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How UCOOK Started In A Garage And Grew To A Staggering R200 Million Business

From broke trust fund kid founder of a R200 million, David Torr and his business partners story of success with UCOOK

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Company: UCOOK
  • Who: David Torr, co-founder and CEO, Chris Verster-Cohen, co-founder and CMO and Katherine Barry, Financial Director of UCOOK Co-founder and CEO, UCOOK
  • Visit: ucook.co.za

David Torr went from a trust fund kid who kept getting kicked out of school, to flat broke and waitering, to launching a R100 million turnover business from a garage. It wasn’t the only venture he started. After travelling the world and eventually being cut off from his trust because he wasn’t living up to his father’s posthumous stipulations, David returned to South Africa, lived in his girlfriend’s parents’ house and waited tables to be able to contribute something to his living expenses. But he knew he had potential he wasn’t living up to and that it was time to make some real changes.

“An old school friend walked into the restaurant I was working at. We were catching up and he asked what I was up to, assuming I was studying something and waiting tables on the side. Except I wasn’t — that was all I was doing,” says David.

“It was a real low point for me. I’d always assumed I had hidden potential, but I was scared to dedicate myself to anything in case it was just a line I fed myself. Realising that everyone I knew was getting on with their lives, becoming CAs and lawyers, was a reality check.

“There’s something interesting that happens when you hit such a low point. Adversity breeds strength. If you feel terrible and your relevance within an environment is non-existent, there’s a lot of internal sculpting and cerebral reprogramming that you can do in a space like that. When you’re really at the bottom, you can make some key decisions about what you want and don’t want, and what you’re willing to do to get there.”

David evaluated what he had going for him. In between his travels he had completed a two-year copywriting diploma, but since he was dyslexic, it was a useless qualification, other than the fact that it had added an element of creative design thinking to his skill set.

“I’d always believed that I could take a high-level scope in concepts, single out individual problems and break them up into granular pieces and optimise them. I thought I had a process-driven, analytical mind. The problem was that I had no proof — it was all just theory. It’s easy to think about what you could do when you’re traveling through Thailand. I’d reached a point where I needed to stop thinking about my potential and get out there and do something. One way or the other, I was going to find out if I had the potential I thought I had.”

David made two key decisions. First, he wouldn’t only start one thing. He needed a few horses in the race and he settled on three ideas. Second, he wasn’t going to do them alone — he was going to assemble a team. “I did that for two reasons. First, I think I was fundamentally lacking confidence. I wanted a tribe. Second, I didn’t really have any skills or qualifications. But I am very good at finding the right people, with the skills, mindset and networks to make great things happen, and then sharing my passion to get everyone excited about an idea.”

Related: SA Entrepreneur Takes First-Of-Its Kind Business To An International Level

Finding entrepreneurial feet

So, that’s what David set out to do. He approached two friends, one a big local DJ and the other ran a bar service business, Carbon Events, and pitched a festival idea, Eden Experience. They were in. With no start-up funds to speak of, they sold tickets before they booked the venue, which gave them enough for a deposit to get started. Eden launched in 2014 and hosts three festivals a year. Importantly, at the end of 2015, the business earned David R120 000, which he invested in UCOOK.

The second business is a property development company, Solace. Also launched in 2014, today, Solace has a holding portfolio of R25 million in the student accommodation space and has invested in its first residential development, a R100 million project, Urban Artisan in Woodstock. Pre-sales were at 87% at time of print. The team has also raised a small opportunistic fund to repeat on the deal.

“I had a theory that student accommodation in Cape Town is related to proximity to UCT rather than area. I approached a friend, Nick Toms who was in property and whose dad had the funds to potentially back us and pitched my idea. He liked it — he also thought that if we could prove a use case example, we’d have his dad’s backing.”

David found a house that they could refurbish and Nick found a better one. They were able to purchase it for a good price because the house’s current rental yield was poor. “We focused on security and utilities, fibre access, electric fences, access authorisation at the gate, created a great internal environment and took rental revenues from R3 000 per month to R5 500. The house was 500 metres out of the ‘zone’.”

David and Nick had their use case, and Solace started to grow. “It’s all about matching the right partners to the right ideas. Nick is now a serious property developer, but this got him excited again.”

The genesis of UCook

ucook-boxUCOOK was David’s first idea though, as well as the most complicated. “I played around with the idea for six months in Thailand. I already knew my trust was cut and that things would be different when I got back to South Africa.

“My girlfriend and I were teaching in Thailand, but I’d been introduced to HelloFresh in the UK a few months earlier. I thought meal kits was a really interesting concept. I’ve always been a foodie, and I thought this was a clever way to combat issues associated with cooking: What to cook, how to make it, wastage — all those things.

“What I didn’t like were the categories — I didn’t like one of the four dishes I received — and I thought there was a problem in the brand’s positioning. There was no transparency around the supply chain. If you’re going to sell farm to fork, you need to show exactly where the produce is coming from.”

More than this though, David was convinced there was room for a brand like this in South Africa. “At that time, South Africa was in a technical recession, and yet Woolworths was doing well. People were spending money on premium food. In the eCommerce environment, Yuppiechef was a really relevant brand as well. I thought if you joined the two, those compounding factors made an interesting business case.”

By the time David returned to South Africa in early 2014, he had formulated a few key details. “Most people start a business with a skill set and then leverage it. Very few people say, ‘I have absolutely no skill set, so I need to reverse engineer this process. I need to start with the user, build out a series of profiles and fundamentally understand what key benefits I would need to offer to allow me to access that user in such a way that I’m creating a bespoke, tailored solution that hits the nail right on the head.’”

It sounds simple, elegant and smart. And 18 months later it was all of those things. But the actual start-up of UCOOK was in a garage, packing food kits next to a Chrysler in the co-founder’s parents’ house.

“I met Chris Verster-Cohen in Thailand, and over wine one evening told him all about my idea. He thought I really knew what I was doing, and when I approached him months later back in Cape Town, he was in. He had just completed his BSocSci at UCT and had started a degree in architecture, but he was excited about the prospect of taking a risk on a start-up we both believed could be something big.”

Related: How Lorenzo Escobal Bootstrapped His Way To Competing With Titans And Attracting Top-Tier Clients

Start-up successes and failures

As it turned out, UCOOK was a terribly difficult business to bootstrap. “I was a big dreamer and fairly good at high-level thinking. Chris brought creative and strategic thinking, a routine work ethic, which I didn’t have at that stage, and passion to grow the brand, but neither of us really knew anything else about what we were doing.”

Chris and David spent six weeks sharing notes until they knew what they wanted to launch. They asked Chris’ parents if they could take a corner of the garage and they each borrowed R25 000, Chris from his parents and David from his stepdad. The first R25 000 bought a vacuum sealer, a hand-held sealer, laminate flooring to keep the environment clean, and a few boards, knives and scales. The rest of the money was earmarked for a website, but they launched on Facebook first.

“We set up our production space, built a Facebook page and started talking about what we were doing. Orders were taken on a Monday for delivery on the following Monday, and because everything was paid up-front, we didn’t need additional capital to fill the orders.”

UCOOK’s first 21 orders came from friends and family. The partners managed a turnaround time of one day, and were extremely impressed with how they’d packaged the meal kits. They delivered each kit personally and patted themselves on the back. And then the Facebook queries started coming in — the ingredients looked delicious, but could they recommend a good website for lasagne recipes?

“We’d forgotten to include recipe cards,” says David. “Our orders went from 21 to zero. The only two people who continued to order from us were Chris’ parents. I’m ready, fire, aim. I always have been, and it has its pros and cons, but we realised we needed a plan.”

That’s when UCOOK’s third partner, Katherine Barry, joined the team. “Katey is our backbone. She has her masters in maths, but she didn’t want to be an analyst. She thought what we were doing sounded fun. She’s the COO, CFO… everything. She’s the reason we’ve been able to scale from a garage to R100 million in annual revenues in three and half years.”

David found a friend willing to build them a WooCommerce site for R25 000 and the team started seriously planning what their business needed to get off the ground. “We weren’t first to market in South Africa — there was already an established competitor in the space — but we believed we could differentiate ourselves. We just needed to get our processes right.”

The team waited tables to pay the bills and worked on the business when they could. By the end of 2014, they were sending out 50 boxes weekly, totalling R100 000 a month.

“We knew that UCOOK couldn’t scale off traditional channels that eCommerce sites use like Adwords. These are heavily reliant on the volume of search that already exists, and no one is searching for dinner kits or particular recipes. We realised that the only way we would be able to grow was through email marketing. So, we had to develop a reputation for ourselves, which was hard considering that we had absolutely no orders, and then we had to try and partner with relevant eCommerce houses and run competitions. We’d partner with vineyards, other eCommerce sites and offer free dinner kits, and our emails got sent to their data base.”

Before their official ‘launch’ towards the end of 2014, David had also seeded a lot of PR into environments aligned with what they were doing, and it worked — UCOOK got great press.

“We concentrated on what it would take to scale our operations and grow the eBusiness. We were always thinking about our process and refining it. We built a business case, with detailed sections on marketing, operations and growth dynamics. We were spending R200 a week on Facebook marketing, and steadily building up a database. All dinner kits were pre-paid, which allowed us to bootstrap, but we reached a point where we needed more funds.”

Finding a funder… eventually

davidDavid was able to invest R120 000 which he had earned from Eden, and the team secured some angel investment — and then a VC firm, that had read about UCOOK in the Argus, approached them.

“We were excited. We thought we really knew what we were doing now and if we could secure some VC funding we’d really be able to take the business to the next level — and at the very least move out of the garage.”

David and Chris did a 30-minute presentation that didn’t cover financials, but did unpack UCOOK’s differentiators in the market, their competitive advantage and some of the systematic processes for operations and how the team believed they could deliver on an a la carte selection at scale, instead of category levels. They also covered why they packaged by bag instead of box. It was enough to secure a second meeting — which didn’t go quite as planned.

“We wanted to raise R1,5 million. In hindsight, it’s obvious that they thought we were bigger than we were. Our monthly turnover was R100 000. They were expecting five times that. When they realised we were operating in a completely different financial ballpark, they told us to come back when we were more ready.”

The meeting hadn’t been a complete waste of time though. “Somehow, through the grapevine, Silvertree heard about us. They were just starting their fund, and they were looking for young, interesting entrepreneurial businesses to invest in. They wanted to play in this space; our current size was a benefit. They were also all ex-Rocket guys, the funders behind HelloFresh, so they knew the model well, and had been involved in some of South Africa’s key eCommerce start-ups.”

This time, the funders weren’t sceptical about the numbers, but about the team. “It didn’t really make a lot of sense to them. No one had studied what we were doing, our skill sets didn’t really seem to match the business and everything was a little bit in shambles. They particularly couldn’t believe we were all waitering. We saw it as an advantage — we weren’t drawing salaries. They said you can’t build a serious business while you’re doing double shifts waiting tables. They did recognise some integrity in our knowledge base and the grit it had taken to get that far though, and so we offered to prove ourselves. A shareholder’s dinner for 50 people was coming up, and we offered to cater it at cost. We wanted to prove our capacity to execute on things. They agreed.”

At the end of the evening, David was sharing a bottle of red wine with Silvertree’s MD, and during an impassioned speech about what UCOOK was going to achievein the market, he spilt red wine on the MD’s shirt.

“The next day they called us and said they would do the deal. They realised we were a live or die team — we were going to make this work one way or another; we’d rather run ourselves to death than fail.”

David believes there was a second factor playing in their favour as well. “We had done a lot of research. We were passion backed up by data, with a good deal of perseverance added in for good measure. We also all had skin in the game.”

In mid-2015, Silvertree secured 50% equity in a business with an annual turnover of R1,2 million. Three and half years later, turnover is R97 million. The injection of funds allowed UCOOK to move into larger premises and start purchasing more equipment — in particular industrial fridges. “The capex requirements were beyond our working capital abilities,” says David. “We needed a funder, and once we had one, the business started experiencing 400% year-on-year growth for two and a half years, with 150% growth over the last year.”

Related: 25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Focused on the future

“Our growth is the result of a few different things. First, the capex investment was critical, but we’ve also leveraged our negative operating cycle well. We have great payables with our suppliers. We’re fair when it comes to costing things out and have grown with our community suppliers, but we also pay in 40 to 60 days, while our customers pay us upfront.

“We’ve fine-tuned a lot of growth nuances: We’ve received a lot of relevant media exposure, we’ve built our database to 500 000 people, thanks to key partnerships, and we’ve engaged users in a novel way. We create excitement. Because each recipe is created by a well-known chef, our customers become chefs themselves, sharing what they make online. It’s one of our core value propositions — learning to cook five-star meals from a chef.”

UCOOK currently accounts for 10% of South Africa’s online grocery market, which means the next avenue for growth will need to come from different channels. “Within the LSM we’re operating in, we’re peaking out with dinner kits. I don’t believe we will do 100% + growth again. I think we’re looking at 50% growth at best, and that will be achieved through above-the-line media, accessing people who aren’t frequently in the online environment.”

As a result, David and his team are expanding on their current channels. “We need to focus on what else we can service; on what other interesting solutions we can offer. We’re looking at cleanse lines that include gut health and kombucha, breakfasts and other solutions that align with our brand values: Offering a complete, curated solution that has a transparent value chain, is sourced locally and organically and lives within our brand pillars. We will always be focused and tailored — we want to understand the issue and solve it.”

The bigger play is retail: Frozen meals that align with UCOOK’s brand promise and dinner kits that can be bought from a store. In line with this strategy, UCOOK has signed a second investment deal, matched by Silvertree, with Smollen, which has a strong retail focus. “Based on our last round of funding, the business’s valuation is currently R200 million. There is so much scope for us; we’re excited for what the future holds.”

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

Scaleup Learnings From Our Top Clients – What The Most Successful Entrepreneurs Do Right

So, how do our successful clients move through these constraints to scaling up? We see four key drivers of success, and they are: people, strategy, flawless execution and finance.

Louw Barnardt

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You’re out of your start-up boots, staff is increasing, your client base is growing, revenue is up and you’ve proven your case to the market. Now it’s time to scale up. The challenges of this vital growth phase are different and it’s a time that demands different mindsets and different actions. In a world littered with small business failures, it helps to be well-prepared for scaling up using a proven methodology. At Outsourced CFO, we get an inside look at the success factors of our clients who are mastering the transition.

On the one hand, scaling up is a really exciting phase; this is what moves you into real job creation and making an impactful contribution to economic growth. On the other hand, it is really hard to scale up successfully. We see three major constraints that limit companies’ transition from start-up to scale-up:

Leadership

The business has to have the leadership that can take it to the next level. When you start scaling up, especially rapidly, the founders can no longer do everything themselves. The team must grow and include new leadership talent that can take charge and execute so that the founders are working on the business instead of in the business.

Infrastructure

The processes, procedures, networks, systems and workflows of the business all need to be scalable. This is imperative when it comes to your infrastructure for the financial management of your business. You’re only ready for growth when your infrastructure can seamlessly keep pace.

Market access

Scaling up demands more innovative marketing and storytelling so that you can more easily connect and engage with the new employees, clients, network partners, investors and mentors that need to come along with you on your scale-up journey.

Businesses that build a market conversation and a compelling brand narrative during their start-up phase are better positioned to have this kind of market access when they need to scale up.

People

It is critical to have the right people on your team. Our successful entrepreneurs have what it takes to attract, inspire and retain top talent. A strong team of smart, ambitious and purpose-driven people who love the company and want to see it succeed contribute greatly to a world class company culture. They are adept at communicating a compelling vision and establishing core values that people can take on. These entrepreneurs are tuned into the aspirations of their people and focus on developing leaders in their teams who can in turn develop more leaders.

Strategy

It is planning that ensures that the right things are happening at the right times. At successful scale-ups strategies and action plans are devised to ensure that the most important thing always remains the most important thing.

Strategy includes input from all team members and setting of good priorities for the short, medium and long term. Goals are clear and everyone always knows what they are working towards. The needle is continuously moved because 90-day action plans are implemented each quarter to achieve targets and goals that are over and above people doing their daily jobs.

Flawless execution

Top entrepreneurs are not just focused on what operations need to achieve, but how the business operates. They have the right procedures, processes and tools in place so that everyone can deliver along the line on the company’s brand promise. Frequent, quick successive meetings ensure the rapid flow of effective communication. Problems are solved without drama. There is no chaos in the office environment. Everyone is empowered to execute flawlessly to an array of consistently happy clients.

Finance

Everyone knows that growth burns cash. A rapidly scaling business faces the challenge of needing a scalable financial infrastructure to keep the company healthy. Our successful entrepreneurs pay close attention to finance as the heartbeat of the business, ensuring that everything else functions. They look at the tech they are using for financial management and for the ways that their financial systems can be automated so that they can be brought rapidly to scale. The capital to grow is another vital finance issue.

The best way to finance a business is through paying clients on the shortest possible cash flow cycle. However, when you are scaling up and making heavier investments in the resources you need for growth, it is likely that you will need a workable plan for raising capital. Our scale-up clients know the value of accessing innovative financial management that provides high level services to drive their business growth.

Navigating the scale-up journey of a growing private company is one of the hardest but most rewarding of careers to pursue. Having people in your corner who have been through this journey before helps take a lot of pain out of the process. No growth journey looks the same, but there are tried and tested methods that will – if applied diligently – lead to definite success. Happy scaling!

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Lessons Learnt

That Time Jeff Bezos Was The Stupidest Person In The Room

Everyone can benefit from simple advice, no matter who they are.

Gene Marks

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When you think of Jeff Bezos, a lot of things probably come to your mind.

You likely think of Amazon.com, a company he founded more than twenty years ago, that’s completely disrupted retail and online commerce as we know it. You probably also think of his entrepreneurial genius. Or the immense wealth that he’s built for himself and others. You may also think of drones, Alexa and same-day delivery. Bezos is a visionary, an entrepreneur, a cutthroat competitor and a game changer. He’s unquestionably a very, very smart man. But sometimes, he can be…well…stupid, too.

Like that time back in 1995.

That was when Amazon was just a startup operating from a 2,000 square foot basement in Seattle. During that period, Bezos and most of the handful of employees working for him had other day jobs. They gathered in the office after hours to print and pack up the orders that their fast-growing bookselling site was receiving each day from around the world. It was tough, grueling work.

The company at the time, according to a speech Bezos gave, had no real organisation or distribution. Worse yet, the process of filling orders was physically demanding.

“We were packing on our hands and knees on a hard concrete floor,” Bezos recalled. “I said to the person next to me ‘this packing is killing me! My back hurts, it’s killing my knees’ and the person said ‘yeah, I know what you mean.'”

Related: Jeff Bezos: 9 Remarkable Choices That Shaped The Richest Man In The World

Bezos, our hero, the entrepreneurial genius, the CEO of a now 600,000-employee company that’s worth around a trillion dollars and one of the richest men in the world today then came up with what he thought was a brilliant idea. “You know what we need,” he said to the employee as they packed boxes together. “What we need is…kneepads!”

The employee (Nicholas Lovejoy, who worked at Amazon for three years before founding his own philanthropic organisation financed by the millions he made from the company’s stock) looked at Bezos like he was — in Bezos’ words — the “stupidest guy in the room.”

“What we need, Jeff,” Lovejoy said, “are a few packing tables.” Duh.

So the next day Bezos – after acknowledging Lovejoy’s brilliance – bought a few inexpensive packing tables. The result? An almost immediate doubling in productivity. In his speech, Bezos said that the story is just one of many examples how Amazon built its customer-centered service culture from the company’s very early days. Perhaps that’s true. Then again, it could mean something else.

It could mean that sometimes, just sometimes, those successful, smart, wealthy and powerful people may not be as brilliant as you may think. Nor do they always have the right answers. Sometimes, just sometimes, they may actually be the stupidest guy in the room. So keep that in mind the next time you’re doing business with an intimidating customer, supplier or partner who appears to know it all. You might be the one with the brilliant idea.

This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.

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How Sureswipe Built Its Identity By Building A Strong Company Culture

Culture is unique to a business, it’s the reason why companies win or lose.

Nadine Todd

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A company’s culture is its identity and personality. Since this is closely linked to its brand and how it wants to be viewed by its employees, customers, competitors and the outside world, culture is critical. The challenge is understanding that culture contains unwritten rules and that certain behaviours that align to the culture the company is nurturing should be valued and cherished more than others.

At Sureswipe, the core of our culture is that we value people and what they are capable of. We particularly value people who are engaged, get on with the job, take initiative, are happy to get stuck in beyond their formal job descriptions, and who sometimes have to suck up a bit of pain to get through a challenge.

We include culture in everything we do, so it’s a fundamental element in our recruitment process. In addition to a skills and experience interview, each candidate undergoes a culture fit in the form of a values interview. We look for top performers who echo our core values (collaboration, courage, taking initiative, fairness and personal responsibility) and have real conviction about making a difference in the lives of independent retailers. If we don’t believe a candidate will be a culture fit, we won’t hire them.

If we make a mistake in the recruitment process, we won’t retain culture killers, even if they are top performers. This is such a tough lesson to learn, but it liberates a company and often improves overall company performance.

Culture should be cultivated, constantly communicated and used when making decisions. At Sureswipe, we often talk about what it takes to win and have simplified winning into three key elements: A simple, yet inspirational vision; the right culture; and a clear and focused strategy. The first and third elements can be copied from organisation to organisation. Culture on the other hand is unique to every business and can be a great influencer in its success.

Catch phrases on the wall are not the definition of culture

A strong culture is purposeful and evolving. It’s what makes a company great, but also exposes its weakness. No company is perfect and it’s important to acknowledge the good and the bad. Without it, we cannot ensure that we are protecting and building on the good and reducing or eradicating the bad.

Mistakes happen. That’s okay. But we are very purposeful about how mistakes are handled. Culturally we’re allergic to things being covered up or deflected and have had great learning moments as individuals and as an organisation when bad news travels fast. It’s liberating to ‘tell it like it is’ and almost always, with a few more minds on the problem at hand, things can be rectified with minimal impact.

Related: Starbucks Coffee Is All About Culture… For A Reason

Culture should be built on values that resonate with you and that you want to excel at. In our case, some are lived daily and others are aspirational in that we’re still striving for them. In each case we genuinely believe in them and encourage each other to keep living them. This increases the level of trust within the team, as there is consistency in how people are treated and how we get things done.

We are always inspired when, after sitting in our reception area, nine out of ten visitors will comment on the friendliness of staff. We hear their remarks about how friendly the Sureswipe team is or a potential candidate will talk about the high level of energy and positivity they experience throughout the interview process.

These are indicators that our culture is alive and well. It’s these components of our culture — friendliness, helpfulness and positivity — that cascade into how we do business and how we treat our customers and people in general. Being able to describe your culture and support it with real life examples is a great way to communicate and promote the type of behaviour that is important and recognised within the organisation.

Culture doesn’t just happen

We are fortunate that culture has always been important to us, even if it wasn’t clearly defined in our early days. As we grew it became important to be more purposeful in the evolution of our culture. About four years ago, the senior leadership team and nominated cultural or values icons were mandated to relook all things cultural.

A facilitator said to us, “You really love it when people take the initiative, and get very frustrated when they don’t.” That accurate insight became core to our values. We love to see people proactively solve problems, take responsibility for their own growth, initiate spontaneous events, change their tactics or implement new ideas. It energises us and aligns to the way we do business.

We celebrate growth and love to see our staff getting promoted due to their hard work and perseverance. We recently had one of our earliest technicians get promoted to the Regional Manager of Limpopo. It was one of the best moments of 2018.

Be purposeful with culture, describe it, communicate it and use it in all aspects of business. Culture should change. Don’t allow phrases like ‘this is not how we do things,’ or, ‘the culture here is changing,’ to stifle the growth and development of your culture. When done correctly change is a good thing. Culture is driven from the top but at the end of the day it’s a company-wide initiative. Design it together with team members from different parts of the organisation to get the most from it. And then make sure everyone lives and breathes it.

Cost Cutting

The best ROI is achieved when you stop wasting money.

Peter Drucker once said that businesses have two main functions — marketing and innovation — that produce results. “All the rest are costs.”

If you agree, that means that the average business has a lot of fat to trim. Obviously you can go overboard trying to cut costs too. My philosophy has been to look at some of the general areas where you can add some efficiency but not at the expense of impairing your most valuable resource — your focus.

The following cost-cutting measures will do that. Think of these as adding value to your company, whether it’s time, creativity or a closer connection to your consumers.

Related: Wise Words From wiGroup On Building A “Wow” Company Culture

Uncover inefficiencies in your process

This is where I begin. In fact, it was analysing the inefficiencies of legal communication and knowledge sharing that led me to create Foxwordy, the digital collaboration platform for lawyers. I noticed that attorneys in our clients’ legal departments were drafting new documents from scratch when they could pool their knowledge and save time by using language that a trusted colleague had employed in a similar document. Business is all about process. When you create a new process, or enhance an existing process, you will drive cost efficiency.

Refine your process, then automate

If existing processes are lacking, it is time to create process. If you have processes, but they are not driving efficiency, it’s time to redefine your process. Either way, a key second step is refining processes that are needed in your business. Only then can you go to automation, since automating without a process will result in chaos — and won’t save time or money. Similarly, automating a poor process is not going to give you the cost-saving results you are looking for.

Thanks to the Cloud, there are very accessible means of automating manual processes. For instance, you can automate bookkeeping functions with FreshBooks and use chatbots to interface with clients — for very basic information. If you’re a retailer, a chatbot on your site can explain your return policy or address other frequently asked questions. Automating such processes allows you to spend more time focusing on clients and customers. Technology alone isn’t a panacea for all business functions, but if you find something you’re doing manually that can be automated, take a look and consider how much time and process definition automation would save you.

Rethink your outreach

Marketing and outreach are usually big and important challenges for an organisation. In my experience, there are two main components to successful marketing — knowing your customers and using the most effective media to spread your message. For the first part, I recommend polling. There are various online survey services that offer an instant read on what your customers are thinking. You may think business is humming along, but a survey could reveal that while consumers like your product, a few tweaks would make it even better.

For the second part — marketing messaging — once you have a firm idea of your marketing messaging, Facebook is a great vehicle for outreach. The ability to granularly target customers and create Lookalike audiences (from around 1 000 consumers) can help grow your business.

Related: Take Responsibility For Your Company’s Culture To Boost Productivity

Scrutinise your spend history

There are tools that can help you assess spend history and find cost-cutting opportunities. For example, you might be able to take advantage of rewards or loyalty programmes to reduce common business expenses, like travel, or consolidate vendors for a similar function. If you have a long-standing relationship with a vendor, negotiate better pricing.

The most important elements to keep in mind are resources that make your company special. Your company may be built on one person’s reputation and expertise. Guard against tarnishing that reputation with inappropriate messaging in advertising or social media. If your company’s special sauce is intellectual property, protect that too. But everything else — ranging from physical property to salary and benefits — are costs and should be considered negotiable. — Monica Zent

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