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3 Core Lessons From Afrizan On Building A Better Business With Smarter Recruitment

Recruitment experts Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi believe the future of your business’s success lies in whether you’re treating recruitment as a strategic imperative, and if you’re upskilling your employees (even if they’re going to take those skills with them when they leave).

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

  • Players: Donna Silver and Elvira Riccardi
  • Company: Afrizan, a business unit of Persaf Holdings
  • Launched: 2001 (purchased from previous owner)
  • Turnover:  Group turnover is R150 million
  • Visit: afrizan.co.za

Between 2001 and 2007, Afrizan’s turnover was in the R12 million to R15 million range. Today the group as a whole is a R150 million business, and continues to grow. Why? Because it focused on a niche. “When you focus you can really become the expert in your field,” explains Elvira Riccardi.

“For us, we recognised that South Africa needed a recruitment agency that specialises in affirmative action. This wasn’t driven by altruistic or political motivations — it’s an economic imperative.”

The company’s growth over the past ten years demonstrates how well this specialisation has worked. More importantly, the lessons that Afrizan has accrued as specialists in the field sourcing for industry leaders in finance, insurance and banking are valuable insights into how you can get the most from your scarcest and most valuable resource: Your people. Here are their three core lessons in building a better business through smarter recruitment.

Related: 6 Tips to Keep in Mind When Hiring Your First Employees

1. Recruitment and skills development are economic imperatives

“I have an economics background, and I’m passionate about transformation,” says Elvira. “Our focus tends towards top-down solutions only. If we’re going to grow South Africa’s economy, we need to see bottom up transformation, as well. If we transform South Africa’s workforce, we will transform the economy.”

This isn’t just transformation rhetoric for Elvira — there’s a strong business case for every company in South Africa to get on board. “If you’re interested in long-term growth, upskilling is an imperative,” agrees Donna Silver.

“Companies have the view that if you spend money upskilling your employees, they’ll leave and take their skills with them, and someone else will benefit from your investment. Our question is this: Are you in this for the short-term or long-haul? Because if you’re focused on the future of your business, then the economics are simple — increase supply and the salary/skill variances will stabilise; not over decades, but in a few short years. At the moment, skill shortages mean paying a premium for scarce skills. Increase skills, and salaries will become more realistic.”

Elvira and Donna have seen first-hand through the Cadet Academy, Afrizan’s youth development vehicle, how teaching and training can make an impact on the workforce, salaries and the economy as a whole.

“The current reality is that corporates go to universities and all compete to scoop up the top performing graduates. They’re competing with each other and international companies, and once those grads have obtained some experience in the workplace, they are head-hunted again by competing firms,” says Elvira.

But there is a solution. “The workplace doesn’t currently need another person with an over-subscribed degree, but we have learnt that the right degree from the right institution is a reliable predictor of ability,” she continues.

“The phenomenal success of our Cadet Academy proves this theory. We’ve placed over 1 000 cadets who didn’t necessarily have the requisite experience or a relevant degree and found that a graduate will often learn more in three months than a non-degreed person will learn on the job in five years — even if their degree isn’t necessarily related to the industry they’ve joined.”

“The academy channels cadets into admin-intensive roles that function as incubators,” Donna continues. “If you find a cadet with the right attitude, they are learning the business from the ground up. They get to know the brand, and, with the right attitude, are promoted. We only hire graduates who see the opportunity in joining an organisation in an entry-level position.”

Afrizan is convinced of the benefit of a developmental focus. “There are currently less than 50 black female actuaries in South Africa, but the needle is moving all the time,” says Elvira. “Female chartered accountants used to be a scarce commodity, now it’s a position that’s no longer on the scarce skills list. Things change. But you need to constantly work at it, and everyone benefits.”

One of Afrizan’s cadets is now head of graduate recruitment at a leading media house. “She drove here from Bethlehem to interview for our cadet programme. Her mother had to drive back to pick up her things when we offered her the job. She was willing and eager to start immediately. That’s the calibre of people we find through this programme, and they’re a great asset to their employers.”

2. Recruitment is strategic, not operational

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One of the biggest errors businesses make, according to Donna and Elvira, is treating recruitment as an operational function, instead of a strategic one. Although driven by operations, it shouldn’t originate at an operational level.

“Recruitment and marketing should work hand in hand, and it should absolutely be at the centre of every company’s strategy,” says Elvira. “As a business, you’re competing for skills and clients — every person who walks through your doors is potentially both. What is your strategy to attract the best, keep them, and ensure that you not only have a strong employer brand, but a brand that customers want to support?

“How you treat people, from those you’ve employed to people who you’re interviewing, all interlinks in the market place with your customer pool. Your employees are future customers, and they can either be brand ambassadors in the market place, or spreading discontent based on how they and their colleagues were, or are treated. Your market cares about how your employees are treated, and your employees can directly impact customer goodwill.”

In order to achieve this, Donna and Elvira believe that businesses need to start by changing their corporate vision, mission and identity. “This all speaks to how you meet people, mentor them and grow them,” says Elvira. “Get this right and it will absolutely impact your bottom line. Where’s the result? What did you achieve? It’s a business objective — so is it filtering down? The future is skill. Your business’s growth depends on it, so are you finding the right skills, growing them and nurturing them? Because that’s your competitive edge when no-one else is doing it.”

Donna and Elvira believe the most successful businesses must have a strategy parallel to skills development. “Hire the best and most skilled, and in addition develop internally, and grow your industry and business,” says Donna. “For the first three years many of the people you train and upskill will be stolen, sure. But by then there will be new skilled individuals in the market, you can concentrate on hiring again, and salaries won’t continue to be driven up by scarce skills.”

There’s an added benefit to this strategy too. “Consider what this is doing for your brand in the meantime,” says Donna. “You’re earning BEE points, plus you’re developing a robust training policy that you can use to keep your employees by agreeing to payment terms if they leave the company within a stipulated time frame. You’re also building a good employer brand known for having and training the best people in the industry that all your competitors are trying to poach. People will always feel brand affinity for a company that upskilled them, even if they leave — and they’re sharing that affinity with their friends and family — your potential customers. It’s a simple sustainability strategy, and you’re training people into your culture, systems and processes.”

Elvira agrees. “We’re not focused enough on development. It’s perceived as a cost. So many companies view this as a negative, and so people aren’t trained or retained. Top executives agree that to survive today you need skills, but that doesn’t filter down through the organisation. Procurement and learning and development just tick boxes. And the result is that you miss out on a real strategic differentiator.

“What we’ve experienced in the market is that too many businesses don’t have enough respect for recruitment. What is your recruiter doing, whether they’re internal or an agency? They are procuring a valuable skill. This should be viewed as a selling opportunity. Depending on their skill level, you aren’t doing candidates a favour — you want to attract them. Does your ethos support that?

“Skills are the most sought-after commodity in the universe, and yet they’re not given nearly enough strategic focus — not in recruiting them, upskilling them, or keeping them.”

3. Use the skills development levy to your advantage

The new BEE Codes of Good Practice came into operation in May 2015 and included significant changes in terms of skills development. The target for spend increased from 3% to 6% of the leviable amount (your annual payroll). Donna and Elvira have seen a shift in the market because of this B-BBEE qualification. It’s working — but are companies making the most of it?

“Procurement will drive BEE, because it’s a mandate” says Donna, “This means businesses bring learners in, but too often they are under-utilised because we are too busy to train them. This is just one instance where you could be using a mandate as a competitive edge, instead of just ticking a box.

Related: The Key To Hiring The Best Employees

“Not only do you get points for training people, but if you keep those learners and employ them, you get five bonus points. SMEs through to corporates qualify for these points, and it’s an excellent way for SMEs that are not majority black-owned, in particular, to reach level 2, 3 or 4 status.

“What are you doing to achieve this in your business? Essentially, you just need to focus on creating skills that you need anyway. This shouldn’t be a grudge spend. It’s a real business solution.”


TOP TIPS

Interviewing for success

Here are Donna and Elvira’s top tips for interviewing — and hiring — the best candidates for your business.

  1. Red flags. One of our favourite questions is ‘Tell me about when you missed a deadline.’ It’s an immediate red flag if they say they never have; either they’re lying or they’re not accountable. We’re looking for an answer that says they had an issue, what that issue was, that they recognised it, and how they found a solution — solution and accountability are key. We’ve found that a person’s belief system dictates how they answer this. Everyone believes they’re right. No one is trying to give you a terrible answer, but what they say gives you real insight into their beliefs.
  2. Uncover values. There’s one sentence that will also give you huge insight into your candidate and their values: ‘What’s the one thing your parents said to you that you will always remember?’
  3. Hire for attitude. Look for phrases like ‘I’m prepared to do anything,’ and ‘any work experience is positive’. You’re looking for candidates ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and build their careers — even if it’s from the ground up.
  4. Find motivators. One strategy that will reveal how determined a candidate is to join your organisation and to prove themselves is to offer a lower salary with potential for growth.
  5. People don’t change. Interviewing is a psychological science. Past behaviour is absolutely a predictor of future behaviour, so you want to uncover that past behaviour. People change, but you can’t change a person’s wiring. People may grow and mature, but there are fundamental behaviours that won’t change. If you’re always late, you’ll likely always be late, for example.
  6. In control. As recruiters, we’ve found our biggest successes are often the children of entrepreneurs, because they’ve learnt that they are the architects of their own destiny.
  7. Interviewing is a skill. Most managers aren’t good interviewers; it’s not a skill that’s been practised or that they’re focused on. It’s not what they do. They are specialists in their fields. If you’re a manager or business owner interviewing people, think through your questions and interview process carefully, and upskill yourself. In other words, take it seriously. This is the foundation of your entire staff strategy and complement.
  8. Use technology. Technology can make the whole process easier, particularly if you are stretched for time. Spend time designing questions and then get someone else to ask them. Video each interview, watch the interviews in your own time, and then select the top candidates for face-to-face interviews.
  9. People lie. Don’t rely on CVs or take them at face value. People lie. One of the most common issues we see is people who take the job spec of the position they’re applying for, and copy and paste it into their CVs. They’re not truly representing themselves, they’re just trying to be what the company says it needs. This makes the interview particularly important. People make up stories, and if you don’t know how to interview, it’s not always easy to catch them out.
  10. Use references. Make sure you have qualifying questions to double check everything interviewees claim to know. One of the best ways to still do this is through reference checks. Many people think reference checks are a waste of time, but they’re actually your greatest tool — if you ask the right questions. Be direct. Don’t ask open-ended questions. We think people won’t say bad things about someone else, but they also won’t put their credibility on the line. If you state what the job entails, and if the candidate can deliver, that’s a yes or no question. Ask for an example of what they have delivered based on specific requirements. In particular, ask the question ‘If you were going to develop the candidate, what would be your recommendation?’ You’re not looking for a negative answer, but it will give you insight.

KEY INSIGHTS

Skills shortages are driving up salaries — if you want to compete in the future, upskill now

You might invest in employees who leave, but if upskilling is integral to your long-term growth strategies, you’ll not only increase the pool of skills in your industry, you’ll become known as the company in your sector with the most skilled employees (that everyone’s trying to poach and where everyone wants to work).

Recruitment is strategic, not operational

Operations drive recruitment, but the company’s focus and mandate must be determined at a

board level. Skills are the most sought-after commodity in the universe — are you giving them enough focus?

The skills development levy is a boon, not just a compliance issue

BEE legislation now requires that 6% of an entity’s leviable SDL salary spend (your annual salary bill) be spent on training. You can either use this to your advantage, or view it as a grudge purchase.

Women Entrepreneur Successes

Channeling The Fire Of Authenticity: Asia’s’ Top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh

Joanna Soh’s introspective look into why her YouTube channel is not a ‘side project’ and how she makes a difference to her audience.

Dirk Coetsee

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“The best project you will ever work on is you” – Joanna Soh

The scene was the rooftop of the Cascades Residency in Kota Damansara, Malaysia where the tranquillity of a high vantage point, the colourful deep blue of the pool, and the hypnotic sound of a waterfall created a suitable ambience to interview Asia’s’ top ‘YouTuber’, Joanna Soh.

I only interview entrepreneurs and leaders with a sense of purpose and a deep love for what they do. Joanna Soh is no exception, her smile carries the fire of authenticity, tenacity, caring, and vulnerability. This fire has most definitely spread as Joanna is Asia’s’ top ‘YouTuber’ with well over 1 Million followers and she openly shared her fears and struggles, that in itself is a valuable lesson to all entrepreneurs. Within the willingness to admit to your fears and weaknesses lies great strength and it is an understatement to exclaim that Joanna is a strong woman.

She is driven by the purpose of adding value and making a difference to her audience and is uplifted by the feedback of her fans for they mean so much to her. As I saw a childlike sense of awe and gratitude in her eyes when she spoke about her achievements I was reminded of the master poet Rumi’s’ advice to us all:

“Sell your cleverness and purchase awe”.

Stop making everything so complicated and stop taking yourself so seriously are only some of the basic lessons that Joanna’s’ entrepreneurial journey has taught her. She acknowledges that the ‘road less travelled’ of entrepreneurship can be a lonely journey and reminds the reader that when she started she also had no audience and had to build her brand. That is the reason why having a strong purpose is so valuable as it ensures longevity and makes it hard to give up on your entrepreneurial dreams.

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Related: Make Money from YouTube Videos

Starting out Joanna stumbled upon a YouTube article that revealed that there was only one other Asian girl that was sharing fitness related content and took the gap with great agility. Her behaviour reminded me of Julius Caesars’’ famous words:

“I came, I saw, and I conquered.”

Joanna used and still uses basic discipline as a focal point for her brands’ growth. From the start she was disciplined enough to not treat her YouTube channel as a ‘side project’ but instead ensured that she at least worked eight hours a day on her project and meticulously researched all the technicalities of building and scaling her now famous brand.

This influential leader taught the author that there is a science behind building a strong following on YouTube. Every videos’ title is very important and whom you tag is also a priority. All these seemingly small details and mechanisms create compound interest over time when you build your brand on YouTube.

Joanna understands the importance of business metrics and daily tracks the amount of subscribers she has. At this juncture I would like to point out that Joanna’s’ followers grow by thirty thousand per month on average!

Although her background working as a TV producer in England has helped in creating a foundation for her it is most definitely not the only contributing and critical factor to her success. This YouTube stars’ relentless purpose of adding value to her followers has driven her to create ‘evergreen content’ that will still be relevant in five years’ time.

Lean in a little closer

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I hope that the reader now ‘leans in’ and carefully listen to this YouTube icons’ advice, and more importantly apply the learnings contained therein:

‘Do not start a channel with the mind-set of getting rich nor famous quickly. Rather start with a clear and defined purpose – Why are you doing it, and what is really going to drive you?

Do not just upload a lot of content and then stop

Consistency is critical so therefore upload according to a pre-set schedule carefully keeping your target audience in mind. Do not limit yourself even in choice of platform, just put yourself out there. Simplicity is very important and therefore leave your audience with very easy to understand tips and practical solutions.

Discipline is a key value

Whether you are tired or not and even when you are not getting early traction still keep on doing it and be patient enough to receive your reward later. Build discipline over time and always remind yourself that helping people and adding value to them will always make you feel more grounded and centred.

Related: How do YouTube Ads work, and what will it cost me?

Remain relevant

Understand your audience and they will keep growing with you. Know who your audience is and work towards that strength. I know for example that eighty percent of my audience is female and continuously track the demographics of my audience. Slowly but surely take on branded sponsors whose vision and activities align with yours.

Carefully select who you follow online and feed off that persons’ energy

Do not confuse yourself and your purpose by following too many people from different industries.’

We concluded the interview and I felt inspired not only by her success but mainly by her tenacity and fierceness as a leader combined with the willingness to share her vulnerabilities which ultimately makes her stronger and stronger.

Follow Joanna Soh and you will learn something valuable. I already am…

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

10 Inspirational Quotes From Successful Actress-Turned-Entrepreneur Jessica Alba

Jessica Alba isn’t just another Hollywood face — she’s also the founder of a billion-dollar business

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the-honest-company

While many only recognise Jessica Alba for her performances in Sin City or Fantastic Four, in the entrepreneurial world Alba’s name goes beyond her role as a Hollywood star.

Rising to fame as a young actress, Alba saw much success early on. However, it wasn’t until 2015, when Alba co-founded The Honest Company, that she became a prominent name in the business world. What originally began as a beauty line has since grown into a billion-dollar 500-plus-employee business that sells safe and healthy baby, personal care, cleaning products and more.

It’s safe to say Alba can teach you a thing or two about entrepreneurship and running a successful business.

To learn more, here are 10 inspirational quotes from the actress-turned-entrepreneur.

Related: What Sheryl Sandberg Taught Me About Giving Criticism

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Women Entrepreneur Successes

Dylan Kohlstädt Of Shift One Marketing Weighs In On Digital Marketing For Start-Ups

Digital marketing maverick Dylan Kohlstädt unpacks how start-ups can maximise their marketing spend, get noticed and reach customers through savvy and cost-effective digital campaigns.

Nadine Todd

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Vital Stats

How can start-ups go about using social media, networking and word-of-mouth to grow their businesses?

You have to be active on social media, that’s a given, but the only way to cut through the content marketing clutter is to produce content that moves the needle, and the only way to do that is to really immerse yourself in your customer segments. Ideally, it’s video-based, and ideally, your customers are creating the content for you.

Social media is digital word-of-mouth — so if you’re doing it well, customers will become your sales reps, and refer friends to you. Make it as easy as possible for customers to buy from you (usability testing), and for them to refer you.

Related: 8 Habits Of Highly Successful Leaders

Why is it easier to market your business than before?

Digital marketing is cheap, and you can set it up and manage it yourself. It also means that you can segment your markets like never before, and reach micro targeted segments with just a few rands. Facebook ads are super cheap, as long as you’re not chasing ‘likes’. You might actually get a few sales from them. Just remember, there’s a lot of rubbish you’ll have to trawl through first.

On the other hand, why is it also harder with such overcrowded markets?

Everyone has competitors, because all it takes is a website and a few bucks and you’ve got a business. Niching is critical. You have to understand your market. You have to be unique. You have to appeal to them, and their needs and emotions.

You have to understand their needs really well. Marketing plays a critical role in brand building — without the research involved in marketing your business, you might not understand your target audience well enough, and your product or service might not hit the mark as a result. Similarly, without a clear brand, you’re going to be lost in the sea of competitors out there.

How can start-ups access their beachhead markets through digital marketing campaigns?

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It’s important to be very clear on who your customer is and what your niche is before embarking on a digital campaign. The more niche your market, and the more defined your product, the more success you’ll have and the cheaper your marketing becomes. I encourage start-ups to complete detailed market analysis covering:

  • Who is your customer? Include market size, description, demographics.
  • What need drives them? What is the gap?
  • What are their emotions? What emotions cause them to make decisions and how can you appeal to these emotions, bearing in mind that emotions make people buy, while logic makes them think.
  • Which product is right for them? Which product meets their needs?
  • What is your message to them? How are you going to package all of what you know about them to create messaging that is compelling?
  • What channels are they on? Where are you going to find them? This is critical as you need to target channels that they’re using, and not only the ones you’re comfortable with using.
  • What content do they need? This will inform your content marketing strategies.

Related: Can Your Marketing Team Speak Data?

If you don’t do research, you make assumptions. The more time you spend on this process, the cheaper and more effective your marketing will be. It will also help you avoid one of the most common mistakes start-ups make when it comes to establishing who their target market is — you want to be niche, not broad.

Nearly all markets are accessible via digital marketing, and if they are not digital, then SMS and radio. The more information you have about your customers, and the more niched you are in segmenting them, the better your results.

How can a start-up figure out who their real target market is? Any tips?

There are many forms of research out there, but the ones I personally advocate are:

  • Usability testing: Get six to 12 customers to use your website and products. This gives you endless insights into who they are and what drives them, as well as the correct wording to use throughout your communication with them.
  • Dipstick research: We go to customers, wherever they are, and talk to them, find out who influences them, find out what drives them, find out their feeling about your product and your competitors.
  • Content research: Once you’ve identified the voices in the community, reach out to them to get content, establish them as influencers to the community, and create content that is appealing to the market, because it comes from the market.

What should start-ups avoid doing?

Many companies avoid the channels they are not comfortable with. Many agencies produce content that appeals to the account management team, and not to customers. Don’t make big production TV ads or sign up an agency that just wants to win awards — rather create YouTube content that your customers will respond to.


ON FUNDING

Start-ups often think they need funding to launch. When is this not actually the case and why?

In a services industry, you can get away with bootstrapping. With tech companies, you’ll need to rely on sweat equity (which generally means partnering with a developer and giving them shares in the business) if you can’t afford to pay them. You might just get stuck with someone that isn’t that great at development, but at least they are working on your project for free.

If you do go the bootstrapping route, you need to keep your costs low. You definitely don’t want offices. Instead, run your small team through collaborative online platforms like Trello, Slack or Asana.

Don’t be in a hurry to get funding — it comes with a whole new set of trouble and it might kill your business. Instead, loan what you can from the 3Fs (friends, fools and family), or even a bank loan if you can get one. At least you retain ownership of the business.

Why is cash flow more important than funding in many cases?

Funding isn’t the panacea that start-ups think it is. There are many alternatives to finding an investor, including overdrafts and loans from friends. Cash flow is critical for the day-to-day running of your business. Funding might only pay out in a year’s time, based on performance, and in that time you might run out of cash.

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