A lot of starting a business is just winging it. Call it the hustle, faking it ‘till you make it or biting off more than you can chew (and then chewing like hell), the reality is the same: Doing what you can, when you can to get yourself and your business out there so that you can build a brand with longevity.
As a start-up, does your vision push the boundaries? Are you putting everything you have into achieving something great? Here are seven lessons to help you (and your business) reach full potential.
1. Seize the day
Wes began his career in the people development industry. He was involved in high-impact training and developmental coaching, and entrepreneurship couldn’t have been further from his mind. “I had no appetite for going solo,” he recalls.
“I was employed but doing some part-time coaching on the side, and while this may have seemed like a springboard into entrepreneurship, I’ve always viewed start-ups as requiring three key things: Timing, opportunity and experience. Experience in particular was a stumbling block for me. I was young. I didn’t feel like I’d earned real credibility or had enough life experience to offer real value to others. Who would listen to me? I was just Wes.”
And then an opportunity presented itself and Wes decided to take the plunge anyway. “After becoming an expert in behaviour and personality profiling, I was asked to join a project management company. About a year into joining them they shut down.”
Facing unemployment, Wes decided to take the plunge and never work for a boss again. Instead, he seized the opportunity to launch his own business and brand.
And so, Five-Star was born, a brand that sought to help businesses improve their customer service by first focusing on their employees. Wes decided to cut his teeth in the hospitality arena, where customer service is the life-blood of the industry.
The lesson: There is no perfect time to start a business. There will always be excuses to put it off. You will never be 100% ready. And yet, until you’ve taken that first step, you can’t start testing your model in the market, tweaking and adjusting your offering to suit your audience. If your dream is to become an entrepreneur, don’t look for all the reasons why you shouldn’t take the plunge, but focus on the one reason why you should.
2. Don’t wait for business to find you
When Wes launched Five-Star, he had no savings to invest in the business and no assets. He had himself and his experiences. “I didn’t spend time on a business plan or money on getting a website up and running — that would all come later. I spent what I could afford on business cards, and hit the streets. I believed I could tell my story better than a website could, and so I focused on getting myself in front of the people I needed to sell my services to.”
Wes’ first call was to the GM of one of the fastest growing hotel groups in the country. “I introduced myself as Wes from Five-Star, told him I’d heard a lot about how good his hotel was, and that I’d love to take him out for coffee to discuss what would take them to a ten. I didn’t sell anything over the phone — I wanted a face-to-face meeting, and the opportunity to share real value. I wanted him to see why we should work together, rather than make a hard sell.”
Wes is an expert in hospitality, training and customer service. But he was also winging it. During the coffee meeting he was asked to do a mystery guest assessment, to uncover which areas could be improved upon. “I asked him if he’d like me to use their report or mine, and thank goodness he said theirs, since I didn’t have one.” Nine years later, that hotel group is Wes’ longest-standing client.
This is the tactic Wes has used to build his business and brand ever since: He focuses on face-to-face meetings, sharing his story, who he is and what he’s learnt, and really listening to his clients’ challenges so that he can offer advice and add value — even if they don’t end up doing business together.
The lesson: Entrepreneurs make things happen for themselves. Wes personally does not like cold calls, and so he’s found a sales strategy that works for him. How you sell isn’t as important as the fact that you are out there, selling yourself, your business and the solutions you can offer. If you aren’t out there selling, you’ll never build a sustainable start-up.
3. Make the most of tools
The report that the hotel gave Wes for his first mystery guest assessment became the template for a report he built for himself. Over the years he has developed numerous tools, building on his experience with Discus and other methodologies to create frameworks for his motivational talks, training and coaching programmes.
“In the early days I couldn’t afford to purchase tools, so I had to really listen to my clients and develop what they needed. There are so many resources available to us today. You just need to do your research, know your industry and be constantly tweaking your offering based on what works best.”
In Wes’ own words, he’s not a book smarts guy, but a street smarts guy. “It’s why a business plan didn’t work for me — I needed to be out there, testing my model and my theories, and tweaking and adjusting my offering. I paid my school fees, and used those learnings to develop the tools I needed to deliver results.
“I love developing models. Applied knowledge is power. But don’t overcomplicate things. There’s a simple process to learning and development: The stages of knowledge start with a revelation, new knowledge, followed by realisation — making it real — and finally a revolution, which leads to purpose and progress. That’s what I help people to do — create perspectives, interrogate the perspective, and then affect real change in their lives and businesses.”
The lesson: The more open you are to learning and adjusting your solutions, the more you’ll be able to offer to your clients. Any tools you can develop to add to the overall experience are value-adds that benefit yourself and your clients.
4. Add value before you add an invoice
Wes is a born networker. He loves meeting new people, sharing his story, and finding out more about the people he’s networking with. He’s also very good at uncovering the challenges they face and offering solutions, even if those solutions aren’t one of the products he offers.
“When you increase your network, you increase your net worth. I believe in being the go-to guy for my clients. I want them to feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking my advice on anything. I believe great businesses and brands are built when you add value before you add an invoice.”
This has been Wes’ motto throughout his career, long before he launched his own business. “I’ve always put my hand up when a new challenge or task has presented itself. I don’t believe in constantly looking for what’s wrong in what’s right. Face the reality, and determine the best way to get the opportunity out of the obstacle. You need to choose to be opportunistic. I’m a realist, but that doesn’t mean I want to live in a negative environment.
“I’ve brought this attitude to everything I do, including how I view my clients’ businesses. It’s not about what I can get from them, but what I can add to them. Some of this I can charge for, but valuable advice should be freely given. I believe in cultivating an opportunistic mindset; and I want to help my clients and their employees to do the same.”
The lesson: As an entrepreneur, you need to walk the talk. If you truly care about your customers, add real value without always expecting something in return. You’ll build long-term relationships built on trust and mutual respect.
5. Don’t lose Focus
It’s a common problem amongst start-up entrepreneurs. Early wins leave you feeling overly confident and eager for more. It’s at this stage that many business owners start looking for new challenges, and where else they can divest their energy for new and exciting wins.
For Wes, this diversion was cars. “I’d been accepted into the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship, but instead of focusing on Five-Star, I was looking for a way to combine my passion for cars with business.”
What Wes found was Plastic Dip, a US-based product used to wrap cars. “I stopped focusing on Five-Star and launched Plastispray,” he recalls. “I had this massive vision, with not much support. I forgot the cardinal rule that I’d learnt in Samuel Chand’s book, Who’s Holding Your Ladder, and that’s the importance of support. We might be the sole founders of our businesses, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need support systems. Who is holding your ladder? Who won’t get bored and walk away?
“I ended up in a situation where my focus was completely scattered, I wasn’t managing my personal life, and the business I was trying to build just didn’t have legs. I even landed this incredible project, building a Mini Cooper for the launch of Virgin Mobile. We turned it into a photo-booth and broke a world record for the most people squeezed into a Mini — which was 25.
“I thought, that’s it, after this project, the business will just take off. And nothing happened. It opened no doors.”
It was a hard lesson to learn, and one that took its toll on Wes emotionally. “2013 was the lowest year of my life,” he says. “I started seeing a psychologist, and spent 2014 rebuilding myself. I realised I needed to work on my attitude, my fears and my business. I also needed to learn how to focus again. We can’t achieve anything in life if we aren’t focused.
“I failed hard, but it also gave me perspective. When you learn you win — which means that failure isn’t actually losing. It’s important to understand that, and it’s what pushed me through the tough times. Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”
Once Wes regrouped and renewed his focus on Five-Star, the business started taking off. “People outside of the hospitality industry started asking me for help. I was invited to speak at international leadership conferences, and work with businesses on turnaround strategies. From there the business has just grown from strength to strength.”
The lesson: Focus is essential. It’s easy to get distracted and chase the next trend or hot idea, but real success takes time to build, and sticking to anything long-term takes focus. The more focused you are, the higher your chances of success.
6. Understand your brand
For nine years Wes has operated the business under the Five-Star name. The longer he’s been in the industry however, the clearer it’s become that his brand isn’t the business, it’s himself, and his ideas.
“I’m always, unapologetically, ‘just Wes’,” he says. “You’ll never be everything to everyone. The best thing you can be is authentic. Some people will love you, others won’t. That’s okay. Just be true to yourself. I’m not a suits guy. I arrive how I am, share my story, my lessons, and give the best advice I can. I share tools and tips to become the best version of you. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I wasn’t completely myself when I work with my clients.”
It’s for this reason that Wes has recently rebranded the business to ‘Wes’, with the tagline, Imagine Thinking. It’s an ideal closely linked with his talks, his philosophy, and his name in the market. “I’m becoming a thought leader, and that comes with risks,” he says. “When you put yourself out there, you need to have enough confidence for people to disagree with you, because that’s hard. Not everyone will like what you’re saying or agree with you on a particular issue. You put yourself out there in the public domain and if you aren’t sure of who you are and what you stand for, insecurities can come to haunt you.
“I tell everyone I speak to, ‘disagree with everything I say…’ I can’t change the way people think, or what they think — I just want to challenge them to think for a change. I want you to consider your opinions and question them. Imagine thinking. Thinking is a verb. You have to do something — you need to disagree to set your own thoughts in motion. Be brave; share your thoughts so that we all benefit together.
“I used to take myself seriously; I don’t anymore. I don’t want to offend, but I’m okay if you don’t agree with me.”
The lesson: Your personal and business brands tell a story. They let your customers know who you are, what you stand for, and what your values are. People do business with people, not companies, so don’t be afraid to authentically share your story.
7. Have a vision that scares you
For Wes, too many organisations have a vision that’s external and designed for clients. But he believes vision is an internal thing. “As an entrepreneur, your vision should be for you and your employees. It should be your guiding light. It’s your future, and it should consistently grow.
“If you don’t achieve your vision, it’s because you don’t have an appetite for the mission. If you’re only looking two to five years into the future, that’s a goal, not a vision. Your vision should scare you. It should wake you up and keep you up. It should drive you.”
“The mission is how you achieve the vision. You need to know what it will take to get there, and this usually includes a lot of hard work, stress, fear, and living on the edge. But that’s okay, because we’re designed to stretch ourselves. That’s when we discover our full potential.”
The lesson: Don’t ever be too scared to think big. Thinking small isn’t what entrepreneurs are built for. Big hairy audacious goals (or BHAGs) are the foundation of successful, game changing businesses — and successful, fulfilled entrepreneurs.
Can Being Deceptive Help You Build Your Business? It Worked For These 5 Entrepreneurs
We’ve all told little white lies. But what about the big ones? What if telling them would bring your business success?
We all commit little acts of deception, like saying we got stuck in traffic when we were really late to the meeting because we wanted to watch the last five minutes of a favourite TV show. Little white lies? I’ve told them. You’ve told them.
But what about big lies, the kind truly lacking in integrity – like misrepresenting your sales to a prospective investor?
Obviously, there are often severe consequences to lying. Depending on the context, you could lose the trust of a peer, break a professional relationship or even face legal action. Yet, despite these consequences, lying is more common in the entrepreneurial world than you might think.
Just take as an example these five entrepreneurs, who might not be as well known or successful as they are if it weren’t for some clever acts of deception:
Three Habits That Underpin Entrepreneurial Success
Here are three powerful habits that will help you stay focused, define your entrepreneurial attitude and take your business from zero to hero.
Successful people and businesses don’t all share the same traits and commitments. Yes they all have managed to break barriers and achieve impressive goals. They’re the leaders, the movers, the shakers and the industry creators. However, not all entrepreneurs are created equal and their recipes for success can differ wildly.
Some swear by a three-hour run every morning followed by a nice salad and the bustle of busy work life. Others need an incredibly early start so they can spend time with their emails and focus on their business. Every entrepreneur has their own secret tricks that keep them on the straight and successful narrow, but most share a few simple habits that are guaranteed to make a difference.
Here are three habits that will help you become better at business and at leading others towards long-term success:
1. Always be ready to change your assumptions
Many people are unable to change the assumptions they have about their business and its future as it evolves. No business model should be locked in cement and rigidly upheld, it will need to adapt and adjust as it grows and customer needs change. As an entrepreneur you need to understand this concept and be prepared to evolve and change in new directions and markets.
Related: Business Plan Format Guide
This also ties into failure. Do you understand why you failed at something? Are you aware that perhaps your business model is changing? Can you learn from these experiences? Can you adjust your business model, get better research, refine your ideas? If you are ready to take positive value out of these moments and experiences, then you are an agile and inspired entrepreneur.
2. There’s no off switch
Passion and commitment are absolutely key to the success of your business and your own personal growth. You can’t switch off or walk away or just take a sick day because you feel like it, not if you want to stand as an example to your employees or if you want to build a brilliant business.
It may sound trite and tired, but a work ethic is the single most important habit to have as an entrepreneur. You need to always hold yourself to the highest standards, commit to ethical practice and work harder than anyone else.
3. Take it personally
This doesn’t mean gentle sobs in your office when Susan from accounts ridicules your maths skills. If you take your business personally, then you are wrapping the skills learned in points 1 and 2 above into one cohesive whole – you are embedding your passion into every crevice of your company. Care about what you do, be passionate about what it stands for, and be prepared to fight for its life. The route from zero to billion-dollar business isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.
Remember, the idea is only 1%. Sweat, work, commitment and focus are the other 99% of the success equation.
Head Of Audi South Africa Shares His Top Lessons On Weathering The Storm In Turbulent Times
When the economy isn’t playing ball, it’s time to roll up your sleeves, face your challenges head-on, and get to work, says Head of Audi SA, Trevor Hill.
- Player: Trevor Hill
- Position: Head of Audi South Africa
- Visit: www.audi.co.za
“In everything we do, across the organisation, we ask this question: Is it the best? That’s our value proposition. Without it, we don’t have a clear direction for everyone to follow.”
Some of the biggest brands in the world are well-known for keeping things lean. Amazon is a prime example, where even Amazon-branded employee backpacks are reused. Many bloated organisations learnt the hard way in 2008 that if you aren’t efficient and focused on the bottom-line, you’ll struggle to survive in competitive and volatile environments. On the other hand, businesses that were already lean and flexible not only survived the recession — many of them actually thrived, mainly because they were far better equipped to handle new economic realities than their competitors.
According to research conducted by Bain & Co’s authors of The Founder’s Mentality, Chris Zook and James Lane Allen, 85% of the biggest growth challenges large-scale organisations face are internal. This doesn’t mean the economy and competitors don’t matter. But the way leaders and managers of those organisations react to economic and external stimuli does.
Trevor Hill, Head of Audi South Africa, is well-versed on the impact external stimuli can have on a brand — even an established premium brand like Audi South Africa. Economic and political conditions in South Africa have impacted consumer confidence, and the premium vehicle market has experienced year-on-year double digit declines over the past three years. “The premium market is almost half the size it was three years ago in South Africa,” he explains. “Consumer confidence, the high pricing of premium cars, and a general buying down trend have really impacted our market. Three years ago, we were selling close to 20 000 vehicles per year. Today we sell around 10 000 vehicles. You can’t ignore market conditions. You need to face them head on, and do what’s best for your employees, the brand and your consumers.”
Here are Trevor’s five lessons for weathering the storm so that your business and brand are well positioned when market recovery begins.
1. Have a clear value proposition that everyone understands and embraces
“We will never be the biggest in the South African market,” says Trevor. “Mercedes-Benz and BMW produce in South Africa and have an advantage over us in terms of export credits. If we can’t be the biggest though, we can focus on being the best. That is entirely within our control.
“Our ‘Best’ strategy says that we want to be the best organisation, have the best product, the best brand and the best customer service. Everything we do must be looked at through this lens – is it the best? If we host an event, have we chosen the best venue, event organisers and caterers? Does the look and feel match our standards? If we can’t be the best — we don’t do it.
“In everything we do, across the organisation, we ask this question: Is it the best? That’s our value proposition. Without it, we don’t have a clear direction for everyone to follow.”
2. Understand what’s in your control and then roll up your sleeves and get it done
The rate cut at the end of 2017 really helped the premium market towards the end of the year. The problem is that there are things you can control — such as running a lean organisation — and things you can’t control, such as whether or not there will be another rate cut. So how do you ensure a proactive culture rather than a defeatist mentality when times are tough?
“The spirit of Audi has always been to challenge boundaries, roll up our sleeves and forge our own future,” says Trevor. “It’s in our ‘Vorsprung’ DNA. This has never been more applicable than when we’re weathering a storm, but it has to be fostered when the waters are calm.”
The theory is straightforward. If an organisation isn’t used to challenging boundaries and being in control of its own destiny, it’s difficult to find those characteristics when they’re really needed. When something is woven into a brand’s DNA, it’s because it’s always there, and the organisation’s entire culture supports it.
Trevor can point to examples everywhere. For example, in the 1980s, Audi was the first car manufacturer to put a five-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive on a rally car, and cleaned up two years in a row as a result.
“The Audi spirit is that you can improve anything. You just need to be willing to put in the work.”
Faced with extremely tough local conditions, the South African team is now doing just that: Rolling up its sleeves and finding solutions.
“This is how we handle the business as a whole. We’ve been completely upfront with head office and our investors about current market conditions, but we aren’t complaining — we’re putting the facts on the table, showing them what we can control, and unpacking how we’re going to see the business rolling forward. Because of that attitude and transparency, we have everyone’s full support.”
3. Never throw money at a problem; smart solutions aren’t necessarily the most expensive
“Spending a fortune on brand campaigns isn’t going to change the reality of the current market conditions,” says Trevor. “It’s easy to throw money at a problem, but then what? We’ve taken a different approach. We’ve selected a number of brand ambassadors whose values really align with our own. These include TBO Touch, Cameron van der Burgh, Wayde van Niekerk and Nomzamo Mbatha. Their followers know what they stand for, and associate Audi with those same values. It’s a much more targeted and niche way to gain awareness for our brand.”
For Trevor, not throwing money at a problem is a value that should be ingrained in an organisation. “We approached 2018 with this value top of mind. At the end of 2017 our management team went away for a strategy session. We collectively took a look at the entire business and asked what we needed to do to drive this business through the stormy waters of 2018.
“Each manager then got a target for their division that was aligned with the other divisions and organisation as a whole. They then conducted individual strategy sessions with their teams. The whole thing was a problem-solving mission: This is the budget we have, this is where our focus needs to be, now how do we go out and deliver the best? What’s our plan?
“These plans were then aligned with each other to ensure everyone was going in the same direction, and we measure everything. My KPIs filter down to the management team, and theirs filter down to their teams. It’s a very inclusive system; everyone can workshop the problem, and in that way we don’t only gather some out-the-box ideas, but we get everyone’s buy-in as well.”
4. Encourage your team to try new things and communicate collaboratively
Very often, individual divisions communicate well together, but the message and camaraderie is lost across divisions, particularly between sales and marketing. “We’ve found two ways to encourage participation and camaraderie across the business,” says Trevor. “The first is that we always encourage new ideas. If something is tried and tested and doing well, especially in marketing, try to own that property. But if something isn’t giving you what you want, change it. We’re often too scared to change things that aren’t working or to try something new. We encourage participation and thinking differently. The bigger your pool of ideas, the more you have to work with.”
The company also has a number of monthly meetings that bring different divisions into the same room for workshop sessions. “We have a lot of field staff who aren’t often in the office. We need to keep communicating with them to pull them into the fold,” explains Trevor. “For example, once a month we have marketing and product meetings. The marketing, product and sales teams all attend. It gives everyone an opportunity to know what’s happening and hash out any questions or issues then and there. The communication between divisions — particularly marketing and sales — is much better as a result.”
5. Keep your core motivated
Like many industries, there’s a lot of employee movement in the consumer and premium brands segment. “People move. That’s the reality of job markets around the world,” says Trevor. But stability is important, and at Audi SA, that means identifying your core employees and keeping them happy.
“We have a very strong core. Within the organisation we’ve identified a core group of employees whom we absolutely need if we’re going to continue to run this business efficiently and successfully. Once you’ve identified your core, you need to keep them happy, and that’s about a lot more than their paycheque.
“Different people want different things — advancement, developing their careers, an opportunity to work abroad or perhaps spend more time with their families at home.”
The lesson? Figure out what’s important to each member of your core and try your best to give it to them. Success is a team sport — you need to keep that core team in your corner.
MAKING A SUCCESS OF NEW TERRITORIES
Trevor Hill began his career with Audi as an area manager in 1989. In 1997 he left South Africa to join Audi’s head office in Germany. Since then he has headed up divisions in Germany, Japan, China, Dubai and South Korea. One of the biggest lessons he’s learnt through his travels is that while there are certain business fundamentals that hold true everywhere, each culture has its own way of doing business, and you need to understand what that is on the ground if you’re going to make an impact and be successful.
“One of the biggest things I’ve had to communicate back to head office is that each territory operates slightly differently,” explains Trevor. “For example, in Germany, you have 100 days in any new job to prove yourself. If you don’t make something happen in those 100 days, you’re not seen to be successful. This is impossible in Asia, where business is all about relationships. You have to develop a relationship based on trust and honesty, and that doesn’t happen overnight. Until you have that trust though, your employees and customers won’t work with you. When you enter a new territory, take your time. The first year is all about understanding the lay of the land. In the second year you can implement your strategy, and in the third year you can start reaping rewards.”
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