to get them.

Related: 10 Things Successful People Tell Themselves Every Day

5. Continue to innovate

Most businesses fail not for want of an entrepreneurial idea, but because of management and accounting basics like cash flow. CAs(SA) already understand these basics and so arguably can concentrate on the actual operations of the business. However, because CAs(SA) can earn good money in the corporate world, most opt for the easy route in the corporate environment.

The future and success of any business is to keep on doing what it’s doing well. Bruce attributes the success of the business to its culture of continuous innovation: “It’s easier to sell something new,”  he concludes.

Visit www.saica.co.za

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